What You Pay For

Sometimes I see a review on Amazon that makes me do the puppy thing – you know, cock my head and make that little “baroo?” noise. A friend shared a link to a book with an improbably high original price (marked down to free, for now, though) and seriously questionable antecedents, and after I laughed at it, I read the reviews. When I found this: “exelene article Delivery time is punctual and responsible for everything that is recommended to all is the best way to shop …” I sat back and thought that’s the first spam comment type review I have ever seen. But then again, reviews are becoming suspect.

I do read reviews on books I’m thinking about buying (other products, too) on Amazon. I’ll hunt down reviews outside Amazon from time to time, but they are handy right there, so that is usually what I look at first. But I do this with an awareness that I cannot always trust what they say. I hear from people outside the industry that they no longer trust reviews, either, because they keep hearing about the reviews being paid for, to give a book lots of nice boost.

But, what about the time-honored practice of giving away copies of books in return for a review? Isn’t that the same as say, this? When you can buy five book reviews for only $30, why worry about what the unwashed public has to say about your book? The service even guarantees you won’t get a harsh review, saying “we can’t guarantee all bloggers will love your book but we do ask bloggers to only post fair and professional reviews. If a blogger really can’t get into your book we ask them to refrain from posting anything too harsh as reviews can make or break an authors career! It should also be noted we don’t believe it is ethical to pay bloggers for ‘good’ reviews.”

Maybe this is why we find reviews on the book with, I kid you not, the World’s Worst Cover, praising it to the heavens. Midwest Book Review wrote this: “Ancient curses can be quite the ruiner of one’s day. “The Mystery of the Mummy” is another novel from Roger D. Grubbs following the continuing adventures of Andrew Rogers and Kathleen McGregor as they are tasked with stopping a millennia old curse from consuming the world around them. If they don’t act quickly, the mummy will be more than some ancient sack of bones, but the death of us all. “The Mystery of the Mummy” is a top pick for suspense fans, highly recommended.” In fact, all six reviews on this book are in the 5 star range, leaving me wondering what lies beneath that truly horrifying cover photo. After having peeked inside, I am disinclined to plunk down the money to endure the rest of it. It’s just as bad as the cover.

No wonder then that book reviews are losing ground as trustworthy indicators of a book’s merit. I can generally tell if an Amazon review is sincere – for one thing, any negative comments without being all negative are likely an honest appraisal. Not every reader will like every book. I have a few blogs I read reviews on and trust. I myself review books on my blog every Friday, mostly Indie authors, trying to give an authentic review when I do so. But the concept of shelling out money for reviews strikes me as wrong. What do you, kind readers, think? marketing is hard for us authors, requiring a lot of our time and effort. Reviewers obviously need some reward for their efforts in reading, but is a free book enough? Is even that too much? I’m not a proponent of making anyone work for nothing. But I look at my reviews as a tip after having bought the books and already spent something, the review is worth perhaps more to the author than that money. I’ve accepted some books for review on my blog, but I am wary of doing so, as I feel that by doing that, I’m obligating myself to that author.

Which, as it turns out, there are regulations about (I should have known… aren’t there regs about everything these days?). Shiny Book Review, a site I know and trust (full disclosure, they reviewed Vulcan’s Kittens, giving it a B- for editing problems. Which led to me having a professional editor go over it, but I digress.) has a whole section on the ethics of how they handle reviews. And they have made my mind easier about the whole obligation thing. “One more thing: the FCC now requires that a disclaimer be made regarding books sent to Shiny Book Review and/or any book review sites.   That disclaimer is as follows: we at SBR are often sent free books, but are under no obligation — none whatsoever — to give anything except our opinion, freely stated.”

And this led me to do a little more poking. I found a well-written article at a food blog, of all places, which normally I wouldn’t cite, but she does it so well. Included are links back to the regulations themselves, so you can explore to your heart’s content if you so choose. I just don’t have time, a house to clean, homework, and all that jazz. Which means that most people probably don’t bother to look at them, either, and accepting paid reviews might not be a good idea if anyone ever comes looking closely at the sites you are reviewed on. Not a scandal you want your book tarred with. So in the end, trust no one, er, walk with caution, and if you do reviews, make it clear how you were compensated, even if only with a free book.

In the end, after asking around, I’m not sure random reviews are even given any weight by consumers any longer. Goodreads has been plagued by scandal, Amazon has too many sock-puppets, other mass review sites like Library Thing are just too obscure for the general public. As a reader, I have people I trust to review a book which I will buy on their recommendation. Most of them are not in the business of giving out reviews, it’s just a whole-hearted “oh, this one is good!” Larry Correia’s book bombs, Howard Tayler’s blugunderschlock, David Pascoe’s random reviews… those are the books that grab my attention and get me to hunt them down and buy them. I’ve rarely been disappointed that way.

As an author, I’m still mulling over what this means, other than the oft-repeated ‘word-of-mouth’ is the best marketing of all. You can’t beg, buy, or steal publicity like those spontaneous reviews. When you get one, it’s like a standing ovation, and the three I have gotten I am more grateful for than I can express. Buying reviews would only cheapen that, for me.

 

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2 thoughts on "What You Pay For"

  1. Liz Shaw says:

    I do reviews for books I receive free through BookRooster or via direct contact from the author. My policy is simple:

    *I make no promise about how quickly I’ll get around to a review.
    *I ask authors to send me only books in the genres I’m interested in. (You would not believe how many people want me to review their book even if it’s not in those genres. I warn them, but they send anyway.)
    *I promise to read at least 50 to 75 pages of the book. If I’m not enjoying it at that point, I’ll stop and let the author know that I’m not going to review it.
    *If I read the book and review it, the review will be honest.

    I provide authors with a link to my reviews on Amazon so that they can see that I don’t give white washes. I still get plenty of requests.

    When I’m plunking down money for a book, I always check the reviews. You’re right. I’m more swayed by a balanced review rather than one that is all negative or all positive.

  2. The bottom line is that you can’t trust online reviews not written by specific individuals that you know and trust, or at least you should take them with a big grain of salt. I’m more likely to just read the back cover and the first few pages to see whether I think I’d like to read the book, anyway. I guess the caveat to that would be when something has hundreds of reviews – I do make some assumptions based on the average.

    I also have a tendency to look at the bad reviews first.

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