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Monday News: Cheaters prospering; Backlist sales declining; Online dictionaries more of...


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For a 50-word review, she said she could find “enough information on the Internet so that I didn’t need to read anything, really.” For a 300-word review, she said, “I spent about 15 minutes reading the book.” She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500.

“There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read,” she said. “But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.”

 But buying reviews has paid off for both the reviewer and the author.  One of Rutherford’s clients was John Locke.  You remember him, right? He was the first self published author to be a Kindl-aire, selling over 1 million copies of his self published books.  Some of Locke’s success may have come from the 300 reviews he purchased from Rutherford.  Numerosity matters to companies like Amazon.  For instance, if you get the right mass of individuals to buy your book at the same time, the book can appear on the bestseller list.  Never heard of an author before and see her book on the list?  That may very well be why.

Author loops exist for co dependent self promotion like this.  Mailing list emails will go out asking for “Likes” because a sufficient number of likes will move a book to the top of a search engine result and can be included in Amazon’s email lists.  Being included in an Amazon email instantly results in success.  Self publishing is rife with unethical behavior from the tagging/like parties coordinated between authors to the republication of existing books so that they appear at the top of coming soon lists to buying reviews.  A very well followed publishing guru is Dean Wesley Smith who famously wrote “Please, I know I will make typos and such.  I don’t care and please don’t tell me. Thanks. If you have trouble reading something with a few typos, please don’t read these stories. There is no such thing as a perfect story and I ain’t trying to write one. Or 100 for that matter.”  Stephen Leather, one of Britian’s biggest self publishing successes, uses sockpuppets and fake accounts to create chatter about his book.  We know from our Fiverr mole that obtaining a positive review is easy and cheap; and buying reviews work:

I clicked on the reviewer’s name and saw a list of dozens of other five-star reviews that they had written. Every book was self-published, and every book was rated five stars. I recognized one of the authors on the list as a self-published writer whose ebooks regularly hit the Kindle charts’ Top 100. “You need a critical mass of readers to generate word of mouth,” the author wrote in a guest post on a popular “indie publishing” blog. Word of mouth, or a critical mass of fake reviews and purchases to push your ebooks into the Kindle Top 100? With ebooks, visibility is a big part of the marketing  equation. Once an ebook hits the Kindle Top 100, sales tend to snowball as new customers discover it in greater numbers.

The reason why buying reviews is so prolific amongst self published authors is because their books are cheap. A self published author can set their book to free or $.99.  The reviews they buy can be from “Verified Purchasers”.  It is much more expensive when one’s book is $7.99, and probably not feasible.  I don’t doubt that the majority of self published and traditionally published authors aren’t engaged in unethical behavior but when one man is making $28,000 a month on selling reviews, a large number of authors are engaged in gaming the system.  These authors are like athletes who take steriods and achieve hitting records.  Their success was predicated on a cheat.  Unfortunately, cheaters do prosper.

If anything, Apple’s win shows how desperately patent reform needs to happen. It will stifle innovation because the only company that can improve on things like a grid style icon layout or an edge to edge glass design will be Apple and who needs to innovate when you don’t have any competitors in that area? Think of science and how once science discovery builds on another science discovery until something miraculous happens like drugs that help to treat Alzheimer’s. With these types of restrictive patent laws, there is no building one design upon another. Imagine how literature would look if patent rules were imposed; yet, more restrictive intellectual property laws are being pushed by huge corporations like Disney all the time. Engadget

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kate Hawkings
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 05:37:51

    Reading about other authors doing this sort of thing really grinds my gears. I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved as a self-published author, without resorting to less than stellar activities, but it’s embarrassing to say I did it myself because of the connotations associated with self-publishing due to authors like this. Do they not feel any hint of guilt that they’re misleading potential purchasers? I always wondered if there was more to it than Locke talked about in his book. I purchased it when I began researching self-publishing as a viable option and was completely underwhelmed. Now I’m feeling ripped off. He says the reviews were ‘the smallest part of being successful’ but those 300-odd people telling others to buy his book certainly didn’t slow his progress.

    I completely agree that the patent system needs an overhaul. Too many technologies have huge potential for good but are unable to be developed upon due to patent claims. I know they’re rather different situations but I feel like a hypocrite saying agreeing because just last week I was in over my head trying to protect my right to use an image to the exclusion of others. I know how Apple must feel, but the patent grabby for such obvious and basic things needs to stop.

  2. Mary Anne Graham
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 06:59:31

    I’m a self-published author and find it very sad that so many people actually use those “paid review” services. These days, even some reputable folks (like Kirkus) are selling reviews so I should’ve guessed there was a fair amount of profit to be made on both ends of the deal.

    It’s dirty money and as Judge Judy would say, the services just don’t pass the “smell test.”

    One of mine is free on Kindle and the reviews – none of them solicited or paid – run the gamut from 5 star (this is a book you must read) to 1 star (couldn’t finish it). The point of reader reviews is to give readers an honest forum and honest opinions can – and usually do – differ. Even reader reviews for bestsellers differ widely but when you see that, you know the reviews are actual reader comments.

    In the long run, I think writers who try to “stack the deck” are apt to get buried under the avalanche when the cards fall.

  3. Angela
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 07:46:04

    It’s really unfortunate for the honest, hard-working, editing self-published authors out there but I’m burnt out on trying to figure out who doesn’t respect me as their customer to give me honesty, give me well-edited writing, and sell me a finished product. I really don’t want to ignore a whole section of books, but I feel like I’m wasting so much good reading time lately.

    Thank you for the dictionary story! :)

  4. Maddie
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 08:31:19

    This is why I only have like 50 book or so on my kindle, it’s heard to trust the reviews on Amazon.

    If I find a book on Amazon from an unknown author who has like 20 five star reviews my radar is up and I will sample it read how terrible it is and know something is not right.

    I think buying reviews will and is hurting legitimate indie authors that put in the hard work because if people are raving how good their book is how many of us buyers are going to believe them under the cloud of buying book reviews scandal.

  5. Carolyn Jewel
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 09:05:40

    In publishing, as the transition from print to digital is taking place, backlist sales have slowed due to a lack of retail space reducing discoverability for backlist titles. Digital backlist titles are growing but not at a rate that is meeting or exceeding the loss of sales from the print backlist

    I about died laughing reading that. Not very nice of me since I’m sure that actually does affect popular authors whose titles stay in print. But this woe of publishing does not make a very important distinction which is the huge difference between a traditional publisher offering digital books for older titles that are still in print and backlist titles that have reverted to authors because the traditional publishers did not keep the book in print.

    In the first case, those digital backlist titles almost surely come with all the things readers dislike — high prices, DRM, lack of availability…. etc. In the second case, the situation appears to be far brighter.

    As to buying book reviews. Just ::sigh::

  6. Rosie
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 09:20:45

    I like the idea of the ebook revolution combined with self publishing in theory, but the reality is so sleazy. I can’t believe that Dean Wesley Smith quote! How disrespectful to the reader, and I can only assume that since this is his attitude, he is not a reader himself. Even worse is that Dean WS and John Locke are the heroes of self publishing, and other authors hang onto their every word and follow their lead.

    I’ve pretty much given up on indie authors already, after a brief spell of trying them out when I first got my kindle. Life is too short to suffer through poorly written, completely unedited dreck. I figure the genuinely good authors will eventually be picked up by a house who will polish their work, and I’ll read ’em then.

  7. sao
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 09:35:53

    It’s clear the self-published world is in bad need of honest reviews. You’d think editors and agents, who have made a living wading through slush piles would figure out how to provide that service to readers. Traditional publishers have very high cost structures and the market is clearly eager for low cost, readable books.

  8. Amanda DeWees
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 09:56:54

    It’s distressing enough that the purchase of reviews has become common, but it’s even more distressing to see people leaping to the conclusion that any indie-published book with a lot of 5-star reviews is cheating this way. My self-published gothic romance has only 20 Amazon reviews at present, almost all of them positive–and I didn’t pay for any of those reviews. I wrote a good book, edited it carefully (I am an editor in my day job), took care to package it well, and was fortunate enough to reach readers who enjoyed it and chose to say so in reviews. Please don’t assume that all self-published authors are crass, dishonest, and lazy just because some are proving themselves to be so. Some of us really do respect readers–and ourselves.

  9. Janet W
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 09:59:37

    Do I ever agree with what Carolyn Jewel said. When authors get the rights to their backlist and republish their books digitally, everyone benefits. How I wish that Mary Balogh would do that because at the glacial rate her Signet Regencies are being published, well, I’m just glad I have them in paper.

    What’s it called when a book gets published and then re-published and then re-published again? Is that churning? Here are just a few examples. Beth Kery has excerpts of Wicked Burn on her segmented, serialized chapterettes. Amazon says the pub date is May 2012. Which is true, except it was first published in 2008 or 09 and a savvy consumer could find it online or in a UBS for less than today’s price of $7.99. Another example, I noticed in the upcoming books for fall the one of Nora Robert’s Dream Trilogy is being republished — how is that an upcoming book? I suppose with both Roberts and Kery’s books, at least the publisher has retained the original name — I can’t be the only one who has bought a “new” book and then discovered it was old and had a new name on it. It’s not impossible at AMZ to figure out if a book is being re-published but it’s not obvious either. I couldn’t tell from the page at Dear Author for the Dream book that it was a reprint but to be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking.

    What I really appreciate are situations like the one with Laura Matthews, long-time Regency author. She has republished all of her older Regencies and is selling them digitally for $3.99 each. Very reasonably priced and an amazing gift to her fans. I know that publishing is a business and it’s not up to me to criticize publishers but some of their practices — I read it described as making sure that a title is perenially “Up and Coming” — are annoying at best and deceptive at worst.

  10. Anon
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 10:06:11

    About buying reviews: Why aren’t there laws against this? Why aren’t these things in newspapers or magazines so the mainstream knows this is going on? And why is it that people like Locke who pay for 300 reviews aren’t dragged through the mud like they should be?

    I’m both self-published and have been published traditionally and I’ve never done anything like this. I don’t know any other authors who have either. I make a point of staying away from authors I feel are too aggressive and too pushy with promotion. I don’t trust them. If readers and reviewers feel sick about these things, just imagine how authors who don’t pay for reviews or go on “like” clicking rampages feel. I personally think any writer who pays for a review should be brought up on a public platform naked, tied up in front of his or her peers, and kicked in the ass.

  11. Mireya
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 10:08:41

    I think that nothing is going to change unless Amazon and the like change the way they deal with reviews so that it is less easy to “game” the system. Personally, I don’t read positive book reviews at Amazon any longer. I only read the 3-stars or lower ones. When I see 300 glowing reviews and only a handful of 3 or lower, I know there is something going on (either the author has a fan base that pumps up the ratings or the reviews are fake). *shrug*

    As to Apple/Samsung, I don’t think that patent law is going to change any time soon.


  12. Las
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 10:40:28

    I agree that it’s unethical, but buying/selling reviews doesn’t push any of my outrage buttons. I guess because I often take positive reviews–even those by reviewers I know and trust–with grains of salt. I’d be annoyed if any of the blogs I read started charging for reviews, but random Amazon reviewers? Meh.

    I also have to wonder if these fake reviews are really that effective on their own. They’re obviously great for raising awareness of a book, which is huge, but wouldn’t a large amount of negative reviews have the same effect? And for all those who buy a book because the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, will they buy any of the author’s subsequent books if they hated the first one? While I haven’t read any of the authors mentioned, I’m assuming that many successful authors who’ve purchased reviews also happen to be at least decent storytellers, so while those reviews might have helped them with sales of their first books because of increased awareness, people actually liked books enough to continue buying those authors.

    There are just so many factors that determine success. Purchased reviews are shady as hell, but if the reason they work is because they create awareness, well, that’s just a few steps away from friends and fans promoting books they haven’t read yet.

  13. Crista McHugh
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 11:27:32

    *begin sarcasm* So that’s what I’ve been doing wrong with my self-published books! Instead of getting legitimate reviews from reputable sources like RT and finalling alongside traditionally published books in RWA chapter contests, I should’ve been following John Locke’s example and bought 300 5-star reviews. My money would have been better spent there instead of on professional editing and cover art. *end sarcasm*

    Seriously, self-published books already have a negative stigma as it is, and this news doesn’t help. I makes me ill, especially when there are many self-pubbed authors who take pride in their work, have it professionally edited, have great cover art, and do not stoop to something underhanded like buying reviews.

  14. Kelly
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 11:45:38

    @Amanda DeWees:

    Amanda, I bought “Sea of Secrets” on a whim a few weeks ago (I’m a sucker for gorgeous gothic covers) – and now I’m moving it up in my TBR queue. Thank you.

  15. Lynn S.
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 12:09:26

    Thanks for the link to Cameron’s article. I do believe her “tyranny of nutters” explains absolutely everything.

  16. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 12:30:29

    My outrage meter was already on full, so I’m finding myself incapable of generating much more than a shrug at the paid reviews thing. Yes, it’s gaming the system. Yes, it’s unethical. And…yeah, I just can’t get that excited about it.

    In my opinion, Chris Anderson’s concept of digital availability is actually completely upside down. If anything, the rise of digital has increased our focus on hits, and I suspect it will continue to do so. Why? Because the “hits” are the books that are the most visible, the most discoverable. The “niche” titles have even less chance, in my opinion, to find their audiences because their audiences won’t be able to find them. The more you can “trick” Amazon et al. into displaying your book, the more sales you can achieve, which will cause Amazon to display your book even more and so on.

  17. Jody Wallace
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 13:04:12

    Hm. Perhaps everyone should check out more indie books with only a few reviews, heh. #whistlesinnocently

  18. Erin Satie
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 13:07:54

    What I learned from browsing reviews at Amazon is to pay attention to individual reviewers, rather than star ratings. That’s also why Goodreads is such an amazing resource, because it’s all about connecting like-minded readers.

    You can find the reviewers who have taste similar to your own, and you can browse their reading lists – I call it a horizontal glom instead of a vertical glom, because instead of gobbling up an author’s backlist, you run through a reader’s. It’s the best possible way to discover new authors and unexpected gems; almost every reviewer who’s been at it a few years has at least one or two hidden gems they’ve praised to the sky.

    Here’s the thing about judging by average star rating: taste has nothing to do with consensus. I never picked books off of a bestseller list and I’m not going to read a book because the average reader rates it highly.

    I really think all of this stuff about buying reviews is going to push people exactly where they need to go: into the world of book bloggers and passionate amateur reviewers.

  19. alixjune
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 14:40:51

    Reviews have always been slanted for pecuniary gain. Publishers would get reviews in major review journals by buying ads (still happens). If the journal panned the book, the publisher might not buy an ad next time– incentive to give a good review. That’s been going on since Victorian times.

    Let’s not be naive. There are independent, unremunerated, unsolicited reviewers, certainly, bu they’re far more likely to be found on the Internet than in newspaper review columns. I’m not saying it’s -good- to pay for reviews, but let’s not pretend that this is a new form of corruption. And that guy who says he made $28K in a month writing reviews? I’m going to have to see the bank statements before I believe that. “My friend’s mom made $28K in a month writing reviews on Amazon!” Yeah, I get those emails too. And I don’t believe them. Not saying there’s no money in making up reviews… but I really don’t think there’s that much money, do you? Really?

    Hmm. Maybe that’s how those scams work. There are enough people who believe you can really made a year’s salary in a month by making up reviews.

  20. CK
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 14:49:40

    Wait, wha? I always base my purchases on the 5-star guidance of perfect strangers. Are you saying that some of them might actually have been paid to write glowing reviews and have tricked me – no, that’s too mild – forced me to purchase a crappy book? Oh my fragile nerves, let me grip my pearls tightly.

    I get that readers want a guaranteed good book. I don’t want my time wasted either, but there is no such guarantee. Ever. Even if it’s a review from someone you usually trust. Even if it’s a favorite author.

    If you buy a book to jump in the bandwagon and be with the in-crowd without bothering to read a sample and then feel cheated by the glowing reviews when it sucks…Well, precious, here’s the world smallest violin playing just for you.

    Plagiarism, thinly-veiled alternative works and general asshatery (and the idiocy of that trial verdict) rate much higher in my rageball-a-nator scale than paying for reviews.

  21. Amanda DeWees
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 15:49:09


    Kelly, thank you so much for the purchase and for your kind words. :) I really hope you enjoy Sea of Secrets. (The beautiful cover is by Kim Killion; I think she did a gorgeous job!)

  22. Ridley
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 15:59:43

    Ha. Even when the trend discussed is authors buying reviews, the NYT is months behind the curve again. Someone call @NYTOnIt.

    Those insubstantial 5* reviews debut authors have dozens of are fake? THE DEVIL YOU SAY!

  23. Ann Somerville
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 18:12:53


    “Reviews have always been slanted for pecuniary gain. Publishers would get reviews in major review journals by buying ads (still happens).”

    You’re talking about a completely different kind of review than what Locke paid for. The service he paid for pretend to be ‘user’ reviews by ordinary citizens, and these are more potentially powerful and misleading because ‘word of mouth’ is considered more potent than direct advertising.

    This may also have been going on in the past but the advent of Amazon and Goodreads have suddenly made citizen reviews important, and thus desirable.

    Honestly, I don’t know why any of us even bother to try to write well, if our well-written books can be so easily outsold by dreck written by someone with no morals and a deep marketing pocket. It’s depressing as hell.

  24. Susan
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 20:52:23

    Maybe I’m just in a Monday funk, but I sometimes think it’s the cheaters in every field/profession that prosper. A few get caught and publicly punished, but that’s just for show. The rest keep doing their thing unhindered.

    I enjoy reading self-published/indie authors but, after getting burned more than a few times, I mostly rely on WOM from trusted sources. I still sample Amazon reviews, but I’m far more chary than before.

  25. Kaetrin
    Aug 27, 2012 @ 20:56:51

    I don’t know how it fits in with the Apple/Samsung decision in the US but the 2 companies have been fighting it out in Court here in Australia too and Samsung has had the more success down here. Last I heard, Apple had lost an injunction to stop Samsung offering their new Galaxy phone for sale. And last year, there was a case where Apple lost (again) – it *sounds like* they ran a similar argument re patent but it didn’t succeed. I wonder what that means now? I suppose the US market is the biggest one and if they can’t sell their stuff worldwide then they will hardly just sell to us Aussies. (I don’t think there was a jury involved in the Australian decision).

  26. MikiS
    Aug 28, 2012 @ 00:02:38

    So, if Penguin and HC merge, who comes out “on top”? Would it mean that the last of the big 6 publishers pulls out of library ebook offerings (HC) or would it mean that Penguin ebooks would be back in libraries?

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