Wednesday, December 12, 2012
On paid book reviews
An author whom I know personally offered me a hundred and fifty bucks to review her self-published book.
Due to being busy and sick this month, I delayed responding. She politely followed up more than once, explicitly offering me money to write a review of her book. For where, she did not say. This blog? Goodreads? Amazon? My dad's review site? Or perhaps Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly and numerous other review sites? All of the above, I suppose.
This summer, the New York Times ran an article about a man who worked for a company that provided marketing services for self-publishing authors -- for instance, helping get the books reviewed -- and moved into writing the reviews himself, for money. At his height he was earning $28,000 per month and needed to hire employees to meet the demand. He had a great thing going until Amazon started deleting his reviews.
The value of a consumer review, after all, is that these reviews are perceived to be free of any conflict of interest. These are not professionals or insiders, they are consumers just like you, giving you the straight dope on the product. The knowledge that some of these reviews may be paid injects cynicism into that idea.
This points to the basic problem I have with it: if I do not disclose that I've been hired to review the book by the writer (who is also the publisher), I am engaging in something dishonest. The reader should assume that my review is my honest and un-hired opinion.
Once in a while, I've been sent review copies of books. That counts as a mild solicitation, but it's a far cry from being paid cash for a review. I am under no obligation to review a book just because a publisher sends it to me. That said, I have reviewed some of the books sent to me, and done so honestly.
Yet it is also a problem when you know the writer. A teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen sent me a copy of her book hoping I would review it, but at the time I lived at the zen center where she was a guiding teacher and that didn't sit right. I did review a novel written by a neighbor of mine here in Deming, but he never asked and to my knowledge hasn't even seen it. Moreover, I disclosed in the review that I knew the author.
Accepting money from an author for a review, even if I disclosed it, seems a bridge too far. It is not an innocent matter of one entrepreneur helping another in a very tough field (which publishing is, for sure). The money is better spent marketing the book and connecting with the readers who will want the book. This is hard work, but good work.