Those Fabulous Fakes

We live in a world of fakes — fake boobs, fake eyelashes, fake scandals, lip-syncing musicians, and the ever-popular bare-faced lie. So we shouldn’t be surprised that some aspiring self-published authors resort to fake book reviews. Apparently there are people lurking around on the Internet who offer, for a fee, to post glowing reviews of your book on Amazon.

This is not specifically to influence prospective buyers, though that might be one effect. No, the point is to fool Amazon’s software system. When your book gets 50 reviews, it gets boosted up in the search engine rankings. People are more likely to find it, because it becomes more visible. The added purchases you’ll garner are because more people are seeing your book.

This morning I got into a discussion with a fellow on the Facebook writers’ group where I hang out. He was defending the practice of buying fake reviews as no different from buying ads. To him, it’s just another form of marketing. He’s wrong, of course. The reason product reviews are felt (by potential customers and also by Amazon’s algorithm) to be important is because they’re perceived to be objective — more objective than advertising. When the review is bought and paid for, the person (or algorithm) who reads the review is being deceived. That’s what “fake” means, after all.

This fellow’s stirring defense of fake reviews got me curious, so I jetted over to Amazon and had a look at the reviews for his novel. I’m not going to tell you his name or the name of his book, but let’s have a look at the first half-dozen reviews he has received.

First review:

[The author] has created a fantastic story and world with this debut novel! His prose and dialogue keep the pacing exciting and steaming with an energy that is always bordering on boiling throughout. The settings he’s created have history and scars that bleed onto every page. The characters are alive with flair and a breath that you swear you can feel on the nape of your neck. They have struggles and conflicts that grab you by the collar and hold you like a noose that you can’t quite get you finger in between until that last moment when all almost seems lost. I won’t say he redefines what fantasy is, because who can really say what fantasy is any longer. This is far from your Tolkien, Martin, Brooks and Pratchett’s fantasies. Though their influences can be felt. It has a life of it’s own just like his world and characters and I’m excited to see more of it!

Zowie! Here’s the next review:

I really enjoyed this book. As a great Fantasy/Action novel I feel the writer has really opened up a new world for us to dive into and become obsessed with! I look forward to reading more of what [the author] has to offer.

And another:

Hey. I’ve read some of this guy’s other work and it pretty much melted my face. I’ve been following him for quite a few years so it is really cool to see this book become a reality. The way this guy’s brain thinks is amazing and his ability to create fantasy world is insane. I just bought the book and haven’t finished reading it yet, but from what I know about this author I will not be disappointed. If you stumbled onto this page or you’re reading this review do yourself a favor and buy this book. Seriously. Do it..

This is the author’s first book — on Amazon, anyway — so that opening sentence may come across as a bit odd, but maybe the reviewer has been a member of the same critique group as the author. Maybe. Let’s look at another:

This dude is a genius writer. If you want a story that you can’t put down, then read this one. I have no idea why this book hasn’t made a bestsellers list yet, but I have no doubt that it will shortly! Do yourself a favor and read this thing!

My pulse rate is up! I’m ready to buy! But wait, there’s more:

I finally made it though the book! ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! This book was like a flying squirrel mated with a Rhino! The most hybrid, action packed shiz you can get! [Author], I don’t know who you are, but this book is the cats meow!

Okay, maybe just one more:

Working on reading this book and it’s been great. Easy to get lost in the story line as characters develop and the plot thickens. I love how descriptive the author is. Helps you become invested as you can start to picture the people and places and feel as if you are there seeing the story unfold. Can’t wait to finish reading it. If you’re looking for a great read this is it.

That’s six reviews — enough to give you a flavor. Our first hint that all may not be as it seems is that all of the book’s reviews so far are five-star reviews. I shouldn’t even mention that, because the smart fakers might notice and start sprinkling their fakes with four stars here or there, to make the scam more believable.

But how can we judge that these are fake reviews? If you read closely, one fact will jump out at you. None of the reviews provides a single solitary detail about what’s between the covers of the book. The name of the lead character? Not mentioned. The setting? Not mentioned. A significant moment in the action? Not mentioned.

These are fake reviews.

I can certainly understand that a lot of self-published authors are desperate to do anything — anything at all — that would give their book an edge. We’re drowning in a sea of self-published fiction. But some of us still cling to some tattered vestige of a value system. Some of us still make, or try to make, an ethical distinction between honesty and bullshit.

I try to do that. I try earnestly not to bullshit anybody. I hope you’re with me on that.

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