Randy Ingermanson 

Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com.


aka Randy Ingermanson

I was zipping through about three days of back e-mails, reading each subject line and then deleting it.

“Earn $3,000 per day—guaranteed!!!” Deleted.

“Burn away flab with magic pills—guaranteed.” Deleted.

“Help me transfer millions out of a Nigerian bank—guaranteed.” Deleted.

“Git 50 great reviews of yer book on Amazon—guaranteed.” Deleted.

Something clicked in my spam-addled brain. That e-mail address. That fractured grammar. Surely not?

I undeleted the e-mail and looked at the address again: sam@samsplumbing.com. Please, please, please, don’t tell me my plumber, Sam, has gone into the book review business.

I grabbed my phone and dialed Sam’s number, which has engraved itself in my memory over the last couple of years.

“Sam’s Plumbing and Honest Injun Reviews,” said a gravelly voice. “Can you hold one minute?”


I heard the thunk of a meaty hand over the mouthpiece of Sam’s phone. His muffled voice bellowed, “Samantha! It’s You-Know-Who! Took his time answering our e-mail, and now he probably wants something yesterday. Throw together a coupla good packages, will ya?”

The sound of gristle on plastic told me Sam was back on the phone. “Well, then! Which package was you thinking of buying today?”


“You probably like the Hemingway Platinum, don’tcha?”

“Sam, what the devil are you talking about?”

“I’m guessing you seen that there e-mail we sent out?” Sam said. “You and about thirty-seven million other folks. We bought ourselves a real good list, see. Phone’s been ringing off the hook and business is just booming. Anyways, if yer looking at our Web site, we can go through the packages and see what fits yer budget.”

Web site? I skimmed through the e-mail Sam had sent and clicked on the URL for his site: http://www.HonestInjunReviews.com.

My Web browser loaded quickly. The header graphic showed a fierce looking Native American wearing nothing but a loincloth and a war bonnet and grinning like Sam does when he’s writing up an invoice. The headline said, “Git Yer Honest Injun Book Reviews Now!”

“Can you hold fer a minute?” Sam said. “I got another caller on line two.”

“I guess—”

The line switched to a recording in a young woman’s voice. I recognized it right away as Sam’s niece, Samantha. She was narrating the same ad copy I was viewing on the Web site.

“Tired of waiting months fer them pesky readers to write you a review of yer book on Amazon? Sick to death of amateur reviews? We know just how ya feel! We been there ourself, and we got the answer. We’ll write you a custom set of book reviews that’ll blow the socks off them readers. Choose from these basic options, all with six-year easy-pay plans that you can pay off using yer royalties when yer book goes nucular.”

“Hey, it’s me again.” Sam’s voice came on the line again. “Busy, busy here. Now which package was you thinking of buying?”

“Sam, did it ever occur to you that this entire thing is completely dishonest? Not to mention that it’s offensive to Native Americans?”

“Offensive? I can’t figger how. Lookit that feller on the front page there. Don’t he look happy? And the name of the site is ‘Honest Injun Reviews.’ If that don’t say that Injuns is honest, book-loving folks, I don’t know what does.”

“Sam, that’s ridic—”

“And anyway, you ever looked up the definition of ‘amazon’? I done it after Samantha told me what it really means. It’s a ‘large strong and aggressive woman’ didja know that?”

“Yes, I knew that, but—”

“And now yer going to tell me that women everywhere is offended by that there Amazon-dot-com Web site, are you? Yer going to tell me that big-boned women are expecially mad about it, huh? And women that work out? And rude women? They’re all filing lawsuits against Amazon for slander, are they?”

“Well . . . no. But that’s not really the—”

“And as fer being dishonest, how could it be? Everybody knows that authors git all their friends to write reviews of their books the minute they get published. And they always give ’em five stars and talk ’em up big and make ’em sound like the next PulletsRPrize. Is that honest?”

“It’s, um . . .” I hesitated, wondering how to explain it.

“That’s, what I thought. It ain’t. Whereas HonestInjunReviews-dot-com writes a nice, honest mix of five-star reviews and one-star reviews. You choose how many of each you want.”

“Wait a second,” I said. “One-star reviews? You include one-star reviews? Who’d pay for those? Authors hate one-star reviews.”

“Well, see, it’s all about showing integrity. And integrity is our raisin d-eater.”

“Your what?”

Sam sighed. “Look, I figgered a big shot author like you would know some French. What do they teach them in schools, these days, huh?”

I took three deep breaths, trying to get my blood pressure back down. “Explain to me about the one-star reviews showing any kind of integrity. And why any author would pay for them.”

“You ever seen a book on Amazon with all five-star reviews?” Sam asked. “What do you think right off the bat?”

“I think . . . that the author got all his friends to write reviews.”

“Now be honest here, fer once, and just tell me if you don’t read the bad reviews first.”

“Well . . . yeah.” I couldn’t see where Sam was going with this.

“See, that’s the key psychicological insight that Samantha had. The way she explainified it to me is this. If the feller selling you the low-flush toilet says it’s good, then you don’t pay him no never mind, do you?”

“No, of course not. Nobody believes sales droids.”

“But if yer plumber tells you not to install a low-flush toilet ’cause it puts plumbers outta work, then what do you do?”

“Well, that’s different. If it puts plumbers out of work, that means it’s low maintenance, which is good. I’d buy one because the plumber doesn’t like it.”

“You and sixty million other folks,” Sam growled. “But that ain’t neither here nor there. Now listen to this here one-star review that Samantha just wrote fer yer latest book. You think you can handle this? ’Cause it’s just dripping with vitriol and rage and all that.”

I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. “I’m ready.”

Sam cleared his throat and began reading. “Okay, the headline is this: ‘Don’t buy this book!’”

“Ouch!” I said. “Not a very promising headline. Why would I pay money for a review that starts out like that?”

“I was getting to that. Here’s the rest of it: ‘This book kept me up till three AM ’cause it was so exciting. I hate books like that. I wanted something to put me to sleep and this one didn’t work. I ain’t never going to buy another book by Ingermanson if I live to be a hunnert.’”

A huge smile split my face. “Wow, I guess I could live with a couple of one-star reviews like that.”

“And here’s another one. It’s pretty scathing, so you just keep yer britches on. ‘This book wuz terrible cuz it made me think. I like a book that ain’t got no original ideers in it. This one made my head hurt. I throwed it in the fire after one chapter and went out to shoot possums for stew.’”

“That’s amazing! I like that!”

“Samantha invented this ideer,” Sam said. “She calls it, ‘Praising them with faint damns.’ Kinda catchy, isn’t it?”

“It is. But it’s still dishonest. These aren’t real reviews.”

“Yeah, but they could be. Admit it, there’s hunnerts of people out there that would write just that kinda review fer you if they ever took the trouble to read yer book, which they won’t. So Samantha got herself some smart fellers to write up software to write all these and post them to Amazon automatically. Now just pull up one of yer books on Amazon.”

I browsed over to Amazon and did a search for all my books. My most recent one had an average of four stars.

“Take a look at that last thing you wrote,” Sam said. “Notice that Samantha just put up a couple dozen five-star things that ain’t nobody never going to read. Then she throwed in about five that was real brutal—one stars on all of ’em. Ain’t they beauties?”

I scanned through the one-star reviews. “Too exciting—my pacemaker can’t handle this kind of thing.” “My boss fired me because I slept in after staying up all night reading this *&$%#@* book!” “I want a book that ain’t going to make me think hard. This one ain’t it!”

“Now, ain’t that just what some folks might say about yer books?” Sam asked.

“I . . . suppose.” I wondered if Sam thought I was going to pay for bogus reviews. “But I didn’t ask you to post any of those.”

“Those is kind of a teaser. No charge fer them, and you ain’t under no moral obligation to ask us to take ’em down. Matter of fact, you can’t, because you is opposed to this kinda thing, and therefore you didn’t ask us to post ’em, and therefore it ain’t yer fault if they’s there.”

I knew there had to be a catch to this. I’ve never yet heard of Sam doing anything for free.

“Course, Samantha is preparing a fresh batch,” Sam said. “Want to hear the headline?”

I didn’t say anything, but somewhere in my head, I heard a shoe dropping.

“‘I buy books to help me sleep better, and Ingermanson’s books are the ticket,’” Sam read. “‘Five stars!!!’”

“Um, no. You aren’t going to post that one, are you? Because that’s exactly what I don’t want.”

“Well, see Samantha’s got another fifty just like that. They’ll raise yer average to four and a half stars. Want her to push the button?”

“NO! Absolutely not!”

“It’s a free country. Any idiot can post a review on Amazon. Now I was thinking that it’d be worth about five hunnert to you if Samantha didn’t push that button, am I right about that?”

I was squeezing the phone so hard it cracked.

“Am I right about that?” Sam asked.

A rush of acid filled my stomach. I couldn’t believe this was happening.

“Samantha, it sounds like he likes that batch,” Sam said. “Just go ahead and—”

“No!” I shouted. “You win, Sam. Five hunnert—I mean five hundred.”

Sam chuckled. “I figgered you’d say that. I’ll just add that five hunnert to the invoice I was about to send you for the toilets we just installed in yer new guest house. Gotta love them there new low-flush gizmos. Everybody wants ’em. Can’t figger why.”

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