aggressive authors

Authors & Paid/Fake Reviews; Maulik Pancholy Comes Out

Authors & Paid/Fake Reviews

I’ve posted a few times on the topic of authors paying for book reviews, and not always in a negative way. And I think there’s an important distinction to make here. In other words, it’s been a fairly standard practice in publishing to pay for reviews at known places like Kirkus since as far back as I can recall and there’s nothing unethical about it. But these types of paid book reviews are costly and you are never guaranteed the proverbial five star rave review. There are other places that have been doing this for years, too. And when an author pays for and makes one of these reviews public, with full disclosure, there’s nothing about which to be ashamed. But I’ve also posted about a different kind of paid/fake book review that has been popping up in recent years some find highly questionable at best, punishable with jail at worst.

I’ve posted on this topic before, too. If you follow that link you’ll see there’s even a web site now that’s dedicated to the topic of aggressive authors allegedly paying for reviews and quasi literary awards in mass quantities, at low cost, in order to boost their books and brand on Amazon. The problem with this web site is that they name names but remain anonymous themselves. Which in turn makes them as questionable as the authors they name. In other words, if as a blogger I have solid proof that someone is doing something unethical or illegal, I’ll use my own name and back up my arguments with facts I know are solid. Otherwise I won’t do it. There’s enough subterfuge on the Internet already and I don’t want to add more to it. So far, this hasn’t happened with the web site that claims these authors are paying for reviews and awards.

However, some authors have been “outed” for paying for reviews or writing their own fake reviews in mass quantity to boost their sales, and some have even admitted it. And then there is Fiverr.com, which blatantly states they will review books…or anything…for five dollars. I posted about them here once. And there are many other web sites popping up each day that will offer to write glowing reviews for aggressive authors (and books) at a relatively low cost to boost sales, like this article discusses. In fact, in that article it talks about how someone made 28K a month just writing fake book reviews…which naturally leads us to believe a lot of authors are doing this. It’s not just one or two.

A huge problem with paying for reviews could be as pragmatic as it gets. They may or may not be legal, depending upon how the law is interpreted.

Paying for reviews, even when the payment comes in the form of a discount or other incentive, may actually be illegal.

In 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission updated its endorsement and testimonial guidelines to better reflect the modern, digital world. A relatively broad reading of those guidelines would indicate that any relationship between reviewer and the reviewed company — even an incentive relationship — should be disclosed. Doing otherwise could be illegal.

In New York the practice of fake reviews was investigated and 19 companies paid fines.

Eric Schneiderman announced agreements with 19 firms Monday that commissioned fake reviews and several reputation-enhancement companies that helped place reviews on sites like Citysearch, Google, Yahoo and Yelp. They were fined a total of $350,000.

This article talks about sending people to jail for putting up fake reviews.

Because fake reviews make it impossible for consumers to make informed choices, most right-thinking people abhor the practice. But when it comes to punishing the practitioners we lapse into fatalism. What can we do, that’s way of the world, right? But if it’s against the law, sooner or later there will be a test case. Bring it on!

I try to make that subtle point all the time with *anything* Internet related. We’re still living in the Wild West days of the Internet, but as more and more people become familiar with online purchasing and the out of control aspects of working online that people like me have been experiencing for years some of these lawless practices are now being questioned more than ever before. And I agree there will be test cases that will bring a good deal of the abuse out in the open in ways we never expected to see. It’s already starting now. This article, with direct quote below, was written by an author who seems to be wondering about some of the reviews she sees nowadays. She doesn’t name names, and it’s a fair, honest post. And it’s a topic a lot of people have been discussing behind the scenes for a while now because some things just don’t make sense. And like Judge Judy (I love her) says, paraphrased, “If it doesn’t make sense it’s most likely not true.”

For those authors who are buying reviews to boost sales, don’t kid yourself. Us aged ones see what is going on. Our readers cannot possibly wade through a hundred reviews, most resembling one another, in that they give no story detail nor do they give an opinion on the book or characters other than “Wow, what a great 5 star book! Buy this now and read it!” You guys are playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette and you will lose your credibility among your peers. Our peers are incredibly and increasingly supportive to each other, especially within the Indy community, where we do not have a traditional publisher to hawk our wares. We do all of it ourselves, putting our work out there for honest opinions and feedback, hoping that what comes back is a candid critique of our books and using said critiques to improve on our craft for the next book. A storm is brewing for you who take advantage of your own readers, by paying for false reviews and trying to fool your readers in this manner. Your readers are smarter than you think. They are for the most part, as loyal as they come. They come back time after time, wait for your new releases and pay good money to authors that they adore. You review purchasers… will be found out and I am glad that I can side step the missile that is aimed at your career. Beware…


I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more on this topic in the months to come. Readers don’t like it, and authors who don’t do it want these fakes exposed. It bothers me personally with respect readers because I basically think most readers are good, right-minded, decent people who take for granted that authors are being honest and up front with them. And I hate to see readers disappointed when this is not the case. At least by talking about this openly in a general sense I hope readers will understand that not all authors, self-pubbed or trad pubbed, are in the habit of paying for fake book reviews in mass quantity.

Maulik Pancholy Comes Out

As being openly gay is becoming more acceptable in the mainstream, more gay people with high profiles are coming out of the closet. Though I’ve never seen  the TV show 30 Rock, it’s refreshing to see that Maulik Pancholy recently admitted he’s gay, and that he’s been in a long term relationship.

The 39-year-old actor made the magazine’s annual “Out 100” list, and told the publication, “I just celebrated my nine-year anniversary with my partner.”

He went on to note that his mood was particularly celebratory “on the heels of the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions.”

You can read more here, where they list other high profile people who’ve come out.

This is just a side note. But for all you high profile types who haven’t come out yet, you’d better get moving or you’ll miss the celebrity coming out bandwagon and the shock value won’t be the same.

Sean Hayes Apologizes; What Is a Book Blogger? A Book "Influencer?"

Sean Hayes Apologizes

I love when LGBT people with high profiles back me up this way. I’ve often posted about how I’m not fond of National Coming Out Day, and how coming out is such a personal thing no one should ever feel pressured about it. And now actor, Sean Hayes, from Will and Grace, made a few recent comments about how difficult it was for him to come out, and why he didn’t do it sooner.

“I was so young,” Hayes said. “It made me go back in the closet [with the media] because I was so overwhelmed at 26 or 27. I didn’t want the responsibility, I didn’t know how to handle the responsibility of speaking for the gay community. I always felt like I owed them a huge apology for coming out too late. Some people in the gay community were very upset with me for not coming out on their terms. They don’t stop to think about what’s going on in somebody’s personal life, and the struggles that they’re having. It was all very scary. We got death threats. It was a really rough time for me, but I was also having the time of my life.”

For me, that’s heart wrenching. If I were in the room with Hayes when he said that I would need a box of tissues. But that’s not all. It gets even deeper when Hayes talks about how gay news organizations like The Advocate slammed him for not coming out sooner. And what really bothers me the most about this is that those who scream for tolerance the loudest always seem to be the most intolerant. I don’t think Hayes owes anyone an apology.

In any event, I hope Hayes knows how much good he did for the LGBT community. And this is the absolute truth: I sometimes post about getting letters and e-mails from closeted gay men who can’t come out…or aren’t ready to come out. One of these people lives a truly closeted life because of his religion/culture, his family circumstances, and his background. And he’s recently been telling me that he has been watching old reruns of Will and Grace and it’s helping him a lot. So the things actors like Sean Hayes did for the LGBT community continue to evolve in many different ways so many years later.

You can read the full article here.


What Is a Book Blogger?

Someone asked me this question a few weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to post about it for a while. First, I looked all over for one set definition of what a book blogger is and couldn’t come up with anything definitive. In fact, the places where I’m linking today even state they don’t know the definition and it’s only their opinion. So it’s important to keep in mind not all things have set definitions, at least not at this point.

This web site discusses what book blogging means to her. She makes no claim to define book blogging:

When I began book blogging six years ago, I had no idea just how much of a community there was out there. Suddenly I found myself among likeminded people—people with a passion for books and writing—for talking about those books and other bookish tidbits. While we share in our love for books, our experiences with those books can vary widely. It gives me the chance to hear a different perspective, think a little differently, and branch out to try something new.

This next web site talks about something more definitive, and yet makes no claims to give a set definition of a book blogger. They’ve also created a book blogging directory, which is discussed with what I thought was a very open-minded approach.

So, what do we all think? Is an author a book blogger, or do they need to at least be chatting about other people’s books as well as their own to qualify? What about other types of bloggers who occasionally talk books? What about blogs that are attached to bookstores? Often there are reviews amongst their posts, but really the aim is to try to get people to buy from the store.

I find that interesting because I don’t consider myself a book blogger, not with this blog. I’m an author and I present information about my books to readers. I also review books on occasion here. I often discuss books I like. But I keep this blog more focused on pop culture, LGBT issues, and publishing in a general sense.

I even discovered there is a book blogger week, and this web site gives the most definitive answer of what a book blogger is that I’ve found so far.

Let’s step back, first, and ask, what is a book blogger? The answer is simple: it’s someone who blogs about books. About the books they love, the books they like, the books they hate. It’s someone who usually does it all on their own time: the reading, the writing, the posting, the commenting, the (insert all the stuff it takes beyond reading and posting to be a blogger).

But then what’s the difference between a book review site and a book blogger?

I won’t even try to define that because I think it’s vague at best. But I have always considered book review site more geared toward criticism…good and bad…than actual book discussion. But even then there’s a certain amount of book discussion on book review blogs, so it gets even more confusing.

A Book “Influencer?”

Now this was something I’d never seen before: a book influencer. And the blogger I’m linking to here asks the question, “What’s the Difference Between an Influencer and a Book Reviewer?”

I’m not exactly sure where or when the term Influencer originated. But in the publishing world Influencer is often used to refer to a reader who signs up to help in the promotion of a book in exchange for a free copy of that book. The author puts together a list of interested Influencers (a limited number), along with their addresses. The publisher then sends the book to those people (usually a couple weeks before the release).

The piece goes on to state that influencers are fans of the author, their goal is to promote the author and the book, and they do it in a variety of ways that may or may not include a book review. Then the term “Launch Team” is mentioned, which is a group of influencers who are strictly out to promote the author. I take this to be the same thing as a Street Team, but don’t quote me on that.

Essentially the terms are synonymous, except that an author may choose to keep a Launch Team ongoing via a Facebook Group or Email Loop.

Ultimately, this means that when you…the reader…see your favorite author on facebook getting tons of comments and photos posted to his or her timeline there is a good chance they aren’t coming from actual facebook friends or fans, at least no in the literal sense of fandom. There’s a good chance they are coming from influencers and teams of people who are only interested in promoting the author as much as they can so they can receive something in return. I don’t do this. Whatever you see on my timeline is coming from people that I didn’t solicit with gifts and free books. But it is common nowadays with many authors, and it’s getting easier to spot the more I see it. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with it because in most cases the influencers are fans in a twisted ethical sense. But I do wonder what would happen if the authors who do this didn’t offer the influencers anything in return. In an offhanded way it reminds me of circus people who plant shills in audiences.

But this is a very honest article and I found it highly informative, especially the part where the author discusses the difference between a book reviewer and an influencer. She’s up front and totally honest, and I think this is one set definition we can trust.

In other words, a Book Reviewer’s goal is to help the reader make wise reading choices. An Influencer’s goal is to help the author with promotion.

As an author and a blogger it’s often hard to get into topics like this because one of my goals as an author is to promote my books and my publishers, and the other as a blogger is to provide honest objective information to readers with regard to any topic. Sometimes I’m not that objective. But when I do post about things like this I tend to lean more toward being a blogger than an author and I also tend to piss a few people off (other authors). A lot of authors don’t want you to know they have influencers or launch/street teams. Some of these authors are so promotion oriented they will cut your throat to sell a book that may or may not be a very good book. But in the spirit of full disclosure, as a blogger, I think it’s important for readers to know these things, and to understand what these terms mean so they can decide for themselves.