E-Author Beware - Internet Trolls and Spam Reviews!!!

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Post by Kathleen Jones

Getting your book reviewed is one of the most difficult aspects of publishing a book - whether you’re doing it yourself or through a publishing house.  We’re all eager to have our books noticed and recommended to the lovely readers we hope to entertain, inform or intrigue.  Magazine and newspaper review sections have contracted over the past few years, so sources of hard-copy review are hard to find and usually closed to independently published books.  But, at the same time, Cyber-reviewing has expanded into outer space and beyond.

Amazon and LoveReading encourage us all to rate and review the books we’ve bought, and there are other dedicated readers’ review sites - the vast Book Blogs and GoodReads  are the biggest, with Kindle Users Forum  not far behind.   And then there are all the thousands of private book blogs all chattering away like mad about books - and not just the ones that appear in the high-street book shops, they’re talking about indie books and e-books too. There are some very good, reliable sites, including  E-PublishaBook. and our new sister site the Indie E-Book Review,  where reviewers are chosen carefully for their credentials as both authors and reviewers and you know your book is in safe hands.

This is fantastic, particularly for the E-author who is usually excluded from hard-copy reviews and the bigger book review sites by literary snobbery. All you have to do is research the sites that like the kind of book you write and lob it off into cyber-space, hoping that your enquiry email will win the heart of whoever is choosing the books. The next step in the promotional process is to marshal a support network of friends, fans and relatives to ‘like’ and even possibly review your book on as many sites as possible, then Tweet/Facebook the results and watch the readers start buying.

But into this lively, innocent Book Fest has crept a darker force.  It may have a name, but it rarely has a face.  The Internet Troll who puts up a Spam Review on one of the ‘open’ readers’ sites. The profile is usually private - contact details through hotmail or google - emails are rarely replied to.

There are two different types of Spam Review, and both are painful.  The first trashes the book  - ‘a terrible read’, ‘very badly written’ - but then another element creeps in.  ‘The content of this book is very similar to Jo/anne Blogs’ wonderful book ‘Take me for a Ride’, but it isn’t as good’.  This book will be mentioned several times in unfavourable comparison and the review ends with a link to ‘Take me for a Ride’ by Jo/anne Blogs.

This is the blatant ‘Trash similar book in order to promote my/myfriends’ book’.   It may be the only one or two star review you get, but it’s there and it hurts and there’s nothing you can do.

The second type of Spam Review which is becoming very common is much more blatantly self-promotional and is sometimes libelous.  I’ve been a victim and so have several of my friends.  I was very puzzled by an internet review of a book of mine that came out last year.  The review gave 2 stars and said that the book was ‘full of typos and spelling errors’.  As the book was first published by Penguin (and almost edited to extinction by an academic editor) then brought out in paperback by one of the UK’s leading university presses (more editing and proof reading) I was pretty certain it didn’t contain any. Complete mystification.

But then a friend had her book trashed on a blog review site by someone claiming to have found a huge number of editing/typographical errors. ‘I’m an editor’, the reviewer wrote, ‘if I’d been editing this, it wouldn’t have happened.’ 

And it's not only Indie-Authors. Recently, on Goodreads, I was puzzled to see a review of the latest novel by a best-selling novelist from a very respected publishers’ list.  The novel was accused of containing typos, exhibiting a lack of continuity, paragraphing and other editorial errors. ‘I’m an editor’ the review reads, ‘so I notice these things.’  So, I think, has X publishing house suddenly started economising on editors for its most valued authors?  Curious, I read the book and (though I do a bit of editing myself and proof-read the occasional thesis) I couldn’t find a single error.

Now, I’m coming across these Spam Reviews everywhere - it seems something you just have to expect when you put your work out there into the internet jungle.  It’s one of the hazards of the freedom that the internet offers us.  There’s a dark-side as well as an up-side.  And lurking in the dark are what the legitimate book review sites call ‘Internet Trolls’.

What do they hope to gain, since their ethical standards are demonstrably abominable and editorial skills too poor to recognise a well-edited book when they see one, never mind create one?  I still haven’t the faintest idea, but presumably there are people out there who are going to be taken in by their claims and hire them to edit their books? 

One thing I am sure of  - when you intend to publish a book on the E-platform, you need to get the very best editors money can buy.  Here at Authors Electric, we’re trying to put together our own resource file of trusted editors and proof readers to help our readers find the right person. There are a lot of editorial services offered out there on the internet or in the Writers and Artists Yearbook.  Choose carefully - go by recommendation if possible - use professional sites and professionally accredited copy editors and structural editors.  Don’t give the Spam Reviewers a typo to stand on!

Check out Kathleen Jones' own Book Review Blog
Her blog on the mad chaos of  'A Writer's Life' 
For more information on her published work visit www.kathleenjones.co.uk

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Bravo, Kathleen! I recently had a nasty review on Amazon for my writing book, Nail Your Novel. It was a mere two lines, one of which claimed the book had spelling errors. I wouldn't normally bother to reply, as anyone is entitled to dislike the book's content, but these days with self-pubbed books getting such a poor rap I had to stand up for my editorial standards.
I pointed out that I'm from the UK, so use UK English. The reviewer replied, saying sniffily 'I'm aware there are differences, but "focussed"?' I replied 'That's in the OED'. When I next went to look, to see what she would say next, the review (and correspondence) had disappeared.
We can't muscle in if they disagree with the content, but we can defend our proofing!
Kathleen Jones said…
Good for you Ros! I think we have to stand up for ourselves. I also think it might be a good idea for us to have at the front of the book, or in the blurb that the text is in UK English and not USA. There are so many differences now.
Lynne Garner said…
I've had a similar thing happen to my picture book apps. The 'reviewer' trashed the story and the illustrations and said it wasn't as good as ..... When I looked into it the 'review' was written by the author/illustrator of the app mentioned. I researched further to discover the 'reviewer' had also trashed 'The Cat in The Hat.' At first I was annoyed then amused that this person felt my work was obviously a threat to their sales.

Lastly I agree if anyone pushes their services by trashing a book they would become the last person I'd use. If that's how they operate I don't want to work with them.
Karen said…
Thanks for such an interesting post, Kathleen. I had absolutely no idea this went on. And well done, Ros, for sticking up for yourself.
CallyPhillips said…
Yeah, very interesting. Now I have even more arguments in my armoury as to why I don't value most reviews on the internet..... and why indieebookreview site (oh, did I just become an internet troll?) is worth the effort. It's a big and very bad world out there.... but knowing about the elephant traps certainly helps.

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