Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Whose Book Reviews Do You Trust?

Bad author behavior has been a trending topic that's been popping up for the past two weeks with enough frequency even for me to pick up that the authors of right now think they are in a MMO real-time-strategy, where they mobilize small armies and wage war against the rest of the Internet. 

I can't help, but imagine what's happening right now in the publishing world as a warped, sales-bent version of Heroes. I have heard of an author who sics fans against people with less favorable opinions of their books, authors who bash the books of rivals via anonymous profiles and authors who buy reviews online. I'm not really going to comment on the details of the current shit storm since others have done so far better than I (Steve Mosby and Alan Baxter have been eloquent enough to sum up). 

The current situation with reviews is dire, because Baxter says "reviews are the life blood of authors" (paraphrasing from a conversation on Facebook) and if we can't trust the veracity of reviews on Amazon, which are the customer's primary guideline as to the quality of a book, then what happens? I can't answer how this problem can be solved. I think that fake, marketing copy reviews and wars with fake negative reviews are still in their infant stages. As authors learn the ins and outs of the Internet, the skills to create fake buzz will only branch out. 

However, the dialogue is now beginning and I hope the culture surrounding the reviews and how they're obtained will change towards the better. What I'm a bit more interested in is whether the trust in reviews has been betrayed within the community itself? Do you still trust what reviewers write about books anymore? More importantly, whose reviews do you trust? 

I've been a reviewer for a significant time period and reading reviews has been an integral part of my education as I pick skills along the way. Over the years I have picked up words (hyperboles), phrases (comparisons, generous predictions) and structure of the review (speaking vaguely about the quality of the book with no details or just heading for an emotional reaction that seems rather out of place). If a review doesn't have an ounce of depth or show me the book has had a genuine effect on the reader either emotionally or intellectually, I disregard the review altogether. 

I'm sure other writers, other authors and other book aficionados have an eye for whether a review is sincere, but sometimes that eye might not catch the lie. Who can vouch for this and that reviewer, especially on Amazon. I don't use Amazon for my book buying and I don't intend to ever again. Big sites like Amazon are the perfect target for fraud, because they allow for anonymity so I naturally stay away from Amazon. Do you value Amazon high in terms of trustworthiness? 

Whose reviews do you trust anyways? Do you go to GoodReads or do you trust a site like LibraryThing? Do you log into forums and what is your relationship to the reviewer? I believe that these are the questions that people are asking and answering for themselves right now or at least should be asked and emphasized on. If authors try to cheat, then it's quite necessary for readers to recalibrate whatever defenses they have against fraudulent behavior.

I think that a discussion about how to make authors abandon these cheap tricks is necessary and I think it has already begun, but by answering the question of whose reviews we trust alongside, we will be able as a community invested in literature to help the occassional book buyer to avoid a potential scam. 

What do you think?