How to spot a fake review


So people following along with any of my stuff may get the impression that I don’t like self-published books. I assure you nothing is further from the truth. It’s pretty awesome how in 2017 you can work your own way through publishing work and get it out there to a wide audience. However I am very, very aware that this option has also opened the door to mass amounts of material that most probably should not have seen the light of day.

To complicate matters marketing work is a complex tasks typically involving several different techniques to promote, disseminate and work Amazon’s algorithms. For many indie authors procuring reviews is a necessary step in maintaining both visibility and credibility.

It’s that final point I’d like to discuss further here. I’ve noticed that some indie works, have far too good review rankings, sometimes better than well known published books. Can I truthfully say I know they are fake or extremely biased reviews? No. Can I truthfully say that I would put money on it because I am 99% certain. Yes.

Now just before I start snarking, I will quickly add that I don’t believe that all or even most indie authors procure dodgy reviews, but every now and tend I come across a pretty average to terrible book and become suspicious of their glowing reviews.

Here are the things I believe signal a fake, procured-to-be-positive or biased review:

The review states they are unbiased

There is a truism out there that if someone says they are being honest, they aren’t. This very much applies to book reviews too. I read one review that opened by saying that the review was “honest and unbiased”, now there are a few things wrong with that.

  • People who are unbiased have no reason to state this (i.e. why does the review feel the need to state this)
  • Reviewers of high caliber will typically note their connections/conflicts of interest for a reader to judge for themselves, for example stating whether they received a free-review copy, were bored at the airport, or are the author’s mother
  • There isn’t actually that much wrong with a biased review, some of mine have included preferring to write a review people will ‘upvote’, being sycophantic, or maintaining bitchiness towards authors I dislike (wow I’m actually a dick reviewer, time for a rethink of strategy)

Anyway, like a person saying “honest” at the end of their statement, reviews that claim to be biased should be treated much as the opposite, especially if there are particularly glowing (and let’s face is 1-star horrific attacks don’t usually bother trying to claim a lack of bias)

The Review reads more like a plot summary

I honestly (whoops) have no idea why this seems to come up so much, but I suspect it has to do with either well meaning friends and family being at a loss for what else to say, or misguided shrill accounts trying prove they ‘read’ the book. Now a good review will often include a brief synopsis or summary to set the context, but these gems will typically say something like “_______ tells the tale of Grahame the Ghost Buster who heroically saves the day with his proton gun. It was great”. This is often coupled with my next point,

There is a suspicious lack of actual detail

A while ago I received feedback for my writing saying that specific > vague, and this very much applies for reviews as well. It’s surprisingly easy to provide complimentary comments without substance. Compare the following:

  • The main character is someone that many could relate to
  • Presenting a main character from a well-off family having some relatable problems is a hard-sell but a refreshing change from typical rags-to-riches stories

Now the key difference between the two is that the first could actually be shoved into any review without much thought and probably sound good, and most beneficially allows for plausible deniability. The second actually shows that the reviewer not only read the book, but actually considered the context.

One might ask at this point – who cares Thomas? Just don’t read books you don’t like and certainly don’t read review of books you don’t like. Well call me old fashioned but I do actually read reviews to see what books are like. And it irks me that a. there are writers so oblivious to their own work they think that shrill reviews are what they need to succeed (when what they mostly need is a professional editor) and b. that people can seem to procure quite sizable number of reviews to make their books look good, when there are probably much better works out there looking bad because their reviews are honest.

My hope is that this post is redundant because most readers already see through this kind of crap and I’m just slow on the uptake.


What are your guys experience with fake reviews?

Any criticisms, am I off-the-mark, possibly paranoid?




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