Good books need your help. Seriously. The dirty little secret is that rivals manipulate book ratings to ensure that good ratings are questioned, but bad ratings are getting a free pass, and the authors getting hurt the most are the ethical ones who refuse to engage in bad behavior.
The minute a book starts selling, it rises up the rankings so that more people see it. Unscrupulous competitors, whose books were already up there, may knock the rising stars off the mountain with a bad rating, and they can get away with leaving bogus bad ratings for years. For all the ones who actually get caught, there are probably fifty more that get away with it.
The more descriptive these bogus bad ratings are, the more you need to question it. There’s a good chance a review is competitive manipulation if the review screams out, “Don’t buy this book! Don’t touch it with a ten foot pole! Your insides will turn to worms, and your brain will explode if you read it!” Author Rachel Polonsky encountered such a review, which turned into an all out Hatfield-McCoy feud. Her bogus bad review started with, “This is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published.” The negative review was published by the wife of a rival author.
By knocking a good seller down the charts, a competitor can manipulate their own books to rise to the top and sell more. Seriously talented authors disappear before they’ve even had a chance, due to manipulations like this, especially Indie authors. Indies are up against not only other authors in their genre, but publishers, editors, and a whole host of people who make money off of books.
Indie books may even be targeted by the fan of a rival author, who has no opinion on the book they are rating, except that it’s in competition with their favorite author. Sometime’s it’s not even about the book itself, and a bad review is written in retaliation for political beliefs or religious beliefs. One author even got targeted because he left a bad review of a computer game, and an email went out encouraging others to “repay the favor” by reviewing his book.
Rosie Allen had a hit put out on her the minute her book was nominated for the Orange Prize for Women’s Fiction. Rosie had to shell out money to hire a company to defend her reputation as a writer, because of the suspicious negative reviews. Few authors have the resources to take such a drastic step, and they simply drown in the sinkhole created by the unethical behavior of others.
Nobody put it more succinctly than Todd Rutherford in his comment, “When there are 20 positive and one negative, I’m going to go with the negative.” Todd is referring to the other side of the coin with bogus good reviews. However, manipulators are fully aware of how devastating a bad review can be, and how easy it is to boost your book by smashing a competitor. The trouble is, readers take these negative reviews at face value, and make buying decisions based on them.
The bottom line is that you absolutely cannot trust the ratings — good or bad — for a book with a handful of ratings. Once a book gets up there with fifty or a hundred ratings, then you know all the friends and family, and all the competitors and rivals, have had their reviews overridden, and now the regular readers rule the roost. Fake reviews are BIG BUSINESS, and there’s not much downside to behaving unethically.
The first rule for readers is Trust Yourself. Don’t trust the ratings. Most books let you read a few pages or listen to an audio sample before you buy it, so that you can make an informed decision. If what you are reading or hearing doesn’t seem to fit the ratings, if you’re thinking, “Wow! This book doesn’t sound as bad as all that… or… This book doesn’t sound as good as all that…” then TRUST YOURSELF. In all likelihood, if your inner voice isn’t believing the ratings, then you’re probably looking at manipulated ratings.
YOU are the only people with the power to make it right! You’ve got the power to make your voice heard. Don’t let a good book die at the hands of unethical competitors. Don’t let a bad book rise to the top for inflated good ratings. Your opinion counts! Take the time to leave a star rating for the books you read, and better yet, add a few words in a review. Share your opinion on Amazon, Audible, Goodreads, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, Smashwords, or wherever you bought the book. The more readers who come forward to share their opinion, the more balanced the review system will be.
Next article in this series: The Problem With Editorial Book Reviews.