Using My Words – “Reviews”

So, it has come out that the indie phenom John Locke paid for some of his 5-star reviews (see link below for the article). He wasn’t the only one but he was the best known. John Locke was the first indie author to sell 1 million ebooks. He even wrote a book about how he did it (the whole buying 5-star reviews bit wasn’t in it).

There’s already been a lot of debate about whether this was right or wrong or whether it made a difference in his sales. Some are defending him. Many are attacking him. It seems everyone has an opinion on it. So, here’s mine:

This may seem strange coming from a guy who makes things up for a living but I value honesty a great deal. I also believe in the value of hard work. Some are defending Locke for being bold and taking an opportunity when he saw it. Fine, they can think that.

But outside of the stories I put in my fiction, I don’t want to tell any untruths to the people willing to read my books. I don’t want to betray their trust. I appreciate everyone that has given me a chance by picking up one of my books or stories and I’m not about to abuse that.

Yes, even if I knew I could become the next John Locke by paying for a bunch of 5-star reviews I simply wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be right. I’d love his level of success, but I’m not about to compromise who I am to get it. It seems he has no issues with it as he defends it in the article. Maybe he’s the same guy who shoved hundreds under the board while playing Monopoly and felt it was okay because it just meant he was smarter than everyone. Maybe manipulation it’s just the way the world works. But, I want no part of it. I’m pretty cynical but I still believe there is good in the world.

I will never buy reviews. I’m not even comfortable asking for them. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting nice reviews and they do help tremendously, but I never want to pressure anyone into putting one up. I want to earn every review that I get and I will be grateful for it.

Now his actions have made it that much harder for indies. He’s given us all a black eye. Any marketer or business man can rationalize all day what he did. Readers I don’t think will be so forgiving.

Maybe I’m a sucker for thinking this way. Maybe the world is going to walk all over me for being so gullible to believe that hard work and honesty can get you places. I’m okay with that, because I’ll still be able to sleep at night knowing that I did right by  everyone that did right by me.

What are your thoughts on the matter?


  1. I like your article and tweeted it out. I happen to agree with you. I feel a review is worth nothing if it isn’t the readers personal opinion.

    • There’s a certain trust I won’t betray. Even though I write fiction I need to be honest when it comes to dealing with real people.

  2. I first read the article you linked to a few days ago. I may be naive… damn I know I’m naive, but I was totally shocked by it and I didn’t keep my views to myself. My reaction was extreme disappointment. I felt let down. I felt this just isn’t right. Reactions to my tweets/conversations/discussions, were generally that everyone does it so where;’s the problem? The problem is, for me, exactly what you’ve said above. It just isn’t honest. I’d happily pay for reviews that were honest, even if they;re critical, but I need to know the opinions expressed are honest. That’s why I have no problem with review sites where you submit your work for genuine reviews. However, to buy a sycophant… nope. Not for me.

    • Yeah, the “everybody does it” argument is the whiny logic of a child. It won’t fly. Some people are saying it’s the real world – deal with it. Well, in the real world, perception matters and if you wrong people enough they’re not going to want to play the game with you.

  3. Paying for reviews is just wrong. If I could afford to do it, I’d spend the money on something else.

    There is nothing like the glow you get when someone gives you their honest reaction to something you have written – and if that reaction is a positive one, so much the better.

    I wonder if Mr Locke used to buy friends in the schoolyard with offers of sweets.

  4. Ben – I don’t think you should hesitate to ask for reviews. It’s only fair to offer that to our Indie authors who offer the same or greater entertainment bang for my buck. I am seeing first hand how much work goes into a book and I’m not even 10k words in yet. I would hope that folks would be willing to let me know what they thought.

    That said, I don’t think this will discount your work. I think Mr. Locke’s business practices only serve to diminish him. I have never bought a book based on 5-star reviews. I’ve avoided them based on 1-star reviews, but never has 5-star hype swayed me to a book.

    So yeah, keep on keeping on, man. You have your integrity. You have what passes for health and no meth addiction. You’re doing alright. (Note to those reading.. last couple of sentences are references to a recent twitter discussion… you DO follow Ben on Twitter don’t you?)

  5. Agree with you 100 percent. Paying for reviews sounds scummy because it is scummy. Some people have tried to defend it by saying the big publishers pay for publicity or use their muscle to get reviews. So be it. That’s yet another advantage they have over indies. But to buy reviews only makes the author look bad, and by association it starts tainting other indie authors.

    When you engage in activity that you don’t want to be publicly known, obviously you know yourself that you’re doing something underhanded. If Locke thought there was nothing wrong with it, why didn’t he write about it in his book on how to market indie books? Fraud.

    • Good point, James. We hide our shame and boast our virtues. Guess he wasn’t as okay with it as he claims in the article. Otherwise he would have put it in the book.

  6. Thanks, Dusty. I don’t hesitate to make a general plea for reviews. But, when somebody says that they read my book, I won’t ask “would you leave a review.” Just seems rude to me. Must be the Canadian blood.

  7. Hi Ben:

    I have been reading articles lately on how to give reviews, the proliference of people who are reviewing for pay, those to review among their genre for reciprocity and it makes me sad. Though I am not an author, I am a writer and it disheartens me to have this be ‘part of the business’. I have historically written layman’s reviews of books I’ve loved on my library’s site, sometimes on the sites for sharing and recommendations, and less frequently on the big retailer sites. I enjoy reviews that are genuine and honest and it’s becoming more evident which are not. I do think it’s reasonable to ask for a review, however, especially if someone’s taken the time to tell you they’ve read your work and enjoy it. Why not share the love? I don’t think buying reviews or Twitter or FB followers is a good thing.

    Thanks for doing what you do, keep up the good (and honest) work!

  8. I really hated what he did. I mean I would never do it cause I have to sleep at night but he made us ALL look terrible :(

  9. I started reading this believing there was something naive about the article above. Something a little white knight-ish about it. And I was right, but does that make it wrong?

    I’m going to mix books and mobile apps up a little too much in this comparison but stick with me and unravel it the best you can because I’m no writer. I think the problem is more about the review system in places like Amazon, Googles Play Store and Apples App store. Sorting apps by reviews, stars, and downloads brings those products with the highest numbers to the front. Until those systems come up with something more merit based, getting eyeballs or downloads on your app or product is a vicious process. You’re competing with marketing money, plain and simple and the one with the deepest pockets wins.

    Sometimes a product will float to the top not because of high review numbers or glitzy 5 stars, but because of an Oprah interview or a great PR blitz by an agent or a tech magazine with an editor that has a love for fat little red bird heads slung from a slingshot. But for the most part, It’s getting harder and harder for customers to really sort through the garbage. Maybe there needs to be a moderated “peer reviewed” tab. It works SO well in scientific circles.

    Back to the white knight. I admire and even believe Bens strategy is a good one. A genuine author pushing a product he believes in. I don’t have to search the reviews to see if it’s a one word 5 star rating or to see if the entire review is a run on sentence with no capitalization (because when you’re getting paid five bucks per review post, who has time for punctuation). So keep on you white knighted Indie writers, you’re forcing us to devolve into an easier, truthful, system of choice.

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