Buying Fake Book Reviews: Are you a respectable writer or a con-artist?

FakeReviewsFiverrI have ZERO respect for authors who purchase fake reviews to boost their popularity and sales. It’s pathetic. Cheating. Undeserving of any respect. You trick consumers. It’s dishonest. You buy fake book reviews to trick consumers into buying your books? Frankly, you’re a con artist!

Secretly purchasing glowing reviews should be a crime. I mean, if the reviewer doesn’t disclose that the review was written for pay, it’s fraudulent. Why do it secretly if it isn’t? If these undeserving, manufactured bestselling authors were asked, “Do you or have you ever purchased reviews for any of your books?” do you think they would answer honestly? I don’t.

And you know what, I think technically it IS a crime!

The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews. [source]

Here are some relevant points from the FTC Guidelines:

Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser.

If you didn’t read the book, anything you write about it would be dishonest. Also to have an experience, one must consume the product. If you don’t read the book, you haven’t experienced it, therefor cannot write a review!

and:

Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers

This is a huge one. Most of the paid reviews on Amazon and elsewhere obviously do not state that the review was paid for and that there is any relationship between the reviewer and the author!

When the advertisement represents that the endorser uses the endorsed product, the endorser must have been a bona fide user of it at the time the endorsement was given.

Did you catch that? The reviewer has to have been a “bona fide user” !!

I wish Anonymous would out these authors and publicly shame them. The writers bask in their undeserved public adulation and popularity, making loads of cash while doing it, so why not? Where are the whistleblowers? I’m almost considering posing as a Reviewer on Fiverr just to see who bites.

I want to make a documentary. A sting operation. Like To Catch A Predator. But it would be called To Catch a Lying, Conniving Author… I know. It’s a mouthful. When the writer falls into the trap of hiring me to write a fake review, I’d play the part of Chris Hansen and walk out from behind a folding screen with my camera crew and ask the writer to put his clothes back on and “have a seat.” The writer will zip up his fly and sit down on the stool, stunned. I’d offer him a cookie because for some odd reason there’s always a platter of cookies. While the wrongdoer nibbles on a cookie with a deer-in-headlights expression on his face, I’d ask him, “What possessed you to do this? Did it not cross your mind that you’d get caught?” He’d claim that he didn’t know he was hurting anyone. (Bull.) That he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. (Bull.) Only when the writer walks out this house, he won’t be tackled to the ground by police officers. (Unfortunately.) He’ll probably disappear just long enough to make a new pen name before continuing with his scamming.

None of this will actually happen but I had a good laugh seeing it play out in my mind…

All this makes me wonder where these hot sellers would be if they’d done it like the rest of us. You know, the honest way? Probably toiling away in obscurity like the rest of us. Oh wait. No they wouldn’t. These people are lazy. They take the easy way, a shortcut. If they don’t succeed immediately, they’d probably give up and find a new get-rich-quick scheme.

What can be done? Here are some of my ideas:

  • The FTC should get serious about this and do a crackdown. They need to go through Fiverr and other sites and confiscate lists of all customers who used paid reviewers and check to see which of these reviews state that the review was for pay. I’m guessing less than 1% of the reviews state that.
  • Fiverr should BAN fake review writing services! Just get rid of that category all together! Seriously. But I guess it makes them money so we probably won’t see that happening… even though 1,114 Fiver users were sued by Amazon this year (!!) for writing fake product reviews. Definitely a step in the right direction!
  • Whistleblowers need to come out. It seems that if money is exchanged, it needs to be disclosed. If the authors aren’t doing it, the reviewers need to! Come out of the phony-review closet!
  • Authors who do not and will not use fake reviews should band together. Tell readers about the problem. Write about it.
  • A petition, maybe? But I don’t know who to show the petition and what will come of it. Just something to think about.
  • End lazy consumerism. People need to stop riding trend waves and being told what’s “hot” and what they should or need to be reading right now because seemingly everyone else is! Have your own interests. Don’t let others form your interests (thus, personality!)
  • The readers/consumers of these writers need to take responsibility. Do they carefully consider the reviews? That maybe a lot of them are not honest reviews? That the reviewer didn’t actually read the book!? Look at the bestselling books and make sure to read the low reviews (1-2 star reviews.) And compare what the low raters are saying to the glowing 5-star reviews. If the 5-star review doesn’t mention anything specific from the book, it’s probably a fake.
  • Amazon.com should implement a box that reviewers tick stating that this review was not paid for by the author (or anyone)… and another tick box for paid reviews. And consumers have a choice, a button they can click, that will disregard all paid reviews and adjust the rating accordingly. This is also useful in case of any lawsuits. If a reviewer lies about not being a paid reviewer, their ticking the not-paid box can be used as evidence. It’s essentially a contract. (I think I will write a separate post on this.)
  • Amazon.com can also cross-reference IP addresses of authors and reviewers to see if authors are reviewing their own books using sock puppet accounts. Of course this won’t work it using proxies, but I bet you’d be able to catch at least a few fraudulent authors this way.
  • Amazon.com should internally flag accounts that have made multiple book reviews within a single day and then proceed to investigate the reviews for authenticity. Sure, multiple reviews in a single day alone does not necessarily point to fraud but a lot of fake reviewers post multiple reviews in rapid fire succession. It’s a red flag for sure. Especially if they do it over and over and over again!
  • Boycott Fiverr if they refuse to do away wit their Review category. I also find buying social media followers to be unbelievably dishonest, shameless and despicable.

Seriously, what’s next? Buying fake negative reviews for your competition and people you don’t like? Sounds shady doesn’t it? That’s because it is. (After writing this I found out people actually do this. Seriously… what is wrong with people!?)

Interesting, related articles and blog posts:

New York Times: Book Reviewers for Hire Meet a Demand for Online Raves

The Atlantic: Will Paid Reviews Bite Amazon Back?

Buying Book Reviews – Still Admire John Locke?

The Guardian: Sock Puppetry and Fake Reviews: Publish and be Damned

Review Cheats- Shameful Author Behaviour

Why Paying For Bogus Reviews Makes You an Idiot

Huffington Post: Fake Reviews Are Worse Than Bad Ones

FTC Guidelines for Endorsements and Testimonials (pdf)

Amazon Files Suit Against a Thousand Fiverr Users for Selling Fake Reviews

Are Fiverrs Running Scared From Amazon Fake Reviews Lawsuit?

Readers Beware: The New Wave Of Amazon Review Fraud Is “Within Posted Guidelines”

https://zonalert.wordpress.com/

Do you have to cheat to be successful on the social web?

Amazon Studios Update – no option

Quick backstory: I posted my script to Amazon Studios (AS) on 11/2/15 when they still had the 45-day option. Meaning, my 45 days would be up 12/16/15. On 11/19/15, AS announced they would no longer require a 45 day option and once your project went to COMPLETE status you’d hear from them within 48 hours. On the day of the switchover, my project went to complete and I waited to hear from them. 48 hours came and went. I waited the full original 45 days (not wanting to appear to be a desperate eager-beaver or a nag.) So the night of 12/16 (last night) I contacted AS customer service with the following:

Today was the original 45–day option end date. I haven’t gotten an email and there’s no REMOVE button for my script.
It went to COMPLETE on the day of the switch to the new  no-45-day-option version of the site.

This morning I got this reply (my bolding for emphasis):

Hello,

Amazon Studios submission policy changed on November 19, 2015 to a more open submission process. The email that you received informing you of the change promised a notification when our evaluation is complete. I am sorry you had to wait longer than expected for an e-mail with our decision.

I can confirm that our professional script readers have reviewed “Max the Knife” and we are not moving forward to option your project at this time.

We encourage you to make or keep your project available for public review on the website to seek feedback from the community. If you upload a significant revision of your script, it will be considered again for the Development Slate.

If you would like to have the script removed, please reply and let us know.

Thank you for your interest and participation in Amazon Studios.

We’d appreciate your feedback. Please use the links below to tell us about your experience today.

Best regards,
Jasmine H.

To which I replied:

Please, remove my project (Max the Knife).
Thanks.

I mean, looking at what (little) they’ve shown interest in, I don’t think my script is what their looking for, movie-wise. I knew it was a long shot (as with trying to sell any script anywhere.) Not to say I won’t try again. I will complete my drama series pilots and try them there, since they’re accepting them now.

Now a suggestion for AS: FIX THE GLITCH! Seriously. After the switchover to no-45-day-options-necessary, people (like myself) have been waiting beyond the 48-hours promised for a reply. I waited the full 45-days! I know people wait much longer than that hearing from producers, but my point is, AS shouldn’t make promises they wont keep.

And I also know it technically doesn’t matter since there’s no automatic option anymore and we can still try to sell our scripts elsewhere. And probably more importantly, if AS was interested they would no doubt contact you immediately and not leave you hanging. And yeah, I know about producers requesting to read scripts and never replying with a yay or nay. But still! AS is essentially an automated system. Once someone clicks COMPLETE, that means a decision has been made. Option or no option. So why is it that people aren’t automatically being sent a rejection or option email? You get one once you upload a project. It’s like anything else on the site. So it really makes no sense.

The switchover to AS3.0 (or whatever version they’re on now) was not a smooth one. And since November 19th, I have not seen any improvements. Instead of placing REMOVE buttons back on our project pages, we have to do it via Customer Service emails. (NOTE: I don’t have any complaints against Customer Service. They’ve been very helpful to me and everyone else… so I’ve read on the forums. So kudos to them at least. And it sounds like sometimes they aren’t being told what’s going on from the higer ups. So they’re really not the ones we should be mad at when things aren’t going the way they should be.)

Advice to writers using AS: At this point, set it and forget it…. until the status of your project goes to COMPLETE. When it goes to complete and you don’t hear from AS within 48-hours, contact Customer Service and tell them. Also, if you want your project removed, mention that clearly in the same email so you don’t waste time with a back and forth.

Amazon Studios – Still No Word After Nixing 45-day Option

So, I uploaded MAX THE KNIFE (my feature length screenplay) to Amazon Studios (AS) on November 2nd. There used to be a 45 day option, meaning the option for my screenplay ends December 16th. On November 19th, Amazon Studios did away with the 45-day option and I got an email from them stating the following:

Dear Terri,

You’re receiving this notification because we have expanded our open-door submission policy and you have submitted work to Amazon Studios for your project, Max the Knife, within the last 45 days.

Amazon will no longer require an unpaid 45-day option for you to submit your work and will instead review your work with no strings attached. If we’re interested, we will reach out to you directly with a paid option that meets or exceeds any applicable guild minimums. As a result of this change in policy, Amazon is releasing any unpaid option currently in effect on work you’ve submitted for Max the Knife. You can continue to track where your work is in our evaluation process by visiting your project page. We are continuing to evaluate any material that is not yet marked “Complete.” You’ll receive a notification either way when our evaluation is complete.

Thank you again for the opportunity to consider your work, and we hope to see you at Amazon Studios again soon.

Sincerely,

Amazon Studios Cast and Crew

The DAY I received this email, my project status went straight to COMPLETE. I have not heard a word from AS. If they wanted it, I’m sure they would’ve e-mailed me right away. So I’m guessing I will have to wait until December 16th (day after tomorrow) to hear from them. But then again, if you look through the AS Forums, it seems some people aren’t hearing from AS even when the original option end date comes and goes.

Also, I’ve noted that some have commented on how their projects go from COMPLETE to DECIDING or some other status. I guess they still have some glitches to work out. Oh well. Hopefully, they’ll work out the kinks soon. If there are any updates, I’ll post about it here.