Guest Post | Book Reviews: Seeking The Elusive Truth

Amidst the recent book review scandals, which have tarnished the whole industry and made readers question the source and validity of many book reviews, Leslie Ramey, co-founder of Grub Street Reads, asks if now is the time for an impartial review system and  seal of approval. She presents another option for readers and authors.
It’s not news for anyone in the business of writing and selling books that fake book reviews are a common, almost accepted, dirty secret within the industry. Readers, for the most part, remained blissfully innocent that many of the glowing, 5 star Amazon reviews on the novel they just purchased may have been faked by the author or written by a paid lackey who never even read the book.
Dirty laundry, however, has a way of crawling out into the sunlight. A recent expose in the New York Times on a defunct company that charged authors as much as $999 for positive book reviews, fanned the flames of scandal. This was quickly followed by the discovery that well-known crime novelist R J Ellory was not only writing positive reviews for his books through a series of fake accounts, but also slamming the books of other authors.
TIPM has covered this growing scandal in detail, so instead of delving into the specifics, I’ll just sum up with what I consider to be the most stunning factoid to come out of this whole mess. Cited in the NY Times article, data expert Bing Liu estimated that about one third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake.
We all know that readers are swimming (some say drowning) in the massive amount of books coming to the market through traditional and self-published routes. Aside from recommendations from family and friends, book reviews and ratings were one of the few ways readers could judge the quality of a book. In fact, a 2010 report by The Bookseller found that book reviews contributed to roughly 13% percent of book sales. These book review scandals are sure to land a huge blow to reader confidence and take away one of the few tools self-published authors had to prove the quality of their work.
So, if books reviews can no longer be trusted, where do we readers and self-published authors go from here?
Some authors have publicly pledged to never take part in “sock puppeting”. While this is a laudable action, I doubt that it will make much of a ripple in popular reader sentiment. Let’s face it, book reviews are easy to fake and easy (though not necessarily cheap) to pay for. This scandal has raised awareness of the issue, but I doubt it’s done anything but temporarily stemmed the tide of fake reviews.
Now that the scales have fallen off the eyes of readers, they may never trust in book reviews again, which means it’s time to find an alternative and unimpeachable way to establish a book’s quality.
Alright, now it’s confession time.  I wasn’t exactly displeased when this book scandal broke, because my business partner, Jessica Bennett, and I have recently launched a company – Grub Street Reads – with the goal of creating an unimpeachable, third-party quality standard for independently and self-published books.
As a voracious reader, I know how confusing things have gotten over the last couple of years with so many self-published books flooding the market. Many of them are excellent, but a lot of them are…well, I like to say they’re still in “rough draft form”. It’s easy to get burned, which is why so many readers value reviews.
I also happen to be a self-published author myself, and I speak regularly with other self-published authors, so I know how untrustworthy reviews can be. Even the honest ones are usually written by sympathetic friends and family who just click 5 stars to avoid tears and accusations at the dinner table.
There have long been calls from writers and readers for an unbiased, third-party system to establish a quality standard for the indie and self-published book market.

Thus, Grub Street Reads was born. Our premise is simple. We believe that all good stories, no matter their genre or the specifics of the plot, share fundamental traits like well-developed characters, a consistent plot, strong pacing, and few, if any, grammatical errors.

The GSR endorsement is given to those novels that meet these basic quality standards. It’s that simple. Grub Street Reads functions as a third party vetting system, and our endorsement proves that a novel has been tried and tested and earned a passing mark (not given by the author’s mother or spouse).
I know that I’m bragging, but I can’t help but be excited about GSR. Jessica and I believe, and studies show, that consumers value seals of approval. It tells them that the endorsed product has met a standard, which makes it a less risky purchase. 
If this book review scandal has done anything, it’s finally woken readers to the fact that book reviews are not always a trustworthy way to gauge the actual quality of a book. This sucks for honest authors who must now find another method that they’ve got something good between their covers.
Jessica and I are hoping that Grub Street Reads can be the answer. [Full disclosure, GSR charges for an evaluation, but our profits are used to pay our evaluators for their time and to help market our endorsed authors’ books to readers.]
Let us know your thoughts! Do you think the book review scandal has tainted book reviews in the eyes of readers? Is Grub Street Reads a solution, and is the indie book world truly in need for a third party vetting system?
Grub Street Reads, created by Jessica Bennett and Leslie Ramey, seeks to shine the spotlight on quality indie books by endorsing those books that meet GSR’s strict quality standards. Learn more about Grub Street Reads by visiting Enjoy our kooky video, read about our endorsement criteriaand visit our growing library of endorsed indie books. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.



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