Faking it: When book reviews go bad

Self-employed in publishing

Jasmine Kirkbride is BookMachine’s new blogger and this is her first blog post. Jasmin is the Editorial Intern at Tenebris Books. She is a freelance editor and published author.  You can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride.

At the FutureBook Conference 2014, Orna Ross presented a Big Idea to publishing: the new Ethical Author code from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).  A week later, it was the theme of #FutureChat, where it became apparent that some of the biggest ethical quandaries for authors concern review practices.

What is the ethical author code?

Reviews are a crucial part of any publicity campaign, and sourced in ethical ways, they’re great tools to market your content with. A positive book review can help persuade someone your content is good enough to purchase. Multiple complimentary reviews in different places or from different sources assist in making a product memorable. Quotes from reviews make good content on social media and repeated mentions of your title can help make it a trending subject online.

Conversely, bad reviews can undo your other marketing and publicity efforts. But surely even a bad review is not an excuse for an author to stalk or commit acts of physical violence against the offending reviewer, right? Wrong.

According to Orna Ross, this has happened, and it wasn’t an isolated incident. Though they’re rare, incidents like this are giving authors a bad reputation. ALLi’s Ethical Author code hopes to start counterbalancing this: by signing it, authors can assure reviewers that they will be treated with respect, no matter what they write about the author’s book.

This is just one of many aspects covered by the Ethical Author code. It’s a big step forward in the conversation around author ethics, but it doesn’t answer all the problems. In last Friday’s #FutureChat, it became apparent that there’s a growing trend among both traditionally and independently published authors to fake reviews or positively review books they haven’t actually read.

Why bother faking it?

Authors are becoming more involved in publicising their content. They’re expected to have an online presence and be active participants in social media. Independently published authors normally even execute their publicity and marketing by themselves. This has lead to an explosion of new online marketing strategies. But there’s a big difference between clever marketing tricks and outright lying.

Faking reviews is not simply a strategy: ultimately you are lying to consumers and the industry. Even if you make quick sales in the short term, in the long term you are likely to get found out.

So why do people keep faking reviews? At the end of the day, it’s an attempt to make more sales. Faked positive reviews encourage people more likely to buy your product because they create the illusion of quality content.

But what is this symptomatic of? Ultimately, I’m lead to the question: are we focused on selling good content, or just the illusion of it?

For more information on ALLI and the Ethical Author code, visit www.selfpublishingadvice.org, or share you views by hashtagging #ethicalauthor.

Orna Ross blogs at www.ornaross.com and Tweets @OrnaRoss

#FutureChat happens every Friday from 4-5pm GMT, just use the hashtag to get involved!

Related Articles


  1. I feel like your last question is hinting at the bigger form this problem could take in the future. A bad culture of user reviewing can quickly render the whole setup basically invalid. Metacritic is maybe a good example of what it’s like when things go bad – a sea of 10’s and 2’s, and not much in between (http://www.metacritic.com/movie/interstellar/user-reviews). At some point, it’s stopped saying anything.

    If there are going to be reviews of books, rather than just responses or comments, there has to be trust, basically..

    1. Yes, I totally agree, trust is such an important factor in whether people believe, and therefore act on the advice of, book reviews. Metacritic is such an interesting example to use – yes! I think it’s important not just to say ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in a review, but why it was good or bad. Aside from anything else, it’s only balanced and fair to do it that way. Also then, even if it’s not your thing, other readers might be able to see why it might be theirs!

Comments are closed.

Sign up to our Newsletter


* indicates required

BookMachine Ltd. will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at hello@bookmachine.org. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices.