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At the Indie Author Community, one of the things we’re very keen to help support is the idea that the community has standards of some description – and that while we don’t suggest internal policing, bringing to light some of the issues indie authors face, because, by knowing about them, we can know what to watch out for, and support those caught in the trap of negative issues (such as carpet bombing) and ostracize those taking part in the ones that dilute the value of the community itself.

What makes me very sad is that most of the time, as one of the people deeply involved in the community, I can see some of the problems that are coming up.  One of them, fake reviews, has been a while in coming, but to start with, and to introduce the site, and the community, I thought I’d talk about a couple of things to do to combat fake reviews (positive and negative) and why authors really need to keep out of the ‘review’ arena, in association with their books.

Asking for reviews

One of the major problems that the Indie Author Group had, right at the beginning, was dealing with requests for reviews, or ‘swap’ reviews.  Especially when it became obvious that many of the writers involved were asking for reviews on books that, were, to be quite honest, not worthy of the stellar reviews that they wanted.  It became apparent, after many complaints and comments and conversations, that ‘swapsie’ reviews were one of the worst things for the community.
Review requests, however, are part of a health exchange in the community – but you’ve got to ask the right people.  So, in the coming weeks, the IAC is going to start gathering the best blogs, reviewers and other places to get your reviews, and talk indie authors through the minefield of getting their fans to provide a review.

And then, NY times reported…

In the New York times recently, it was reported that authors (and others) are paying for positive reviews.  While this doesn’t seem like it could affect indie authors, many of whom don’t have a budget for editors, there’s the wider problem of reviews on the authors that can afford this being skewed, and a deeper, dishonesty behind that.
How can indie authors fight back?  In a word, we can’t.  We shouldn’t retaliate by paying for reviews, and until they fix the system to track fake reviews, it’s difficult to say what any author can do except put out their best work.  Which brings us to the other side of the coin, one which did cause a stir in the community.  But, not for the reasons you might first think.

Carpet-bombing

As reported on June 19th, Smashwords was looking something they called ‘Carpet Bombing’.  It’s other term, in other communities at least, is ‘sandbagging’ – providing intentionally and dishonestly negative feedback to lower the overall rating of the books.  At the time, our community on Facebook (the Indie Author group) and all of it’s satellite groups had about 300 members.  I was in contact with about a further 1500 indie writers in one form or another.  And while this led to some very unpredicted conversations about rejecting one star reviews on books, because they were obviously fake, not one person came forward and said that they’d been affected by carpet bomb/sandbag reviews.  I need to emphasise that last part:
I personally *DO NOT* know someone that was affected by carpet bombing – I do know of a few writers who have errant one star reviews that could be considered as such, but it was never proven (or commented on) after that specific incident.  The author moved on and up.

Keeping the community ‘honest’

Ultimately, there is no one person that can keep the community honest – and – here’s a key takeaway from this – we should primarily be focused on our own writing over the behavior of others, but as a community, we need to be aware, and remain aware of all of the different things that can go wrong, and be aware.  These things aren’t an excuse to accuse an author of cheating (in the case of five star reviews) or ignore your one star reviews, but if you notice a pattern, and you have proof, by all means, report it to the site owners.  In the case of both Amazon and Smashwords, in my experience, they act on fraudulent or questionable material often.  And consider ‘paying it forward’ by writing genuine reviews for writers that deserve it, featuring them on your site, and making sure *your* fans know what you’re reading.  Eventually, there will be methods to ensure that people aren’t cheating, but for now, all it takes is each of us remaining honest and keeping together.

What do you think?

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Kai Wilson-Viola writes under various names, and in all genres. Co-founder and webmistress of the IAG site, she writes content on request of members.
She has written several books including the Ten Hour Marketing Plan and 12x12 - tutorials for social media.
When not writing, she can be found maintaining sites, designing themes, managing a charity called the Less than Three foundation, gaming, knitting or reading.

0 Responses

  1. Totally agree, and even with no nefarious intent, “review swapping” is just a terrible idea. Two people have almost no chance of “liking” each other’s books to exactly the same degree, even on a five point scale, meaning somebody is going to get bent out of shape (“I gave you four stars, how dare you give me three?”). It’s asking’ for trouble, IMHO.