5 Star Average Rating! (my foot)

I am probably the worst nightmare of other authors: click on all their links — not because I’m curious about their book — but because I’m curious as to why someone would be interested in their work. I like to troll around on Amazon and see what people are buying, read a few reviews, and just get an overall sense of what’s out there.

Of course, in doing so, I often find myself shaking my head at the types of books and types of hype which is used to sell books.

I saw on Twitter someone advertising a book which had a “5-star rating average.” My first thought was, wow, it must be some book. My follow-up thought was that there must be something wrong with this picture – no book with any amount of stars maintains a 5-star rating. I had to find out, so I clicked on the link, found myself on their amazon page, and sure enough, the book had an average 5.0 star rating. Here’s the break-down:

1 Review = 5 Stars

That’s it. Now it was a┬áverified purchase review, so that’s at least something.

But come on, are we fudging the facts just a bit? I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable in saying that in an advertisement. It worked, in that it at least got me to click on the link and look at the author’s book, but …

Hey, I understand. Advertising is tough. The market is saturated and you want to use every trick available to grab someone’s attention. But still – is that the best you can do? Even if I was interested in the topic of the book (which I wasn’t), I wouldn’t have bought it because of such an underhanded tactic.

I’ve been advertising my latest novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, at 4.8 stars on 22 reviews. In my opinion, that’s enough independent reviews to get a sense of how readers are accepting the work. I’m comfortable in promoting that. But 1 at 5?

Come on, authors, we can do better than that.

You can buy twitter followers? The dark side of modern publishing.

What?

Call me naive and extremely behind the curve, but what? Is? That?

I need to pause and think for a minute.

Hmmm. You mean by this afternoon I could be followed by tens of thousands of twitter-heads?

Okay. I’ve thought. Here’s my conclusion: if that’s what it takes to succeed in this world, then I am all right living in obscurity.

I mean, really. What is this all about?

In a word: image. If you have oodles of followers I would assume that people think you have something important to say. Is value and importance now subject to popularity tests?

I can imagine that quite a few people in history would not have done well on Twitter if they were living in this day and age.

What this all says to me is the supremacy of image and perception is creating a fallacious cloud around the publishing industry. (Though this could certainly apply to many other fields as well.) Let’s take a look at how publishing today creates image through falsity:

  • An author can buy twitter followers.
  • An author can buy ready-made book outlines. (I have a post on this coming up.)
  • An author can post fake reviews on all the popular sites.
  • An author can have a business buy oodles of their books up front just so it hit the best selling list.
  • A (fake) author can hire a ghostwriter and proudly slap their name on the cover.
  • An author can sign up at different websites where authors buy each other’s books as a “I’ll scratch your back, you’ll scratch my back” way to improve their Amazon sales rank.

I’m sure I’m missing some here, but you get the picture.

The temptation to do some of these tactics is no doubt real because the benefits of a book finally breaking through can be the difference between an author languishing in the realm of making a few hundred dollars a year to being able to finally build a career with one’s writing.

And if I can just say, some literary agents aren’t making the problem any better. One agent, answering the question of what they look for in writers in terms of on-line presence before they would agree to represent him or her, said that he would like to see someone who has tens of thousands of twitter followers. Hmmm … now we know it’s not that difficult. But what have we created? This false monster of image which looks good on the outside but may not have any tangible correlation to the talent or story-telling ability of the writer.

As for me, I won’t participate in this racket. If I have a follower on Facebook, it’s because someone of their own volition decided to click the “like” button.

I’m of the naive and old-fashioned persuasion that a writer speaks first and foremost through his or her writing.

I’m of the naive and old-fashioned persuasion that a reader cares first and foremost about a good story.

If that means others pass me by, so be it.

I’m going to live honesty, write honestly, and tell my story. Whoever wants to come along for the ride is more than welcome to join me, but, sorry, I’m not going to pay you to follow me.