This post, by Chuck Wendig, originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 9/10/12.
We’re all familiar with the recent spate of bad behavior by authors, right? Writers paying for false five-star reviews. Authors creating fake sock-puppet accounts (or “dick-puppets” as Blackmoore calls ‘em) which they then use to pump up their own work, denigrate the work of others, and act as fake mouthpieces online. Then you have the response, where authors see that bad behavior and respond with their own, leaving one-star reviews as some kind of “Internet country justice.” We’re all clued in, I’m sure, by now.
My initial reaction to all of this was that it’s a bit inside baseball. It’s authors being dicky and tap-dancing on dubious ethical ground and waggling their penmonkey genitals about in an unpleasant display.
Except then I was online at Amazon (which already is notoriously assy in terms of filter and discoverability) and I was reading reviews and was suddenly struck by the horrifying notion –
I don’t know if these are real.
Suddenly I’m reading reviews with the same level of doubt and suspicion I reserve for reality television (we all realize that ‘House Hunters’ is a big lie, right?). It’s the same vibe I get when I go looking for reviews of restaurants. Locally we had a restaurant where the owner was caught leaving good reviews for himself, bad ones for his competition, and was also getting on forums as a sock-puppet and shouting down folks who said his food had dropped in quality (as it used to be great and isn’t anymore). Shitty behavior, right?
I read reviews for a toaster, my cynical mind flares up like a hot rash: “I’m sure the positive reviews are all left by employees of Big Toaster, and all the negative ones are left by proponents of some Anti-Toaster Coalition.” Casts all reviews in these areas as suspect. Which makes them beyond useless.
Now I’m feeling that way about books.
Maybe I should’ve been all along. Maybe I was naive.
It doesn’t change the fact that this isn’t good for anybody.