making books The outside world: funny internet people publishing
by Harry Connolly
There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about sockpuppet reviews: essentially, dishonest reviews posted under pseudonyms that either praise books or slam them. Sometimes the author themself is writing the review. Sometimes it’s a firm they hired, or friends. Sometimes the review was written out of spite by someone who hasn’t read the book.
Still, book buyers say they still use reader reviews to help decide whether they will buy a book or not. So! How can a reader tell the difference between a genuine response to a book and a review written for those Nefarious Other Purposes?
Allow me to illustrate some basic principles from the fictionalized examples below. And feel free to play along? Sockpuppet? Or Real?
At first glance, this might seem like a sockpuppet. Look at how effusive that praise is! And completely unqualified! But note that the reviewer makes sure to mention that they totally found the book at random, not because they were intrigued by the premise or the author’s other work. It was just crazy luck! Convincing? I say yes.
Also, there’s no way this could have been written by, say, the author’s friends. My God, it’s like, two sentences. Two and two words. What kind of shitty friend would take the trouble to post a fake review but only write a line or two?
If you thought this sockpuppet review was the real thing, then I feel genuine pity for you, my friend. Look at it again and you’ll see within those few words a brutal personal attack on the author. To whit:
What kind of inhuman monster says they would recommend a book to their friends and then give it only three stars? Have YOU ever looked at a three-star review and thought “Gosh, I should pluck that out of the ceaseless tsunami of printed matter washing past me every day!”
Of course not. That’s a clear and obvious taunt directed at the author.
A less-savvy observer might view this as a kind of author advertising, most likely placed by the author themself!
However, note the run-on sentence and sloppy spelling (er… in the review, not the body of this post). Would a sensible author write so poorly? I think not. What’s more, the book named in the review is on the Kindle, which means there is almost certainly a free excerpt available. These books are pretty much uniformly terrible. Would an author want readers to sample a terrible book? The idea itself is ludicrous.
The raw, vicious hatred behind this review is clear on its face.
Remember, authors: Any review that makes you feel bad is probably a personal attack.
Remember, readers: Any review that makes you reluctant to buy one of my books is absolutely a fake.
I hope you found this lesson helpful.