The Crazed Antics of Cheating Authors

For several weeks, Zon Alert bloggers have tracked the crazed antics of the cheating authors we’ve identified as they attempted to deny any wrongdoing. If we didn’t have full understanding of how these authors operated before, we sure do now. These authors have been working overtime to cover their tracks, to try to discredit Zon Alert and The Fiverr Report.

We’ve seen and heard it all. Every excuse you can think of. These authors and their associates have tried it. The velocity, snark, and feigned outrage has Zon Alert bloggers imagining these authors and their associates as red-faced children telling their teachers the family dog ate their homework. Frequently though it’s more like some five-year-old girl saying “That’s right Johnny did it, Mom. It wasn’t me. I’m your little angel.”

There’s a simple litmus test to distinguish between real writing awards and fake writing awards. Real writing awards are highly selective and have few award recipients. Fake writing awards aren’t selective but hand out awards aplenty.

Real writing awards don’t hand out awards to 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000 so-called winners. Fake writing awards do.

Real writing awards don’t let authors enter their books in as many years and categories as they can pay for.  Fake writing awards do.

Fake writing awards come from award factories. Award factories are cash cows for those who operate them.

One of the many illegitimate awards we’ve identified is the Beach Book award. Beach Book award is run by an outfit out of California that allows an author to enter as many books as they want for as many years as they want as long as they pay $50 for each book entered. The same company runs 17 identical award programs with different names:

Green Book award
Hollywood Book award
San Francisco Book award
Beach Book award
Paris Book award
New York Book award
New England Book award
DIY Book award
London Book award
Halloween Book award
Los Angeles Book award
Great Northwest Book award
Great Southwest Book award
Great Southeast Book award
Southern California Book award
Animals, Animals, Animals Book award
Great Midwest Book award

There’s even a multiple entry form that allows cheating authors like Melissa Foster to enter a book in all 17 award programs at the same time.

The worst fake award factory is Reader’s Favorite, an award cheating author Melissa Foster has numerous fake awards from. Reader’s Favorite has awards in 100 categories and gives out over 500 fake awards every year.

In each of the 100 categories, Reader’s Favorite has four winners each calendar year: Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable mention. Reader’s Favorite also gives out awards to so-called finalists, so there’s a Finalist award as well. In our research of the award years 2009 to 2012 we couldn’t find any book that was entered that wasn’t a gold, silver, bronze, honorable mention, or finalist medal winner. Even if that meant there were 4 so-called finalists along with the 4 so-called winners in each category.

Talk about incentive to keep entering year after year. No wonder cheating authors like Melissa Foster keep entering books in this contest year after year.

One of the more laughable claims we’ve seen professing how fake awards like these are real is this one: “My award isn’t fake. My entry fee I paid was real. Real enough for you?” But of course the entry fee was real. Award factories are getting rich from authors who want to cheat.

Another more laughable claim we’ve seen professing how fake awards like these are real is this one: “The winner gets $1500 and a trip to Chicago. How’s that for fake? Look it’s a real award.” We’re sure a so-called winner gets a trip to Chicago and $1500.  The award factories try hard to seem legit. Giving out a few thousand in prize money is nothing after taking in $100,000.

The Melissa Foster Fake Email Correspondence Debacle

In an apparent attempt to discredit this blog, Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey fabricated the following email correspondence which is being circulated on various blogs by Melissa Foster and her author friends in an attempt to hide guilt and apparent attempt to defraud:

From: Fiverr Legal
To: K (Name removed to protect from future attacks)
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Sharing Private Fiverr Correspondence OnlineDear K,Thank you for reporting this. This blog is a complete fake, including the “employee” who was never employed at Fiverr and the information provided in the blog, thus there is no breach of privacy since it is not real information…the users mentioned on the blog are not known to us. We do appreciate the fact that you took the time to alert us to this slanderous content.Best regards,Fiverr Legal Department
There are several variations of this fake email floating around, all of which are originated by Melissa Foster.  These fake emails invariable are followed by variations of requests to remove links to our blog so as to “keep from driving traffic to their site.”
     Clearly, the authors we’ve identified are desperate and trying to do anything they can to hide the truth instead of admitting their guilt. They clearly don’t want anyone to visit this blog and learn the truth.
     Here’s another variant of the same posted by Melissa Foster to Cheryl Tardiff’s blog (another author we outed for buying numerous reviews):
From Melissa Foster:Karma is a b*tch, and the owner of that website is about to find that out. A concerned citizen contacted Fiverr’s legal department and received the following verification of the false accusations. Please share this publicly and stop the hatred! I’ve removed her name to protect her from being attacked as we were.See, most people ARE good xoxFrom: Fiverr Legal
To: K (Name removed to protect from future attacks)
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Sharing Private Fiverr Correspondence OnlineDear K,Thank you for reporting this. This blog is a complete fake, including the “employee” who was never employed at Fiverr and the information provided in the blog, thus there is no breach of privacy since it is not real information…the users mentioned on the blog are not known to us. We do appreciate the fact that you took the time to alert us to this slanderous content.

Best regards,

Fiverr Legal Department

On Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 3:25 PM, K wrote:
Hello- I just wanted to alert you to the fact that this person is sharing private correspondence that he obtain while employed with your company on his blog. I believe this is against your privacy policy and may even be illegal.

(FULL ACTIVE LINK REMOVED TO KEEP FROM DRIVING TRAFFIC TO THEIR SITE) – See more at: http://cherylktardif.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-history-of-paid-book-reviews.html

The fact that Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey created and spread fake correspondence like this demonstrates not only their guilt but the lengths they’ll go to to try to bury truth. Shame on Foster and Howey!

The Hugh Howey Tirade

Excellent news. Two of our member bloggers have a preliminary publishing agreement for a book on our investigation of the publishing underworld. The book is tentatively titled “Team of Eight: Our 2-Year Investigation Into the Dark Side of Publishing.” They’ll be working for a few months to develop the first three chapters of the book for publication.

The acquisition editor writes in the acceptance letter: “I’m as appalled by this behavior as you are and I congratulate you on your dedication to revealing truth. Your photocopies of emails between authors and [the company you worked at], particularly the brazen nature of M. Foster’s emails, leaves no doubt they knew what they were doing was wrong.”

We’ve previously published extracts from Melissa Foster’s correspondence:

“Chasing Amanda got to #10 on Amazon’s Bestselling Kindle list. Thank reviewers for buying yesterday.”

“Wow, what a few weeks this has been! Can I get 50 more?”

“not all the reviews for Amazon … Goodreads reviewers should rate, add my other books”

“how great it felt to have over 2000 ratings for Goodreads”

“I’m gearing up for a blog tour. … I need more reviews.”

“Can reviewers vote in the Amazon breakthrough novel award?”

“Tremendous gratitude for the Chasing Amanda reviews … now on Amazon’s Top (100) Rated Fiction list!”

More on Foster’s fake writing awards and the official Fiverr Report from September 12.

We are pleased also to report we’ve acquired the complete client list and email archive of the defunct http://www.GettingBookReviews.com. As we begin to analyze the purchases and correspondence in the next few months, we hopefully will be able to identify and correlate more of the accounts used on various sites for paid promotion. What we know so far from a preliminary review of data is over 2100 different buyers bought what appears to be more than 30,000 reviews collectively.

In a rather odd turn, Hugh Howey, who was merely listed here as a review buyer in the official September 12 Fiverr Report on Melissa Foster but made no other mention of, has gone on a weeks’ long tirade professing his innocence. Bizarre behavior for someone who is supposedly innocent, especially as he’s using his ongoing tirade as a promotional vehicle to get family, friends, and other supporters to flood Amazon with favorable reviews.

In discussions on various sites, Howey and his author friends even claim Zon Alert members wrote fake reviews of his books on Amazon. Odder still is that there are no such reviews on Amazon. However, there is plenty of fakery:

Wool has 6084 glowing reviews out of 6251. A supposed 97.3% approval rating, which no real book has. Since his hundreds of posts and tweets/posts from friends about his innocence, the book has received 130 glowing reviews.

Shift has 722 glowing reviews out of 747. A supposed 96.6% approval rating. Since his hundreds of posts and tweets/posts from friends about his innocence, the book has received 42 glowing reviews.

Dust has 871 glowing reviews out of 879. A supposed 99.1% approval rating. Since his hundreds of posts and tweets/posts from friends about his innocence, the book has received 241 glowing reviews.

To view the mind-blowing audacity of Hugh Howey, go to Amazon and examine reviews from September 13 to present. You’ll find the 413 reviews we’re talking about. While at Amazon, look at reviews written before this avalanche because that’s where you’ll find the bulk of the abuse Hugh Howey is trying to bury.

Howey has even gone so far as to swear his innocence on the life of his dead dog. Could anyone be any more guilty?

As if using his dead dog to play on other’s sympathy wasn’t low enough, Howey tells his blog readers in the same entry about how he was bullied as a child in middle school and on on, leaving Zon Alert members to wonder how low he’ll go in an attempt to get sympathy and attention.

If you read the entry in Howey’s blog do be sure to examine who the commenters are. The comments coming from real people are often Howey’s author friends. There’s even a comment from none other than Melissa Foster.

Howey’s behavior and weeks’ long tirade is way over the top for someone was merely mentioned as a review buyer. As Shakespeare meant when he said “Me thinks he doth protest too much,” the guy’s guilty as hell. We suspect the reviews purchased from Fiverr are only the beginning and we’ll continue to look for the truth until we find it.

The Shameful Fake Writing Awards of Melissa Foster

Of the authors at the center of “review” schemes, Melissa Foster was one of the most egregious. Melissa Foster’s scams revolved around questionable awards, questionable reviews, and questionable promotion tactics involving friends, family, and other authors.

Melissa Foster is the poster child for fake writing awards. Legitimate awards are highly selective and recognized throughout the publishing industry. Legitimate awards have strict rules and careful oversight. At the least, authors must be nominated by their publishers, bookstores, library staff. Books are only eligible for the year they were published and only in a specific category/genre. Legitimate awards launch careers and establish author leaders in the industry.

Illegitimate awards come from companies that are neither highly selective nor recognized throughout the publishing industry. Illegitimate awards don’t have strict rules or careful oversight. Illegitimate awards allow anyone willing to pay their entry fees to enter. They allow authors to enter a book in many categories and as many times as they like and for as many years as they like. If an author enters books over and over for as many years and in many categories as Foster did, a win is almost assured. In fact, entering the same books over and over in multiple categories over many years assured Melissa Foster of multiple wins.

Awards she couldn’t win through this method? Melissa Foster appears to have recruited author friends and others to volunteer as judges. When Melissa Foster won, Melissa Foster then acted as a judge in a different year to return the favor. She became so adept at the scheme she even tried to start her own awards program in 2011.

One of the many illegitimate awards Melissa Foster has won is the Beach Book award. Beach Book award is run by an outfit out of California that allows an author to enter as many books as they want for as many years as they want as long as they pay $50 for each book entered. The same company runs 17 identical award programs with different names:

Green Book award
Hollywood Book award
San Francisco Book award
Beach Book award
Paris Book award
New York Book award
New England Book award
DIY Book award
London Book award
Halloween Book award
Los Angeles Book award
Great Northwest Book award
Great Southwest Book award
Great Southeast Book award
Southern California Book award
Animals, Animals, Animals Book award
Great Midwest Book award

There’s even this multiple entry form that allowed Melissa Foster to enter her book in all 17 award programs at the same time

Other illegitimate awards of Melissa Foster allowed her to enter as many books as she wanted for as many years as she wanted in as many categories as she could afford to pay for each time. One book entered in 7 categories? Sure. One book entered each year until it was a winner? Sure. Didn’t win, get a friend to volunteer judge to win next time. Sure.

How many illegitimate awards does Melissa Foster have? 12 at last count – and the aforementioned company isn’t even the worst of the fake awards.

fs

The worst fake awards? That honor goes to Reader’s Favorite an award Melissa Foster has 5 – YES FIVE – medals from.

Reader’s Favorite allows authors to enter as many books for as many years as they want. Each entered book can be registered in up to four categories. The fee for entering one book in four categories: $284.

Reader’s Favorite has awards in 100 categories:

Children – Animals
Children – Concept
Children – Educational
Children – Fable
Children – Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Children – General
Children – Grade K-3rd
Children – Grade 4th-6th
Children – Non Fiction
Children – Picture/Pop up
Children – Preschool
Children – Preteen

Young Adult – Coming of Age
Young Adult – Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Young Adult – General
Young Adult – Horror
Young Adult – Mystery
Young Adult – Non Fiction

Christian – Amish
Christian – Biblical Counseling
Christian – Devotion/Study
Christian – Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Christian – Fiction
Christian – General
Christian – Historical Fiction
Christian – Living
Christian – Non Fiction

Fiction – Action
Fiction – Adventure
Fiction – Animals
Fiction – Anthology
Fiction – Chick Lit
Fiction – Cultural
Fiction – Drama
Fiction – Fantasy
Fiction – General
Fiction – Historical
Fiction – Horror
Fiction – Humor
Fiction – Intrigue
Fiction – Mystery – General
Fiction – Mystery – Historical
Fiction – Mystery – Sleuth
Fiction – Paranormal
Fiction – Realistic
Fiction – Science Fiction
Fiction – Southern
Fiction – Sports
Fiction – Supernatural
Fiction – Suspense
Fiction – Tall Tale
Fiction – Thriller – General
Fiction – Thriller – Terrorist
Fiction – Urban
Fiction – Western
Fiction – Womens

Non Fiction – Animals
Non Fiction – Autobiography
Non Fiction – Biography
Non Fiction – Business/Finance
Non Fiction – Cook Book
Non Fiction – Cultural
Non Fiction – Drama
Non Fiction – Education
Non Fiction – Genealogy
Non Fiction – General
Non Fiction – Gov/Politics
Non Fiction – Grief
Non Fiction – Health – Fitness
Non Fiction – Health – Medical
Non Fiction – Historical
Non Fiction – Hobby
Non Fiction – Home/Crafts
Non Fiction – Humor
Non Fiction – Inspirational
Non Fiction – Memoir
Non Fiction – Military
Non Fiction – Motivational
Non Fiction – Music/Ent.
Non Fiction – Occupational
Non Fiction – Parenting
Non Fiction – Relationships
Non Fiction – Religion/Phil.
Non Fiction – Retirement
Non Fiction – Self Help
Non Fiction – Sports
Non Fiction – True Crime

Romance – Christian
Romance – Contemporary
Romance – Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Romance – General
Romance – Historical
Romance – Suspense

Short Story – Fiction
Short Story – Non Fiction

Poetry – General
Poetry – Inspirational
Poetry – Love/Romance

Audio Books
Graphic Novel/Comic

In each of the 100 categories, Reader’s Favorite has four winners each calendar year: Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable mention. Reader’s Favorite also gives out awards to so-called finalists, so there’s a Finalist award as well.

Based on the number of winners and finalists in award years 2009 to 2012 it was easy to determine how many books were entered in most categories.

If a category had two entries. There were two finalists and eventually two so-called winners: a gold and a silver.

If a category had three entries. There were three finalists and eventually three so-called winners: a gold, a silver, and a bronze.

If a category had four entries. There were four finalists and eventually four so-called winners: a gold, a silver, a bronze, and a honorable mention.

If a category had five entries. There were five finalists and eventually five so-called winners: a gold, a silver, a bronze, a honorable mention, and a finalist medal winner.

If a category had six entries. There were six finalists and eventually six so-called winners: a gold, a silver, a bronze, a honorable mention, and two finalist medal winners.

If a category had seven entries. There were seven finalists and eventually seven so-called winners: a gold, a silver, a bronze, a honorable mention, and three finalist medal winners.

If a category had eight entries. There were eight finalists and eventually eight so-called winners: a gold, a silver, a bronze, a honorable mention, and four finalist medal winners.

Awards seemed to top out with 8 so-called winners. In fact, in our research of the award years 2009 to 2012 we couldn’t find any book that was entered that wasn’t a gold, silver, bronze, honorable mention, or finalist medal winner.

Talk about incentive to keep entering year after year. No wonder Melissa Foster kept entering her books in this contest year after year.

The blogging team at Zon Alert has a real award for Melissa Foster. It’s the only real award she’s earned and deserved. It’s the 2013 Biggest Fake Gold Award.

The Fiverr Report Goes Live!

The online world is overrun with reviews that were bought and paid for. As a former marketing executive for a large East Coast firm, one of our member bloggers knows more about this dirty business than most people. The Fiverr Report blog is named for a company our blogger worked undercover at for two years where services, including review writing services, are bought and sold for $5.

Although The Fiverr Report gets its name from that computer, it is just one of dozens of companies selling review writing services. Stay tuned for updates from The Fiverr Report, including reports on:

Jennifer Probst – a previously self-published and New York Times bestselling author who bought reviews by the barrel full

Melissa Foster – a self-published, self-professed marketing expert who sells marketing courses but left out the parts about how she bought over two hundred and fifty reviews, even asking for reviews “as fast as you can provide them”

John Locke – a self-published and USA Today bestselling author, outed for buying several hundred reviews from a particular source but who neglected to mention the hundreds of other reviews bought from other sources

Cheryl Kaye Tardiff – a self-published kindle author who wrote a book about making over $42000 in a month on Amazon and also neglected to mention hundreds of reviews bought

As outraged as we are? Write some real reviews of these badly behaving authors and their books.

Crime Author Criminal: Carolyn Arnold

Earlier we blogged about the fake reviews of Carolyn Arnold on Amazon but those 200 fake reviews are the tip of the iceberg. Carolyn Arnold’s dubious practices are plentiful.

Before we get started, please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

In the descriptions of her books, in her bio and on her personal sites, self-published Carolyn Arnold often adds gushing praise written by the same author friends with whom she swaps reviews.  Arnold  prominently lists that a book was selected as one of the Top 12 fiction books of 2011. The phrasing changes from time to time and currently reads

“Arnold’s imagination and attention to detail do not leave any loose ends. Exciting.”
–MIAMI BOOKS EXAMINER’S “Top 12 Fiction Books of 2011” list.

Reading this you might think this is a legitimate review source but upon examination you’ll see it’s just one more dubious practice in Arnold’s long con game. Examiner.com is a site where freelancers can share about anything. The site has over 100,000 freelancers who contribute, most of which aren’t paid anything. They are unpaid bloggers.

Miami Books Examiner is the tagline of one of the bloggers, just as another blogger is The Hunger Games Examiner. Miami Books Examiner is in fact the tagline for Rosa St.Claire, a friend of an Arnold friend.

Oddly enough, Arnold’s book actually isn’t even one of the Top 12 in the list as implied. Her book is part of an additional “special recommendation” section.

Using fake review sources seems to be a tactic used by others Arnold was swapping reviews with. These sources are made to sound legitimate but don’t hold up upon examination. Not much different from the way Carolyn Arnold misappropriates the name of the legitimate children’s author of the same name, often trying to use the other author’s reputation and accomplishments as her own.

Whether pen name or real name, misuse of another author’s name is a tactic of Arnold and her author friends. More on this in upcoming posts.

When Authors Have No Shame: Carmen DeSousa

Tracking the questionable activities of Carolyn Arnold led us to many other authors using the same shameful tactics. One of these authors is Carmen DeSousa whose reviews were written by some of the same “friends” as Carolyn Arnold. Carmen DeSousa’s deceptive reviewers were much harder to track however, as the reviewers weren’t as overt.

What we found with Carmen DeSousa were reviewers who were more sophisticated. They understood how to game the system, how to try to blend in. Instead of using more easily tracked full names, these reviewers tended to use first names or pen names, so we found reviewers like Bubba’s Mom & Dad, Romance Reader, WiLoveBooks, Kim Pitbull123, Amy R, TomTer7, MyKindle, London Fog, Peace, and Nancy of Utah who wrote review after review for Carmen DeSousa.

Plenty of author friends and friend friends who openly wrote reviews too

Ashley Fontainne

Karen DeLabar

Jaime Rush

Ann Mullen

Christine Steendam

Rebecca Neilsen

Robert Lee Carey Jr

Ruthie Derby

Linda Giron

Rachel Jorgensen

Teresa Cypher

Shaunna Rodriguez

Orlando Ramos

Rick Gillispie

Marilou George

Dr. S Drecker

If you took a look at Carolyn Arnold’s reviews, you probably recognize many of these names. They wrote fake reviews for Carolyn Arnold too.

Like Carolyn Arnold, Carmen DeSousa is friends with several of the top-ranked reviewer shills. But another reason DeSousa’s questionable reviews were difficult to track to source was that DeSousa made use of a few new “review” networks we hadn’t encountered before like a romance blogger network, which was run by romance writers and where these writers swapped feature posts and interviews with each other like cigarettes.

Based on our findings, we found the following on Amazon

91 of 102 reviews of She Belongs to Me were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

10 of 10 reviews of Entangled Dreams were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

18 of 21 reviews of Land of the Noonday Sun were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

12 of 12 reviews of Split Decisions were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

7 of 7 reviews of When Noonday Ends were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

33 of 34 reviews of The Depot were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

37 of 39 reviews of The Pitstop were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

More on how fake blogs are being used in future posts.

The Many Faces of Self-published Carolyn Arnold

The biggest fake review scams we discovered in our research also are  some of the first we came across. The impetus for this blog in fact was a book by self-published Carolyn Arnold called Ties That Bind. The book was by far the worst book one of our member bloggers had ever read but was being praised to the heavens by reviewers on Amazon.  Not just in a few reviews either, but in so many reviews it boggled the mind. In fact, all of Carolyn Arnold’s books were being similarly praised, though upon reading they were all terrible.

What we were able to determine with extensive sleuthing is that reviews largely were written by author friends of Carolyn Arnold. Friends that Carolyn Arnold frequently talked to on social media. Carolyn Arnold was so brazen about her unethical tactics she openly discussed them on social media. She even gave pointers to authors who want to commit similar acts.

We tracked the activities of Carolyn Arnold for some time and it led us to a large group of authors who were each others fans and reviewers. Tracking Carolyn Arnold led us to closed groups on various sites where Arnold and others traded tactics and made plans, such as for writing reviews of each others books on Amazon, rating each other on Goodreads, becoming each others fans on Goodreads, voting up favorable reviews, voting down or reporting unfavorable reviews.

Members also would get their friends and family members to review other members books. It’s how many of the members got hundreds of reviews.

Authors who reviewed Carol Arnold’s books and were members of these groups

Collette Scott
Betty Dravis
Richard Hale
Joanna Lee Doster
D A Graystone
Ashley Fontainne
Sandy Wolters
Zach Fortier
Stacy Eaton
Carmen DeSousa
Jennifer Chase
Todd Bush
Kenneth Hoss
Ann Swann
J A Hunsinger
Karen DeLabar
Kirkus MacGowan
Linda Hawley

All these authors have dozens or hundreds of fake reviews too and will be discussed in future posts.

Based on social media posts we were able to identify friends that Carolyn Arnold engaged with frequently, who also wrote reviews and acted as her fan base

Richard Goodship
Sherry Buikema
Sheilagh Lee
Andrew Butters
D L Atkinson
April Plummer
Karen Vaughan
Brooke Frederick
Patricia Robinson
Glenda Bixler
Debbie Grimes
Tina Samuels
Robyn Ryan
Vicki Hancock
L Smith
Joe Wilcox
Katie Jennings
Michael Stedman
Darlene Langley

Based on our findings and tracking of Carolyn Arnold’s activities, we found the following on Amazon

124 of 143 reviews of Ties That Bind were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

61 of 68 reviews of Eleven were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

31 or 38 reviews of Justified were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

28 of 30 reviews of Sacrifice  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

29 of 32 reviews of Assassination of a Dignitary  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

5 of 5 reviews of Hart’s Choice  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

10 of 10 reviews of Rings of a Tree  were fake, written by the authors friends, including the authors and friends listed above

We’ll have more on Carolyn Arnold, these authors, and fake reviews in upcoming articles.

Please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

Why are paid reviews unethical?

When we started our research into paid reviews, we severely underestimated how widespread the problem was.  Paid reviews are on Amazon, Goodreads, Angie’s List, and elsewhere.

Paid reviews are reviews authors and others offering goods or services pay to receive. Payment can be in cash, goods or services. Paid reviews bought with cash are the most common. Less common are reviews bought with an exchange of goods and services. Often with paid reviews there is an unspoken understanding the purchased reviews will be supportive, even if somewhat critical.

Paid reviews differ from legitimate review sources that charge fees in several important ways. With legitimate review sources, such as Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly, someone pays a fee to have a recognized source read and review the good or service and gets one and only one review from that recognized source. The review comes specifically from that source and doesn’t appear to be a  review from a consumer. The review may be good or bad.

With paid review companies, the buyer can purchase as many reviews as they want. If the buyer wants 50 reviews, they can buy 50 reviews. Every review will appear to have been written by a consumer who purchased the product or service. Some companies, such as Fiverr where one of our member bloggers worked undercover for two years, allow people to buy reviews for as little as $5. For an extra fee the company will ensure the reviewers buy the product and are verified.

In our research, we expected to find a few companies offering such services but we found there were dozens. Our marketing expert also found professional marketing companies were ensuring products and services were reviewed as part of their marketing packages. This was where we found that practice of payment in goods and services to be especially prevalent. The most common form of non-cash payment was the gift card where consumers were paid in gift cards for writing reviews.

We found authors giving gift cards to readers for the same purpose. Readers were given gift cards to purchase an author’s book, accompanied by either a direct or implied request to review the book.

In a similar vein, we found many authors offering kindles to readers for reviews and ratings. During our research, we tracked groups of authors who had monthly or weekly kindle giveaways for readers who wrote reviews and rated their books. During the tracked period, some of these authors garnered hundreds of ratings and reviews from this highly unethical practice.

What is a troll?

Trolls were one of many unexpected things we learned about in our research into unethical tactics and fake reviews. In the context of online discussions, a troll isn’t a mythical monster or a child’s creation rather a troll is someone with ill intentions.

Trolls make outrageous claims. Trolls start online fights by saying hurtful things. Trolls attack others with words. Trolls do this to get a reaction. The stronger the reaction, the better, as far as trolls are concerned. Trolls do this because they want to get people angry. Trolls want to cause damage. Trolls want to cause harm.

With regard to books and authors, trolls often are the ones writing spurious commentary and reviews. Trolls do this to take down certain authors while promoting others. Trolls are plentiful at Amazon and Goodreads. They’re also present at Angie’s List.

It might surprise you to learn there are professional trolls. Professional trolls come in a few different varieties. Some work in marketing where their goal is to push a brand, book or author while devaluing another brand, book or author. Our resident marketing expert spent over a year tracking professional trolls before she stumbled upon the worst of the worst in professional trolling: hacker trolls.

Hacker trolls are different from most other trolls. They’re around to cause severe damage, promote extreme agendas, and do absolute harm while gaining recognition for their exploits. The more harm they cause, the higher the likelihood they will be accepted at certain closed sites and chat rooms where hacker trolls exchange stories, build their reps by detailing their exploits, and exchange tactics and ideas.

A clear warning: Stay away from dedicated hacker trolls. These trolls destroy lives and livelihoods for enjoyment.