The New York Times just ran an article about a review service where you could buy a slew of five star reviews for $100 and up.
Apparently the nice man who ran the business had a number of high profile customers, one of whom was John Locke, who engaged the service right as he was rocketing to startling celebrity in Nov of 2010.
Read the article. I commented on it. Locke defends his purchasing of the reviews. I won’t comment on that.
NEWS: Silver Justice was just spotlit as the pick of the week by Abu Dhabi Woman.
My main takeaways are twofold. First, the article reads like a clever hatchet job on indie authors. The imbedded assumption is that if a book has a lot of five star reviews, they must be bogus. Because there’s no way the book could actually be good. The not-so-subtle agenda being pushed is that readers would be best disregarding the five star reviews as rigged or fake. You see, because some or a few indie authors are rigging the system, then all should be assumed to be crooks (a variation of the all women are whores, all men misogynists, all dogs bite, etc. etc. sweeping generalizations that are used to denigrate a group). Obviously this hurts indie authors, because the logical conclusion is that readers should assume all indie work is garbage with faked reviews. Which then leaves Trad Pub books, which aren’t discussed in the article at all.
Maybe I’m being overly defensive, but it seems like every few weeks another mainstream media outlet comes out with an article that denigrates indie authors. Now, far be it for me to generalize like the article does, but wouldn’t an industry that is losing business to upstart indies put the pressure on their friends at the Times and other mainstream media outlets to write something that paints all indie authors as suspect crooks? I mean, I’m certainly a crook, as are all my friends, but let’s not confuse the issue.
I smell rat all over this. Not because some shifty wanker started a pay for review business, nor because some name authors used it. But because it is a “when did you stop beating your wife” article. It has all the signs of a hatchet job. Selective filtering that focuses on only one segment. Advancing a fear, uncertainty and doubt agenda where an entire group is portrayed as larcenous. I don’t know, but it struck me as odd that there were no balancing examples where publishers trade favors with each other for positive blurbs, or any exploration of whether this is a solely indie phenomenon.
In my experience with the media, there is always an agenda. Always. This has been true for centuries. Mark Twain commented on it, as have countless other wags. So when I read an article that discusses how some prominent indie authors buy reviews to get visibility, I ask, “Who benefits by this being published, this way, now?”
My sense is that the takeaway, which is that indies will do anything to get ahead, and secondarily, that the review process can’t be trusted and thus should be ignored, serves only one group. Those that wish everyone buying $4 highly rated ebooks instead of $15 trad published ebooks would stop doing so and view all indie work as sub-standard garbage whose reviews are manufactured.
Am I being a trifle knee jerk here?
Needless to say it’s probably an ugly sign of the times when authors are buying hundreds of positive reviews. Mainly because I never got the contact info of the company that did it while they were in business, and got into the game too late to avail myself of them. Although I see some of the authors I check on will routinely have 10 five star reviews a day posted for their books, all of which tout their work, declare it to be brilliant, and say they can’t wait to buy the next installment. Perhaps there is an innocent explanation – although these are also some of the top selling names. All I can say is I’m missing out. Can someone send me the link of who I need to talk to about this? Jeez. Hurry up. Pappy needs some new shoes.
A load of positive reviews could mean they are all fakes. Alternatively, they could also mean that the book is really good. To throw all babies out with the bathwater is silly. Those subtly encouraging readers to do this are motivated not so much by altruism but by an agenda.
In the end, the work will carry the day. If a book sucks, the market will likely vote with its wallet. Then again, a lot of sucky products sell well, so maybe not. But I have to believe that you can’t base a career on bogus reviews. Nor should anyone dismiss all five star reviews as bogus. Some probably are. But many aren’t. To discard the review system, which is supposedly a meritocracy, in favor of only trusting reviews from “legit” sources (read big publishing house-related), is as stupid as assuming that all one star reviews are legit. You can go online and find folks advertising who will post a one star slam of your competitor. Why is that ignored? It clearly exists. I’ve certainly had some that smacked of that. Again, in my experience when a reporter is “Shocked, shocked I say” that there’s gambling going on, it’s because it’s in his best interests to ignore what is plainly obvious. “That would never happen” is not a substitute for critical thinking.
I think a better way of dealing with the ability to fake reviews or rig them is to read the excerpt on Amazon – the Look Inside. If the book sucks, move on. If it is well-written and compelling, buy the damned thing and have a nice life. Trying to paint any segment as being undesirable based on the actions of a few is a poor proposition and is the sign of an industry in trouble. The truth is that readers have proved they couldn’t care less who publishes a book. They care whether it sucks or not.
So don’t write books that suck, as some other indie author once counseled.
What do you think?
UPDATE: I will be offering a new service where I’ll read whatever drivel you churned out and declare it to be genius for $20. When I say read, I mean I’ll buy it (wink) and claim to have read it. Mostly I’ll skim the product description and using my patented review generator, create a compelling, believable review that declares you to be a rare talent. Example: “When I read XXX I knew I was witnessing the birth of an incredible story. What wasn’t as obvious until I got into the meat of it was that YYY is an author with a firm command of craft and an all-too-rare gift for writing. YYY will be on my automatic must-buy list from now on. I can’t wait for the sequel. A brilliant example of noteworthy authorship.” For only $20 you can have your name there.
I’ve been told that it’s fine, ethically. As long as I “read” it. Which I will. Wink wink. Fortunately I can read a whole novel in as long as it takes to type your name into the program and verify the paypal payment. And I won’t take work I don’t find irresistible. Of course I have an unusually broad palate and am not particularly discriminating. Cat memoirs, coming-of-age stories, fiction, sci-fi, vampires, dystopian wastelands, tech manuals, poetry, erotica, whatever. Doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a book, I’ve got the time to “read” it. And you’re not “paying” for a “review.” You’re making a donation to my tequila sampling fund. I would never accept payment for reviews. That would be against some rules, somewhere, I’m sure, not that I care that much…and it might “skirt” “ethical” lines – ha ha ha ha ha…whoooooohhh. Don’t worry about it. I’ll have some shyster gin up an agreement where it’s anything but paying for reviews. We’re golden.
If you want to be compared to Stephen King or John Grisham, or Jodi Picoult, whoever that is, that’s five bucks more. Just send me the author name and you’re his/her twin.
This is “a small part” of being successful, but a big part of my tequila budget, so please, don’t hold back. Your book deserves it. Hell, I deserve it. And I’m thirsty.
First 10 orders will get a free bonus 500 word blog expressing heartfelt empathy with a celebrity suffering from a hideous affliction (slight additional charge for Mickey Rourke, Snookie or Cher) guaranteed not to be a known pedophile as of the order date.
This is all legitimate marketing, folks. So dig deep. You owe it to yourself. And to me. Mostly me. It will be our little secret. Wink.