Saturday, September 4, 2010

Paying for Book Reviews

An interesting post recently on Writer Beware Blogs - which is a great place for exposing vanity publisher scams.

The particular article which caught my eye is with regard to paying for book reviews, you can read it here.

As many of you know, I am one of three authors of a self-published anthology of dark short stories and poetry. The anthology is called Casting Shadows and is available from Lulu,, and Smashwords.

We have been reviewed twice, so far - once by Holly Christine of the Pittsburgh Books Examiner, and once by Geoff Nelder on his blog, Science42Fiction. Both are pretty good reviews, which is excellent.

We got these reviews by emailing Holly Christine and Geoff Nelder - and we did not pay for them.

I would never pay for a book review.

It is certainly true that it is very difficult for self-published authors to sell their books. No arguments there. And that getting the word out by getting reviews helps. Again, no arguments. However, I don't think that paying for book reviews is the solution.

First of all, if your book really needs major errors in grammar & spelling to be pointed out, perhaps you would be better paying the large fee that reviewers charge to a professional editing service, or even just having it proofread by someone who isn't related to you and has a good grasp of the English language (or whatever language your book is written in!). Though an occasional error will still slip through - I see them in books published by major publishers as well. All people are only human, after all. An occasional error is one thing though. A book full of them is a different story, and unfortunately gives all self-published works a good tarring with the same brush of unprofessionalism.

Secondly, while many paid-for review services claim not to give only positive reviews, it's highly unlikely that such a service will get many clients and make much money if they make a habit of strongly criticising books they review. First and foremost, these "services" are businesses, and need to make money. That's their function, and the best way for them to do so is to give mostly good reviews to ensure more clients sign up for their service. However, this means that the reviews cannot be trusted - certainly not wholly. The blog post above makes the case that reviews have always been paid for, to some extent - because newspapers and magazines are supported by advertising, and publishers are among the advertisers. However, anyone who has ever read book review columns in respectable papers knows that regardless of how big a publishing company is behind a book, they are quite willing to tear a book to shreds if they feel that the book deserves such treatment. And while this may cause problems behind the scenes, for the sales staff, ultimately the publishers continue to send the reviewers their books, and also continue to pay for advertising. These reviews are clearly honest, and can therefore be trusted.

Ultimately, if people want to spend their money paying for book reviews, that's their business, I suppose. But I don't feel that paid-for reviews add anything to a publishing market which is opening up due to the availability of Print on Demand services, while many traditional publishers are more willing to publish a third "auto"biography of a Z-list celebrity (ghostwritten) detailing the mundaneness of their vapid existence than take a chance on a new author with an original idea. (Ok, this isn't true for all publishers, but the book retailers have increasing power as well, and they like celebrity faces on their bookshelves).

Ultimately, a paid for review is tainted with the suspicion that if it is good, it is only good because it was paid for. Self published authors already have to contend with the stereotype that if the book was any good, it wouldn't be self published, so paying for a review may just add to their problems rather than the opposite.

Comments and opinions welcome, I'm sure many people have views on this subject! (This post has been scheduled so I may not reply immediately, but I will reply to comments!)


David Barber said...

Great post, Jolene.

WOW! Making money for blowing smoke up someones rear! People can pay me and I'd give them an all singing, all dancing review. It wouldn't make the book sell if it was a really badly written story though. Reviews are only one person's opinion and I can't believe writers would stoop that low as to pay for a "positive" review to sell their book.

Have a great weekend.

(Yes I can see all your blog just fine now. It may have had something to do with red wine!)

Joleen said...

Haha, red wine, always good! Have a great weekend yourself - by the sound of the wine you started early!

Hmm, yeah, maybe instead of slagging off the practise, I should be joining in. Hundred quid a review, hehe - and that's less than half what most companies charge!

Lee Hughes said...

Joleen, you forgot to link to where we can sign up for this scheme. It'll be hard-going but I'll say nice things for cash.

It'll be a blossoming business what with the likes of Lulu, CreateSpace etc which so many writers take. There's no backing for them so they'll do whatever they have to I guess. I'm glad you've not stooped so low, but I reckon there are a lot who are willing to.

I'll review your book for a fiver and if Dave tries to undercut me he's in trouble.

Joleen said...

How'd a post-dated cheque, say for 2013 some time do ya for your fiver, Lee? Hehe.

I feel no shame in having self published, but I'd never be able to publicise a review I had paid for. It just seems pointless to me. If I had the kind of money to hand that these companies charge, I'd use it on some real publicity - like advertising!