Are Ebook Reviews Worth Their Weight in Gigabytes?

There's been a lot of chatter lately about how a certain ebook website has started legal proceedings against hundreds of 'unidentified' reviewers who post false positive reviews in exchange for cash. And I don't blame the eGiant. Who needs to be spruiked while searching for a book?

But it's not just overly gushing, obviously 'faux' favourable reviews they --and all book review websites -- need to keep an eagle eye out for

As a longtime crime writer and member of various Facebook writing groups--from women's authors to best-selling cozy mystery writers--one of the most common complaints is false unfavourable reviews.

And we're not talking about simple dissing of books.

It's one thing to say, "I read it, I didn't like it, here's why..." It's quite another to blatantly lie about a novel out of malice, vengeance or sabotage. I know of countless fellow authors--clearly more successful than me, which is why they're being targeted--who have really struggled with this issue. One author of very successful, boringly benign cozy mysteries, complete with cute kittens and bloodless murders, had a reviewer slam her book for its "senseless violence, profanity and eroticism". She was mortified.

There's not so much as a 'damn' or a revealed midriff anywhere in the text. Not even in the subtext!

Desperate to have the false review removed lest it alienate her devoted Christian fan base, she approached the ebook website and was initially told there was nothing they could do. Eventually, after much effort on her part, they agreed to "review the review" -- which means, they can post it back up if they decide it should stand.

Yet it contains complete and utter lies.

Fortunately, this hasn't happened to me. The worst I've ever experienced is a rather baffling review in which the reader wrote about how much she enjoyed one of my books and would have given it more stars, "if it wasn't for the missing pages". This was a few years ago and I was perplexed.

Had I stuffed up the formatting? As a then-newly established self-published author this was easy enough to do. I promptly downloaded copies of the book on every device I could get my hands on to see where I had gone wrong.

Yet there were NO missing pages. The book was 100 percent complete. Still confused and now feeling a little miffed, I quickly alerted the relevant site and was told "the reviewer is entitled to her opinion". Yet this wasn't an 'opinion', this was incorrect and misleading information. I knew that it could put readers off because, let's face it, who wants to buy a book with 'missing pages'? Especially if it's a murder mystery where every clue matters.

I tried to argue that this reviewer clearly had her facts wrong, but Amazon refused to enter into any more correspondence on the matter, and that was that.

Today the misleading review still stands. And while I wrote a comment under the review, debunking it and assuring potential readers all the pages were intact, I know that it's putting some readers off each and every day.

Looking back on it, I really can't say whether that reviewer was trying to be sneakily malicious or whether they really did believe some pages were missing. Perhaps her download had glitched or she felt there was something lacking in the plot as a whole? I honestly don't know, but I have come to realise that I'm one of the lucky ones.

Many of my fellow authors have horror stories that you wouldn't read about, stories of cruel and spiteful reviews that make no sense and bear no resemblance to any book they've ever written. And we can only conclude that these fake 'reviewers' must be fellow authors or publishers desperate to sabotage the competition so they can sell more of their books.

If not them, who?

Ex-husbands? Old enemies? That jealous member of their local writing group? Who would deliberately falsify a review? What would be the point?

Perhaps they're internet trolls with too much time on their hands and not enough love in their life. None of us can say for sure, but what really baffles me is the feeling that any book website would be more willing to retain a false negative review than a false positive. What does that say about them? What does that say about us?

So, this is my request of you, dear readers:

If you can find a minute--and that's all it takes, I promise you--please jot a quick review on whatever eRetailer you happen to have used, each and every time you finish a book. It doesn't have to be my book, it doesn't even have to be positive. Simply write a sentence or two about what you liked or didn't like and give it a star rating.

Keep it real

Just be sure to make it honest and believable, and it will not only pass muster with the Powers That Be, you will be doing your fellow readers a good service. Because each genuine review you write gives other potential readers a chance to understand a little about the book and whether it's worth investing in. Then they can go in, eyes wide open, before they press 'download'.

Even better, you'll make a writer's day because of the knock-on effect. The more genuine reviews authors receive, the more books we sell, the more money we make, the more chance we have of writing another one, and the more books you get to choose from. And on it goes.

After all, writers don't live on verbal praise alone; physical pats on the back don't pay the bills. Well-reviewed books do.

For those of you who have reviewed my books with true candour, I thank you from the bottom of my heart--whether you liked my book or not--because, to me, that's not the real issue.

The real issue is: is the review real?