There’s been a lot of talk about paid book reviews since the New York Times ran an article by David Streitfeld this weekend about Todd Rutherford (a.k.a. “The Publishing Guru”) and the business he started selling reviews to authors.
When he got started, Rutherford was working for a subsidy publisher so he was quite aware of how desperate authors can be to get any attention for their books. So he started a business to sell them what they were looking for.
Rutherford isn’t alone in this business, but he does seem to have used the tools of social media—a large Twitter following and a site to sell the service—to create quite a profitable business.
According to the Times, at his peak he was making over $28,000 a month and hiring other writers to keep up with the demand. When Amazon started removing his reviews, the business was over and is now offline.
The story has continued to develop, and there was a followup today from Publishers Weekly, about Rutherford’s attempts to capitalize on the notoriety from the Times article.
On Salon.com Erin Keane weighed in with a lengthy look at the affair, and social media hasn’t been quiet either. Here’s a tweet from today by author Maureen Johnson for instance:
I spoke to
@publishingguru. He showed absolutely no signs of realizing that he continues to be skeezy.
— maureenjohnson (@maureenjohnson) August 28, 2012
A Long and Unfortunate History
But more to the point is the question the whole affair has raised: should authors pay for reviews?
There are lots of people now trying to make money from self-publishers, and many of the services being offered are from professionals who know their stuff and will work hard to help you make your book a success.
Then there are the other people.
Even institutions like ForeWord, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly offer programs where you pay to play. Although PW doesn’t guarantee a review, there are lots of other places you can simply buy them.
The reason thousands of authors pay for these reviews is simple—reviews can help sell books. The biggest problem self-publishers face is getting attention for their book. Book reviews will help with that.
Apparently even indie icon John Locke bought over 300 reviews to help push his popularity when it looked like blogging and social media alone wouldn’t sell enough books.
What Should You Do?
I’ve always advised authors not to pay for reviews. I can see doing it as a marketing ploy, but I don’t like it, and here’s why:
- It’s dishonest to your readers, who will assume the review is an honest and unsolicited commentary on your work, while you know it’s anything but that.
- It cheapens the entire review process, injecting a lot of cynicism at the same time.
There are hundreds of reviewers, both online and offline, who will review your book if you ask them. Of course, you’ll need to have a decent book to begin with, one written and published with your readers in mind.
And you’ll have to do some work, maybe even hire someone to help you manage it.
Going through the process of getting blurbs, testimonials and reviews is one of the best exercises in feet-on-the-ground book marketing any author can have. It will teach you a huge amount about how books actually get sold, and how your book is being received. That’s incredibly valuable learning for any author.
I would hate to think that authors believe they can somehow short-circuit the work required to get book reviews, because it’s not that hard.
You identify good prospects, people who are actually interested in the kinds of books you write. Then you query them and, if they’re interested, you send a book and your marketing materials.
Instead of spending all that money on paid book reviews, think about what Erin Keane wrote near the end of her Salon article:
Being independent should mean that you’re willing to do all the work yourself in exchange for autonomy and all the rewards. Indie authors can fight the reductive “lazy” tag by upholding strict community standards that honor both authors and readers. The readers, remember them? … Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.
Put your energy and income into creating the best book you can, then proudly go out and get your own reviews. Your readers will thank you.
What do you think? Have you paid for reviews? How did that work out for you? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by tracy_olson