5 Ways To Know if Book Reviews Are Fake
By Julie Butcher-Fedynich
Finding books you’ll love is difficult enough. With the current state of the economy, a lot of us need to pinch our pennies hard enough to make them scream. Unfortunately, this lack of funds makes us extremely cranky when we buy a book, and suffer the disappointment of poor writing, or the ending we hate. Since our friends are in the same boat money-wise, they don’t always have recommendations on what to buy.
The latest literary scandal tells us that authors themselves have purchased positive book reviews, and skewed their online rankings. I don’t know about you, but this nefarious practice shocked me to the core. It goes against everything we’ve learned about honesty, and fair play from nursery school on up. (Also, doesn’t it make you wonder if these people had Norman Bates for a kindergarten teacher?) So how can we tell if a book review is fake, or not?
1. Don’t automatically get your reviews from the website where you physically buy the book.
It is really, really simple to swallow whole the reviews under the pretty picture on huge, mass-marketing websites. They are structured to make it easy for you to click and purchase. But think about it. The car salesman in the passenger seat of that shiny, new convertible has a vested interest in where you spend your hard-earned dollars. So does Amazon and every other website. The salesman doesn’t care that a two-seater won’t hold your family of five. The book page doesn’t care if you don’t want to read Apocalyptic Romance, or Steam Punk written as Hip-Hop. Their job is to sell. Your job is to be well-informed. Any website where everyone can post a review is now a suspect. If you don’t search out honest reviews before you buy, you cannot complain about the horror between the jacket-covers.
2. Find legitimate Book Reviewers.
Okay guys, this means that when you surf to a book review site, every single evaluation can’t have 5 stars. Pick a book you absolutely adore. Search for reviewers who have read that particular title. When you find reviewers who also loved the story, look at what else they like. Chances are that if their favorite flavor is pumpernickel, so is yours.
3.Bookmark Genuine Book Review Websites.
If you love Romance, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is a good place to start. They state on their FAQ that they will not automatically love the author’s work. Neither do we. So there you go. Every legitimate website tells you whether or not they are paid to read. If they have no disclaimer, maybe you should look elsewhere for other’s opinions. For books with a paranormal theme, Bitten by Books is one of my favorites. They are a website manned by volunteers who first and foremost are there to inform readers. Of course, Buzzy Mag is your choice for Horror and Science Fiction because you’re here, right?
4. Order Book Review Magazines.
A monthly or quarterly magazine can save you hundreds of dollars. I’ve paid for books that hit the trash can three chapters in. It physically hurt to throw those books away. But, I couldn’t justify to myself a situation where I thought anyone should pay real green dollars to read that tripe. (Not even for a quarter at a garage sale.) There are hard copy magazines to save you the agony. Romantic Times, (also with online resources) The New York Review of Books, (here) and The Atlantic Monthly (here). The beauty of a hard copy magazine is that you can find lovely reads now, put it in the car, and buy the actual books on payday.
5. Do the Math
I can already hear the math-haters scream. I too, hear the chalk screech of doom when I think about equations. Fortunately, my laptop has a calculator. Recently, I read an article by Cornell Researchers about detecting spam reviews. Being from Missouri, I pretty much don’t believe anything until I see it. With the September 16, 2012 New York Times Bestseller list in hand, I did the math for you. (You’re welcome.) Numbers don’t lie; the percentage of one to five-star reviews stays the same. (We’re making the assumption here that any book that hits the NYT list is popular, and the author probably doesn’t have time to make a lot of sock-puppets.)
If you made a graph of the one to five-star reviews, the lines would look like the letter J. There will be one-star reviews. Period. Always. There will also be more one-star reviews than there are two-star (thus the curve down to form the letter J.) 9 % of reviews are one-star. 5% are two-star and three-star reviews head back up to 9%.
Seriously, I’d think that there would be more two-star reviews, if only for kindness sake, but no. 18% are four-star reviews and five-star reviews total a whopping 59%. The math holds true for all of the top twenty books on the list.
What this means, for those of us buying the books, is that the J curve should hold for all books. Not one bestselling author skated by without those nasty one-star reviews. NOT ONE. We know these people produce good work and with these numbers at our fingertips, we can now venture off the Bestseller’s List into the Independent Author market.
Any book that has been on the market for a reasonable length of time should have review numbers within a few percentage points of the J target range. Thus, an author who only garnered five-star reviews, we congratulate for having a large family and many friends, and pass on until the actual book reviewers and readers comment.
Together, with off and online tools, (and yes, math) we can annihilate the Evil Army of Sock Puppets and find the good stuff.
Written By Julie Butcher-Fedynich