Sunday, February 14, 2010

Paid reviews

There’s no shortage of fees for review services, from the thirty dollars charged by this blogger to the $399 that will get you a review from Kirkus Discoveries. But even if the author doesn’t mind paying out, as a reader I would not be comfortable with such an arrangement. I would always wonder which one the reviewer preferred – the book or the checkbook.

It can be problematic for the reviewer as well. Critical reviews that aren’t paid for sometimes make authors upset and angry – what would happen if the author had shelled out good money for something which is unlikely to boost sales? The alternative to that is to praise everything, which some review services certainly do, but those rarely come off as professional or truthful.

What I find interesting are attempts to avoid the stigma of paid reviews by shifting fees to something other than the actual review. Review services may require that writers buy a copy of their publication. They might offer a “fast-track” service – pay a fee and have the book reviewed more quickly.

Or they might get even more creative, such as BookSurge offering its authors/customers a review by “New York Times bestselling author Ellen Tanner Marsh”. As the NYT subsequently pointed out,

Ms. Marsh was last on the best-seller list in the early 1980s for bodice-rippers like “Reap the Savage Wind.” In her review of “The Beer Drinker’s Diet,” a self-published work, she wrote it was “motivating and significant.”

I really dislike it when new writers are given the impression that professional reviews are out of their league, so therefore they should go with an amateur site which either won’t charge as much or won’t charge except to expedite the review. It’s true, many writers won’t get reviewed by Publishers Weekly. But there’s no false dichotomy – there are many other reviewers who write good, unbiased evaluations of books. It’s not as though a writer has to choose between the professionals and the bottom of the barrel.

What are your thoughts on paid reviews?


Jeff Winbush said...

It's a BAAAAADDD idea. It's a cheat to both the reader who may be misled by a good review to purchase a bad book and it's certainly a cheat to the author who has essentially paid someone to tell them what they want to hear. There's a word for people who ignore your shortcomings to tell you how wonderful you really are and the word is prostitutes.. I understand nobody enjoys a bad review, but I'd rather be bruised by honesty than kissed by a lie. Thanks for a good, thought-provoking piece.

Maria Zannini said...

I am assuming those who charge do so because they have a HUGE readership and a limited amount of resources to review everyone who wants to get reviewed.

But any time money changes hands, I worry that objectivity gets a little fuzzy.

There's a review site I like to visit who does not charge, but they've been in the romance community for so long they've become friends with several authors.

They will say upfront that such and such an author is a friend and then go on with what appears to be a fairly objective review.

But because the author is a friend, I have to take everything they say with a grain of salt.

Same goes for authors who pay. Is it a valid review or one lined with silver?

Marian said...

Jeff : Hi, and thanks for commenting.

Now that I've come to think about it, I suppose paying for a review from a place like Kirkus Discoveries might work for a vanity-printed novel if no other reviewers will touch it and if that might boost sales in some way.

There's no point in throwing good money after bad.

IMO, though, it's better to pay a place like Kirkus Discoveries than an amateur site which will provide a poorly constructed five-star rave.

Marian said...

Maria - True. Just this morning I was reading up about legitimate agents who charge fees - namely Scott Meredith and Andrew Zack. They also had a lot of writers querying and a limited amount of resources.

Still not quite a recommended setup for writers.

Becky Mushko said...

If I haven't heard of the reviewer, I'm not likely to give the review much credence. If I've heard of the paid reviewer, I'm not interested in the book at all.

One of the paid reviews you linked to posted this, uh, review: "Cute little story, that kept my attention. it is always good to hear positive stories about good things happening to good people and good [species redacted]. It is a good story for young children. Because of the story line I can see a prequel and a sequel to it. It was so cute with the little hand drawn illustrations.“

Cute, good, good, good, cute.. Doesn't the reviewer know any other adjectives? And somebody PAID for that?!

As of Dec. 2009, Kirkus Reviews (both paid and unpaid) will be no more: