Did that Bad Review Come with a Side of Ulterior Motives?

I recently discovered that my book was victim to an act of sabotage through bad reviews and wrote a blog post for the Huffington Post. Here it is:

How much can you trust book reviews on the web? Turns out, very little.

My journey in self-publishing started at the end of this past October. I had a young adult book, no prospective agents and a life-long dream to fulfill, so I decided to go it my own. In the first three weeks, I sold a meager 35 copies. But, by mid-December, I’d sold nearly 800 copies and had racked up several good reviews — most of which weren’t my family. I was completely elated, until I got my first taste of bad press.

A 2-star review rolled in on Goodreads, stating “WTF? This cover looks like a rip off of captivated. and the cocky character in the beginning sounds too much like Shane from Apodaca’s book.” Like any writer, the merest hint of plagiarism set off blaring warnings in my brain, so I searched for this book “Captivated.” Both covers depicted the close-up of a red head, but one visit to the YA section of Amazon will show you dozens of books depicting a similar thing. I scanned the reviewer’s profile and saw she’d joined Goodreads only minutes before rating my book. About an hour later, another person commented on the review saying, “I totally agree!… It looks like the Captivated cover (only Captivated is waaaay better).” This reviewer had joined Goodreads in November. On Nov 5th, she gave “Captivated” a 5-star review, stopped using Goodreads for almost a month, and then logged on to give the not-yet-published second book in the series, “Unattainable,” a 5-star review and to comment on my book. The whole thing seemed odd, but I decided it could still be coincidence.

I let it go, until I woke up Monday morning to see I had received 1-star reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon. The individual on Goodreads had joined on April 20, 2011 to give ‘”Captivated'” a glowing 5-star review, and then stopped using Goodreads for seven months before giving my book a 1-star rating. Not wanting to believe someone would go out of his or her way to sabotage my novel, I checked Amazon, almost hoping to see a legitimately bad review. As you might have guessed, my 1-star ‘critic’ had only ever reviewed one other book, “Captivated,” and had gifted it with a rave 5-star review in October of 2010.

And, that’s when I got infuriated. Bad reviews I could handle. My trials and tribulations had prepared me for the good, the bad and the ugly of reader feedback, but in my mind this was something else. Did I know if this was a malicious attack? No, I didn’t know, but the events seemed decidedly fishy. Did I think people were going out of their way to hurt me? Absolutely. And you know what? It was succeeding. Since the negative reviews were posted, my Amazon ranking had sunk and the rate at which my books were selling had gone down. At the beginning of a self-published novel’s life, even one bad review can ruin months of dedication, late nights and hard, hard work.

And, that’s when I said enough! With publisher’s rejecting agent proposals, agent’s rejecting author queries and the economy as bad as it is, getting published is already nearly impossible. But, when self-published authors who should be helping each other get noticed start sabotaging the competition instead, there needs to be a change. But, what to do? Amazon already only allows reviews if you have a unique email and credit card, and have bought one of their items. And, Goodreads has a one email per account stipulation. So, how can this end? Take away the ability to post anonymously, and you could remove a lot of the good-natured participation on these sites. As the saying goes, you don’t want to let one bad apple spoil the bunch.

The only real solution is for authors and readers to help each other. Online, people seem to go out of their way to smash others, when the appropriate thing to do is to help others grow. If you honestly do not like a book, by all means state your opinion and give a negative review, but give the author pointers on what to improve, not just a blanket negative statement. If you love a book, go wild and rave about it, regardless of whether the author is your best friend or your competition. If we want to change the industry, we need to start by changing our own actions — the goal should be to help and not to hurt each other.

I would love any support any readers want to give me! I think this is a very serious issue in today’s self-publishing industry, one that needs to be addressed and put to an end.

Please check out my blog or goodreads account or amazon page. Thanks for reading!

  • Boudica Foster

    Actually, it is not a new ploy. This was going on with books published by publishing house for many, many years. Amazon calls it campaign voting, or fan voting. It plays pretty much the same way. You have a group of “fans” who will go out and vote en-mass on a particular author’s work. Some of them may only do this once or twice, just to promote the book for their favorite author, but some do this professionally. Hired by marketing media people, they will also slam books published in the same genre that compete directly with the clients work.

    It has taken itself into the self-publishing field. Yes, I’ve had my own issues with this as well.

    However, know that Amazon, at least, has entered this kind of voting into their voting rubics (as we Amazon reviewers call it) with campaign voting being identified and fan voters being identified and their votes, after a bit, do not count anymore regarding certain authors. They keep their system pretty secret, but it has been documented, and it does work. The same goes with any kind of campaign voting. They may hit you once or twice, but it is worked out in the rubic as well and it does show up.

    Sometimes you have to point it out to Amazon, but they have the ability to check and correct.

    Which is also why you see one review, or two reviews for a fan or campaign voter, and then they have to move on; their votes no longer count. How can they get around this? Well, again, Amazon has their ways, but people figure it out. I do believe it is becoming harder and harder to circumvent Amazon’s voting system and campaign identifiers.

    You probably are going to get a few of them, but I would suggest that you point this out to Amazon’s customer service and let them know about it. They are usually good at checking their records and removing fan or campaign voting. Amazon does have a sense of fair play, and they also want to keep their authors happy. If it is identifiable by Amazon, they will correct it.

  • Did you try contacting the person directly? It can work wonders; why not offer to review their book in exchange for them removing their negative reviews – only they have the power to fix this.

    As for covers, he’s kind of got a point. I’m sure it’s coincidental, but both covers show a redhead with selective coloring, with color only on the hair and eyes. Did you use a stock photo that was already this way?

    It’s inevitable with so many indie covers however that some books are going to look alike; and I agree this guy’s tactics are despicable. Congrats on your continuing success.

  • Thanks for the great post. I’ve heard of this before and can’t figure out why people do it. I’ve gotten some bad reviews on my work and normally its just petty stuff, but when people start claiming plagiarism then yeah you’ve got to start to wonder what they’re up to. For your sake I hope this person, because from the sound of it, it is just one person will go away and leave you alone.
    Good luck and thanks again for reminding people that this kind of thing does happen.

  • Thanks to Kaitlyn Davis and the first three commenters above, I’ve learned something I didn’t know, but needed to know, that can happen to authors — but shouldn’t.

    I believe I’ve had something similar happen to my first novel. Because it’s set in prehistory and LGBTQ people help run their kingdoms, in which some act for their own selfish welfare and status, but more than a few act for their people’s welfare, I naively didn’t think it was necessary to advise prospective readers and reviewers that this was an LGBTQ novel. And not until about 20% of the way through the book does it become clear that the protagonist is gay.

    That seems to be about the point where many readers and reviewers gave up reading further. I can’t say, though, I regret they did that. The readers and reviewers who were open-minded on the LGBTQ thing put me high on the five-star Amazon ranking. And those who felt compelled, early on, to turn away from my story graciously declined to post reviews or ratings. All of them made that choice on their own initiative and without any request from me. And now I make it clear to prospective readers and reviewers that the series is heavily LGBTQ.

    But what appears to have happened to you, Kaitlyn (and to you, Derek, in yet another form) is a far more serious problem than what happened to me. I salute you for leading the way, along with the other commenters above, to correct this matter.

  • So now I get it. I had a ton of good (5 star) reviews for my first novel, The Spirit Box, on Goodreads.com, then out of the blue I got a 1 star review from someone who not only said my cover was ugly, my characters were flat, and they couldn’t understand why my book was getting all these 5 star reviews.

    I wrote it off to the different strokes principle – different strokes for different folks, but still the way it was written almost seemed the person had an agenda against me.

    The book continues to get really good reviews and I released the sequel recently which paeople are saying is better than the first book. So I will just keep going. I figure that over time, it will balance itself. Karma and all that.

    It just pisses me off that someone would say, (especially someone who claimed they got the book in a giveaway) I would never buy this book if I saw it in the store the cover is ugly!

    For perspective, the cover has a photo of me on it!

  • @JH Glaze, wow a new low in mean reviews – being called ugly. I always feel like junk after a bad review, so thanks for making me feel like it could have been worse. Anyway, I’m commenting to add that I got mean 1-star review off a giveaway I did on Goodreads. How mean is that to post a nasty review after receiving a $24 hardcover for free. You have to be such a horrendous ingrate to write a mean review after receiving a gift. If you don’t like it, don’t say anything.

    • @ Tracy Falbe,

      No offense but it’s your own fault for giving your work away. They gave you a scathing 1 star review on the FREE book you gave them (which normally costs $24) & had they purchased it they would’ve probably given you the 1 star review as well. The difference now is that you didn’t even earn a penny on it, and got your review. Ha! This is actually pretty funny! Sorry!

  • I agree that describing a cover with the author’s image on it as “ugly” is some kind of new low. JH Glaze, I don’t know what you look like, but I do know you can’t possibly be “ugly.” You’re a human being.

    Tracy, I couldn’t agree with you more. The most a person who doesn’t like a gift should say, beyond the perfunctory “Thank you,” is nothing. I’m sorry to learn you got that mean review.

    • Well, hold on a second. I have to believe Tracy would have been grateful, maybe ecstatic if the free book had garnered a good review, so it’s fair if a free book garners a bad one. You pay your money and you take your chance. I do agree that a bad review and a review written with an ulterior motive aren’t the same, but it all really goes with the territory. If you democratize reviewing, you have to accept reviews from morons and assholes who hate the book alongside those from geniuses and saints who love it.

  • Eric, I can’t disagree with anything you say. You and I are more than willing to face whatever we get in response to whatever we choose to put out. I still feel sympathy, though, for the others, such as those in this discussion, who find themselves ensnared by “reviews from morons and assholes.” I can only tell them I enjoyed my own innocence, but I don’t regret that it’s gone. Our world is what it is.

  • “Give the author pointers on what to improve, not just a blanket negative statement.”

    I did this on a very poorly written vanity published book on Goodreads, and the author not only started spouting about how I was jealous because she had more people ‘reading’ hers (although quite a few suspiciously look like puppet accounts, and I am an author and a reviewer) but also sent some people to rate my book 1 star without even reading it in retaliation.

  • Frankly, it seems to me this is a bit of a tempest in a tea pot. I looked at your book on Amazon; I was going to give you ‘like’ in sympathy with your problem. But there’s only one bad review. And your 3,000 in the rankings, not a bad place to be for a debut novel. I’ve had one eviscerating review among twelve very positive ones for my short stories. I suppose I could rationalize all kinds of reasons. Sorry, but just move on, seems to me you’re doing fine — keep it up. And i do agree this is not a zero sum game. Collaboration is the key to success.

  • Remember the ol’ saying, paybacks a bitch.m***********! If you are a digital Author, and I use that term lightly, your enemies from the past, disgruntled friends, fellow employees, and on and on; can throw a lil’ poison yo’ way. Using 57 different e-mail addresses @ 5 different IP’s or mo’….”remember that time you got in front of me at the coffee machine”….now ya braggin’ bout ya book!!!!!On a lighter note, any clown with McWord can put some jibberish in an e-Book….just cause yo’ gots a geetar, don’t make yo’ no musician..there’s some pretty unreadable crap out there…no wonder everybody only downs the FREE stuff…

  • Lawrence Spak, Jr., you’re a fun side of SPR I can’t recall seeing before. Thank you for amusing me, every time I read your comment, through a long winter evening.

    • I thank you for your reply. Just stumbled on SPR a few weeks ago. My girlfriend wrote a story book, she made me illustrate it. After learning the biz, I jumped right in. I am an ARTIST only. Make a living at it! So I write really sarcastic, humorous stuff, taboo breakers, then decorate them with my drawings and watercolors to increase the value of the originals. Sorta back-asswords. A serious author that helped us digitally, said his biggest seller was JOKE BOOKS! So, being a born smart-ass, I jumped right in. Beware my kdp stuff, it is designed to give e-fans a kick! Remember; give em’ crap and they won’t come back; give em’ heroin and they are hooked for life.

  • Here’s a one-star Goodreads review about my book on just the military aspects of the 1967 Six Day War.

    “Never Read it. Don’t Plan on reading it. This book has to be fiction because none of this is true. Nuff said.”

    This doesn’t upset me in the least. It’s the only one-star review on a highly politicized topic. It explains itself and cannot be taken seriously at any level. All of the other fifteen or so ratings are within a normal spread and average 4+ stars.

    • Remember the old proverb: Never go into a liquor bar, a party full of drunks, or your in-laws, and start talking about religion or politics.

  • While I sympathize with this plight and agree it’s a problem, I object completely to taking away the right to post anonymously. This is, after all, the internet and when you post anything any where with your real name, you open yourself up to all sorts of personal attacks (see the recent wave of Internet Inquisition against that poor bastard Paul Christoforo) and everything you say is preserved for pretty much ever. I choose to use my name on stuff on Amazon, personally, but others may not and I don’t feel that the inconvenience of this sort of slight is a good reason to out everyone every where forever.

  • If anyone is suffering under the delusion that Amazon, for one, will get an abuser off your back, here is some give and take from the past few days.

    First, my note to Amazon, which explains itself:

    I am the publisher of the book [Title, a non-fiction book] [ASIN]. Apparently the author’s political views are not tolerated by several cretins who have been hounding him on the web for a number of years. A history of abusive confrontations has led these people to entering a fairly large number of abusive tags, which I’ll list below. I’ll also give some data on the identity of the attackers.

    Can these tags be removed, and is there some way to prevent Amazon.com from being a battlefield?

    Tags are: alcohol-induced hallucination(4), fabrication(4), fantasy(4), fiction(4), asperger-driven delusions(3), cat hoarder(3), cat p overdose induced silliness(3). complete and utter bs(3), baloney on lie sandwich(2), combat modeling sadness(2), crappffication of storytelling for dummi…(2) ,don t waste your money on lies(2), faerie tale(2), fascinating fodder authored by walter mi…(2), flights of whimsy(2), combat aanus(1), dreams of my cats(1), fabricationtt(1), i can talk to dead combat veterans(1), junk history(1), outstnading jackassery(1), rivals the hobbit for realism(1), the guv knows this craptacular(1)

    Taggers are: [ID taggers]

    Please report back.

    Today’s response:

    Hello Pacifica Military History,

    I read the Tags you reported to us in your message. We understand your concerns, but since the Tags fall within our posted guidelines, we are unable to remove them. Here’s a link to our guidelines if you would like to have it for reference:


    We appreciate your understanding.

    Thank you for your recent inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

    If yes, please click here:

    If no, please click here:


    Abusive tags don’t really have an impact on sales, because tags are used by readers to locate books they might like to read by matching keywords. They work from the outside in, and you have to enter a pretty close match (which is why tags should be terms a potential reader will easily think of, not something “unique” and thus obscure.) So this is kind of a tempest in a teapot. But it does show the degree to which Amazon is willing to allow itself to become a battlefield manned by idiots and crazies.

    Amazon dweebs excel at just one thing: the non-response response. They are not equipped to solve problems, but at least they answer the mail.

  • Bad reviews are now just a part of normal business IMO, you have to learn to deal with them regardless of the motive. Of course anybody can turn it around for good with the right customer service, but you have to focus on addressing the problem and not just covering it up.

  • I offered my book up for review on goodreads and the reviews from younger readers are coming back. As a result, sales and rankings have suffered. As difficult as that is for me as a writer who worked hard to write and prep my novel, it is inevitable. Their reviews may not be overwhelmingly positive, but they reflect their feelings about the book. On the other hand, comments about the look of the cover and that show that the book wasn’t actually read are another issue entirely. There needs to be some kind of quality control over “reviews,” so that only those written by actual readers of the book get posted.