Sunday, September 02, 2012

"Sock Puppets" - the whole dirty review saga.

For those who don't already know, a massive row recently erupted when it was revealed that some authors have been creating false accounts on Amazon / Goodreads etc in order not just to review their own works positively but to give unjustly poor ratings to other authors. These accounts / authors have been referred to as "sock puppets" ( for reasons not worth bothering going into ).

This whole sad thing has gone even further due to investigations by bloggers / reviewers / authors etc, who have discovered that some authors have even paid to have positive reviews posted on their works. This bizarre attempt at self-promotion has armies of both detractors and defenders all bellowing their own justifications ( it's just advertising - it's fraud - it's just repeating what others have said etc etc ).

The Internet and writing festivals have been alive with raging battles both public and anonymous, accounts on both Twitter and Amazon have been banned / closed, some authors are under heavy fire for their dishonest attempts to promote their own work or unfairly slate the work of others, and many are questioning the validity of any rating site.

Personally, I couldn't give a sh*t. I actually have one blatantly unfair review of my debut novel "Covenant" on Goodreads, where the "reviewer" ( if you can call them that ) joined the site, reviewed no less than 87 books in a single day to "up" their review rating, then wrote a one-star review of Covenant. They then periodically delete that review and re-post it in order to keep it at the top of the book's review list and in plain sight for anybody seeing the page for the first time, neatly avoiding Goodread's entirely sensible policy regarding repeated negative reviews of any one title.

Do I care? No. Why? Because all of this hoo-harr involves reviews on sites which account for a tiny percentage of the book-buying public. Think about it. Your book appears on these sites and receives, say, 100 reviews, averaging say 3.5 stars ( almost the standard score for EVERY book ever published, it seems ). Some love your work. Some hate it. Some are indifferent. That's life. A couple of people seem to hate your work so much that they create a vendetta against it. That's life too - there are idiots out there and there always will be.

Then your publisher tells you your book sold 30,000 copies in its first two months.

So you sold 30,000 copies and you got 100 reviews. That means, maths fans, that about 0.33% of your readers bothered to review your novel on a public forum. Throw in a few enthusiastic bloggers and maybe a newspaper or two and you might even reach 0.5%. Even if you're a self-published author selling 1,000 copies a year, the percentages remain the same.

The point is that nobody cares much about online reviews. People mostly buy books they think they'll like the look of, enjoy them and then go off to read something else. When your next book is published they'll either want it or they won't. If the sales of your next book increase, then they like you. If your sales fall, then either you need to think about your writing or your publisher needs to look at their PR campaign. Either way, something's amiss. Your fans, the people out there who buy books in their millions, will let you know what they think of your writing, and what Amazon or Goodreads reviewers think won't matter a jot.

It's always great to read a positive review of your work: not just because it's exciting and satisfying, but because you know that somebody out there has paid their hard-earned money and felt that they got satisfaction from doing so. Everybody wins. But I personally also enjoy reading well thought-out negative reviews, because they sometimes highlight issues with my writing that affect all readers, as opposed to the subjective opinion of the individual reviewer.

But if you get reviews that seem a little suspicious, IGNORE them. Don't respond, don't flag them and for God's sake don't reply to them. I've found some authors on-line who have done that and it just gets messy. Just stay focused and keep building your sales, as that's the real sign of a successful author. Leave the gutless bickering and the malicious tantrums to others and get on with what you enjoy: writing.


Jen Black said...

Good for you, Dean. I totally agree. Jen

Anonymous said...

That's awful, Dean. Why the hell would somebody go to all that trouble to keep re-posting their review? It doesn't make sense. There are just some bad people out there. You're right though - just ignore 'em. They're not worth it. And obviously more of your books are coming out, so you're pleasing your publisher, and obviously your readers too.
I have to admit I am way behind everybody and am about to start your book. The kids have been off school and for 12 weeks, and I didn't pick up any of my TBR books. Now I'm going to start. Will let you know when I'm finished and give you my opinion!

John Carson

Dean Crawford said...

Cheers John, hope you enjoy the novel and do let me know what you think. Bet you're glad the kids are back to school - can't wait until my little girl's old enough to go!

Anonymous said...

Yes I am glad, Dean! And so are they. The only downside is, the schools start early here, so I have to get up at 5.30 to get the youngest one up for breakfast. Still, it means I can be at my desk earlier now!
BTW, the new book coming out looks fantastic. I am still playing catch up but I'll get there!

John Carson