Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Paying for it

Photo credit: brewbooks / Flickr

There are two reasons to give a book a five-star review online:

1. You loved it – for its writing, for its message, for the way it showed you a fact of life that you never realized before – and you feel that others will benefit from a reading.

2. You got paid for it.

As a writer, which five-star review would you rather have?

Or does it matter, as long as the end result is more sales?

What is a writer supposed to do to let the world know about his or her new book? Especially if it’s self-published, without the backing of a major publisher?

Well, telling the people you know is a start.

Informing social media is another.

Calling local newspapers and radio shows for interviews is also a good idea.

Some writers, though, turn to entrepreneurs who offer superb reviews for a price. The New York Times recently profiled one such person, Todd Rutherford, who ran a service called GettingBookReviews.com. It started with Rutherford himself offering to do one good review for $99. Then, he offered 20 reviews for $499, or 50 for $999.

Orders started pouring in – so much so that Rutherford found that he couldn’t keep up with the demand. So he outsourced some of the work to freelancers, and, as is often the case, paid them a fraction of the “retail” price - $15 per review.

What is wrong with a guy seeing a need in the marketplace and finding a way to fulfill it?

If you’re a reader, you may get tricked by five-star reviews of a book which may be in fact mediocre – or worse. For someone with a small book-buying budget, a mistake can have a painful cost. Amazon does refund ebooks, but no later than seven days after purchase.

If you’re a writer, and you don’t have $999 (or even $99) to spare to buy reviews – or you insist on getting reviews the old-fashioned way, by earning them through word-of-mouth – you may feel that you’re at an unfair disadvantage.

If you write good reviews for pay, you are also in an ethical trough. Suppose you read the book and think it’s not all that. The person who bought your review expects a positive one. It is hard not to give people who pay you exactly what they want – no matter how you feel.

Paying for good reviews introduces duplicity into a system which relies on honest voices (a data-mining expert in the NYT article says that up to one-third of consumer reviews on the Internet are fake). And it is not easy to filter out the paid-for reviews, given that thousands pour in each day.

I have two e-books out in the market, Goody Ideas and It is OK. (You can find out more about them and get links for purchase at my website.) Of course I want more readers, and I want them to like the books and leave good reviews.

But I want those reviews to have roots in truth, not commerce.

I’d rather have an honest one-star review than a five-star review from a paid-for reviewer who didn’t “get” my work.

Remember the saying “nice guys finish last”? In real life, sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t.

But they do finish with their heads held high.

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