Fake Online Book Reviews and How to Avoid Them

Print publications continue to discontinue running book reviews and are even going out of business as more and more readers turn to the Internet to get their information. In the past, advertising in print publications covered the cost of book reviews, but today, authors generally have to pay for publicity packages to receive book reviews, or give a nominal fee to compensate the reviewer for his or her time.

The result is that people can make money off writing book reviews, and some so-called reviewers are doing so without actually reading the books. Why would anyone write a fake book review? Because it takes many hours to read a book, and the more book reviews you can write, the more money you can make, so why not just save time by not reading the books and instead just write the reviews and collect the payments so you can make more money. Trust me; this situation happens all the time.

Other reviewers do not charge for reviews but they request multiple copies of books. Why do they need multiple copies when they don’t read those books? So they can resell them online and make more money while writing fake reviews.

But won’t people catch on to these fake reviews? Yes, most people should, but not everyone does. Most of these fake reviewers consist of the so-called reviewer copying and paraphrasing what’s on the back cover and then adding some flowery caveat like “This book is a must-read for its thrilling action” or “An enjoyable and moving love story you won’t want to miss” to make it look like the reviewer actually read the book. Of course, whether the book is thrilling or enjoyable or not, the reviewer has no idea-he may not even have cracked open the book.

So how can you as an author, who wants legitimate reviews, or as a reader wanting a good book to read, actually tell if a review is legitimate? Here are five simple guidelines for spotting fake book reviews:

Ignore reviews written by authors, their friends, and family:I cringe whenever I see a five star review written by the author; usually it’s done under the guise of the author wanting to provide readers with more information about the book, but the place for that is in the product description. Any author who gives his own book five stars is clueless about the publishing industry and what is ethical, or he’s just tactless. Sometimes a legitimate review will be written by a colleague, such as “I have known Barbara for fifteen years and I know her business advice works because….” But I’ve also seen ones that say things like, “This book is a lot of fun because it describes the places the author and I used to hang out as kids when we were growing up.” That’s great but it’s not a reason why anyone who isn’t friends with the author should read the book.

Be skeptical of totally positive reviews. Okay, don’t be totally skeptical, but beyond the “Best book ever” and “a wonderful, compelling story” comments, look for signs that the positive review is legitimate-discussions of the characters and plot that make it clear the book was read. After all, there are good books out there that deserve positive reviews. Don’t be satisfied with “This wonderful story” but look for explanations of why the story is wonderful.

Be skeptical of totally negative reviews.Some reviewers and customers have axes to grind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen one-star reviews given at online bookstores because “the book never arrived.” That’s the fault of the bookstore’s delivery system, not the author or book’s fault. At other times, a person may just not like the author so he wants to slam the book, or he may not like the subject matter, saying something like, “Homosexuality is a sin and there’s a gay couple in this book so I gave it one star” or “The main character had an abortion. That’s wrong! One star.” You may even agree with the reviewers on these issues but are these reviews really fair? Do they take into account the book’s plot, characters, structure, style, originality, or themes to provide a thorough or accurate review?

Watch out for plot summaries.A book review is not an elementary school book report. Yes, there are lots of readers out there posting book reviews who don’t know how to write well or how to write a book review, but there are also phony reviewers who simply copy the text off the back cover that summarizes the plot to write a review. A good review will mention a detail in the plot or even quote an effective passage from the book. It will also tell you not only what happens in the book but how the reader felt (was moved) by what happened.

If a review looks like a fake, look to see what other books the person has reviewed. Are all the person’s reviews short and glowing? It’s possible this one review could just be a badly written, fake-looking one while other reviews look well-written and are legitimate. Has the reviewer posted more than one book review today, or been posting several every day? (Seriously, how many books can a person read in a week?) And don’t be afraid to google the reviewer to see whether you can find complaints about him or her online.

What can you do about fake reviews?

Now that you know how to spot a fake review, and even that fake reviews exist, you may feel a bit outraged-I know I do. So what can you do about such reviews? Here are a few suggestions:

If you are an author and you get a fake review, call the reviewer on it-especially if you paid for a review. But even if the person reviews the book by his own decision, without having contact with you, if the review is fake, you can request that the website where the review is posted remove the review. Decide whether the situation is worth getting into an argument with the phony reviewer. Will the review hurt your book’s credibility? If it is negative but shows evidence that the book was not read, it might. You might also feel called upon to fight the good fight for the rest of the authors out there who could suffer as a result of the reviewer’s behavior.

If you are a reader, check to see verification of purchase, which is sometimes a feature at various online bookstores. If the person bought the book, it’s likely he or she read it. That said, remember that reviewers generally receive complimentary copies. However, to get around this situation, I know some authors have requested reviewers purchase their books at online bookstores and then have compensated the author for the cost of the book so a purchase verification notice shows up on the review.

If you are an author or a reader, often at online bookstores you can vote on whether the review was helpful or not, so go ahead and click that NO button. This form of voting helps determine the placement of the review as at the top or bottom of the reviews so it is more or less likely to be seen by others. And don’t forget to vote YES for the well-written positive reviews, or even the well-written legitimate negative reviews.

Fake reviews do not help anyone except for the fake reviewers who write them. Even glowing fake reviews hurt authors and readers by getting people to buy books that turn out to be mediocre, which only then result in readers feeling misled and hurt and more likely to write their own negative reviews. Avoid phony reviewers and you will avoid a lot of frustration.

10 Tips for Writing a Book Review

When writing a book review, you are evaluating the text. You are making a judgment about it. Here are 10 tips for writing an effective and compelling book review.

1. Don’t be afraid to give your opinion.

Reviewing a book requires you to make a value judgment. Is this book good, bad, or somewhere in between? Think about why a person would want to read a book review. They want to know if it is worth their time and money.

This doesn’t mean your review should be as simple as giving it thumbs up or thumbs down. As described in How to Write Anything, “Even movie critics…don’t offer those verdicts until after they first talk about their subjects in detail.”

It is also important to note that even a positive review can acknowledge weaknesses and still be positive. The reader will likely find it helpful if you point out any weaknesses in the book you’re reviewing. Try to sandwich these weaknesses in between praise so that you don’t begin or end on a bad note.

2. Develop criteria for judgment

Criteria means the rules or standards by which you judge that object. A good pizza, for example, might be measured by how greasy it is, the kind of toppings it has, the quality of the crust, etc. That’s your criteria.

If you were reviewing a restaurant, your standards to judge that restaurant would likely include the service, taste of the food, and the atmosphere. If you were reviewing a movie, you might look at the costumes, the acting, the special effects, and so on.

It all depends on what is important to you as a reviewer.

As you read books, think about what makes a book stand out for you. Do you like books with action packed plot lines? Or maybe the writer’s use of language is important to you. Whatever it is, decide on your criteria to help develop your review. It will give you specific points to make within the body of the review.
And it will help readers understand why you rated the book as “good” or “bad.”

3. Back up your opinion

Having an opinion is great. Having an opinion with nothing to back it up, however, is not very convincing. Readers want evidence and reasons for why you are evaluating a certain book as “fabulous” or “boring.” Even if readers don’t realize they want this, support for your ideas certainly couldn’t hurt.

For example, if you decide to review a Dr. Seuss book and you say it is an amazing book for children (opinion) because of his expert use of language and rhyme (criteria), you’d want to point out a particular example as support for that opinion. Let’s see that rhyme in action.

Quote the book directly. Refer to specific chapters or sections. Supporting your ideas will ultimately help to convince your reader.

4. Consider your audience

Who are you writing for? What do they already know about the subject matter? What do they need to know? How you write depends so much on who you are writing for. You speak differently to children than you speak to adults. You interact with your boss in a different way than you interact with your best friend from childhood who knew you when you had braces and bangs.

Your choice of language changes depending on who you are speaking to or writing for. Your tone of voice changes, too.

As you write your book review, consider what your audience wants to know and what will interest them. Choose words that they familiar with rather than jargon that requires a glossary.

This is really a case of thinking about how you want to deliver your message so that the audience can appreciate it. It takes work, but it can pay off in major ways once you’ve mastered it.

5. Write with authority

Whenever possible, avoid the following words: probably and maybe. Avoid the following phrases: It seems, I think, In my opinion.

These words and phrases make your review sound less authoritative and less confident than you’re aiming for. Even if you aren’t feeling confident, fake it.

Look at the following example:

In my opinion, Dr. Seuss is probably one of the most interesting writers out there, though, maybe others might not agree.

Instead, say this:

Dr. Seuss is one of the most interesting writers out there.

We know it is your opinion; that is implied. No need to qualify your opinions with words like probably. Do not be afraid that others might disagree or get offended by your opinion on a book. Disagreement actually creates some of the most interesting discussion.

6. Avoid writing too much summary

A little bit of summary in a book review is helpful. The reader had not already read the book (most likely) and since you are trying to consider your audience, you want to make them feel like they understand the rest of your review. Summary is a great place to start by making your reader feel at home.

Too much summary, however, is not what the reader needs.

Here’s what you need to know about writing summary:

· When summarizing a book, stick to just the main points. Answer the question: What is this book about?
· Try it limit your summary to no more than one paragraph or two unless it is essential or required to include more.
· Avoid writing about every single thing that happens in the book (And then this happened, and then…, and then…).
· Use summary early in your review to get the reader acquainted. It wouldn’t make sense to suddenly give a summary at the end, after you’ve made your point.
· Use your own words. If the reader wanted to know what the publisher has to say, they’ll visit the publisher’s website or read the back of the book. Give us your unique interpretation.

7. Compare and contrast

Another way to help back up your ideas, as stated above, is to use a very familiar tool: compare and contrast. It may have been a while since you were in school, but you know how to do this. You do this every day.

For example, you compare your hamburger to every other hamburger you’ve ever had (even if only in your head, even if it happens so fast you barely register it). When someone asks you how Robert Downey Jr. preformed in Due Date, you might compare his acting to other films like Iron Man.

Comparing and contrasting helps the reader to understand. It gives you and the reader a common ground. Look at the book you are currently reviewing. Can you compare it to other books by that author? Or maybe you could compare it other books in that genre.

Or maybe this new book is incomparable. That would be worth telling your readers, too.

8. Organize your review

Organizing your review in even the slightest way can help your reader make sense of your ideas by giving them a structure. Even the best written story will be less remarkable if the chapters are out of order.
The basics of organization include a beginning, middle, and end. It’s that simple.

Start with an intro that gets the reader warmed up and maybe even summarizes the book. Then, use the middle of your review to give your opinion and support it with quotes and examples. Use this chance to elaborate on your ideas. Then, wrap up your review with a brief conclusion rather than ending abruptly in the middle of your ideas.

It might not come naturally to you, but that is what revision is for. As you revise, consider moving information around and making it sound as effective and clear as possible.

9. Provide helpful information

This one doesn’t apply to everyone, but is worth mentioning. If I read a book review, I want to know where I can buy the book. Where can I find it? Who is the publisher?

A link could be even more helpful. In fact, Amazon can work as an affiliate program for many blogs by linking directly to the texts you mention so that the reader can buy them. And you get a commission. Learn more about making money with Amazon here.

And this should go without saying, but don’t forget to mention the author and title early in your review. Never give the reader a chance to feel confused about what you are talking about. The title of your review isn’t enough. Mention the title and author in the review, as well.

10. Set yourself apart

Depending on the amount of freedom you are allowed in writing your review, consider trying something new to set yourself apart from others.

So many book reviews follow a similar format, which seems to work well, but why not try a different approach? To inspire you, here are a few ideas for reviews:

· The Top 10 Reasons You Must Read __________
· 5 Ways ______ Will Blow Your Mind (In a Good Way)
· The Similarities Between ______ and Harry Potter (or some other well-known piece of literature)
· Why ______(author) is the Next Stephen King (or another famous author)

In all of these examples, it is the title that is attention grabbing. Also, the title implies a certain organization (such as a top ten list). Mostly, though, the above examples don’t look exactly like every other book review.

If you can find a new angle, explore it and see how it works.

Overall, writing a book review doesn’t have to be complicated. And it can be fun! If you are willing to put in the time to make it compelling and convincing and helpful to your readers, the results could be worth it.

What Readers Look For in Book Reviews

A book review lets a reader know if the writing is worth reading. It can draw the reader into the world that the author has created and leave him or her hungering for more. A book review should tell the reader a bit about the book, the basic premise, the gist of the plot and the positive aspects of reading the work. It should not reveal the entire plot to the reader, but should leave the reader wanting to read more. Good book reviews are written by professional book reviewers and are used to sell books.

Whereas an author who has several bestsellers under his or her belt will not have a hard time finding a book reviewer for their work, a new author who is perhaps self publishing his or her novel may have a difficult time getting book reviewers to take notice of their novel. This is much to the chagrin of the new authors who really want to get their work noticed and know that book reviews are the way to do this. In such cases, authors often pay a book review service for reviews.

A book review company can process book reviews for authors that are professionally written and tell the public what they want to know regarding the work. Unless they are written by fellow authors, which they seldom are, book reviews are anonymous. People do not read the name of the book reviewer, but the writing itself to see if the book is something that they will want to read. While there are a few authors who have a following and are assured to get readers no matter what type of book they publish, most have to work for readers. The best part about getting a book review for your writing is that no one cares who wrote the review. In these cases, people will be more inclined to pay attention to what the review actually says, rather than who did the writing.

A good book review should discuss the merits of the book, give a basic outline as to what the book is about and talk about the characters and writing style. It should not give away the entire plot, or the twists and turns, if any. This is for the reader to discover. Good book reviewers can be found working freelance as well as for major magazines and newspapers. Most people do not pay attention to the name of the reviewers, but do read the notices. If the book reviews seem encouraging and of interest to the readers, they are more inclined to buy the work. For this reason, it is in the best interest of any author to get as many book reviews published of their work as possible. Readers look for book reviews to tell them if the book is worth reading. If they feel that it is, they will then buy the book.