I'm sitting at the computer looking up random things on Amazon, idly searching for something new to add my TBR shelves. That's when I spy it: a rather cute sounding urban fantasy/chick lit read. It has excellent ratings and a lot of them. The reviews are so glowing that my mouse is almost halfway up the screen to add it to my checkout box or wish list before the little alarm bells start going off. I look a little further into all of those glowing reviews, only to discover that a good many of them are either by people who have only reviewed the author's stuff, have only reviewed this one book, or have a history of only reviewing indie books that looks sneakingly similar to a review swap. The mouse scrolls back down, the book's credibility now shattered. Maybe the author really is that good and I try to make a note of their name, but I know that I'll probably never check them out. The damage has already been done.
If you've been on Amazon then you know what type of scenario I'm describing. Over the last few years there's been an explosion of self-published authors that have hundreds upon hundreds of positive reviews that all sing the book's praises and call it "the best thing ever". But how many of these are really all that genuine? Exactly how many are from "real" readers and how many are from the author themselves, their friends/family members, or from authors trading positive reviews?
When I would initially find these types of books with hundreds of dubious reviews, I'd assume that they were real. After all, who has the time to painstakingly post that many reviews under different names? Then I discovered Robert Stanek, the infamous author who is fairly well known for his rampant sockpuppeting of his own books. There are people who are willing to post that many reviews in the hopes of getting bigger attention. So at that point I figured "Hey, I'll just look for the verified badge. That means that they're legit, right?" Not so much. In what was probably an attempt to curb sockpuppets and trolling, Amazon requires that you make a purchase before posting a review. You're just as likely to find a false reviewer with a verified badge on a product because hey, if you're going to have to buy something then why not your own product? It goes up in the ratings AND you get to post a review praising your work.
So how do you tell if they're real or not? Honestly... you can't. Seeing a reviewer that has only reviewed Jane Doe's work is pretty suspicious, but that's not a guarantee that this is just Jane reviewing for herself. It could be that the author I looked at earlier has a wide fanbase that just happens to only have reviewed their stuff. But then it could also be exactly the type of situation it appears to be.
The thing is, fake reviewing only gets you so far and gets you noticed so much. You might get up in the higher rankings, but if your book is mediocre then you can only go so far before the publishers shrug and move on and the potential readers start eyeing your book with suspicion. After all, if tons of positive reviews was all that it took to get a publishing contract then Stanek would be writing for all of the publishing houses out there. All I can hope is that eventually this trend of fake reviewing eventually dies out because sometimes it tends to backfire on the author because you get people like me, that assume that you're faking your own reviews and pass over your work to read the next author on Amazon.
*A description of the whole Robert Stanek thing