The Market For Paid Reviews Extends Beyond Indie

Thank you, NY Times, for stirring the hornet’s nest. And once again, Indie authors are the ones getting stung.

I’ve heard more discussion about your article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?pagewanted=all) regarding Todd Rutherford’s  book reviews for hire business in the past few days than I’ve cared to. The mud is being slathered on Indie authors because Rutherford’s review business targeted our market. Erin Keane at Salon added to the sensationalism by contributing a rather awkward piece. After a feeble pat on the back, she continued to paint Indie authors as a desperate, floundering group of wannabes.  Had she bothered to conduct any research into the matter, she might have discovered “paid” reviews are common within the industry, a practice that is accepted among print publishers and authors, alike. Publishers barter advertising for reviews in major publications all the time, and that’s only one example of manipulating public opinion.

There are accepted sites like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly where reviews can still be bought starting at about $150 and up. They’ve been doing this for some time. They also target Indie authors – as well as publishers and print authors who want to help “push” their books. No one has written a defamatory article about their services.  So why is it the NY Times article created such a maelstrom of discontent? Perhaps it was the way Todd Rutherford structured his business, using readers and students to write reviews for a pittance about books they may or may not have read. Or possibly the realization that John Locke, the first self-published author to sell over a million digital books,  paid for reviews to build public awareness. Is that any different from PAC advertising clogging our airwaves during this election year?

It’s called marketing. Watch an infomercial. Read a story online which appears to be one person’s experience with a superior product or service until you see the fine print “paid advertisement”. And therein lies the conflict. Paid reviews should be labeled as such but are not….and never have been in the publishing industry. By anyone. Print or Indie. Whether a deal was made on the golf course, someone’s pockets got padded or a huge display ad was used as a perk, the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality has always been part of modern-day marketing.

So why are Indies being painted as less than ethical schemers?

I can attest to the hard work, professional attitude and personal investment many Indie authors bring to the table. The Indie authors I know put more effort into producing a quality product than some print authors. We can’t afford to be lazy – and we like it that way. We also like the higher royalties for our efforts, which is why more and more print authors are self-publishing their backlists and in some cases, new manuscripts. A fact that is changing the landscape of the industry every day.

To assume Indie authors must resort to paid reviews to find a buying audience is an insult. I’ve never paid for a review. I’ve not asked friends to post comments. In fact, one person I know enjoyed a book I had written and wanted to give it 5 stars. I asked her not to because readers are a suspicious lot and think 5 star reviews are bogus.

I’ve taken some hits, too. I have a sprinkling of discontented readers who didn’t care for my stories. Of course, if you look up reviews for any of the masterpieces like The Great Gatsby, Little Women, or Pride and Prejudice you’ll find a handful of people who hated those books, too. It’s the nature of the beast. No author, regardless of talent, fame or riches, will please everyone.

Keane wrote: “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. ”

Every successful Indie author I know already does this. We shouldn’t be grouped with a few who chose to travel another path.

I daresay Indies will always fight for respect because of the propaganda that keeps readers questioning our abilities. I’ve read wonderful eBooks and horribly written print books. And vice versa. It happens.

In the end, the true test of a good writer is gauged by one factor and it has nothing to do with paid reviews or those posted by sincere fans. Sales. If a book is not well written and edited, people won’t buy it. At least, not for long. And at Amazon, even if they do like it, customers can request a refund. It will be given without contest, often applied to the purchase of a new title, all at the expense of the author. I don’t know of any stone and mortar bookseller who will accept the return of a book with dog-eared pages.

There are a lot of successful Indie authors who quit a day job based on their royalty statements. That’s not a fluke. Give us a break.

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About Debra S. Sanders

Debra is an RV nomad, traveling full time with her husband, dog and cat. She writes, hikes, star gazes and explores myth, lore and curiosities from America's back roads. She also indulges in colorful sunsets and good wine.

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