Turning Bloggers into Spammers

2 April, 2013 Musing Musers 45 comments

Format: select

tricksy hobbitsesIt is against site policy, on Goodreads, for authors to send people recommendations for their own books.  That’s spam, as much as a sizable population of authors wishes it weren’t.  However, there are ways around this – to try and circumvent the system.  The most obvious one is when an author creates fake profiles.  They pretend to be a good netizen passing out reading recommendations from the goodness of their heart.  This is time heavy for little reward.  Not many Goodreaders will trust the recommendation of a random stranger on the net.  And thus we come to the other, sneakier way of recommending your book on Goodreaders: Get bloggers to do it for you.

Last week, I received no less than four recommendations for the same book in a matter of days – another person said they’d had 13.  I went to report the accounts for spam when I realized they were bloggers – legitimate Goodreads users and even friends.  Each one had a blog link, and even if I didn’t know them all, I generally trust bloggers.  Thus my natural reaction was that this must be legit.  FINE.  I’ll read the book if so many bloggers are talking about it!  Must be the latest new thing like Angelfall and Obsidian were.

Turns out I was wrong.  Tricked again! According to other users, the author had contacted people who read the book and offered them entrance into a giveaway if they recommended the book to others on Goodreads.  This probably isn’t a new new development.  I’m sure it’s been happening for a while, but I’m kind of slow. Like, slowpoke slow and I only just realized it was happening.


Not even then next day I received a mass email from an author after doing her cover reveal.  Thus we’d automatically been submitted as part of her street team to create buzz and entered into a giveaway for the book.  Even better?  We could earn extra points in the giveaway if we promoted the book more.  WE COULD WIN A SHIRT, PEOPLE!

The list of ways to get extra points was exhaustive, but I’ll name a few ways to earn points:

Recommend the book on Goodreads to your friends

Vote for the book on lists

Tweet the book with a Goodreads link

Post a promotional button on your blog

Recommend the book on Google+

Buy the book

A new email came not long after.  Wouldn’t you know?  Hundreds of people had added that book to their TBR.  The book had moved up on Goodreads lists placing just under very popular titles. A tour site offered us a $5 giftcard for every tour we hosted (I know, right?  A whole five bucks?!  Hold me back!).  Another tour site offered placements in giveaways for any tour we decided to participate in.  Clearly this isn’t a little thing.  It is becoming an increasingly common feature of online marketing.

You know me.  I’m not one to go lecturing at bloggers on what they should and shouldn’t do.  I am not shaking my finger at anyone here.  Not the authors, publishers, tour hosts or bloggers participating in this.  You know what?  For a little blogger, five bucks makes a difference in covering site fees.  Some of those bloggers might not have needed any incentive to promote that book.  Hell I’ve promoted the hell out of books I believed in and nobody needed to give me a thing.  They probably saw it a perk or reward for something they already had every intention of doing.  And to many of these authors, this is just a way to say thank you for supporting them and their book.  People aren’t bad guys here.

But there’s another point to consider here.  I felt tricked.  Jipped.  Taken for a ride. Bamboozled.  Beguiled.  Drunk.  No, wait, that last one had nothing to do with any of this.  Even though I did, at the time, feel very, very drunk.

I thought these were genuine referrals.  I thought that level of buzz was legitimate based on unmotivated passion, and you can’t argue that I’d be the only one.  How many people are aware of what marketing strategies are employed for each and every book? How can they discern whether that recommendation was real or fake?  Motivated by promises of prizes and rewards, or simply genuine enthusiasm with no strings attached?

Well, they used to do that by judging whether they knew the recommendee.  And if they’re anything like me, then the fact that they were a blogger often helped, maybe even tipped the scale between read or ignore. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the fake Amazon review scandals hadn’t been plaguing us.  How often do you hear people say that they no longer trust random Amazon or Goodreads reviews?  That they mainly trust their friends and other bloggers because then at least they’ll know the reviewer is legit.

The heart of the issue isn’t that bloggers shouldn’t participate in pre-book buzz – whether there is monetary/gift benefits or not.  The issue is transparency.  When we review an ARC, we’re required to state that it was provided to us for the purpose of the review.  That we received it for free as an incentive from the publisher to help promote it.  Advertisements are required to be labeled as such on the website.  When bloggers tweet about giveaway posts, usually they mention that it’s a giveaway and people then know that it’s a form of marketing.

Right now, with many of these viral buzz methods, there is no transparency.  When a reader comes upon a list of books, they don’t know if one has been voted to the top based on quality/read reactions, or because there was incentive to do so.  A random tweet about how much you’re excited for a book doesn’t tell your followers that you’re getting benefits from that.  Adding it to your shelf doesn’t tell your followers and friends that you did it just for swag.  People are going to assume you did it because you wanted to.  And if they find out otherwise, there is a chance that you will lose credibility.

There are ways around this, of course.  You could tell people in your recs that you’re recommending it as part of a giveaway.  You could mention in the review space that you’ve added the book to your TBR list to get points.  When you tweet about the book, you could mention it’s part of the promotion.  There are definitely ways to participate without resulting in others feeling like they’re being swindled.

It’s at least something to think about while we’re dancing together between the stars on our besparkled steads.  Something to consider as we sweep across the cosmos in a blaze of glory.  Mostly because I don’t want to have to be yelling at people to get off my lawn.  I’d like to wait a little longer before I get even more cynical and stop trusting everyone but a very select few bloggers.  Mostly, I’d just like to feel like the community I love so much, isn’t easily bought.

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
Kat Kennedy is a book reviewer and aspiring author in the Young Adult genre. She reviews critically but humorously and get super excited about great books. Find her on GoodReads.
Kat Kennedy

45 Responses to “Turning Bloggers into Spammers”

  1. judyree

    Don’t feel like the only slowpoke out there, this was all news to me as well.  Thanks for the headsup!

  2. Fangs4Fantasy

    I’ve seen the same thing and this is why I’m very leery of goodread recommends, I kind of look at them with a squinty eye all “why why are you doing this?” especially since we’ve been known to return to people who recommend horrible books to us and ask them, in plaintive, horrified tones “why?! WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO US? What did we ever do to you!?”

    I mean, when you see a classic empty goodreads account – or an account which has, maybe 6 books on it, 5 of them classics (Shakespeare, Catcher in the Rye, George Orwel, Dickens) all ranked 4 stars and then the brand new book, Hot Sparkly Vampire Sexing Now With Extra ManTitteh! ranked 5 stars, you know you’re probably dealing with a sock account and treat it accordingly. but when it comes from someone you recognise or, when clicking on them, see they’re established I think it must be legit. I trust most book bloggers to be honest – it is our stock in trade after all – and if they’re recommending something that means they genuinely like it and think it will interest me (or it’s awful and they want to share the pain – also a legitimate reason) or want my opinion on it. I don’t expect it to be because the author has pressured them, offered prizes or money for them to spam for them.

    Book blogs, ultimately, rely on trust. I have to trust that a blogger is going to give me an honest opinion. If they’re not honest – then what’s the point? Transparency is needed for that trust

  3. TiffanyLovesBooks

    Kat, thanks for this piece. It was very informative and I believe your solutions for it are great ones. It is definitely something that should be promoted to keep this a trusting community.

  4. stinalindenblatt

    This is why I only read books recommended by close friends or by book blogs I trust. And now I have a new reason to be suspicious of books listed as “want to read”on Goodreads.

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. katlb82

    I’m afraid I’ve already turned cynic – I take direct recommendations only from a handful of people that I trust, and those people don’t usually recommend books via GR, they do it by reviewing a book on their blog, or writing a GR review.
    And if people do add a disclaimer that the add/recommendation is for promotional purposes, that doesn’t necessarily turn me off a book, it just means I seek out a few more opinions before making a decision.

  6. BrookeBanks

    I’ve sent out one mass recommendation last year as my top 2012 book because it was before I had my blog so that was the only way to do it. I genuienly loved that book and it’s by Indie authors so I wanted to spread the word. I also clarified this by stated it in the note I sent out with the recommendation. I treat my Goodreads account seriously so I don’t usually do recommendations, unless friends actually are looking for a certain kind of book, then I’ll recommend the books I like and think fit. As for adding them as to-read a lot of people use shelves for clarification like giveaway-chance or something.

    For transparency now that I have a blog and everything,  I use the disclosures here: http://cmp.ly/
    It’s real simple to copy/past for it. I just started using it a month or so ago and love it. It even can be used on social media sites, which this is the only service I found that includes abilities for that aspect.

  7. aliciawbrewster

    Great post! I was curious about how a particular book ended up being rec’ed to me multiple times within the span of a few days, when the book really wasn’t my thing. Now I’m guessing this is what happened.

  8. missbonnie13

    A shirt? Well, shit that makes it ALL worth it. 
    But seriously, I hate getting book recommendations through Goodreads because whenever I do I don’t get it just once. Recommending a book is a big deal (in my opinion) and I don’t like doing it unless I honestly enjoyed that book and it’s WORTH a recommendation. Not an entry into a contest. But I get it too, some bloggers are willing to do that and I get it… But no thanks, I won’t be participating in those types of shenanigans.

  9. brokeandbookish

    YES, KAT, YES! *slow claps*

    SO MUCH THISSSSS. I can’t even tell you how frustrating this sneaky crap is.

  10. NatalieAguirre

    I think having people add a book to their TBR pile is a common way to get more entries in a contest, whether it’s right or wrong. I definitely don’t agree with encouraging people to post fake reviews for a prize. I think there’s a balance between wanting our readers to help us promote our books and making up stuff that’s not true. Definitely we don’t want to encourage that as authors or bloggers. Thanks for raising an important topic.

  11. Ashleigh Paige

    Exactly! I’ve only gotten one rec for the same book, but the recommender was more than willing to tell me what was going on with it when I asked her. 
    I don’t take recommendations lightly either, especially when I’m the one doing the recommending. If the author whose street team I’m part of told me to rec the book to everyone and their cat, vote it up on lists, tweet about it often, etc. or do all that for giveaway entries, I’d either not do any of it or ask to be removed from the street team/mailing list. 
    I’m hardly one to fall in love with books easily, so asking/telling me to do all that stuff for a book I genuinely like/love feels like taking advantage of how I feel. We’re people, not promotional tools (unless we choose to be, anyway). Even when we do choose to act as promotional tools in addition to being people? I’d like a little more transparency. I’m definitely going to work that into my posts in the future if I do any street team stuff for more authors.

  12. anothernovelread

    Wow, I had no idea this was happening! (Obviously this means I am not important enough in the book blogging world to have been affected by this, which is both good and bad, eh?) I agree with you on all points here, and I’m glad you wrote this post, so more of us can be aware of what is happening. It does feel very sneaky; if I had been in your situation, I would have felt tricked, too.

  13. AH

    Wow. That sounds awful. Most of the time when I get GR recommendations from people, I just ignore. I am leery of making recommendations to others unless they’ve asked. We all have different tastes and what I love may be something someone else hates. I can’t stand contests that ask you to do 500 different things to win a $5 gift certificate or a tshirt. Ridiculous waste of time. 
    Thanks for letting us know about this new marketing trend. I’ll make sure to avoid them on our blog.

  14. blackplume

    I always wonder why I’m getting a lot of books recommendation in goodreads with books that obviously was’t really that good. I now finally understand what is happening! I had no idea at all. I thought people are just really into it.

  15. sherryfundin1

    I am a blogger and agree with so much you say. I think a lot of people forget why they started blogging and hanging on Goodreads. I try to keep in mind how I would feel receiving the post or recommendation and stay within my own guidelines. I love helping people find out about books that I love and authors whose writing I find fantastic. Everything in moderation and maybe people will listen when you talk. Thanks for the wonderful post and more food for thought. ^_^

  16. demibeans

    Wait…this happens? I must be slower than slowpoke slow. WOW. I didn’t know. That’s unfortunate :/ I’ve hosted blog tours before, but they didn’t quite involve all of that (Shirt only? Why not buttons? NECKLACES AND BRACELETS ZOMG!!211!). I remember all I had to do was write an honest review, do a giveaway for the book, interview the author, or host a guest blog. After that, if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to mention it ever again. I can’t…well, I guess I CAN believe this is happening. That’s what makes it rather sad.

  17. BookDen

    Oops. I may have blocked some legit bloggers here recently then. I can’t stand Goodreads spam so I’m pretty quick to block people. :/ I’m actually a little shocked that the bloggers doing the promoting aren’t just as annoyed by Goodreads spam themselves, but I will try to be more mindful as to where it may be innocently coming from.

  18. AnimeGirlAlex

    Great post Kat. 
    I think I got some of the 5 bucks gift card emails last week, but I just delete them – along with the same four emails for the same author calling me different names (none of which was mine) asking me to review their fantasy book (when I don’t even read fantasy) (but I digress). 
    I don’t like this whole thing, I have done the buzz stuff and cover reveals but honestly, most times it’s just because I like the cover or the sound of the book, and I do it as part of tours and personally in a section in my blog. I like pretty covers but thats it. Unless I’ve read and loved the book, I rarely go to great lengths to promote a book for book tour –  I mean, I do the same that with all other posts, no more no less. 
    Anyway, I didn’t know we had to say wich books were given as ARCs, I tag them in my blog and good reads but rarely mention it otherwise. I’ll  be more careful in the future.

  19. Kate C.

    As a reader, I really appreciated everything you wrote here, because it’s true… it’s very easy to lose credibility with the people who formerly trusted you.  There have been more than a few book blogs that I’ve ditched because either they said they love EVERYTHING!  Or it was obvious after a while that it wasn’t about informing readers, it was about plugging products.  
    And look, it’s fine if you want to do either of those things.  If you find an audience willing to slog along through that, then good for you!  I know I won’t be reading anyone like that.  

    As a writer… I read the kindleboards.  As more and more writers (now this is just indie, I fully admit I don’t know how things go in the traditionally pubbed world) flood the gates of the ebook world, trying to strike that delicious gold mine, the desperation to gain an audience grows.  It’s almost as though you have to be super popular, super fast so that everyone gets what a big deal you are.  The boards are filled with authors trying to figure out ways to market successfully or game the system… we’ve seen the backlash: sock puppet reviews, PURCHASED reviews, authors who fight tooth and nail over every review they’re given.  Thousands of books go free every day but even that isn’t enough to tempt readers these days to take a chance on an unknown name.  Everyone knows that word of mouth is the most powerful marketer in the world, but how to you capitalize on that to guarantee your success? 
    That is where the sad nature of such ploys as you outline here come in.  I imagine the pressure for trad pub books is just as high, maybe even higher.  No one wants to be dropped by a publisher.  Everyone wants to be the writer that all the publishers fight over.  The problem with “bribing” people to push your books is that there will be hell to pay if you’re not that shining star of literature that everyone fawns over.  Which is not to say that they would give you a one star just to be vindictive, just that your book may get great initial word of mouth, which will falter very quickly when everyone realizes you’re not the next “big thing”.  
    What you want to be is a Susan Ee… spend your time on a great product, come out of nowhere,  and blow everyone out of the water until they’re slathering for more!

  20. Kara_M

    Oh, that promo drove me nuts. I am glad someone finally blogged about it. There has to be a line somewhere when it comes to marketing, and that author SOOO crossed it.

    • Lisa FicTalk

      Kara_M I’m with you, Kara. I had signed up to be a part of the cover reveal for the unnamed book, then all of a sudden I kept getting these emails about points and… I can’t be bothered to do any of those things all for a t-shirt.

  21. readandreviewed

    Anytime I’m asked to do mass recommendations for anything (whether it’s a giveaway or swag offer or whatever), it just reminds me how off-putting I find the entire idea. I have only done a handful of recs on Goodreads, and it’s always in direct response to friend requests. The idea of mass reccing anything just really doesn’t sit well with me at all, especially when it’s a book I haven’t even read yet.

  22. Belle_G

    Great post! I don’t really like getting unsolicited recs from anyone and it really irks me that people are doing it as part of some competition. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it myself.

  23. angelasanxiouslife

    I don’t participate in blog tours or anything like that.  Hell I don’t even read ARCs.  I read what I want and that’s that.

  24. Danny_Bookworm

    Ha! I love your post and it’s getting right to the point! Right now I have around 300 unread Book Recomendations. And that is what they are -unread. I do not bother to look into them even before unless it’s a trusted friend. Also, this trusted friend would normally rather tell me that I must read the book instead of recomending it on goodreads. 
    Now, that you pointed out how some of these work, it feels even worse. 
    Talking about this special promotion of unmentioned book. yes I got the same and just like you I feel kind of used! If I love a book I am going to promote it. Period. I do not need to be bribed with .. T-Shirts and stuff. Even worse. when it feels forced like this, I probably won’t do anything just because I do not like to feel forced. Street Time just because I did a Cover Reveal? Yeah.. that’s not a Street Team. I was thinking that I was the only one feeling a little appalled by this mass emails. Thank goodness I am not alone!

  25. Archer

    I get so sick of book recommendations at times. I mean really, do I strike anyone who would read dodgy twishite ripoffs? Do I come across as having any interest in conspiracy theories about JFK not being dead? I largely ignore recommendations and only trust about 5 people when they recommend books to me and 4 of them write for this blog.

  26. cynicalsapphire

    Wow, I must be awesome at selecting my Goodreads friends, because I haven’t gotten a recommendation for months. Goooo me!
    Also, I really hate promotions that require stuff like that. Even if I loved the book, I’m a bit leery of forced promotion.

  27. bookwormdreams

    Wonderful article Kat! You nailed it! I hate this kind of stuff. It just give the real legitimate bloggers bad name.
    There are a couple of friends that I stopped following on twitter because they are spamming daily with giveaway tweets. Hey I’m okay with entering and tweeting about some giveaway from time to time. But tweeting about sometimes more than 100 giveaways daily. Just too much.
    Also a couple of blogs I stopped following because all they got is book blitz and ‘it’s awesome’ reviews. I understand they get more books from publishers that way but I for sure am not going to trust their recommendation on a book. I didn’t know about other ‘rewards’ but I’m not surprised. It’s just sad. I think people are bloggers themselves cheap.

  28. Liza

    I think this is hitting more than just YA book bloggers. I’ve read some “New Agey” books and I kept getting friends request from people into that kinda stuff. I’m quite lax about my friend policy on Goodreads. You want to add me, I’ll add you. All these new friends kept recommending the same New Age book. Like you, I thought it was just the new it thing (in the New Age world), like the new The Secret and what not.  The book they recommended never even caught my interest. I was pretty much, “Meh,” to it.
    What you said made sense, so I promptly deleted those friends. 
    On a sad note, I do feel bad for future books that hit blog tours and what not. With things like this readers and bloggers will wonder why they’re promoting such and such item and that’s really sad, because really some books are worth sharing with our readers sans t-shirts and what not.

  29. Liza

    I think this is hitting more than just YA book bloggers. I’ve read some “New Agey” books and I kept getting friend requests from people into that kinda stuff. I’m quite lax about my friend policy on Goodreads. You want to add me, I’ll add you. These new friends kept recommending the same New Age book. Like you, I thought it was just the new it thing (in the New Age world), like The Secret and what not.  The book they recommended never even caught my interest. I was pretty much, “Meh,” to it.
    What you said made sense, so I promptly deleted those friends. 
    On a sad note, I do feel bad for future books that hit blog tours with fun promotions. With things like this, readers and bloggers will wonder why they’re promoting book X. That’s just sad because some books are worth sharing with our readers sans t-shirts or whatever else authors are giving away. 
    P.S. Sorry about deleting the previous comment. I was trying to edit it for grammar and then I hit delete instead. It’s just been a long day and all my sentences and thoughts are running together, which makes no sense once they’re posted online.

  30. Jennifer @ The Bawdy Book Blog

    I actually defriended a bunch of people on goodreads who did nothing but recommend books to me or invite me to “events.”  I felt a little guilty, but I’m not there for that; I’m there because I want to read book reviews and engage in conversation about books.  Seeing that I had a bunch of notifications in my top bar, only to find out maybe ONE was a legitimate comment, was such a freaking let-down, I just got mad and cleaned house. 
    I’m going to find recs by reading blogger and consumer reviews.  Isn’t that how it should be?

  31. Jennifer @ The Bawdy Book Blog

    I actually defriended a bunch of people on goodreads who did nothing but recommend books to me or invite me to “events.”  I felt a little guilty, but I’m not there for that; I’m there because I want to read book reviews and engage in conversation about books.  Seeing that I had a bunch of notifications in my top bar, only to find out maybe ONE was a legitimate comment, was such a freaking let-down, I just got mad and cleaned house. 
    I’m going to find recs by reading blogger and consumer reviews.  Isn’t that how it should be?

  32. BookishTrish

    Well colour me surprised and call me an innocent fool. I had NO idea this was going on, none. And its not a welcome development, I feel it tarnishes the reputation and impartiality of all bloggers. . Thanks for drawing attention to it. Will be watch out for it now!

  33. AjManik1

    Great post!  Glad what I was thinking was pretty much what you just said.  Thank goodness I pick books by weird things, sure reading a cover etc, sometimes I just see a book and want to read it.  Never was one for recommendations, unless I knew the taste of the person.  I read many different genre, sure if interested in a book and some one says I should read it, chances are I will read it, eventually but need a good reason to move up on reading list. I have bought books just for the cover and many more just for the title!  Last time I bought a book because of the “recommendations” was “Fifty Shades of Grey” bought all 3, couldn’t get past chapter 3 in the first book!  That hasn’t happened to me in years!  Even my sister had trouble reading it but give her credit, it took awhile but she read all 3.

  34. karakarina

    I had no idea! Thanks for opening my eyes! I keep getting recommendations on Goodreads which drives me nuts. I don’t even open them anymore. Don’t know these people and how on Earth they would know what I’d like to read?!! Now it’s clear that they were doing it for extra points. Huh. Always surprises me, crap like this.  😀

  35. anyaejo

    Excellent post! This is also why I cross check with LibraryThing, because so far it isn’t popular enough with publishers to have incentives towards it. Also thanks for pointing out these various methods of sneaking in advertising, I hadn’t thought of them (or received requests to do them) and so I might have been tricked!
    <a href=”http://www.onstarshipsanddragonwings.com/”>Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings</a>

  36. PamelaVanHylckamaVlieg

    This is why I have never sent one Goodreads rec. Any review or promo on my blog is vetted by me personally. I don’t want any issues with this.

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