I read about something on FB yesterday and then again on a friend's blog this morning about a writer who is being blackmailed. She got an email from some unknown person telling her that if she didn't pay, they were going to flood her books with bad ratings/reviews. She didn't pay, and they did it. (On Goodreads, at least.) This dropped her new book from probably a 5-star average to a less than three star average - so far.
First, this is a total shit thing to do. They're screwing with a woman's livelihood here.
Second, as readers, we should all be aware that not all ratings/reviews are honest. In this case, it's blackmail. In other cases, it's individuals with an axe to grind against the author. And there are always the 'paid for' good reviews we should all already be aware of.
If you're a reader, going off reviews and ratings helps you decide which book to lay down your hard-earned cash for. And like many, you probably don't have the time to parse through stuff to figure out what's a real review and what's not. Here are a few steps you can take to help you decide what's true.
Are all the questionable reviews lumped together in a short span of time?
Do the reviewers have any kind of information about themselves on their own Goodreads pages? No bios and no pictures are a big flag.
If there are reviews, do all the lumped reviews contradict all the other reviews? Do they sound canned like the person couldn't have possibly read the book in question?
Be a dear and spend a little time. If you read the blurb and the book sounds interesting, check out the reviews themselves instead of going by the star average. Read a little of the 'look inside' at Amazon (even if you don't buy your books there). If the book still sounds interesting, give it a chance. You can always return the book if you find it's not for you after all.
And if you hear this has happened to a writer, I know the urge is to then go and give her a bunch of 5-stars to offset the bad ratings. But this would be dishonest, too. If you're interested in helping, shine a light on the practice so these cockroaches have nowhere to hide. If that's not enough, and you have the spare cash, maybe buy the book and see for yourself if it's any good. If it is, tell loads of people about it. And then give it 5-stars.
I hope this never happens to any of my friends. Personally, if they tried that kind of blackmail on me, I'd have to fall over laughing. You can't squeeze water out of a dry sponge. Or maybe I'd turn it around and tell them that they need to pay ME a load of money so I don't report them to the authorities. (Which I would still totally do, but hey, turnabout is fair play.)