Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews

18 May 2015

From author Anne R. Allen:

Last month the Seattle Times reported that Amazon is suing a bunch of paid review mills.

Unfortunately, many paid review sites don’t feel they’re doing anything wrong. A spokesman for one of the companies Amazon is suing said:

“We are not selling fake reviews. However we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products…and this is not illegal at all.”

. . . .

[B]uying customer reviews is definitely against the Terms of Service of most retailers and can get you kicked off Amazon for life.

It can also draw the ire of the vigilantes who hang out in the Amazon fora, Goodreads, and BookLikes, who are some of the nastiest cyberbullies on the ‘Net. To them, an accusation equals guilt and you are never allowed to prove your innocence. These are people who learned their ethics from the Salem witch trials.

So you really want to stay under their radar.

I understand why they are annoyed. It seems as if every day I get followed by another paid review mill on Twitter. And their sites are slick. They make it seem as if paying for reviews is a part of the process of self-publishing.

. . . .

It’s OK to pay for a professional review from established magazines like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, or Midwest Book Review. I don’t know if they’re worth the price, but they’re not in the same category as paid “customer” reviews.

The reviewers at those journals are trained and vetted professionals writing for well known magazines that have a reputation to uphold—not a bunch of guys in a cafe in Sri Lanka stringing together a few words for five bucks.

Professional reviews can’t be posted on retail sites in the review section. You can paste a small quote from one of them into the “editorial reviews” section, but not in the review thread.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Anne R. Allen’s books

For PG, reviews from Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly are a bad sign.

Amazon files first-ever suit over fake product reviews

9 April 2015

From GeekWire:

Amazon has filed suit against the alleged operator of several sites that offer Amazon sellers the ability to purchase fake 4- and 5-star customer reviews of their products.

The suit, the first of its kind from the Seattle company, was filed in King County Superior Court against a California man, Jay Gentile, identified in Amazon’s filings as the operator of sites including,, and The site also targets unidentified “John Does” also believed to be involved in the scheme.

The case is part of a broader effort by the company to crack down on fake reviews.

“While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand,” the suit says. “Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews.

“Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews,” the suit adds. “Defendants’ businesses consist entirely of selling such reviews.”

According to the suit, the sites operated by Gentile offer to provide fake “verified reviews” for a premium, telling the sellers that they can ship empty boxes to reviewers involved in the scheme, to trick Amazon into thinking that the product had actually been purchased.

Link to the rest at GeekWire and thanks to Randall and several others for the tip.

Women still underrepresented in the literary world, research shows

8 April 2015

From Mashable:

Here’s a shocker — female authors and book reviewers are still grossly underrepresented in the literary world.

Gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews is still abysmal, according to research from VIDA, an organization dedicated to reporting gender equality issues in the literary field. Each year, it publishes a lengthy report, analyzing gender disparity at major literary publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The New York Times Book Review.

. . . .

In terms of book reviewers, The New York Times has vastly improved over the last five years.

However, when it came to authors whose books were reviewed, the Times skewed heavily male, with 358 female authors versus 504 male authors.

. . . .

VIDA rounded up some of the more positive changes, including:

  • Harper’s Bazaar increasing its overall number of women by 6%.
  • The New Republic increasing female book reviewers to 29%, compared to last year’s 7%.
  • The Boston Review publishing more reviews and micro-reviews by women than men. Of the 31 micro-reviews, women wrote 71%.

Despite some of the improvements, there were also disappointing slips. The Paris Reviewdeclined from last year’s celebratory 51%, sliding to 40% women overall this year. The Nationalso showed a low level of improvement — women represented 20% of authors reviewed, and only 29% overall.

. . . .

At The New York Times, white women dominated the publication. Black women totaled eight, Asian women 16 and Hispanic/Latina women totaled three, while four did not put a specific response (writing either “unsure” or only identifying as “woman of color”).

. . . .

By this point, it’s probably not shocking that the New Yorker also reported drastically low numbers. There were 56 white women compared to two Asian, three black, two Hispanic/Latina and five other (“unsure” or “identifies only as woman of color”) women.

Link to the rest at Mashable and thanks to Will for the tip.

Bad Book Reviews: Not About Your Book, But About Your Readers’ Expectations

6 April 2015

From author Lori Schafer:

Several months ago, when I was planning the promotion for my first book, On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, I decided to publish some free e-books in order to attract attention to my work. I therefore released a handful of short stories and essays, as well as a self-contained excerpt from my memoir itself.

My strategy was a strange combination of successful and disastrous. My free e-books definitely succeeded in promoting my work; however, as the reviews clearly demonstrate, they also seem to have ticked off a number of potential customers. And this is what’s interesting. Because when you sit down to analyze the reviews themselves, it becomes clear that poor reviews are often unrelated to the quality of the work itself. Bad book reviews are, more often, a result of a failure to meet a reader’s expectations.

Understanding this is crucial to achieving success as an author. We’ve all read book reviews in which we simply disagree with a reader’s opinion. But for authors, it is, to a certain extent, irrelevant if we are right and a reader is wrong. It may not be our fault if someone misinterprets our work. But it is most definitely our problem.

I want to begin here with what I think is a highly illustrative example. Back in November, I released my short essay entitled “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Critical Analysis” as a free e-book. I described it as “a lighthearted analytical look at the most beloved Christmas special of all time.”

It’s a humorous essay. In fact, it’s the most popular blog post I’ve ever written, so I can say with assurance that the writing is good and the subject compelling. The e-book, however, although it earned a few high ratings on Goodreads, only received one review, and it stunk:

Rudolph December 23, 2014 (One Star)
Not quite what I was expecting when I had looked for a Christmas book to read to my five-year old daughter the night before Christmas eve.

Clearly, this is someone who saw my free e-book and decided to download it without even looking at what she was getting. Somehow she failed to notice that the cover includes the words “a critical analysis.” There is a school of thought that suggests that you should never offer books for free for just that reason – because it will encourage people to download them who would never be interested in reading them otherwise – and this is a perfect example. This woman didn’t leave me a one-star review because my book was bad – she left it because it ruined story time with her daughter.

That isn’t my fault. I had categorized my essay as humor, not children’s, and my keywords were mostly related to Christmas. However, when I was looking at the book’s page just before I unpublished it at the end of the season, I happened to notice something. In the section marked “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” I saw nothing but children’s Christmas stories. She was not the only reader who made that mistake. Which makes you wonder if I was somehow at fault, after all. Perhaps by including keywords that were related to Christmas, I virtually ensured that the people who found it were parents seeking stories to read to their children. Perhaps I would have been better off using keywords that were related to humor – which is what I will try if I decide to release the book again next Christmas.

Link to the rest at Lori Schafer’s Short Subjects I Feel Like Writing About

Here’s a link to Lori Schafer’s books

Bad Reviews May Actually Be Good For Sales

1 April 2015

From i09:

We’ve all spent some time checking out online reviews. While businesses want nothing but good reviews, a new study shows that sometimes mixed reviews can actually help drive up sales. Here’s why.

Review systems and review sites come under fire regularly for the ways their reviews do and don’t fairly represent the products and services they describe. A frequent complaint is the way that a scattering of bad reviews, some of them given for foolish or personal reasons, can scare potential customers away. But a recent study shows that sometimes bad reviews can work in a business’s favor, by giving potential customers a sense that the business delivers a product that’s interesting and is catered to their particular taste or needs.

. . . .

[W]hen it comes to reviews of restaurants or movies, a few bad reviews are chalked up to the individual tastes of the reviewer.

And certain bad reviews can be a boon for sales. A bad review that criticizes a computer for having “too many features” could be seen by people who are more proficient with computers as a positive recommendation. A review about the food at a restaurant being “too low-brow” can encourage customers who want to be casual.

Link to the rest at i09

Amazon Adds New Review Options Via Drop Down Menus

23 March 2015

From Self-Publishing Review:

If you’ve tried to review a book on Amazon recently, Amazon has added a few options for users when reviewing a book via drop-down menus.


. . . .

At the bottom of the page it says: “Write your reviews using the traditional review authoring page” so this is a beta system. Time will tell if this will be helpful and/or abused. It could potentially lead to a more reviews, as it caters to people who might have trouble articulating themselves.

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review and thanks to Henry and several others for the tip.

Dorothy Parker Slices and Dices

23 March 2015

From The Daily Beast:

You may know Dorothy Parker as the acid-tongued wit who once said a performance by Katharine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B,” and who reviewed a Broadway play with the line, “The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.”

. . . .

[S]he was The New Yorker’s book reviewer from 1927-1933, writing under the pseudonym Constant Reader, and held a similar post at Esquire decades later. Of all her literary eviscerations, perhaps the most famous is the slicing she gave to A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner, making it clear Mrs. Parker had no taste for whimsy. Here’s an excerpt:

“ ‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins.The more it snows, tiddely-pom—’

“ ‘Tiddely what?’ said Piglet.” (He took, as you might say, the very words out of your correspondent’s mouth.)

“ ‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that in to make it more hummy.’ ”

And it is that word “hummy,” my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.

. . . .

Dorothy Parker was a big fan of Dashiell Hammett’s work, calling him “as American as a sawed-off shotgun.” And while she explains that he doesn’t have Hemingway’s scope or beauty, she says it’s true that “he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn. And it is also true that he is a good, hell-bent, cold-hearted writer, with a clear eye for the ways of hard women and a fine ear for the words of hard men, and his books are exciting and powerful and—if I may filch a word from the booksy ones—pulsing.”

. . . .

Parker’s negative reviews can go on for pages, outlining the sheer torture of the reading experience. Her praise, on the other hand, is often succinct. Here is her entire review of this book: “There is still sunshine for us. The miracle is wrought by Shirley Jackson. God bless her, as ever unparalleled, more than ever in her latest book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders. This novel brings back my faith in terror and death. I can say no higher of it and her.”

. . . .

Mr. Capote has three speeds, of each of which, I think, he is a master. He is a novelist, a writer of short stories, and a reporter of murderous accuracy.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

There’s No Such Thing as a Fake Reader

17 March 2015

From Electric Lit:

Three people walk into a bar: the first is carrying a book of experimental poetry, the second holds a YA vampire novel, and the last sits down and opens up a Victorian classic. Who is the “real reader”?

Writers, understandably, are always seeking advice for how to better connect to readers. And there is an abundance of advice that makes claims about what readers want: “Readers want realistic characters!” “Readers crave plot!” “Readers want emotion!” “Readers want simple stories, not complex literary gymnastics!” But, contrary to these claims, readers are not a monolithic block. Readers want different things. Some want realistic characters, others want archetypes. Some want plot-heavy books, others want essayistic musings. Some want simple language, others want complex sentences. And most, in truth, want all of those things at different times.

An appreciation of readers as diverse individuals with different tastes should be a basic tenet of criticism. Instead, it’s common for critics to imagine that their aesthetic preferences are the reflections of “readers” or a special class of readers—“serious readers,” “imaginative readers,” “brave readers,” or some other ill-defined category—whose views truly matter.

Take, for example, this painfully un-self-aware NPR review of Mark Doten’s experimental Iraq war novel, The Infernal:

[The Infernal is] a novel written not for readers but for those who love to argue about the novel-as-object more than they love the words. It’s an elbow-patch book, fodder for lit professors, likely attractive to those young enough (or cynical enough) to believe that oddness and iconoclasm equals genius, but that just ain’t me.

I don’t want to debate the merits of The Infernal here—it’s gotten mostly very positive reviews, and I, full disclosure, know Mark Doten personally—but this is the perfect example of a flaw common in today’s literary and cultural criticism. When a reviewer can’t defend their preferences through argument, they resort to a No True Scotsman fallacy and say anyone who feels differently isn’t even a reader.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Anti-vaxxer children’s book is getting destroyed in Amazon troll campaign

9 February 2015

From Salon:

In 2012, a proactive Australian anti-vaxxer named Stephanie Messenger self-published a children’s book called “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.” With the book, Messenger endeavored to “educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully.” The book’s illustrated cover features a girl frolicking in a meadow with her stomach exposed, revealing a number of measles pocks all over her body. The whole thing is truly grotesque — so much so, that Amazon has put a disclaimer on the book’s description, noting that it is “provided by the publisher/author of this title and presents the subjective opinions of the publisher/author, which may not be substantiated.”

The book is made all the more relevant, now that a massive measles outbreak (due to the steadily growing vaccine “trutherism” movement) has infected more than 100 people in 15 states, including five babies at a Chicago daycare center.

So, the Internet is doing what the Internet does best: trolling the hell out of Messenger’s deeply flawed book through Amazon comments.

. . . .

“Finally! A children’s book with an agenda I can get behind! I always thought I loved kids until I actually had one of my own and boy was I wrong! I researched anything and everything I could possibly do to get rid of the little brat, but I didn’t want to be arrested for murder and childhood cancer is just too darn unpredictable. Fortunately, I stumbled upon ‘Melanie’s Marvelous Measles’, and learned that there is a huge community of people who hate children as much as me! Thanks to Melanie, I was able to ignore my pediatrician’s recommendations to vaccinate my daughter before our trip to Disney World, all while acting like I want what is ‘best’ for my child.” –brittany

. . . .

“Google image “measles” for a GREAT extra set of illustrations as you read along! While watching Melanie chase rainbows in her parents’ Beverly Hills garden, you can journey along with the millions of kids getting marvelous measles in the areas of the world without the luxury of herd immunity from that oh-so-terrible vaccine! Then you can see into the future of what your grandkids will be enjoying, as you continue to encourage others to reject vaccines that hold back the prevalence of viruses in the population. Gotta say, it’s a great time to study medicine in the USA – we get first-hand experience treating diseases that we’d have to travel to the third world to see. Thanks so much, Stephanie!” –Lyra 

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Ric for the tip.

Turning Amazon Reviews Into Celebrity Status — and Free Stuff

8 February 2015

From ABC:

On any given day, Bob will come home to find two to three boxes at his front door filled with products that range from cell phone products to coffee mugs all for free.

That’s because by day, Bob, who asked that his last name not be used, is an IT specialist inWashington, D.C., but by night, he’s an Amazon celebrity.

. . . .

He gained elite status on Amazon by reviewing hundreds of products over the years. Most reviewers like Bob start off small, one review here or there, but now companies send him their products for free. He said he receives about 30 products per week.

Bob is now in the “Top 5” of Amazon’s trusted reviewers and has been in what the company calls “The Reviewers Hall of Fame” for the past five years. For him, it’s more than just a hobby. He said he spends three to four hours a night reviewing products.

And Bob goes all out. He sets up photo and video shoots for his reviews and he’s not afraid to use words like “worthless” in describing products.

“It needs to be time-consuming to be a hobby,” he said. “What good is a hobby that takes 10 minutes a month?”

Mandy, who also asked that her last name not be used, is number 7 on the Amazon celebrity list and has a similar story. A political consultant and a single mom, she spends her spare time building up her review count on Amazon and she too receives dozens of free products now.

“Around Christmas time I was getting around 15 to 20 boxes a day,” she said. “It’s flattering that people [send their products] because you’re not paid for this. This is something that I do because I want to help people. I really want to help small business.”

Many of the free items Mandy said she receives range from clothing to household goods to beauty products, even jewelry. The biggest item she received was a full-sized washing machine, but she said those big ticket items are rare.

. . . .

“[Reviewers] are hugely powerful,” said PR specialist Howard Bragman. “On average they give between one and five reviews a day. So they have a lot of volume, they sell tens of millions dollars’ worth of product because again that’s how our decisions are made.”

Link to the rest at ABC

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