Not too long ago I was sent an ARC by an author’s publisher (I know the author through social media) with the intent of reviewing on my blog and on Amazon. My blog gets a reasonable amount of traffic so I am finding more and more smaller publishers are reaching out to me – great.
But as I read the novel I was astounded at the number of:
1. Misused/incorrect colloquial terms
2. spelling/grammatical errors
3. geographic/historical mistakes
4. locations/places either spelled wrong or the date (of a specific actual event) being incorrect
5. out-and-out wrong general details
6. storyline with several gaping chasms of plot holes
At one point I contacted the author and pointed out my concerns (before I got to the below) & was shot down saying ‘The editor approved it.”
There were a few other things:
7. a very clear slut-shaming agenda which had me screaming.
8. Less than five ‘token’ non-Anglo characters (one line each) who were so cliché that it hurt to read.
9. A very strong possibility that this author plagiarised another's work
All of this made it difficult for me to want to review the novel, as frankly, it deserved less than 1-star. Given the incestuousness of this industry, if I gave this novel 1-star, I feared it might come back to bite me in the butt. I had visions of blacklisting. Perhaps I’m being over dramatic, but I felt that my objections and reasons for giving the novel 1-star would be a slap in the face for both the author and the publisher.
So I sat on it, unable to make up my mind what to do.
Then I started seeing 5-star review updates come through for said novel. I was floored. I decided to take a look at these reviews, I mean, what had I missed?
It took me all of 30 seconds to realise that all but two reviewers were close personal friends of the author and/or also signed with the one-and-same publisher. So I dismissed these reviews due to the conflict of interest.
Instead I focused on the two names that were not familiar. It took me a while, about 30 minutes, to do some tracking but soon I was convinced that one of the ‘reviewers’ was in fact the author, having made a fake account. I am 95% sure this is the case and as I am not 100% I don’t feel I can do anything about it. The other review, which was almost word-for-word the same as a previous review, was also very suspicious.
In other words, none of the reviews (as far as I can tell) are *real, yet this novel, this poorly written, slut-shaming, practically unedited, non-fact checking novel is getting *reviews and from that, genuine sales.
So here is my dilemma.
Do I do nothing or do I write a review (I can only write an honest one).
I know I can’t make mention of (what I believe are) the fake reviewers, but if I do write a review, and give it what it deserves, 1-star or less, then I need to list (and give examples) as to the reasons why.
That in itself is not the issue. My issue is the possible negative fall-out to me, and is the truth worth the risk? Do I risk the wrath of not only many authors but a publisher, and potentially risk other publishers, authors and some agents thinking I am difficult to deal with all to publish a review, unpaid review, that is truthful?
I know this is quite a war & peace epic of an email, however, I am also sure you have come across this before. What should I do? What would you do? What have other’s done who may have been in the same position?
As the dividing line between reader/reviewer/writer becomes less distinct with every passing day and increasingly voracious demand for content online, this is a problem a lot of people are facing.
You are reviewing an ARC which is an Advance Reader Copy and often times NOT the final version of the book. Often there is a disclaimer on the cover that says so. "Don't quote without checking the final copy."
That's because ARCs are often printed before the copyediting is finished.
I'm hoping this is the case here.
Your mistake was getting in touch with the author, not the publisher who sent it to you. The author is clearly unskilled in the ways of reviewers relationships, and perhaps has no idea that copy editors exist to save him from looking like an idiot.
So let's assume that 1-5 will be fixed in the final book.
That still leaves you with a book you don't like. You have good specific reasons for not liking it (6,7 and 8).
If that were the entirety of the case, you could elect to write a fair review and probably be ok. I've mentioned before that I am not unbiased about reviews of my client's books, but if you have specific reasons, I can live with it. "He's a toad" isn't going to cut it.
But then we come to #9. You suspect plagiarism.
That moves this out of the realm of review and into investigative reporting.
I think you have an obligation to reply to the publisher that you believe this work is not wholly that of the author, and list why you think so. And you decline to review it FOR THAT REASON.
You don't publish a review saying so.
You will certainly not publish anything about who else reviewed the book.
If the publisher knows and doesn't care, it's no longer your problem.
If the publisher did NOT know, you've fulfilled your obligation by letting them know about your reservations.
Sock puppet reviewers are an ongoing nuisance, but you are not the Review Police. Your job is not to make sure other reviewers are above board. Your job is to review books. That's IT. Of course, you cannot review a book that is plagiarized, so you tell the publisher and that's the end of your involvement.
You'd be hard pressed to get on any sort of black list doing this. Black lists are generally reserved for people who are consistently difficult to work with or vitriolic in their interactions.
Your email strikes me as rational and reasonable so I think you're safe.
Plagiarism is a growing problem, and publishers are the least able to identify it. Readers are the key to discovering this. Every major plagiarism case I can think of in the last five years came to light by way of readers.
And this author sounds like someone you'd do well to have little to do with on social media.
And if you are an author, and a potential reviewer writes to you about problems in the book, here's what you say: "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I appreciate your close and careful read."
If the reviewer is clearly deranged (ie hates kittens/loves kale) you can ignore it. If the reviewer has a point, you now know your publisher doesn't employ a copy editor (who should have caught all those items) and that means YOU employ one instead.