Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Scourge of Planted Negative Book Reviews

There is more freedom now than ever for customers to review books to help other readers make the decision of whether to purchase a book. But with growing abuse of the book review system, how can a potential reader tell is a bad book review is a planted review or not?

When Amazon’s Rating System is Gamed

There has been a lot of talk about so-called planted reviews, bogus book reviews from people who have a vested interest in the writer. This might be a family, friend or an affiliate. A rash of five-star reviews always looks suspicious, but what about the negative review? Sadly, negative reviews can also be given for all sorts of unprincipled reasons, which at the heart, has little to do with the actual book.

Abuse of Amazon’s Book Rating System

Some writers ask other writers to reciprocate good reviews or click the ‘like’ button if done in kind; other writers will refuse to reciprocate if the book is deemed substandard. Still, the negative review is not left where otherwise, it might. Such a system open to abuse is likely to result in a mound of five-star reviews and ‘likes’ from an unbiased foundation. Most avid readers trawling for a good book to read will only see the five-star reviews and purchase on the weight of what is displayed, only to be disappointed with the book. But in similar fashion, a good book given a one-star review for an unethical reason could result in the reader passing on what could be the ideal book to read. How does the Kindle customer tell if a one-star book review is bogus or not? Well, take note of the following:

When Negative Bad Book Reviews Should Not be Trusted

Amazon is reluctant to remove a one-star review unless it contravenes their guidelines, which are:
  • The review attacks Amazon’s services rather than the book.
  • It contains obscenities.
  • The review reveals confidential information.
This still leaves the book ratings system open to abuse. Bad reviews are freely left for all sorts of reasons and there is little the writer can do about it. I personally believe a bad review should be removed if:
  • The book review contains spoilers.
  • If it makes reference to the overwhelming positive reviews received, due to suspicion they were planted. Reviews should be about books, not about other people’s reviews.
  • If there is any reference to the book being written by a self-published author.
  • If there is evidence the review is written by a rival author.
  • If it attacks the author in any way.
  • If the reviewer admits to only the reading the first part of the book.
  • If the reviewer didn’t understand the book.
  • If there is evidence the reviewer has multiple accounts with Amazon and is leaving bad reviews under different personas.
  • An ill-conceived review with only 1 or 2 lines.
I could say, a rambling review that goes on and on and on, but this has on occasion helped the book’s sales.

Bad Reviews by Rival Authors

Sadly, some authors deem it necessary to ‘bash’ rival authors within their genre with a bad review to dent their sales. A writer can also receive a torpedo simply for spamming their book on author forums and blogs. Yes, spamming is a nuisance, but is not cause to leave a negative feedback on their book. There is also a culture of disdain for the indie writer, particularly from mainstream writers and publishers who see them as a scourge on what was once a monopolized publishing platform.

How to Tell a Bad Book Review is Planted

If a potential reader stumbles upon a one-star review and decides to take caution, consider the following:

By all means, read the bad review. But then read the sample pages free from the look inside feature. Does what the negative reviewer say really add up? A bad review that be-cry a book full of clichés and poor writing would not stand up if the first ten pages or so prove a compelling opening with original writing style.

Click on the reviewer’s other reviews. If the book review is the only review left (and more crucially time has elapsed since without any other reviews), take the bad review with a pinch of salt.

Is the review an avid reader too? Are the other reviews on books or totally unrelated products? Has the review proved ‘helpful’? Beware of this too, for it is too easy to click ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Read the comments thread left by other reviewers if there is one. How does the reviewer rank on Amazon’s reviewer’s ranking system? This can be ascertained by clicking on the reviewer’s link.

A Truly Bad Book

A negative review only has credence in my view, if the reviewer has good grounds to give it one star. This might be because of the following:
  • Careless typos and grammatical mistakes throughout the book.
  • Full of clichés and stereotypes.
  • If the book has substandard narrative, characterization, a flabby plot or is poorly-researched.
The bad review should be properly and thoughtfully written and be only about the book, not the author, not about other reviews and not about Amazon’s service. Reviews as a result of a verified purchase should be ranked higher.

Helpful Articles on Self Publishing

Getting book reviews
How to deal with negative book reviews
What is the best price for my book?
Sell your books through Adwords
Stop procrastinating over your novel
Self published versus Amazon

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