Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sock Puppet Masters

If you're even on the fringes of the book world, you've heard the fuss the last few weeks about sock puppet reviews. There was a guy in Bixby, OK -- home to my favorite chiropractor and one of my favorite hamburger places -- who made darn good money selling phony 5-star reviews to authors. The phony reviewers would post their phony reviews on Amazon, and readers would get suckered into buying the books.

I rarely pay attention to reviews, for anyone else's books or mine. A good review is great, a so-so one can take the shininess off your day, and a bad one sticks around forever. Best to avoid them, in my opinion.

I always wondered about those hundreds of 5-star reviews for books I'd never heard of from authors I'd never heard of. Not that I claim to know every writer out there, but when people are raving deliriously about a book on Amazon and there's no buzz anywhere else, I have to wonder. Especially when the gist of the reviews was pretty much the same.

Now writers feel the need to announce, "I've never paid for reviews," and Amazon reviewers are prefacing their comments with, "I didn't receive payment for this review." It's a sad thing when it comes to that, but I'm not surprised. The publishing market has shrunk over the past ten years, and with the advent of indie publishing, where anyone who wants to publish anything can, there's a huge drive to take every advantage possible, even resorting to fraudulent reviews and fake praise.

I understand the guy in Bixby has gone out of business. A good thing, in my opinion. Readers deserve so much better.


  1. I never used to look at reviews, until I had my own books out there. Now if I want to purchase a book but I'm just not quite sure about it, I'll look at the 3-star review as I feel they might be more accurate.

    1. I admit, I pay attention when a book has an overwhelming number of bad reviews. I still haven't bought the 9th or 10th Wheel of Time book, can't remember which, because it had something like 1200 one-star reviews. (And because the series had been wearing me down gradually. Couldn't keep track of the ten thousand characters and fifty-seven plot lines.)

      Otherwise, I learned from running unpublished contests that opinions are SO subjective that, in the end, they're pretty meaningless unless I know the reviewer and know their tastes match mine.

  2. Payment for reviews is absolutely ridiculous! It definitely will put a taint on the reliability of a reviewer. It is amazing that home direct amazon is allowing this to go on. I guess their really isn't anyway of tracking it though..

    1. I agree totally, Mike. If paid reviews are going to become acceptable, then we need to change the name from "review" to "paid endorsement." I have no problem, like with magazine and TV ads, when John Doe says this product is the best and I know he's been paid to say so.

      It's the secrecy and pretense that make it really suck.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. It aggravates me to see Bixby forever associated with this guy--so much I'm thinking of changing my address from Bixby to Hectorville.

    But there's a part of me (the greedy, not very nice part) who wishes I'd thought of it first.

    Maybe someone could offer a legitimate service that pays readers to ACTUALLY read--then honestly review--the book.

    Oh wait, that's called Kirkus Reviews...


    1. I know, T. I actually thought about leaving that part out, but since it was already in the news . . .

      LOL about the greedy part. After I ranted about it to Bob when the story broke, I took a breath and said, "Dang, I would have happily been accepting free books and writing reviews for $15 a pop if I'd only known."

      Like I said above, I'm fine with endorsements, but paid-for reviews, good, bad or ugly, just cross the line for me.

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