By Iola GoultonLast week I looked at the first two big problems with online reviews: spam and shills. This week I introduce sock puppets and stupid.
A sock puppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception … The term now includes other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a person or organization. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sock puppet is that the sock puppet poses as an independent third-party.
Many Amazon reviewers (including authors) use pseudonyms. Technically, Iola is a pseudonym—I don’t get an Amazon ‘Real Name’ badge because Iola isn’t the name on my credit card. Other reviewers use pseudonyms for reasons ranging from protecting their personal privacy, not wanting other people to know what they are buying (if you had issues with infertility or an addiction to pornography, would you want everyone working that out based on your Amazon reviews?).
I don’t see anything wrong with using a reviewing pseudonym as a way of protecting what is left of online privacy. I don’t want my identity outed and my family threatened by some disgruntled author (this is known as being doxxed). Amazon has my full name, address and credit card number, and would release this to the relevant authorities if required. No one else needs to know.
Sure, some Amazon users don’t behave well online. Some of them use pseudonyms. Others use their real names. Some are called “Amazon Customer”, perhaps because they chose that name—but often because their Amazon user name was deemed to be against Reviewing Guidelines (e.g. it included their book title: “Joe Bloggs, Author of Whatever”).
There’s nothing wrong with using a pseudonym, as long as the intent isn’t to deceive. If you’re calling yourself Amazon Customer to disguise the fact you’ve just reviewed your sister’s book (which you edited), or when you call yourself A Reader to review your own book … well, that’s a problem. It’s a sock puppet account. It’s dishonest, it’s against Amazon Reviewing Guidelines, and it’s against FTC guidelines.
The best (worst?) example of Amazon sock puppetry is the author who created over 350 fake identities to give his book five-star reviews. The sock puppet reviews are long gone, but references remain in the remaining reviews, and in the 4,300-post discussion in the Kindle Book Forum.
One commenter sums up this behaviour well:
Using a sock puppet account isn’t clever or funny. It’s dishonest, and wrong.
Some bad author behaviour can only be described as stupid.
For example, one author was caught reviewing her own book. When confronted on Amazon, she said she didn’t write the review. It was from a friend in Australia, and the author posted it under her own account because her friend couldn’t: they don’t have the internet in Australia.
Yes, the author really said that. The review is gone now (surprise!).
Do read the Terms and Conditions
I often find author-reviewers claiming they don’t know the rules of Amazon (the rules will be the subject of my next posts, starting in June).
I don’t understand this. My father always taught me never to sign a contract until I’d read the terms and conditions, and while I admit I don’t always follow this advice when I sign up to a website (e.g. Facebook), I would never sign something involving money without reading the terms and conditions first. Yet so many self-published authors appear ignorant of Amazon's reviewing guidelines, conditions of use, and selling policies.
Not knowing the terms and conditions of a website you are using to sell your product is, in my opinion, stupid.
Don’t Criticise a Review
I understand some reviews can be harsh, but please keep your meltdown private. Call a friend, go to the gym, bake a cake. Don’t respond online.
Criticising a rating, review or reviewer through a blog post or Facebook page isn’t clever. Too often, fans see this as an excuse for a witch hunt, and fan behaviour (like telling a reviewer to stick their hand in a blender) makes the author look bad. You can’t control the behaviour of your fans (or family), so don’t give them any ammunition.
Don’t draw attention to the review through writer loops either—many reviewers are members of these loops. They will see your response, and mentally cross you off the list of authors they review. Remember: nothing is private on the internet.
Criticising reviews is especially stupid in the romance genre, as romance readers have long memories, and still haven’t forgiven Anne Rice or Deborah Anne MacGillivray for their anti-reviewer antics (from ten and five years ago respectively, although Anne Rice is currently pontificating about reviewers using pseudonyms. Yes, Anne Rice, who writes under a pseudonym).
PS: Blaming the offending remarks on your husband or significant other isn’t an excuse.
Don’t Respond to Reviews
If the reviewer who has just given you a one-star review isn’t smart enough to understand the point you were trying to make in your 80,000-word book, is a 200-word comment really going to change their mind?
Don’t even try. Savvy readers will ignore the review. If the point is valid … well, responding will make someone look stupid, and it won’t be the reviewer.
Amazon doesn’t have an official policy regarding authors commenting on reviews. Some marketing “experts” recommend authors comment on low-star reviews, rationalising the reviewer will appreciate the interaction and can be persuaded to raise the star rating. This may well be true—but I’ve never seen it happen.
What most often happens is the reviewer never even sees the response. But other people see it, comment … and it always ends up with the author looking bad. Even the nicest comment can look condescending to the wrong person. It’s not worth the risk.
So there you have some of the background to why some people think reviewers don’t like authors. But it’s not true.
Authors, we want to love your books. And you. Make it easy for us by spending your time writing the most amazing books ever.
Don’t spend time dreaming up creative ways to get around the rules and guidelines of online reviewing. Please. Because every time an author does something that’s ethically suspect (or out-and-out cheating), it adds to the list of things readers and reviewers consider unacceptable.
We’ll discuss this in my next series of posts.
By Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (www.christianediting.co.nz), or follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christianediting), Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/iolasreads).
I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog (www.christianreads.blogspot.com). I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.