Saturday, September 08, 2012

Get Over Yourselves

Updated below.

I had a long talk with a friend last night, and we realized something obvious.

Amazon allows one star reviews. 

In other words, the existing system allows and encourages people to publicly trash books. 

Reread that sentence. Just about every book has one star reviews. So there are, quite literally, MILLIONS of one star reviews.

Every one of those millions of reviewers who trashed a book deliberately did it to harm that book's sales. That's the whole point of a one star review. Someone yelling to the world "Don't buy this!"

This is why I don't leave one star reviews. I think it is a shitty, mean thing to do.

But it's allowed.

If it was wrong to trash a book, it wouldn't be allowed. Like murder isn't allowed. Our society doesn't allow murder.

But society does allow people freedom of speech. And that includes the right for people to offer their opinions. Even anonymously. Even stupid opinions. Even biased opinions. Even opinions with agendas.

Recently, three authors were exposed using an existing system--one built upon the very principle of people voicing their opinions--to their advantage, and they're branded immoral and beyond reproach.

Sorry, no.

Ellory did a shitty thing, and because he didn't sign his name to his reviews he was also cowardly, but what he did wasn't any different than what millions of other one star reviewers did and continue to do.

Ellory didn't want people to buy his rivals' books. He wanted them to buy his books. That was his agenda.

He's allowed his agenda. And I'll defend his right to do things like that, even if I wouldn't do it.

If I have a bad meal at a restaurant, I'd warn my friends not to go there. I'm deliberately preventing that restaurant from making money. That is my agenda.

And if I warned my friends to avoid a restaurant I never ate at, I'd be doing the same thing, except I'd be a dick.

And if I owned a restaurant, and publicly denounced other restaurants, I'd also be a dick. (Or an advertiser using Pepsi Challenge rules.)

There are dicks on the Internet! Gasp! Circle the wagons, Pa!

As I said, I don't leave one star reviews. I think trashing books is shitty. That's my personal opinion.

But if you want to throw Ellory under the bus, you need to condemn the millions of others who give malicious one star reviews, and then condemn the system for allowing it.

If you want to throw Locke under the bus, you need to condemn the millions of others who give unsubstantiated five star reviews, and then condemn the system for allowing it.

If you want to throw Leather under the bus, you need to condemn the millions of others who use sock puppets and post anonymously, and then condemn the system for allowing it.

And if that's what you're trying to do, condemn the entire system, then you are a pinhead condemning what comes down to personal freedoms, and showing you have zero faith in writers or readers.

No reader automatically believes every review they come across. Before all this uproar, there have always been fishy one star and suspect five star reviews. Reviews are a tool readers use, and Amazon has done all it can to give readers more tools to judge their veracity--comments, likes, verified purchases, etc.

We may not approve of an author leaving one star reviews, or buying reviews, or using fake names. Personally, I don't approve of authors trashing me on Twitter, posting anonymously on my blog, or getting a ton of coop money and front page NYT ads while I get none.

I don't think it's fair.

Boo hoo, poor me.

That's the sum total of this scandal. Some authors bitching that other authors aren't playing fair.

GET OVER IT.

Let's all gather together in self-righteous solidarity and change Amazon, then change the whole Internet, then change the behavior of every single person on the planet, so everyone plays fair!

Good luck with that. Especially since everyone's definition of "fair" is different.

It is my opinion that 95% of one star reviews are shitty. But because I don't like something, or because I wouldn't personally do something, doesn't mean I need to go on a holy quest to punish those who displease me, and gather up a lynch mob of like-minded hysterics.

Reviews and the reviewing system have never been some sacred act beyond reproach.

Pinheads have dumb opinions, and the Internet lets them shout their dumb opinions without any fear of repercussion. We're all free to condemn whoever we want to condemn, and be outraged by whatever gets us off.

Right now I'm outraged at all the unwarranted outrage.

Locke didn't hold the world hostage by threatening it with nuclear annihilation to get people to buy his books. He bought reviews which MAY have lead more people to buy his books.

Leather didn't put on a mask to hide his identity and then go on a bank robbing spree. He used a fake identity to make fun of people who were making fun of him.

Ellory didn't go into a rival's house and beat him to death with a hammer. He left one star reviews, which MILLIONS OF OTHERS DO.

But Joe! If this kind of behavior is allowed, the system will devolve into chaos and madness! Madness I say! MADNESS!!!!

Don't be a pinhead. This kind of behavior IS ALLOWED RIGHT NOW, and has been allowed for decades. Every book has one star reviews. There are millions of one star reviews. I'd bet there are also millions of fake reviews. And millions using sock puppets. Just because three authors were discovered doing what millions already do, within a few days of each other, doesn't mean the system is going to hell.

The system works fine. We're all able to sell books, even when some pinhead gives us one star reviews.

We're all not in danger of losing our morals. But we are in danger of losing our perspective.

Amazon, and the Internet, and the Bill Of Rights, allow free speech. Even anonymous free speech. Even speech we don't like.

That petition was stupid. This whole issue is stupid. The hysteria is unwarranted. This is just a self-righteous mob who feels the need to jerk off in public by pointing fingers and declaring themselves superior.

This sums it up:


Addendum

I published an earlier version of this blog inadvertently while I was still tweaking it. The previous opening was:

Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.

It's shitty, and I wouldn't do it. And that's how I'm able to prove I'm right.

Amazon allows one star reviews. In other words, the existing system allows and encourages people to publicly trash books. 

Here's a snapshot of that earlier version.

I don't believe that was as strong an opening as my current one, but I still stand by those words.

You either believe in freedom of speech, and allow people to say things within a system where freedom is allowed, or you try to police the system, which is impossible and also very wrong.

Get it? It isn't wrong to speak your mind. It's wrong to not allow people to speak their mind.

That's the problem with democracy. People do things we don't like them doing. But it beats the alternative, doesn't it?

Calling an action wrong because you wouldn't do it is bad logic. There are certain legal sex acts I wouldn't do. I don't condemn them as being wrong. It just isn't my thing.

In the comments, people are trying to say that fraud was involved.

They're wrong.

Fraud involves damages. No one was damaged here. Amazon allows one star reviews, so that doesn't count as damage. Amazon allows book returns for full refunds. So again, no damage. People call each other names all the time on the internet. That's allowed.

Show me every paid review is a lie. Hint: they aren't.

Show me people bought books based on lies. Hint: people buy books for lots of reasons.

Show me that people who felt duped were prevented from getting full refunds and then leaving negative reviews of their own. Hint: Anyone can do this.

Show me one star reviews harm authors. Hint: Amazon allows one star reviews.

In the comments one of the authors who created the petition is insisting it isn't a mob action. Here is my reply:

When there is a call for many to condemn the behavior of three, I am comfortable calling that a mob.

When that call for action has media coverage, it makes me even more suspect.

When that call to action involves moral superiority, it clinches the deal.

You're part of a mob, whether you intended it or not.

You're signaling out three people for scorn and ridicule and humiliation, whether you intended it or not.

The wording of your petition sucks, whether you intended it or not.

I pick on groups. Big groups who do authors harm.

I don't pick on authors behaving badly.

I'm fine with going against a mob of 400 even though it is an incredibly unfair, one-sided fight. (Hint: you'll need at least 500 more signatures before I'd consider us evenly matched.)

But I'm not okay picking on individual writers.

Say I took every negative thing you've ever said on the Internet, strung it all together in a blog post, then rallied my large readership to publicly condemn you, then called my vast media contacts to join in the excoriation.

That's what your mob is doing. And it doesn't matter if that wasn't your intent.

Update #2

So let me sum this up, because I seem to be getting misunderstood a lot.

If someone buys reviews, I don't care. I don't value reviews enough to pay for them, so I wouldn't do this. I see a very thin line between asking for honest reviews with the reviewer disclosing they'd been paid, and a review where the reviewer discloses nothing, doesn't even read the book, and gives it five stars. I believe readers are savvy enough to figure out which reviews are worth listening to, and how much they affect their buying decision. Considering that readers can download free samples, return the book for a refund, and post reviews of their own (along with comments and like/dislike buttons), I think Amazon is doing all it can to make the system fair. They don't police reviews, and that's a good thing.

If someone gives me a one star review, I don't care. Doesn't matter if they read the book or not, or use a fake name or not. All one star reviews intend to hurt sales. Amazon allows them, and there are millions of them, yet people still buy books.

If someone posts anonymously or uses false names, I don't care. Anyone who has been on the Internet for more than ten minutes soon learns to distrust everyone and everything. The web, by its very nature, is much different than communicating face to face. People say and do things on the net they'd never do in person. Reasonable people understand this, and are automatically wary.

I don't give one star reviews, use sock puppets, or pay for reviews. I understand how my peers might think these things are unfair. They may be unfair. But they aren't serious, and they aren't automatically morally wrong, because they are a by product of free speech. Just because I wouldn't do them doesn't mean I have the right to prevent all others form doing them. That road is a dangerous one to walk, because it leads to sanctimony, witch hunts, censorship, overreacting, hate groups, and mobbing.

Everyone is allowed to be upset about whatever they want to be upset about. But publicly humiliating these three for their minor transgressions is silly. The press covering this is no different than the tabloids printing pictures of drunk celebrities.

I think witch hunters and muck rakers are scum. Humiliating a peer so you can get your name in the paper is pathetic. Exposing author dishonesty, when dishonesty abounds in the publishing industry, is hypocritical. My previous posts have shown that there is no such thing as universal morality, and we all do various questionable things in our careers.

Last, and certainly least, I do finally understand why some authors are so pissed off. Someone just emailed me Nielsen Bookscan number scans of several authors who signed the petition. Wow. I've sold more books in a week than they've sold in years. No wonder they're upset at me, Locke, and Leather.

I'm sorry, guys. I really am. I'm sure your books are good, and I say that with utmost sincerity even though (full disclosure) I haven't read them. But maybe you guys should stop spending so much time on social networks spewing hateful nonsense, and more time on your careers.

I've heard that self-publishing pays 70% royalties and you can set your own prices. If you need pointers, I have a lot of them on my blog. If you have any specific questions, email me. I get a lot of email, but I am being completely honest when I say I'll help you if I can. Seriously. The legacy system is screwing you, just like it screwed me, and you have my sympathy. And you can go right on hating me even though I'll help you.

Ebooks aren't a zero sum game. I wish you nothing but success. 

267 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 267 of 267
Tracy Sharp said...

Well-said. Thanks again, Joe. I f*cking love you.

Mark Darley, Author said...

Hopefully I'll never lose my ability to sift through the BS on the Internet.

Oh, by the way. The Internet is a vast wasteland. Enter at your own risk.

Brian Rush said...

Joe said: "Free speech isn't wrong. Fake reviews are part of free speech. Argument over."

Free speech isn't ILLEGAL. Free speech may indeed be WRONG. Example: Yelling racist and sexist insults at people who are just walking down the street or otherwise minding their own business. Example: telling lies (condemned in just about all codes of ethics and morality).

We don't have the First Amendment to the Constitution because all speech is morally good or neutral. We have it because giving the government the power to censor speech is, in almost all cases, worse than the speech itself. To stop all cases of hurtful, morally wrong speech would require the imposition of a hideous tyranny and that's why we don't do it. It's not because hurtful or deceptive speech isn't morally wrong. Hurtful and deceptive speech IS morally wrong.

If you want to say that authors pulling fast ones with reviews and deceiving readers is not and should not be made illegal, that's one thing and I agree. But when you go further and say there's NOTHING WRONG with the practice -- sorry, can't agree.

Tom Maddox said...

Adrian Staccato said..."Neither action is honorable, but to infringe upon them would be a violation of freedom of speech."

But is there an expectation of freedom speech on Amazon, or any other privately owned website?

Just because Amazon’s review system is exploited every day does not make exploiting it ‘ok’. It is no different than me looking at a city street full of trash and rationalizing that littering must be tolerated and therefore it is fine for me to go ahead and litter. As someone posted way up in this thread many of the practices mentioned in this blog are not allowed by Amazon. Just because they are not diligent in policing the reviews doesn’t mean that the those rules should be ignored.

As a reader I do occasionally rely on the review system to help me decide. I would prefer to think that everyone reviewing a book had actually read it. That would make it easier for me to wade through the reviews. I often mention that I also wish there was a simple filter to only show me reviews by verified purchasers. That simple feature would allow me to filter out some of the fluff. While I have never left a 1 star review I don’t see anything wrong with them and they are not all people being dickish. A valid well-written 1-star review is as useful to me as a valid well-written 3-star or 5-star review. Reviews are not irrelevant to all readers just because they may irrelevant to some readers.

As for the three practices mentioned I find that they are definitely not all equal in my mind. The leaving bad reviews for other authors as a means to boost your own sales is probably the one I have the most problem with. I will say that the behavior of certain authors on the internet has influenced my purchasing decisions in the past (in both directions) and probably will in the future. I have never read anything by the three authors mentioned and am not sure if I ever will but I like to be an informed buyer so knowing these facts helps in that regard.

In the end I think this is all being blown out of proportion, although I really wish I could have seen at least some of this outrage aimed at the group of authors who shut down a legitimate book lending site last month.

Elle Casey said...

Egads. I usually agree with a lot of what JK says, but in this case, not so much.

1-star reviews are not for bashing books. They're for readers who really disliked a book to share their honest opinion about it. Anyone is entitled to hate a book! It's not book bashing to hate a book and say so!

It's the people, authors and others, who leave reviews for books they didn't read or leave reviews that are meant to harm the sales or reputation of the author (i.e., not motivated by their dislike for the work) who are unethical and in the wrong. The Amazon review system is not there for these people. It is there for honest reader-reviewers. Period. There is no excuse for gaming the system. It hurts EVERYONE: the author who does it, the readers, Amazon, the author who suffers from it...everyone.

Colin M said...

Hi Joe,
Love your posts and books.
On Sept. 6 you said "I'm vehemently opposed to religion." Also, over the past couple days you mention you are against big groups picking on individuals. Man if you combine these 2 topics it would make one great book.

Regarding reviews, if I look at them it's to get a feel for the type of book not so much the details. Occasionally, I'll flip through them after I've read a book to see what others thought. For example, after reading Serial Uncut I read some of your one star reviews and had a great laugh at how closed minded some people are. You and Blake seriously pushed the envelope on that one.

Just for your info. Serial Uncut was one of my first e-books (I got it free) and I have since bought and read all yours and Blake's books. I'm sure I'm one of many with a similar story. Maybe your one star reviews helped with some book sales. Best Wishes.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

But aren't Amazon customer reviews the #1 way to get your book noticed on Amazon? When you KDP a title and it has no reviews, and nobody knows you, how can you ever sell anything?

When TRIAL JUNKIES was first put in KDP, it had no reviews. By the time I did a free giveaway through KDP Select, I believe it had, maybe, two or three reviews that had come in from people who had received advance copies in exchange for an honest review.

The book's sales exploded after it launched for pay, even though it still only had about five or six reviews. Then, over time, many more trickled in, including some one-stars.

The book's sales have settled down now, following what I believe is a natural course, as well as the August/September doldrums that so many authors have warned me about.

I don't think ANY of this had anything to do with reviews. I'm convinced that it was KDP Select that did it for me.

Do I like getting good reviews? Of course, and I appreciate them. Do I hate getting bad ones? Naturally.

But I don't believe reviews have much an effect on sales of things like books, music, movies. Appliances, yes. Body lotion, yes. Audio-Visual equipment, yes. Computers, yes.

Books, no.

Because choosing a book to read is a subjective process that has nothing to do with someone else's taste in reading material.

I could well be wrong about this. But I don't think I am.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Joe - you say that what Ellroy, Leather and Locke have done is not morally wrong. So does that mean you have ever done it?

P.S. Power said...

"Joe - you say that what Ellroy, Leather and Locke have done is not morally wrong. So does that mean you have ever done it?"

He's said many times now that he hasn't. We can only take people at their word, especially online.

*Of course I say that smoking Marijuana isn't wrong, and I've never done that...

I also say that killing a person that harmed a loved one isn't "wrong" but again, I've never done that either.

Taking an extra free sample of a product in a store, when you're supposed to have only one... If they offer it, why not? But again, never did it myself.

A person can think a lot of things aren't wrong and still not do them for other reasons.

Now in this case I think Joe is wrong, but that isn't the same thing as doing these things at all.

Of course I honestly think that his real goal here is to protect Locke, Leather and Ellroy as individuals and as such he has a higher motive in mind.

I can't prove that though, but if so, he isn't wrong in doing that either.

R. Doug Wicker said...

Wow. Just, wow. This piece is so far off base on so many fronts that I don't even know where to start.

This isn't a free speech issue, as the government isn't curtailing anyone's free speech. It's people expressing an opinion (isn't that free speech?) on demonstrably bad behavior.

How is this behavior demonstrably bad? Because Mr. Ellory didn't even want his OWN NAME associated with what he was doing. Even HE recognized it was wrong.

Sorry, J.A., but you've blown this one on every front.

Jill James said...

Anonymous 1 star ranking

Anonymous 1 star ranking

Which one was left by an author trying to hurt another author? Which one was left by an unhappy reader?

DeniseWinters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DeniseWinters said...

What does this have to do with freedom of speech? Are people clamoring for the government to get involved, to shut down reviews deemed unsubstantiated? How does one complain about people writing complaints about some credit card companies not accepting payments for erotica because the companies aren't impinging on freedom of speech, and then try to make this a freedom of speech issue?

It isn't one. I'm much more of the opinion that powerful corporations curtailing speech and access is censorship/speech-silencing than people making their own value judgements about the behavior of some.And even if it is silencing, it still isn't a freedom of speech violation (and using corporate power is a lot closer to one I'd argue, but speaking out against that is something you rail against as well).

And matters of rightness and wrongness are value judgements independent of law/guidelines. For the most part, lying isn't a crime but many people believe it to be wrong. I think the authors that posted fake one-star reviews to hurt competition acted like a jerk, the other two, not so much imo. So yeah, I think that author is wrong, and someone can disagree, but it is a value judgement and their opinion carries no more weight than mine and the question of wrongness isn't about what the system does and doesn't allow. And the difference between describing something as wrong and shitty seems nebulous. Both seem to describe something in opposition to goodness/proper/positive conduct.

If you don't want to be considered a jerk, then you can try to avoid offending people, or, you can make decisions you won't be ashamed to standby if they are discovered. If these authors fell they didn't do anything wrong, then they have nothing to be ashamed of and shouldn't concern themselves with the backlash that should have been taken into account from the beginning. They knew what they were doing, they knew how people would react, and they did it anyway, so they hopefully expected the backlash.

Doing something you know a lot of people will have a problem with and then getting upset when people find out and are upset makes no sense to me. Even people I agree with who make politically radical statements don't act surprised when there is dissent, so why should anyone be surprised when something they did underhandedly comes to light and there is backlash?

And this entire post seems to be one big "you're wrong" to the group of people that publicized this behavior. I think revealing individuals who do things like posting fake 1-star reviews not because they hated the book but to drive down competition is a way of avoiding contributing to a writing community that does things like this.

Al said...

What's legal and what's right/wrong are often very different. The law is to keep society in order, it can never make everyone do the right thing all the time.

Stephen Leather said...

Jeez, you can't win can you? I explain my position on pen names and an anonymous troll claims that I didn't pay bar bills 25 years ago! This is the problem with arguing with a mob, it's like fighting a bush fire. As soon as you put one fire out another one flares up and before you know it you spend all your time fighting fares. For anyone that cares (seriously) I was never a member of the FCC in Hong Kong so could never run up a tab. I paid cash to the staff (if there were no board members around) or my good mate Jan Altink paid and I gave the cash to him. Saying I had unpaid bills is a lie, but there are so many lies flying around these days that one more doesn't really make a difference. But I mean, how sad to post that? Seriously. Anyway, like Joe I've got a book to write.... .Later

Anonymous said...

Rob Gregory Brown: But I don't believe reviews have much an effect on sales of things like books, music, movies. Appliances, yes. Body lotion, yes. Audio-Visual equipment, yes. Computers, yes.

Books, no.

Because choosing a book to read is a subjective process that has nothing to do with someone else's taste in reading material.


I'd not agree with you entirely as, subjective or not, people are often swayed by the opinions of others. However, a more important point is the fact that Amazon bases its listings partly on the number of positive reviews a book gets. The better the reviews, the higher up the list, the more exposure and the better the chance of a sale. If cheating authors are cramming their reviews with 5-stars it means that the honest newbie is getting pushed further and further down the list. And really, if it did'nt work like this why would cheating authors bother to do it in the first place - for giggles? Many of the posts on this blog are about ways of getting higher up the lists. It's clearly important.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Leather - Jeez, you can't win can you?

Never mind. Ask your 'pen name' Sympathyforthedevil to write you another nice letter.

It's what you do, isnt it - have conversations with yourself...

Rob Gregory Browne said...

However, a more important point is the fact that Amazon bases its listings partly on the number of positive reviews a book gets. The better the reviews, the higher up the list, the more exposure and the better the chance of a sale.

I've heard people say this before, but it seems to be one of those stories that came from a friend of a friend's friend's cousin.

Amazon doesn't reveal how its rankings work, how its lists work, so how can anyone possibly know if this is true?

I think the only algorithm that makes any sense is, the more books you sell, the higher up on the lists you go, the more books you sell.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Jill James aid, Which one was left by an author trying to hurt another author? Which one was left by an unhappy reader?

Authors, by their very nature, want to believe the former. Because how could anyone hate our books?

The easiest way to rationalize a bad review is to assume someone is out to get you.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'd not agree with you entirely as, subjective or not, people are often swayed by the opinions of others.

Meant to address this, but forgot to. I think that this is true when you're talking about people who have no real commitment to what they like or what they're looking for in a book or song/band or a movie. They figure, hey, everybody else likes it, so maybe I will, too.

Or they're simply gullible. 50 Shades of Grey being a great example.

But I think most readers, hardcore readers and higher than one book a year readers, already know a) the type of book they want to read; and b) the type of voice they want it written in.

Part a is the easy part. Part b involves reading samples. And that's what sells your book. Your first two or three chapters. Which the reader can get at the click of a button.

I don't think having good reviews HURTS a book. But I don't think having bad reviews does either.

James Scott Bell said...

220 comments? On this?

I feel like Don Corleone calling for the sit down with the five families after Sonny got shot to shreds. "How did things get so far?"

Of all the hills to die on, this is not one of them. On either side. Everyone knows the named authors engaged in bad behavior, and every philosopher and theologian knows human nature invited into a vacuum will perform such acts. And we are all human. But don't spend precious time trying come up with justification for said acts.

And on both sides, don't get sucked into a vitriol contest (sometimes referred to a "match" with a bodily function attached before that word). Don't go to the mattresses.

Time for a truce. And don't anyone turn into Barzini, either.

AD said...

There's this thing out there called ratemyprofessor.com. The observations on book reviews can apply to this as well. There are shallow complainers and whiners and I am absolutely certain there are professors who go out and give themselves glowing reviews. Do people know the reviews are not sterling silver? Of course. Can the reviews still provide a sense of something? Of course. The issue seems like a shrinking storm that will soon fit in a tea pot, just as soon as people stop worrying about it. A couple of big names got their boob stuck in the wringer on this... and life goes on.

johnpeters said...

Can't disagree with you much here, except on the Locke issue. See, Locke is actively selling a book, advertising it, telling folks if you buy and read his book then you'll know just how he became the buy who sold a bazallion e-books.

The unspoken pitch is "hey, this is how I did it, buy my book and you can too."

No, Locke doesn't specifically say that, but let's get real. No one's buying that book as a case study on how to be a successful e-book publisher for academic reasons. They believe they can learn how to be successful, too. Locke knows it, that's why he wrote it and that's how he's marketing the book.

Yet now we find he gamed the system a bit. So, no biggie. Plenty of people do, and as you say here, Mr. Konrath, it's allowed. What is wrong, however, is advertising a book as the guide to becoming a big-time author, but leaving out that significant little step he took.

In my mind, at least on THIS point, he was wrong, dishonest, and owes the option of a refund to every single person who purchased that book.

My three cent's worth.

Mario Jannatpour said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mario Jannatpour said...

Hi Joe! Thanks for all you do for self published authors. I read your posts all the time and enjoy them. This post was entertaining. But then I got a 1-star review on my book last night. Man, it was painful. I am not a full time writer. I am a Realtor and I wrote a career book for new Realtors. Prior to the 1-star attack I had only 5 and 4 star reviews.

So your post now has personal meaning and I totally agree that Amazon should not have 1 star reviews. It makes no sense. The person who wrote the 1-star review on my book must have some personal agenda towards me.

Here's the link on Amazon and I did respond to it.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R32B6TH87GVMPE/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R32B6TH87GVMPE

Thanks again Joe!! I really appreciate all you do.

Mario Jannatpour

Xenophon said...

I think the whole "star" system is flawed by the users. If something rates even a single star it should mean you remotely liked something about it.

There are no options for zero stars or rotten tomatoes for overtly negative reviews.

This is the fallacy inherent in the way the reviews are set up. They are meant to be positive, but people have turned the lowest rating into an insult for their own purposes...

Mark Edward Hall said...

I received a one star review last night for my 11,000 word story, The Breath of Life (An Egyptian Adventure). The guy said "It would have made a great novel but I'm disappointed because it was so short." he also went on to say "if I'd known this I wouldn't have bought the book," although he did return it. Gee, if he'd read the description he would have seen that it was 11,000 words.
The point I'm trying to make is this: readers leave one star reviews for a great number of reasons, some legit, some not so legit. Amazon allows them to post their thoughts and attach a rating to those thoughts. It leaves the door open to dishonest or even irrational behavior. As I see it there are two choices. We can ban the review and rating system altogether, which I think would be a mistake, or we can continue on knowing and accepting that dishonest and irrational people will always be a part of the game. I like the second option better. I don't like mod rule. It demonstrates a herd mentality. Get over the tree dudes who gamed the system. Tons of others are doing it every day in lots of creative ways. They always have and they always will.

John Brewer said...

My favorite one-star review for one of my books - in fact my only one-star review, is the one that reviews my reviews. I had nothing but five star reviews until this dick-wipe claimed that I was leaving the reviews under fake names. I challenged Amazon to pull the review, claiming that it violated their terms because it didn't actually review the book. Their response was to remove three of my five-star reviews including the "Spielberg meets Clancy" review, and warn me not to question them again. Talk about Bullshit! You can see the bogus one-star review here: http://www.amazon.com/Multiplayer-John-C-Brewer/product-reviews/1937979008/ref=cm_cr_dp_see_all_btm?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

Anonymous said...

Way back in the days before Amazon and the internet, how did all those people wandering around book stores buy books? Seems they picked up books, flipped them over, read the blurb, and flipped a few pages. They didn't have a compendium of reviews at their fingertips.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Joe, you say that to be fraud, there has to be somebody damaged, some harm done. Well, sock-puppet "reviews," "reviewing" books you haven't read, buying fake "reviews" from paid shills, posting negative "reviews" regardless of merit merely to damage a competitor -- all of that most certainly is fraud, and people most certainly are harmed.

Ask yourself: Why do we have reviews at all? Why do customers read (and write) them? Why does Amazon showcase them -- even using customer ratings as the basis for "Top Rated" sales lists, aimed at potential buyers?

Because people seek value from them: information about the potential value of products. But if that information is systematically falsified, then any potential buyer taking it into account is harmed in one of two ways: He either loses money by buying something whose value has been falsely inflated, or he loses the value of a product that he otherwise would have wanted and purchased, but rejected because it was falsely maligned.

To gauge the potential value to him of a book, a reader may consult its product description, its sample, word-of-mouth buzz, endorsement "blurbs," and customer feedback. Of these, book product descriptions and samples don't always give enough information. Blurbs and reviews often tip the scale. I usually go through them carefully, looking for patterns of comments that will inform my buying decisions.

But if "patterns" of comments are established by a series of falsified "reviews" from sock puppets, hired hacks, or envious rivals, then it's easy to get fooled. And in those cases, somebody -- buyer or seller -- is defrauded out of money.

If a series of fake rave reviews tips someone to buy a book he otherwise wouldn't have, then the reader is defrauded out of his money. And if a phony pan dissuades someone from buying a book he otherwise would have, then the author is defrauded out of his money. Either way, somebody gets screwed, due to misrepresentations about the merits of a product.

These practices also harm Amazon, devaluing one of the main tools its customers use to find books. Books with the highest customer ratings also appear on separate Amazon "Top Rated" lists, and I can tell you from experience that being on those lists boosts sales. So, if someone pushes a title onto such lists by posting a host of false 5-star raves, he is defrauding those who rely upon these rating lists. Likewise, if a series of malicious pans knocks a fine book off such a list, that can cost an author significantly in "discoverability" -- hence, sales.

Joe, you say those insisting on simple honesty are engaging in "witch hunts" and "mob action."
But causing financial harm to others through false pretexts is not just morally "questionable"; it is wrong. And while there may not be laws against sock puppetry and fake reviewers, Amazon has rules against them.

Customer reviews are a valuable, institutionalized recommendation process integral to Amazon's sales success. But that system won't continue to be valuable or successful if authors abuse it to defraud readers, while people of your status and following leap to their defense. They deserve to be stigmatized -- which may discourage other authors from following their sorry examples.

Embrack said...

No I wouldn't give a one star review to an indie author, I have better things to do. I have a big fat one star review on Amazon that is inarticulate and moronic, the product of a first month of a Year One indie author mistake of buying reviews from Book Rooster. (I learned everything from JAK, my sensei, but the only bad ones were the recommendations of Book Rooster and Carl Graves; but you learn as you go) Last year I got refunds from Book Rooster and that was my John Locke moment. Year Two I now get that rigging a rigged game takes more $$$ and more skill. I can't blame him for rigging the game. That John Locke bought his way to the top is less scummy than his selling a "how to" book where his "key technique" was "loyalty transfer". That is just being a POS. Even lower than a one star review troll is rigging one star reviews. Leave it to people to stink up anything, even indie self-publishing. Now I'm garden hosing any stink off my operation. Did someone say one star reviews are unethical? One star reviews are a hazard of the occupation like a heckler to a stand up comic.

P.S. Power said...

Real one star reviews are a hazard of the game.

A campaign of them isn't though.

Hopefully comedians don't hire hecklers to follow rival comedians around from project to project in order to trash their shows.

There is a difference.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Stephen Leather said - " But I mean, how sad to post that? Seriously. Anyway, like Joe I've got a book to write.... .Later"

And I say and don't forget all the reviews of said book you have to write too.

This is a terrible situation and Konrath is not only wrong when he says there's nothing wrong with the sock puppet fiasco, it goes beyond the grain and is an insult to writers everywhere. I also feel these jerks will ruin the credibility of indie publishing - Konrath has gone from being a champion of indie publishing to a liability with this post.

Oh and just because the majority of people are rightly disgusted by Ellroy, Leather and Locke doesn't make them a mob, nor are they trolls.

I've got no respect for your guys - Goodbye and good riddance.

J S said...

Many commercials continue using famous faces to pitch "why this item is so good even I, the famous guy, use this product". Fancy MBA marketing research has proven again and again that buyers don't believe celebrities pitching things (but CEO's do since they approve the advertising...).

What does work are reviews from friends or 'regular people just like me' which is where the problem with site reviews comes in. But consumers still know that game.

I'll actually start with the negative reviews on a product to see the real story. Easy to ignore the 'haters' but more often the low star reviews are backed with more carefully considered reasons why they consider the product is bad and why it might even be good.

Petitions and everything else are a waste of time. Getting enough writers to round-robin review each other to four and five stars and then something might get changed.

Amazon requires a reviewer to have an account that bought something. So to create enough sock puppet accounts to do anything is expensive and really time consuming. For me it's better to write that next book.


.

natural gas compressor said...

I agree also with your post... with a 1 star review on any would means that it is seldom visit or not as very interesting one. but it is the effort of the one who created it to have their creation be on queue. so be it. . . .

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Maria James said...

Read this about Jeremy Duns -

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Gary Ponzo said...

Love "The Front." Classic Woody Allen.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Stephen Leather has a beef with Jeremy Duns. And Joe Konrath says no harm was done by posting fake reviews!

http://jeremyduns.blogspot.co.uk/

TeriB said...

I've read some pretty revealing one-star and two-star reviews in which the reviewer made many detailed comments about what didn't work in the book. Those reviewers aren't mean assholes. They're giving you information that could help you improve your craft, if you have the ears to hear it. Sure, there are jerks who leave one-star and a comment like "Totally sucked". Yes, they are assholes and should have their keyboard trays taken away from them.

However, I've noticed a lot of push-back from writers who don't care about the content, tone, or intent of the review, only the stars.

The more reviews I read, the less I care about the stars, the more I'm interested in the content of the review. For most books, the two and three star reviews are most useful.

Anonymous said...

Considering each of the three cases individually:

1. Locke is partially wrong. He should not have omitted his action from his How To book. That shortchanged the people who bought that book. The check he wrote to a third party to go out and obtain reviews, however, I don't see as unethical at all. The company he hired to get those reviews may have acted unethically, but Locke didn't. Locke is guilty at worst of willful blindness - he should have known that a company offering that service would have to act unethically and violate Amazon's TOS to provide it. But it's extremely unclear to me whether willful blindness is actually unethical. We could go round and round on the philosophy of that all day.

2. Leather seems to me to be the least unethical here. Anyone who has ever posted anonymously on the internet while discussing any subject whatsoever really has no grounds to criticize Leather. What you call "sockpuppetry" I call "using the internet", since using the internet typically involves anonymity for most users. I don't see a lot of difference ethically between anonymously posting "Support gay marriage!" on the internet and anonymously posting "Stephen Leather is a great author!" on the internet. Even if you're Stephen Leather.

3. With Ellory, it comes down to whether or not he actually disliked the books in question. If he actually hated the books, what's the objection here? That he gave his opinion on the books in a way that didn't allow the authors he reviewed to retaliate against him? I don't see the problem with that either. He only acted unethically if he didn't read the books, or thought they were good books and reviewed them badly anyway.

Kiana Davenport said...

I totally agree with Kathleen Valentine. I never leave 1 star reviews. If a book is that bad, I don't finish it. I don't read books not worth the time.

If I see a book/novel has many flaws, but that there is talent there and potential for the writer to improve, I generally give it one more star that it deserves. Why? Because writers need encouragement, we need time and incentive to improve. Just as readers do.

We are all in a pioneer phase, groping through the digital ethers. I continue to believe that writers, readers and reader reviews will improve with time.
I continue to believe that man's basic urge is toward
excellence. Readers will become more discerning, and expect better writing. The dross will eventually fall by the wayside. Call me crazy.

Kiana Davenport, author of THE SPY LOVER

Archangel said...

with you Kiana. We can be crazy together. I dont write reviews, I hardly get enough sleep what with family, elders, children, g-children, work. Oh, and lifting weights, the only sanity sometimes. lol. I buy books without reading 'review-opinings' 99% of the time. In part because it appears some have an axe to grind that has little to do with book. And the comments under reviews can thieve huge amounts of time to read... time I dont have. I just want to buy a frickin' book, dammit. Not spend half a day standing at the candy counter asking every freakin customer what they think about the double dark chocolate pecan turtles. lol

But, if a book is hyperexpensive and I've not read the author before, I'll read a few AMZ reviews, but not many. Havent the time. Since returns are avail, that takes care of any error. 99% of time.

I'd see AMZ perhaps doing better by those who havent a pile of time to read and write reviews, to perhaps keep a page where if people really want to take position of 'helping' an author by critique, that that be separate from opinion-reviews. But again, it all takes time, and there's barely enough time to write as it is, and that's the place of calling for many of us. Sometimes easier to waste time than to write. A subject for another time. lol

Thanks
dr.cpe

Zy Danielson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zy Danielson said...

Just for perspective, I thought I'd say why I buy a book on my Kindle. Stars have nothing to do with it. At all. Neither do reviews, really, though I sometimes read them. Two things are important to me: the title and the description of the content. But even those don't determine whether I purchase. If either of them interest me, I download a free sample of the book. That, and that alone, assists me in making a purchase decision. It boils down to a private, one-to-one relationship between me and the author. I'm so grateful to Amazon for creating the possibility of this relationship before I purchase a book. Because ultimately, it doesn't matter whether anyone else likes anything I buy. It only matters if I like it. And who can assist me better in forming that decision but the author? What can assist me better than a free sample of the book? It is intimate, easy, and free.

It astonishes me to think people would buy an ebook without reading a bit of it first; that "stars" or reviews would make that decision for them. I don't know how many other readers out there think like I do. But I sure hope there are a lot.

Free samples are direct connection. Everything else is just more stuff standing between us and content possibility. We finally got rid of the publishing industry standing between us and the books we might like. Anyone who hasn't learned from that amazing legal coup (sorry if that is an oxymoran) might want to wake up and learn.

And of course, they might want to be lazy and stay asleep. That's okay too.

Anonymous said...

It does look infantile when authors question their one star reviews and insult their readers but never question their four and five star reviews.

The good and bad in each probably balance each other out. Complaining about bad reviews draws attention to the possibility that you just might be a bad author.

Want to change those reviews? Write a great book. Not a good book. A great book!

Anonymous said...

When an author uses quotations from one of their good honest reviews on twitter 308 times and doesn't mention their bad reviews once, is that author being dishonest. Using any publicity to show your product in a positive light is 'dishonest', advertising is dishonest. The only way your conscience can be clear is to release your book into the wild and then never have anything to do with it. If you do, you will be influencing people to buy a book they may well have not bought otherwise. You can't have it both ways, so stop blogging and tweeting and doing signings. That's influencing people just like a fake review.

Archangel said...

@Zy Danielson wrote; " It boils down to a private, one-to-one relationship between me and the author. I'm so grateful to Amazon for creating the possibility of this relationship before I purchase a book. Because ultimately, it doesn't matter whether anyone else likes anything I buy. It only matters if I like it. And who can assist me better in forming that decision but the author? What can assist me better than a free sample of the book? It is intimate, easy, and free."

You said it, I think. Without middle man. Think for your self, weigh it out, hit the 'buy' button as you will.

Though I dont review online, I do write about 15 endorsements of books in my interest areas (nonfiction) per year, meaning I have to read the books, all of them, first. Another endeavor that takes time. I'm not a 'sales copy' writer and can barely understand the overused 'tour de force' and 'brilliant' as realistic copy. So I just write my honest reaction to the work, with at least one specific about what can be found in it that is useful, and with hope that other readers might find the goodness I found in the work too.

And I agree Zy, from the other direction, having contact with the readers of my own work is a cherished experience that heretofore was not possible with big pubs clogging up every doorway.

Thanks

Alan Spade said...

Sorry, nothing to do with the price of beans, but I have written about my experience with Createspace (there are pictures, too).

It's the first time Createspace allows us, french authors, direct distribution with Amazon.fr,so it's great news for us (though I'll stay with LSI for books I sign at bookstores).

http://emmanuelguillot.over-blog.com/article-mon-experience-avec-createspace-et-cyber-scribe-ediweb-110115032.html

Jason Payne (NSCA-CPT) said...

Is there a difference between attacking someones book and simply letting other people know you thought it sucked?

I'm not sure that simply letting other people know you thought it sucked is even dickish, because it's not a personal attack at all, well, unless you're a dick and choose to make it personal.

If you think my comment sucks, feel free to let me know, but please... don't be a dick about it.

Cheryl Tardif said...

I agree with everything you've said here, Joe. 150,000%. :-)

Sure, getting a one-star review might suck, might even hurt your feelings, but get over it! It's just one person's opinion--and that doesn't mean much.

I've earned over $150,000 so far with my Kindle ebooks since Feb 1st of this year.

Believe me, I have some shitty one-stars, and though I'm not bringing in the kind of income Joe sees, it's safe to say that those one-stars aren't killing me.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif
www.cherylktardif.com

Griffin Hayes said...

I also hate how self-righteous some people are being about this whole review scandal. It does feel like a witch hunt and kudos to Joe for having the balls to speak his mind and not give a crap what anyone else thinks.

As an author, it does make me feel frustrated to play by the rules and sink hours into writing the best books I can and then spend another whack of my life to promote those books, only to have some 'pinhead' drop a few hundred bucks on fake reviews and watch their sales skyrocket.

And this is not just conjecture. I KNOW at least one big author who went the sleazy route and then sold tens of thousands of books. I'd say 95% of his 1 and 2 star reviews all begin the same way: I only bought this book after seeing so many great reviews. They were duped.

It's the same reason they don't allow steroids in the Olympics. What's the point of training your ass off when little Billy can pump his veins full of muscle crack and wipe the floor with you? Uh, none.

So, I'm not in favor of public executions. But I'm all for creating a playing field that's as fair and leveled 'as possible'. Will it be perfect? No, but I'm scared to see how quickly things will spiral out of control if we ever give up trying to achieve an ethical standard.

Justin Alexander said...

This is really, really simple:

(1) Just because you have a legal right to do something, doesn't make it ethically right to do it.

(2) Leaving a 1 star review because you read the book and hated it is not ethically equivalent to leaving a 1 star review because you're trying to torpedo your competition.

Your argument that "we have free speech, therefore everything Hitler said in MEIN KAMPF was totally cool" is vapid and facile. It is, in fact, possible to say "Hitler should have the right to publish MEIN KAMPF" without jumping to "anyone complaining about what Hitler said in MEIN KAMPF is a pinhead because he totally has a legal right to say it".

Mira said...

I really appreciate that you are taking a stand on this, Joe! Thanks for some sanity, thank you for being willing to take the heat in order to hopefully slow down a potentially damaging mob action! Thank you!

Because when you compare the ethics of writing a false review versus the incredibly damaging impact of a witch hunt, there is no question which is more destructive.

But I have a strong reaction to something else here, and that is this:

Why so much focus on review writing, which is not illegal, when there has been a felony, criminal act committed by the Big Six? If folks are so concerned about ethics, why is there so much silence on this issue?


Where is the call to action regarding the fact that the Big Six committed felony?
Some people would say that committing a felony, unless it is to protect your own life, is not an ethical action. Where is the outrage? Where are the protests? Where is the condemation of felony, criminal activity?

Where is the letter condemning the choice of committing a Felony Criminal Act by the Big Six? Where is the letter stating that writers will take their business elsewhere to more ethical publishers?

I'm sorry, but something here feels off to me. If you are going to take an ethical high road, that means you take an ethical stance. You don't pick and choose. You don't only fight the battle when your opponent is small and can't fight back. You don't pick only the battles that don't impact you personally. What the Big Six did is wrong. By definition. It's called a FELONY.

Where is the community action about that?

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Of course it is no surprise Joe would take this stand, but if any of you think leaving false reviews is not wrong then you are seriously deluded. I guess the reason some are saying this is not wrong is because people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Kate O'Reilley said...

In our world of anonymity, it's so easy to trash someone on line and never give it a second thought. The thing is, even if you tell yourself the person trashing you is a pinhead, it still hurts. I don't know the right answer, but it seems like there needs to be a way to separate valid reviews from those generated by some douchebag with a vendetta.

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Walter Knight said...

If a reader writes a ONE STAR review, they should be able to take criticism of their review.

ONE STAR reviews should not be like drive-by shootings with not consequences or commentary. I've found some reviewers can't stand to have their reviews reviewed.

Robert Jones said...

In reading some of the comments here, it would seem ( as in most Internet discussions) the facts begin to blur a bit between the right or wrong of one star reviews as a rule, and the notion of using the ratings system purposely to bash you competition.

Let's attempt to clarify:

1)Is it wrong when a reader leaves a one star rating because they didn't like a book?

I don't think this is a criminal offense so long as the person is doing it because they didn't like the book. It isn't very considerate, but one has to look at the fact that not everyone reading your work is going to be of the same intellect, or understand that leaving a constructive reason is better than just saying, "I hated it!"

Anyone who has spent any time at all dealing with the public has to understand this is to be expected. Some people have a hair trigger mechanism on their nasty button and are just as poised to use it as their car horns if anything bothers them in the least. Others just don't know any better. They either love it or hate it and it's a pretty black and white issue...and they won't bother getting all bogged down in anylizing the reasons why.

2)is it wrong to leave a one star rating for another author because they might be selling more books than you are? Or, framed another way...is it right to commit the same crimes large corporation do just because they can get away with it?

You are not a large corporation, let's be clear on that score. If you get caught, as an individual, you can't exactly pass the buck to some fall guy and fire him. You can't hire a high- priced lawyer to defend your actions...at least most can't. So who are you going to really hurt if the truth comes out?

Let's also take a look at the competition, better known as those who are doing this very successfully. Would you be hear if people weren't doing it successfully?

Let's imagine this "sniping of other authors" routine is successful. And that your sales have increased due to your efforts in sinking the competition. What's going to stop others from doing the same thing to you?

One must also Consuder that if a customer buys one book of a certain type, and likes it, they usually go looking for more if the same. In discouraging people from buying you competitions work, might you not also be discouraging people from buying your own work?

If you think we are not one anothet's success stories, you are sadly mistaken. We are all riding on the coat tails of those who came before us. And if we want ebooks to continue to sell, there better be continued success in the market. If your book isn't selling as well as some other people's work, try a different marketing approach, or write another one. Don't shoot down those who are keeping the market afloat because you're envious.

The reason that large publishers only let certain people play in their sandbox, the reason they commit their crimes, is all based on the notion there is not enough money in the world to go around. If you buy into this type of thinking, why are you here? Isn't it because you believe that on some level they are wrong? Or because you have heard the stories if how they rob their authors and don't want to be taken advantage of?

And here's a better question: If everything the big boys have been doing was perfectly legitimate business practices, why are they hurting so badly now?

People are hungry for something better folks. If you think otherwise, keep pulling the same old trigger at the floor and see if it keeps supporting you regardless.

Madison Johns said...

I'm so bombarded with one star reviews that I really thought someone put a target on my book. I did the KIndle Select promo and made it to #1 and I'm still feeling the fallout. Yes, I'm still selling books and yes, people love my book, but really is this type of malicious intent really necessary? If I don't like a book I don't review it. Do we all make grammar mistakes? You betcha even the New York Times best sellers have errors. Do we try our best to hire editors and proofreader? Yes we do. I hired two editors and one proofreader that from the reviews didn't do me a damn bit of good, but I take the brunt of the responsibility because my name is on the book. I think calling any book sewage as mine was labeled is beyond malicious. How can you honestly write a review like that and sleep at night? I know we shouldn't care what those people say, but it's there for the whole world to see and I just hope people can look past it to see how good my book really is. I can learn from this experience though and hire yet another proofreader, but it's not like I can ever make those negative reviews go away. I can be professional and not get into any battles with those type of reviewers who really would just love for it to happen so you look even worse.

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Bob said...

Got to agree with the general tenor of your post, but then that could be just a poorly concealed attempt to promote my own blog through linking to an influential one ;-)

E.B. Black said...

Thank you for this post. I completely agree with it. I was actually scared as an author to say that people should be allowed to review however they want to because I was scared people would say I'd probably try to buy reviews or whatever, which I would never do.

Also, I'm a reader as well as an author, and I hate how now, I have to constantly be stressed about whether people will think my five star reviews or bad reviews are either me sucking up to people I think I can get something in return from or me insulting someone because they think I'm jealous.

I miss the days when I was allowed to review books and give my honest opinion without having to worry about the scandal of it.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion. I have to say as a reader and an author, the malicious one star ratings are most troublesome. If I don't like a book, I stop reading. I have never left a one star and never will. I would offer constructive criticism though. Whoever believes that malicious one stars don't hurt a book's sales are wrong. Reviews are considered social proof and I have seen a book on more than one occasion tank after one star reviews. When you are maliciously circumventing another writers ability to earn money, and provide for their family, that is just wrong. Plain and simple.

AnHeC said...

You're insane. Bad reviews are there, so that people with tastes similar to mine, don't wast money. Simple as that. Bad reviews in particular are service to humanity.

Trademark Lawyer said...

It does seem an unfair system that one one star review can basically ruin an author's reputation! There are so many trolls after all.

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