Short-Term Gain – Long-Term Pain?

I try to stay away from the muddier side of being a published author.  This means I don’t link to the unfortunately too frequent instances of authors who do STUPID SHIT and potentially sabotage themselves.

But, Book Goggles has a good post up today that I thought I’d link to: Fake reviews: A reflection.

For anyone who has been tempted to take a shortcut to get positive reviews for their book, I think it’s a good read.  It’s a nice reminder that your readers aren’t stupid.  Some are naive and don’t know the games that people play (my mom would be an example), but ultimately someone is going to catch on and out you for any tricks you use.  So don’t do it.

(And, if you are interested in finding out more about the antics of certain authors, poke around the site a bit.  That’s as close as I’ll come to linking to those types of stories.)

Someone out there who is desperately struggling to get a little bit of a leg up with their first or second novel is going to ask – what’s so wrong with it?  And by it we’re talking about: (a) creating fake accounts to give your work positive reviews, (b) asking all the people you know to give you positive reviews regardless of their actual opinion or whether they’ve read the work, (c) swapping positive reviews with other authors, or (d) paying for positive reviews.

That person is thinking that doing this will give them momentum.  That those few initial fake reviews will lead to legitimate readers who will then really like the book and recommend it to their friends and it’ll snowball from there.

And that’s possible.  It’s why people do it.  And maybe all that person cares about is making money off of their book right now.  They don’t care about future sales.  They don’t care what anyone might say about them in the future.  They don’t care about how they’re presented in any write-up going forward.  They just want sales now.

Fine.  For those people I say, “Scam it any way you want it if that’s all that matters to you.”  (I could have a long discussion about how unethical or smarmy behavior in one aspect of a person’s life can come back and bite them in other aspects of their life, but I only have so much space here, so I won’t.  And, yes, I’m being a little preachy on this one.  I’m not a fan of people who argue that the end always justifies the means.  I think that attitude just makes the world a nastier place to live.  But I digress.)

So, what if you do care about future sales of this book or other books?  How will these fake reviews affect that?  Well, first, you saw that Book Goggles hesitated to even buy a book that looked like it had fake reviews.  So, as this whole fake review thing becomes more common, you lose those readers right up front.

Second, say you wrote an “ok” book.  It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad.  Maybe someone who read it would be willing to give your next book a shot.  Until they find out that you manipulated them into buying that first book.  Chances are you end up on their “hell no” list instead.

But what if it was a great book?  What if someone read a fake review, bought your book, and loved it?  All good, right?  Mm, not so much.  Because, the more successful you become, the more likely it will be that you’re going to be outed for your fake reviews.

That author you swapped reviews with?  They’re off making catty comments about how you only got your start by swapping reviews with nobodies like them.

Those reviews you paid for?  The guy who runs the company decides to brag to the press about how much he earned publishing fake reviews and names you as an example of how successful fake reviews can be.

Or maybe you, in a moment of hubris, decide to brag about the fake reviews you gave yourself while on a panel at a conference and it goes viral.

(Not saying that the individuals who might have prompted those examples wrote great books.  As far as I know, I haven’t read any of their books.)

I realize that for some people the only route to any sort of success is to lie and cheat.  It’s sad, but true.  I just hope that if you’re reading this blog, you’re not one of those people.  Yeah, breaking into this whole writing thing is a long, hard slog.  And it’s tempting to find shortcuts.  But, if you’re in this for the long-term, you have to keep the big picture in mind.

Fifty years from now when someone’s writing up your obituary and lauding you as a great author, do you really want a little footnote somewhere in the article about how you got your start by paying for fake reviews and how that taint followed you throughout your career?  I certainly don’t.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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