Tuesday News: Amazon tracks down fake reviews, awards and book quality, authors and readers, and writing as a second job
Amazon sues 1,114 reviewers, some selling their opinions for $5 – So it seems that the ubiquity and brazenness of of positive reviews for sale on Fiverr has finally backfired. Amazon has filed suit against more than a thousand for-profit fake review sellers (I won’t even call these folks reviewers, because they really aren’t). Hopefully this won’t just drive these folks underground, because fake reviews are a real problem right now for any product — book or otherwise — that consumers rely on other buyers’ opinions to purchase. The complaint is linked to in the article, but there are some sample exchanges between Amazon and the review sellers that speak to the ‘business as usual’ attitude of fake review sales:
Attached to the complaint are the the 1,114 accused Fiverr usernames in alphabetical order from “aashiralvi” to “zajiue.” At least some of those users were engaged in conversations with Amazon investigators learning more about their business practices.
Amazon wrote to a user named “bess98” asking about her process for reviews. She wrote back: “Dear Sir, Please write a review then I will post it.” – Ars Technica
What Qualifies as Greatness: On Literary Awards Season – Despite the jadedness with which people often approach literary awards, they can be extremely important for the authors who win, along with their publishers, not only for the monetary benefits, but also for the overall sense of what kind of stories are valued and rewarded. Of course, we get the usual stories about how the prize juries are basically rigged, with advocates for certain writers getting their buddies the win, and there will always be arguments over which books really are ‘worthy’ of recognition, but there is also an entrenched idea that book awards can, should, and do mean something, both for books and their readers. One issue I thought was interesting in this piece is the ‘one award for one book’ idea raised by Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson. There’s an attractive logic here, even if it may not be completely sound, because as we know, success tends to breed success, and a single book can clean up during an awards season. On the other hand, how does limiting the number of accolades a book can get lead to another kind of manipulation and artificial management of these awards (e.g. publishers trying to ensure that a certain book wins the ‘right’ award).
Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild says, “I am very wary of a book that has won more than one prize. Then it seems like a lemming award. Two things I wish would change: One, that prize-awarders would agree tacitly not to award more than one prize to any given book. There are always a number of good books in any season, and for one book to get more than one award is a huge waste of public attention — there are other books that could use it. Two, I wish some of the many First Novel awards would shift their sights to writers in mid-career. Those are the writers who often need support, if their first books weren’t blockbusters, or didn’t win a prize.” – The Millions
A Writer’s Manifesto by Joanne Harris: The National Conversation – So you may have seen the small explosion that occurred online yesterday, after that publication that starts with a G (to which I refuse to link anymore) wrote an article on Joanne Harris and her “writer’s manifesto.” I became aware of it when I saw that Harris was brushing off Sandra Schwab’s completely reasonable and reasoned comments, which seemed at odds with the values she promotes in the manifesto itself, which she was imploring people to read in place of the newspaper article. But beyond all the predictable arguments Harris makes about writers who write, what struck me as even more important is the way she struggles to deal with readers in the online age where there is just so much direct contact.
In fact, I thought her piece had promise when she started it by acknowledging that very real problem. It’s a problem for readers, because we’re marketed and promoted constantly, and it’s a problem for authors because once they engage online, readers’ voices may become distracting. Unfortunately, though, instead of really tackling that complexity, Harris’s argument starts to devolve into the tale of the entitled reader, in part because she focuses on the relationship between author and reader, rather than between author and book and then book and reader. Which is a manifestation and perpetuation of the very problem she initially identified.
I love my readers. I love their enthusiasm, their willingness to engage. I enjoy our conversations on Twitter and at festivals. I love their diversity, and the fact that they all see different things in my books, according to what’s important to them, and according to what they have experienced. Without readers, writers would have no context; no audience; no voice. But that doesn’t mean we’re employees, writing books to order. We, too, have a choice. We choose what kind of relationship we want to have with our readers – whether to interact online, go to festivals, give interviews, tour abroad, teach pro bono creative writing sessions or even live in seclusion, without talking to anyone. Writers are as diverse as readers themselves, and all of them have their own way of operating. What may work for one author may be hopelessly inappropriate for another. But whatever our methods of working, the relationship between a writer and their readers should be based on mutual respect, along with a shared understanding of books, their nature and their importance. – Writers’ Centre Norwich
How to Write a Novel and Keep Your Day Job – With all the articles we see these days on how to write full time, this piece by Todd Moss was pretty refreshing, because it was focused on writing as a second job. Yes, in some ways it’s a long-form advertisement for his own books, but it’s also frankly nice to see another perspective. Because the reality is that most writers won’t be able to write full time, and that shouldn’t be viewed as failing. In addition to his “system,” Moss (who worked in the White House as a diplomat for West Africa) shares his reasons for wanting to write novels:
My high-minded reason was to share stories from the trenches of U.S. foreign policymaking, taking readers deep inside the White House Situation Room and into the windowless classified rooms of our overseas embassies during the frantic moments of an international crisis. I also wanted to write a mainstream novel set in Africa to share my longtime affection for a regionof rising importance to regular Americans. Most of all, I wrote a thriller because I thought it would be fun. – Medium
Something about the article leading up to manifesto bugged me. I think it was the seeming contempt for people wanting to become writers.
I think she’s also underestimating how often people in other professions are asked to provide services for free.
Halleluja for someone acknowledging that a lot of authors HAVE to have a day job as well as write their books! I’m tired of being made to feel a failure as a writer (despite winning awards) because I need to work a day job in order to keep a roof over my (and my kids’) heads! Yes, if I quit my Minimum Wage job I’d have a lot more time to turn out books, but a six-monthly royalty payment is no good when the car needs work and the bills are mounting up, and you are the sole wage earner in the house…
I’d like to see more articles that point out how the realities of the writing life stack up against the fantasies…
So I am super confused about the writer’s manifesto thing. What reader is asking people to do any of the things she mentions? You write the books the way you want to write them.
Regarding Fivver reviewers on Amazon have been noting the Fivver scammers for years. I wonder why Amazon even cares right now since it has been pointed out to them time and time again (cause some of the profiles link back to Fivver) about how many fraudulent reviewers there are out there.
I’m in the dark how Amazon can sue reviewers. How can damages from phony reviews be calculated?
@Mzcue: They busted them for breaking the terms of service for both Amazon and Fiverr. They don’t need to calculate actual damages when they can hit someone with the fines listed in the ToS. (I don’t remember the actual amounts off the top of my head, but for ToS it’s usually like $10,000, though sometimes it can be $25,000 or all the way to $250,0000.)
When they signed up, they agreed to abide by the ToS of both companies. And with the sting operation, there’s probably quite a bit of evidence against them. Besides, they were probably the most blatant of offenders. Some people were doing hundreds of reviews a day. ($4 x 100 reviews = $400 x 365 = $146,000.) It was a lucrative scam that makes people question every review they read on Amazon. Which means Amazon can also get them for devaluing the brand.
Basically, they’re screwed.
I totally agree! I have published nineteen stories over the last seven years that have done very well on Amazon and other outlets. The income has been a great bonus. It also allowed me to recently take a semester’s leave of absence from my teaching job to nurse my husband through a horrible bout of colon cancer. But the reality is that I still need to teach to support my family.
I am very curious to read Sandra Schwab’s comments, because I did miss the small explosion, but I am not sure of the publication that starts with G, unless it is The Guardian, and if it, I can’t find it there (my browser isn’t let me search it). So for those who are interested in finding out what happened, is it possible to find out what the link is? I can be emailed personally, to prevent having to post the link. :-) Thank you!
@Wendy Clements: You can see Sandra’s comments by going to her twitter feed (@ScribblingSandy), and yes, it is the Guardian. I pulled up the article by googling “Guardian Joanne Harris manifesto.” If that doesn’t work for you, comment again and I’ll email you the link.
Thank you! :-)