I’m a bit perplexed and not really sure what to do other than to share my experience. This week I finished a book I was reading and decided to delve into Amazon to find a new book to read. I thought I’d browse through the less expensive books to see what other books were out there and what was selling so that I could compare my book to others. What I found was both disheartening and somewhat alarming.
I made a list of several books that looked interesting. Then I went back and read through the reviews and eliminated any books that I felt weren’t quite what I wanted to read. I narrowed my choices down to 6 books based on how many positive reviews the books had received. I finally settled on one book in particular that had well over 700 reviews, most of which were positive. Several of the reviews had specifics on how wonderful the book was and how enjoyable it was to read. I thought I’d found a winner! I was excited to see what other books were out and to see how well they were doing. This book was also one that did not seem like a self-published book. It had a publisher listed (not that this was an important criteria). I even read through the sample to see if it was something I’d like to read. All-in-all I thought I’d found the perfect book!
I purchased the book for $3.99 and settled in to read. The beginning of the book was very engaging and interesting and looked to be well-written. I was engrossed in the story and excited for a new prospective book. Then I arrived at Chapter Two. To say that the book went downhill from there would be a severe understatement. The two chapters were so differently written, I thought that I’d somehow started another book by mistake. The writing disintegrated into an abysmal mix of bad grammar and over-used cliches. The dialogue was trite and inconsistent, the characters were shallow and uninteresting, the story spiraled into a chasm of irrelevance that I felt like I’d literally need to climb out to free myself from the misery. I was so confused.
How could this possibly be? I went back to the Amazon page to make sure I’d chosen the correct book. After all, how could a book with hundreds of positive reviews be this bad? I read through the reviews again to make sure that I hadn’t missed something. That’s when I decided to look over the 1 star reviews. My jaw dropped. Each and every 1 star review was the same and seemed to reflect my exact thoughts upon reading the book. “This book was awful!” “How could it have gotten 5 stars?” “I don’t understand!” My first reaction was that I felt cheated. Why would so many people post positive reviews of a book that was so bad? How could this book be on the charts when it read like it was written by a middle-schooler? I searched the web for other reviews of the book. Same story. Everywhere I looked there were hundreds of 5 star reviews. A second look at Barnes & Noble, however, held new answers in my quest for understanding. Page upon page of reviews were listed as “anonymous.”
Could it be? Could this person actually have gotten so many fake reviews? I’d heard of this sort of thing happening, but I was unprepared for the sheer magnitude of the reality. This book was clearly making money based on these hundreds of reviews. What would people think after reading it? What would they think of a book like mine who only has a dozen or so 5 star reviews? Would they trust that those reviews are genuine? These are the questions rolling around in my head as I now have a better understanding of the damage this sort of thing can do to the writing community. Books like this are the reason that self-publishing has gotten a bad name.
I myself will have a difficult time choosing books on Amazon that are not recommended by a friend. What does this say for the state of marketing for those eager to get others to read their works? What can be done about it? I have no suggestions or insights into this problem and I’m sure that I’m not the first to discover the problem, nor will I be the last. I open the discussion however to others who, like me, are aspiring to be accepted authors.
What has the writing community done to address this? What other things have you considered that can be done to counter? I know there are websites dedicated to providing genuine reviews, but most people will only ever see what Amazon has on their site. This experience was very disturbing for me because it opened my eyes to the reality of what a big pile of money can do for a mediocre (less than mediocre author).
I even question the legitimacy of the author himself. Was this truly written by the person listed? Was this some bogus company’s attempt to publish a piece of crap just to make money? Who knows? I sure don’t. I want to believe there is a way to combat such blatant disregard for readers’ trust.