The New York Times just published a very disheartening expose of reviews. Where there is a demand, there will be a supply, and this man, Todd Rutherford, found a way to meet demand and line his pockets rather handsomely.
Need reviews? Have money in the advertising budget? Have more desire to be noticed than scruples about how it happens? For the measly sum of $499, he would provide 20 reviews, all proclaiming excellence, and for another $500, he’d gather up 50 paeans to the product. Whoa, Nelly, that’s a hell of a lot quicker and easier than writing the best possible story and launching it into a world of strangers with no external motivation to sing its praises.
Of course this sort of thing gets noticed, and as one hornet’s nest hanging directly over the front door will get the wasp spray while another in a far tree will be allowed to thrive, Rutherford’s service attracted Google and Amazon’s attention. He’d racked up a fortune before they shut him down, though, and he’s still out there, trying to drum up business. And some desperate authors will probably provide.
For those of us either old-fashioned or honest enough to not even imagine this was a possibility, this article was an eye-opener. I, and all the authors I know, which admittedly are all m/m romance types, spend our moments hoping that someone with a respected opinion, like Jessewave and her crew, or Mrs. Condit and Friends, or any of a dozen other sites that we know and trust, will find a moment to read and review, and preferably to love, our work. To those who know the opinion-makers, these reviews have some validity, even if it’s just knowing which reviewers’ tastes run counter to your own. “If X loved it, I’ll probably love it too, and if Y liked it, I’d best stay away, although if Z hated it, I bet I’ll enjoy.”
But for the general browser on one of the big sites like Amazon, these names mean nothing and the words themselves are the only thing to go by. And if the words are suspect just for existing, because people like this Rutherford, um, person, are churning them out via subcontractors who get a few bucks to string together 50-100 words of high praise, then what is the review going to accomplish besides arousing cynicism?
My Wall Street novel, The Rare Event, is one that I’m pretty proud of, although it isn’t selling terribly briskly. I’ve always thought it was because of the emphasis on the money and the hedge funds, because it has a fair amount of numbers attached to that part of the plot, or because of the size. It’s a hefty 350 pages. Perhaps I should retitle it Fifty Shades of Money? But maybe the trouble is the reviews it’s received.
A number of articulate readers have said their piece on it at Goodreads, and the ratings are all over the board, depending on how well they like the hedge fund plot and the relationship. At Amazon, though, it’s got a handful of reviews, all 5 plus one 4. Does that make the quality of the book suspect? If the names on the reviews aren’t known to you, does that mean, “These reviews are too positive and therefore it can’t really be that good?”
Some of the reviewers are folks I know, who run review sites, and a couple are readers moved enough to comment. I appreciate that they’ve taken the time to say something, especially something positive, but maybe no one believes them.