In a post few weeks ago, I wrote about the online petition requesting Amazon to remove anonymous reviews and allow only verified purchasers. This was allowing unethical people write fake reviews to bring down competitors.
I came to the surprising conclusion that while I agree with the urgency behind the petition, it wasn't the kind of petition I'd sign. One, because I firmly believe that if authors can maintain their privacy by using pen names, reviewers or readers have a right to do the same. Two, I'm not convinced that Amazon would overhaul a system that has worked so well for them. Only allowing verified purchasers to comment would drastically cut down on the number of reviews they've gotten and as a business that is equivalent to shooting themselves in the foot. I am not convinced that Amazon would capitulate.
Yet, if authors band together to combat fake reviews, that could be seen as cyberbullying as well. Perhaps readers can educate themselves to spot a fake review, but even that is not an iron-clad strategy as what may appear to be fake could actually be genuine, and you'd end up with a splitting headache trying to see evil intent behind a seemingly dubious review.
As I researched further into the issue, I came across a controversial blog which accused a number of prominent indie authors of buying fake reviews. Some of the accused authors have posted a declaration that they do not buy fake reviews, and judging from the lack of evidence on this blog, I'm more inclined to side with them. Still, that's this little voice in your head that goes, “just who is telling the truth?” Amidst all this confusion, I wouldn't blame you for abandoning indie ebooks altogether and just stick with traditionally published books.
I am a reader myself, and I share your frustration. But as a writer as well (disclaimer, I published a short story on Amazon and plan to release more in the near future), I love the freedom Kindle Direct Publishing gives creatives like myself to reach readers. There are decent, talented and honest writers out there.
All we need is to learn how to find them.
As a reader, you're probably at a loss to buy indie books. I love indie books, and I support the creative spirit that goes behind it. However, with the existence of fake reviews out there, is there a way to determine if there are true-blue good quality indie books out there?
Get a free sample. A lot of writers these days offer a free short story or even a novel. Have a taste of their writing and see if it's to your taste. Alternatively, you can always get them from the library or from friends first.
Study the reviews carefully. Avoid reviews that don't state reasons why they didn't like the book. Instead, look for reviews that clearly list why the book is good or bad. A lot of times three-star reviews are often more helpful than five-star reviews because they highlight both the good and bad. Be wary of five-star reviews. A book is never perfect.
Hang out at Goodreads. This is where readers dwell, discuss and recommend books. I personally find the reviews at Goodreads more geared towards people trying to find a good read. However, it's still prudent to be careful as fake reviews are known to dwell on Goodreads too.
Read book blogs. Most book bloggers (most, but not all, admittedly) review out of sheer passion. Read several reviews of the same book if possible.
Be suspicious of books that have only five-star reviews. Because even Stephen King gets one-star reviews.
Read the author's blog. It's a 21st century, digital age strategy. Many authors are posting their fiction on their websites free. Both reader and writer win. The reader gets free fiction, and the writer may end up snagging a new fan and promote his work as well. By reading the tales offered online you'd have a good idea whether his works are to your liking.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.