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Is the review system "fixed"?

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Recently I bought the second book of an author whose first book was a NY Times bestseller.  The first book was wonderful.  But the second book–not so much. In fact, it’s tedious. I happen to know she wrote it while she was sick. Nothing really wrong with it, it's just a slog to get through it.  By the way, I loved her first book.

There are hundreds of rave reviews on Amazon of this book–plus about twenty that agree with me that this book is boring and reads like a textbook.  It could just be taste, but one person’s comments made me think.  He said, “The publicity department at (fill in the name of big publisher) has been working overtime on this one. Don’t believe the positive reviews–most are bogus.” I know there must be a huge advance and millions of dollars at stake.

It does seem like the books I’ve published with big publishers were treated differently from those from smaller pubs.  One of my books from Large Pub. wasn’t edited at all, yet received rave reviews from PW, Booklist, etc. Another, from a small publisher, was rewritten and edited over and over until it was as close to perfect as it could get.  Same with the illustrator.  It was criticized for some unbelievably petty flaws.  (For example, because it didn’t have an index–the book had fewer than 2000 words.)

I’m not saying the whole thing is fixed, but I’m wondering if–when so much money is involved–is it possible that publishers have found a way to game the system?  Even the reviews on Amazon?  I would have said “no” a few years ago.  But now I’m wondering..is it fixed?

Anyone with definite knowledge here–or even just and opinion?  
#1 - February 24, 2011, 08:24 AM
« Last Edit: February 24, 2011, 02:01 PM by Betsy »
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Definitely no knowledge, and maybe not even an opinion. But there's a lot of human nature at work. Generally speaking, I think a book from Giant Publisher or Giant, Successful Author or any Mega-Hype Title shows up on a review desk with a halo and the expectation that it will be terrific, and those (even subconscious) expectations affect the experience of reading it (and thus the reviews). We are pack animals and falling in with the opinions around us is easier than standing out. Thus mob mentalities and the WELL documented phenomenon that, for instance, people in focus groups and other research scenarios, if they get to hear what others' opinions are before they speak, are much more likely to agree than disagree. Or that teachers who expect students to do well give more attention and leeway to students they've been told are "good" students, and the reverse, -- and as a result, performance tends to follow that expectation (even when it is false and set up by researchers). Or that the results of political polls actually influence voting.
#2 - February 24, 2011, 09:01 AM
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I'm sure you're right about all of that, Joni. That's probably most of it.

I just wondered if pubs. were taking things a step further these days.  Like, I've noticed that one of the big review journals (I think it's PW, but it could be one of the others) says they give stars to those books of "special interest" or something like that.  But they don't say they give stars to the "best" books. 

 
#3 - February 24, 2011, 09:23 AM
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You mean, Betsy/Ellen, that we should not believe everything we read?

I actually came to this conclusion years ago: PR does not equal truth. PR folks work to "shape" perceptions. You don't have to work or hire someone for $ otherwise. Reviews have become an industry, and the ones easily obtained (such as on Amazon) are the most affected by these manipulations.

How did I realize this? It's a somewhat funny story. My husband's late mother was a Hollywood starlet way back. We found some of the articles about her, saved as clips from old magazines and newspapers. Her "biography" was so bogus it would have been upsetting if it weren't funny. (Just an example- she was described as hoping to do Christian Missionary work {I think they were marketing her as a sort of Ingrid Bergman type} and she was, to the last, Jewish... This was just the beginning of a long list of factoids mixed with fantasy and some true details.)

We accept that such was done then by studios, but what about now?

My husband's niece worked for a family of multi-millionaires. Actually, ,billionaires, as a personal assistant. One of them is now a well known (very well known) actress. Not only is her immense inherited fortune not mentioned in any bio I saw, (understandable) - but I saw an article in a major national magazine that described her as working hard in odd jobs and baby sitting thru high school to help her family. Her surname, BTW, is one she took on for professional reasons and thus will not connect her to her very wealthy background.
When I read that article, I knew the "false PR machine from the old studio days" never died.
Back to our business, I think there is a lot of manipulation and as I  said, Amazon is more vulnerable than most.
#4 - February 24, 2011, 10:17 AM
« Last Edit: February 24, 2011, 10:21 AM by 217mom »
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Very, very interesting, Mirka.  Any chance you could pm me her name?  (I can understand if you wouldn't want to--but now I'm so darn curious.)

My mother worked for Disney Studios all her life, so I know a bit about how Hollywood works--and I believe you.

But how do you think it works with Amazon?  Do you think there's someone who spends days writing all those ficticious reviews?  
#5 - February 24, 2011, 12:29 PM
« Last Edit: February 24, 2011, 12:39 PM by Betsy »
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PICKY EATERS
OCTOPUSES ONE TO TEN
THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE
THE BALLAD OF BOOSTER BOGG
BEASTLY BABIES
TOOLING AROUND

I've noticed some of of the reviews(on amazon) for  books that have pages and pages of reviews sound like they are written in voices that sound similiar.  I don't know if someone actually sits there and writes review after review or not, but honestly it wouldn't surprise me if it DID happen.
#6 - February 24, 2011, 12:37 PM

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My husband read an article last year, maybe in the Wall St. Journal, about companies that write fake reviews for other companies on restaurant and hotel review sites and similar sites. And I think it was Yelp that was caught deleting bad reviews for the restaurants that advertised on its site. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Amazon reviews are fake too.

Also, the Amazon Vine program sends ARCs and books provided by publishers to selected reviewers. I imagine Amazon selects reviewers for these free ARCs and books who usually give favorable reviews.

I've also heard that some of the book review journals use reviewers who already are fans of an author to read an author's subsequent books.
#7 - February 24, 2011, 12:47 PM
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I've also heard that some of the book review journals use reviewers who already are fans of an author to read an author's subsequent books.

Now, that's an interesting one. I wonder if that's good or bad? I mean, as (for example) an Anne Tyler fan, when a new book comes out, what I want to know is whether she's up to form or if she's fallen short of her best work. I wouldn't really care to hear from a reviewer who thinks nothing could be more pointless than a novel about ordinary folks in Baltimore.
#8 - February 24, 2011, 01:41 PM
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