Thursday, August 30, 2012

To Buy or Not to Buy (Reviews)?

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

The big kerfuffle on the Internet and Twitter these days seems to be the news that multi-million ebook seller John Locke paid for reviews of his works.

You might be tempted to say "so what?" but let's stop a minute and think.

It's pretty standard in the publishing industry that publishers will send copies of books (advance reader's copy or ARC) to reviewers. They want the blurbs for the book jacket and for advertising. I'm not sure of whether publishers pay for this or not - but I also can't imagine Kirkus doing something for nothing, so who knows.

It's also pretty well-known that indie authors have a hard time getting reviews. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and others don't want to review self-published works.

So if an indie author wants reviews, what's the harm in paying for them?

For me the answer is "plenty."

Let's set aside the fact that buying reviews goes against Amazon's policies. Even if it didn't, I think it would be a no-no. No one in her right mind is going to pay for reviews unless they are good. So let's say indie writer Ima Author pays $500 for fifty reviews. She gets some good and some not-so-good. I'm fairly confident that Ima is going to weed out anything less than a glowing 4 or 5 star review. So the book looks phenomenal to prospective buyers. But is it?

To me a purchased review devalues honest reviews. Because once the reading public knows that you can purchase these things, they start to distrust them. So I go out and write an honest review. How does a prospective buyer know that my four-star review hasn't been paid for? He doesn't.

Going along with this is an article I read this morning on "sock puppet" social media accounts. These are fake accounts set up by an author (or author's rep) to create buzz around a book. To me it's just as deceitful as paid-for reviews. "Everyone does it," one author quoted in the article says. Uh, no, I don't think so. I know how much time I spend cultivating my community on Twitter. I can't imagine doing that for multiple accounts.

Oh, and by the way, what are you - too chicken to do your own promotion? To afraid of looking like a brazen self-promoter? Then I submit you are Doing It Wrong.

I've already written about the challenges of reviewing and how some authors bemoan anything below four or five stars. But paying someone isn't the answer.

Mr. Locke said he was "confident" about the quality of his story so reviews were to be honest. Really, Mr. Locke? If you were so confident, why not let the reviews fall where they may?

As an author, I think I've written some pretty good stories. I'll be willing to throw them up for review once they are published. I'm going to get people who really like them. I'll get people who like them, but aren't wowed. And I'll get people who don't like them, or who don't get the story and will give a bad review. And that's all part of publishing.

And if someone came to me and asked for a review, I'd gladly do it. I wouldn't ask for anything (okay, maybe I'd ask for a free copy of the book). But I'd also warn them that they'll get an honest review. If they don't like it and don't want to use it, that's their right.

But Mr. Locke has damaged the credibility of every review ever posted. And that's to bad, because with the explosion of self-publishing, the virtual "word of mouth" represented by reviews is the best way to get your book noticed.

Paying for reviews doesn't just damage the credibility of one author. It damages us all by casting doubt on our reviews.

Thanks, Mr. Locke. What a way to support indie authors.

Image courtesy of 401(k) 2012 and used under Creative Commons license

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