Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Do You Think About Authors Paying for Positive Reviews?


First off, thank you so much to everyone who shared Monday's post on the publishing process in GIF form. I seriously did not anticipate that response when I posted it, but it certainly made for an exciting Monday!

Meanwhile, publishing tongues were wagging this week in the wake of a NY Times article about the (apparently very lucrative) world of fake online book reviews:
In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50. 
There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.
Some of the responses to this post, including Salon's, aligned this practice with self-publishing, likely because most of the authors featured in the article, including John Locke, were self-published authors.

I feel like this is unfair. There's no reason why a traditionally published author couldn't do the same thing, and in this day and age there's every incentive for everyone to try and generate as much attention as possible. (For the record, I've never used a service like this).

But what do you think? Do you trust reviews? Is this a practice that should be punished or does it go with the territory? How do you see this playing out?

Art: The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs by Georges de la Tour






106 comments:

Domino said...

I used to write press releases for Simon and Schuster. What I did, write glowingly positive reviews in order to convince booksellers to buy the books, strikes me as fairly similar to what these review sellers are doing, with one notable difference. Book Sellers knew that they were reading paid press releases and treated them accordingly. If authors are paying for reviews (and frankly, I don't really see anything wrong with this), then those reviews should bear an imprint that lets a reader know that. Even disregarding the ubiquitous 5-star rating, reviews can provide valuable information about tone, plot, and character that might inform a reader about the book. If every review is 5-stars, 5-star means nothing.

Natalie Whipple said...

I'm not sure how I feel about it all, but it does remind me not to take reviews TOO seriously as an author. It also reminds me as a reader to give books a chance and not to rely wholly on what other people are saying about them. I guess you really can never tell what's real online when it comes to opinions.

Shakier Anthem said...

I think it's awful, deceptive, and disrespectful toward readers. However, as a reader, you're a consumer, so caveat emptor. Yes, I do pay some attention to reviews, but I'm always going to make my own decisions based on the book itself. No matter how many positive reviews a book has, if it doesn't grab me, I'm not buying it.

Cat York said...

I saw Friedman and friends mention something about having a few official panels/site that review new or forthcoming books. Like a rotten tomatoes of the book world. I think that would be the best solution: one from each B&N/ Amazon and a few completely separate from the source. If these panels gained clout and retained integrity, indie book authors would seek reviews from panels instead of friends and paid sources. Friends and fellow writers would get a reprieve from the pressure of having to write a 5 star review. Of course, there will always be general audience-based reviews for comparison. I don't trust reviews. I read on recommendations from trusted bookie friends.

Alice M. said...

I don't trust reviews as much as I trust word-of-mouth. And even then, if it doesn't have a sample available to read, I won't buy it.

If it does have a sample, and the sample sucks, I won't buy it.

I only look at reviews for entertainment value.

Reviews from sites/people I can trust (Kirkus, my friends, my online buddies) count as word-of-mouth.

Ed Varga said...

movie reviews are the same - when you look at the source you often find the most glowing reviews come from unheard of sources. then again, the films that advertize with great reviews usually suck.

Cat York said...

I also think traditionally published authors have the means to do the same thing. Though the ones I know haven't done so.

Will Overby said...

Actually, I hardly ever read reviews. I most use the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon and see if the first few pages spark my interest. A writer's work should stand up on its own merits. That said, I think paying for positive reviews is dishonest to potential readers. It's cheating.

Jaimie said...

TIME book critic and traditionally published author Lev Grossman faked his own positive reviews on Amazon at one point. And he's my favorite writer so I say that with utmost squee.

I don't find anything wrong with buying positive reviews. It's business. I wish I had thought of it first. And no, of course it's not only self-published authors doing this, and I doubt they were doing it first. The marketing department is paid to think of this stuff.

Richard Gibson said...

I trust almost nothing on the internet on the face of it, and like others above, rarely base anything on any reviews (which I rarely read). I read blurbs, which could be thought of as reviews of a sort, but something effusive on a back cover is more likely to make me put the book back on the shelf than to buy it.

jscolley said...

My personal reaction to this practice is distaste. While I realize this is probably common in traditional publishing, it will do more to undermine the indie movement. Sooner or later, the reading public will catch on, and they won't trust any reviews of indie books.

Even though some might argue, I think a review, or endorsement, by a fellow writer is more transparent and, therefore, more acceptable than a paid good review by a book review business.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

I only trust the opinions of the people whose opinions I trust. (Go figure.) So an author could pay for a mountain of five-star reviews from an independent contractor, and they wouldn't sway me in the slightest.

Chipper Muse said...

I read online reviews as a way to make up for what I lose by not shopping in a physical bookstore: the opportunity to flip to various pages in a book and read them. By doing that, I can make a buying decision based on whether I like the writing and think I'll like the story. But I can't flip through a book online the same way I can in a physical bookstore, so I have to use something else to help guide my decisions, and a review can do that. If it's honest, of course. What a drag to have fake and paid reviews being posted. It makes me much more leery of buying anything, and I bet a lot of readers feel the same way. And that only hurts authors whose work is good.

Jaimie said...

@Will - It's only dishonest if you've written a terrible book. Of course my book will be amazing so no false advertising there! :P

Shakier Anthem said...

Domino -- I think you're right, paid reviews should be disclosed as such. That would feel much less deceptive to me. Paying someone to write 100 positive reviews for your book feels like stuffing the ballot box.

There was an interesting article with Emma Straub the other day (http://www.flavorwire.com/322231/the-future-of-american-fiction-an-interview-with-emma-straub) where she talked about how hugely popular writers are often showered with praise. I think she's right, and I take those sorts of review, too, with a huge grain of salt. There are some highly praised big-name authors whose work I just don't care for, so in the end I have to trust my own taste and the work itself.

Anonymous said...

The article in the NYT was the tip of a huge issue with book reviews. Low end authors looking for promotional tools in the form of great reviews can go to places like fiverr.com and pay as little as five bucks to get reviews. Other low end authors hocking their books can get friends and family to leave reviews. Let's not forget about the Amazon vine reviewers who will do anything to garner numbers. I've seen them plagiarize and lie. One was caught doing this last year with thousands of fake reviews. The forums where they gather are filled with vitriol.

And then there are my all time favorites: the sockpuppet reviews. This is when authors leave reviews...good or bad...with multiple identities and fake names to either promote their own books or sabotage other authors.

It's a corrupt system and readers need to be aware of the fact that not all reviews are valid. And it's not just with self-published authors. Authors who are with publishers do the dame thing. It's proving that the honor system does not work and that everything needs to be regulated in one form or another.

And, someone mentioned Kirkus reviews. Authors pay quite a bit to get those reviews, too. They may be more valid...but they are still paid reviews.

Chudney Thomas said...

I don't reviews, because it's all subjective anyway. Besides I've heard other authors boast about having their friends and family write reviews for their books, many of which the friends and family hadn't even read. So no I don't think it's a good idea and I don't trust reviews.

AE Marling said...

Clearly it is a problem. Fake reviews depreciate a great advantage online markets have over markets without readily available consumer reports. Remember when we had to rely on the quotes the Big Six publishers bought or at least arranged for the book jacket?

Christy said...

This is very common anymore, it seems. Just check out oDesk. Plenty of people paying money for book reviews, not to mention likes on FB, etc.

Christy said...
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Sue Sedgwick said...

Um ... doesn't this practice completely defeat the point of reviews? If all reviews are basically to be ignored and everyone knows this, why bother?

I suppose the reverse could be taking place too: malicious panning.

If the process isn't honest, it's worthless and I don't want any part of it.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I think it's a scam to pay for positive reviews. I think that positive reviews should be earned, not bought. I also think it's a little ironic that the person who outed the guy writing the fake reviews was a writer who "bought" one of his reviews; I don't think she had any right to complain if she was buying into it.

Miri Thompson said...

Paying for positive reviews sound unethical to me. But I think paying for someone to review your book honestly--with the chance that the reviewer might pan it--is acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Posing as a book buyer and writing a review under the guise of a consumer is deceptive. It's a bogus testimonial.

The author and paid-reviewer do a disservice to the work by participating in this type of promotion. Remember, as your mother always said, honesty is the best policy.

Deceiving readers should be done in the form of fiction when the author tells the truth that lives in her/his story. Then, and only then, the work speaks for itself. No bogus testimonial required.

Like everyone else, we are watching the process of book buying change exponentially.

Gehayi said...

I think that it's dishonest--especially if the writer and reviewer don't disclose that the review was a paid piece of flattery rather than an honest assessment of the work. And I am certain that this practice will only convince readers not to trust glowing reviews, since the assumption will be that the compliments were bought and paid for, rather than earned through the work's own merits.

BECKY said...

Just another reinforcement that the real world isn't what I wish it would be. I find it sad, but agree that we have to make our own decisions and not just go by what "somebody" said.

Mirka Breen said...

I suppose people who earn a living posting these fake reviews may stoop to defend this, but it is a *seriously yucky-phooey* practice. That's my scientific term for it.

I'm reminded of the joke about the woman who said yes to the man who said he had to have her, and would she sleep with him for a million dollars? When he then said he didn't have a million dollars, would she take a hundred?
"What do you think I am, a prostitute?' she said.
His reply- "We've already established what you are. Now we are negotiating the price."

D.G. Hudson said...

Unethical, IMO. Money warps the best of intentions. Muddying the waters of book reviews lead us to wonder at the validity of the book blurbs and the endorsements we see. I don't read them, they're always glowing.

In marketing isn't this sort of faked reviews called 'false advertising'? Or have scruples become a thing of yesteryear?

I would think this doesn't help self-published books very much.
Dishonesty in any profession stinks.

J.T. Carroll said...

It seems to me that the Times article has done all authors and reviewers a great disservice. There is quite a difference between an author paying for a review and and an author paying for a review and expecting to dictate the outcome. One of the earlier posters noted this inadvertently by saying they trust Kirkus. The Kirkus site charges indie authors for reviews, it may charge publishers as well. The point is not whether the review was paid for or not, it is whether it is objective and truthful. The former is a subjective judgement and the latter is verifiable. And, like a previous commenter said, sample chapters of a book provide a reasonably accurate way of judging both the objectivity and truthfulness of reviews.

I am an indie author and I recently paid for a review from Grub Street reads. Ironically, I got my review the same day the Times article was bouncing around. See how it made me feel: http://jtcarrollmysterywriter.blogspot.com/

Liss Thomas said...

I don't feel it's honest to the reader. I won't hold it against authors who do it but I won't be one of them.

Bernie Brown said...

I do read a lot of reveiws and they pique my interest, but I will always put more value on the recommendation of a friend whose tastes I share than on that of a book reviewer, who is a stranger to me.

LadySaotome said...

Honestly, how pathetic do you have to be to want to buy reviews. It's sad. This is actually why I never read the five-star reviews. And I always start with the one-star reviews and work my way up. It's easier to filter out the trolls starting at the bottom than it is to filter out the drivel on top. And it may be unfair, but if a four-star is only praise with no issues, then I toss it out, too.

E.B. Black said...

I don't like that they are paying for positive reviews. I'll never do this. I may give my book away to normal people in exchange for a review, but I want them to give their real reactions to my book, not fake ones.

The reason it makes me angry is I'm about to be a self-published author and it's hard enough to sell books without dealing with scandals like this.

Mr. D said...

I'll echo the comments that label this practice as dishonest. Because it's basically true. Yes, you can argue that it's essentially the same as a commercial, like those on TV proclaiming the wonders of a product that may or may not be so wonderful at all.

But I would argue that a review is really supposed to be something other than a commercial. It's supposed to be someone's opinion on a work. And, of course, opinions are subjective, so they will inevitably vary.

But if those opinions are not honest ones, then they are misleading by definition. And nothing more than lies.

AR said...

Well, the circus of human behavior has given us something new to laugh at. I love the closing line of the article. "I'm glad she liked it," the guy who used to sell fake reviews says about the reviewer of his own book. Of course, when he reads review of others' books, he distrusts them completely.

In other words, this happened because writers are so vain we will believe a thumbs-up is deserved even if we know we paid for it!

Well, revolutions are invariably excessive and then things go back to equilibrium. Events like this, that bring us down from the publishing DIY high, may be part of that balancing process.

The whole business was completely dishonest of course.

Peter Dudley said...

Not yet having read the NYT piece, I'll say this: Posting a paid review without disclosing that it was paid for is considered deceitful and unethical according to the US federal government (whether the tenor of the review was guaranteed or not).

The FTC regulates such online communication in the US. Here's a quote from its Frequently Asked Questions about online sponsorships: "If you are acting on behalf of an advertiser, what you are saying is commercial speech – and commercial speech can be regulated under the FTC Act if it’s deceptive."

I'm no expert in this area, but it would seem that the ethics are clear.

It appears the FTC cannot actually punish or penalize advertisers who do not disclose the pay-for-play relationship. (For that's what this is: purchased media, which is advertising.) But such practices undermine the entire word-of-mouth system and should be exposed whenever they are not disclosed.

Taylor Napolsky said...

For some reason this whole controversy bores me. I can't wait until publishing news moves on to something else.

I mean, you shouldn't base what you read on Amazon reviews anyway. I always found it incomprehensible. You can click any unknown book on Amazon and the reviews rave about it like it's Jane Eyre.

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Brenna Braaten said...

Generating attention is one thing. Getting your book out to as many people as possible to help spread the word about it is fine, in my opinion. Sharing good reviews in blurbs is also okay. Showing how other people liked it is fine - but I feel it must be genuine.

I do read reviews. I'm a watcher of them. I like to research things before I do them so I'm prepared. I like reading reviews because they are what I thought were honest opinions of other people. While I've never passed on a book because of a less-than-enthusiastic review, I feel there's a sort of covenant there that reviews should be the honest feelings of a review. As a person who has reviewed, I'm appalled that people would lie, as I wouldn't.

On the other hand, as a writer, I'm a little disgusted that people would pay for this service. Getting the word out is one thing. Paying for false praise is a little sad. I understand the temptation of wanting to have people say good things about your work. We work on hard on our stories, and it hurts when people don't enjoy them as much as we do. And it hurts when people don't know about them because there isn't a lot of news out there about it.

However, I think a person's art should stand on it's own. If a story isn't good enough to deserve 50 stellar reviews on its own, then go back to the drawing board and write something new and better. Having fictions about your fiction is kind of tacky. If it's good enough, just getting the word out that it exists should be enough.

February Grace said...

I think it makes life harder for first tme authors who get good reviews because now no one believes they are genuine. I actually check to see if anyone has left me a negative review yet, so maybe people will believe that the people who did review before actually liked the book. That makes me sad.

As far as buying reviews, I wouldn't and as far as 'sockpuppeting'? There is only one word that comes to my mind if you are faking names to review your own book...pathetic.

Andrew Leon said...

Speaking as someone that's been talking about honest, objective reviews for a while, now, I can't stand this practice. It's lying to the consumer and, ultimately, cheating them out of money.

In all honesty, I don't trust reviews, but it's not just the buying of reviews that causes that. Authors, especially independently published authors, are too prone to getting all their friends to 5-star them, and it makes it impossible to tell what's good and what's not.

It's bad for business all around.

The Writing Muse said...

I liken it to the unpopular kid using candy to bribe the other kids on the playground to be his/her friend. An author paying someone to give them a 4/5 star review is a loud and clear message that they know their work is crap.
I don't take much stock in the 4 or 5 star reviews; I read the 1,2,3 starred ones as I want to see why people would rate it so low. Then I read a few pages of the book and decide for myself.

Antonia Murphy said...

It seems a given that it's immoral-- but what else is new? We're all a bunch of flawed capitalists just scrambling to make a living.

The real takeaway for me here is that along with the gold rush of self-publishing, readers are now confronted with an OCEAN of poor-mediocre writing. Ultimately, this will make the "cultural gatekeepers" (honest critics among them!) even more important than they were in the last century.

Matt Bird said...

I think it is wrong to pay for positive reviews. It degrades the whole reviewing system. If I write an honest review of a book that's terrible but the author has paid for 50 glowing reviews then potential buyers will think of me as some boring sod who should be ignored, when in fact it is the glowing reviews that need to be ignored. Amazon has the verified purchase tag for reviewers who brought the item from Amazon and that goes some of the way to fixing the issue.
Is it possible to pay for reviews that are honest, I wonder?

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

I agree with those who have said Amazon (and other online) reviews are not worth much. I generally look at what is said in the one-star reviews to see how specific the reviewer is about what they didn't like. I also don't think it's any worse to create a good review of a book you don't like or haven't read when you're doing it for money than when you do it for love/friendship.

Anonymous said...

Aaand on a related note, how do people feel about a major online distributor manually manipulating book rankings (and admitting it to the authors) to remove books from the bestseller list?

Wait, wait, I know the answer. As long as it's not MY book or something I like to read.

Aimée Jodoin said...

I work for a magazine that writes reviews on only independently published books. While the reviews in the magazine are free to the author/publisher, we also offer reviews which we post on our website (not random Internet reviews, ONLY our website, though we give the publisher permission to use the review however they would like) for a charge.

I am a strong supporter of independently published books, and I love sharing books with readers who may not have found the book otherwise. If working in the business has taught me anything, it is that people (i.e. reviewers) are as honest as they possibly can be without offending anyone. Just because they are being paid and know the publisher has paid the company to review the book does not mean they will deliberately write a positive review in order to prevent backlash on the company or themselves.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that when a publisher or author pays someone for a review, they need to understand that they are paying for an honest opinion and a critical analysis of their book, not a positive marketing miracle. Even if the author receives a negative review, they should still appreciate the well-thought-out results and the time the reviewer spent reading their book, and they should take the reviewer's insights to heart, not become offended or defensive.

Robena Grant said...

If the book is written by a new to me author, I check the reviews. But I always read the 3 star reviews because I find those to be the most honest. If I'm ordering for my Kindle, I get the sample first. If I'm in a bookstore, I read a few pages. If I really like a book I'll post a review.

Authors should have the freedom to do what they think is best for their career. If they want a paid review, fine. If they want to request all of their family members post a review, fine. If they ask all of their friends to "like" them on FB and Amazon and anywhere else, fine. It's their career. The telling is in the book. If it is good, readers will return. If they've been scammed, they won't.

Bryan Russell said...

I wouldn't trust someone who took money for positive reviews, as it sort of makes the review pointless. It would be like reading the author's review of their own book, paid to order. And anyone who takes payment directly from an author for a review would be putting themselves in danger of that, whether intentionally or not. Give bad reviews and the money would dry up... give positive reviews and the money comes in. That's financial pressure for basic dishonesty.

I suppose you can find out basic information about the book, which may be useful in determining whether you want to read it or not. But why would I listen to a recommendation by someone who was paid to recommend it positively? What's the point?

I suppose it depends on the form it takes a bit; are we talking about a real review, or something more like a paid advertisement? If it purports to be an honest review that is objectively evaluating a book and it's not... not so good. But if it's clearly set out more like an advertisement in article form, that might be something else.

Annie said...

This has gotten so out of hand. Paying people to write a review seems as squirmy to me as telling Americans there are WMD's in Iraq so hoist a gun and go to war. Where is the honesty in publishing? It's one thing if those contributors truly believe in the author's work, but if they are doing it for pay or payback, that is crap.

Nancy Thompson said...

I never knew about this practice until a friend interviewed best-selling British author David Kessler on her blog. He sternly advocates the use of counterfeit reviews as a tool every author should employ. I find this form of perjury egregious to all readers. And as an author, I would never stoop to this level. My book must be good enough to stand on its own merits.

Laurie Boris said...

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I would never buy a review. I've spent a few dollars on promotions, but a review? No.

Kristin Laughtin said...

It's cheating, deceptive, and skeezy. If it becomes a common practice (i.e. well-known enough that the average reader knows about it), all it will do is undermine honest reviews left by well-meaning people. Readers will start distrusting all reviews unless they know the source, so the practice will just end up being self-defeating.

Melissa said...

The problem with paid positive reviews is that they are directly linked to sales, giving the book an artificial boost over other books that might equal in quality or the same. Once the product reaches a certain tipping point, it goes viral, such as the case of Locke. This is true of any product, be it a book, a blender or a miracle diet pill. So paid reviews are no big news to me, although I find this practice odious. I made the assumption that everyone knew that this was common practice but that it was being hush-hushed for some reason. Obviously, Locke isn't the only writer who's doing it.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

What do I think about writers paying for positive reviews?

Well, they'd be fools to pay for *negative* reviews! (rim shot)
But seriously ...
I've never done it and don't plan to. It doesn't surprise me that others have done it.

Mostly what I feel is a vague annoyance that this will probably draw the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which maintains an ongoing interest in making sure that paid endorsements are clearly labeled as such. And I'm guessing the FTC may come up with more rules that will make it harder for those of us who aren't paying or getting paid to just give our opinions online without jumping through a bunch of hoops.

Jake Richert said...

The only thing close to this that I've done is except an offer for a free e-file of a book in exchange for a written review (or two or three) right before the book's official launch. But I wasn't asked to write a positive review. (Though one of Mr. Rutherford's clients "commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable" subsequently becoming a best seller...so, hmmm. Maybe I'm a Rutherford.)

Some of those books were priced at $30+, but is that $30+ saved a commission (assuming I was going to buy the book at all at full price)? I've done this for authors that I liked and believed in, and I read the books first so I wasn't like the employ who lamented that she wished she had actually read some of the books she reviewed.

I usually examine the quality of the info and message in a review. If it's all positive (or negative) adjectives but very little about what the work specifically offers to readers (more specific than "it will change your life"), I'm just as in the dark as before I began reading the review. Isn't the point to shine light? Isn't the sign of a reviewer actually having read a work a detailed review? Though I also quickly check Amazon when I first hear about an author/book to see the reviews, I know that I'm risking a waste of my time when all of the reviews are more praise (or hate-speech) than anything of substance. I hope that others can see these fluff reviews for what they are.

The economy is still recovering. I don't want to punish someone for making a quick income for doing nothing illegal but I don't want to necessarily reward an author for putting their money into fluff reviews either. A potenital reader's savvy may be the best remedy for this.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me like it's analagous to athletes using steroids or Hollywood promoting its own films.

MaryAnn Pope said...

I understand the contempt for paying for positive reviews. As consumers we'd really like a safe place where we can get the honest truth about a product, whatever it may be, but the internet will never be that place. It is too easy to hide, to be anonymous, to be deceitful.

I read the NY Times article and this particular passage caught my attention.

"Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth. They purport to be testimonials of real people, even though some are bought and sold just like everything else on the commercial Internet.

Mr. Liu estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service."

False product reviews isn't just something that self-published authors do, or even unique to the publishing world. It is just part of the on going battle between sellers wanting to attract consumers and consumers wanting fair, objective information on products they are considering buying.

As an aspiring writer who would love to make it my career, I understand where these self-publishing writers are coming from. From the NY Times article, there was reported more than 300,000 books self published books last year. How can a self-published author hope to be found in that haystack?

I think we all have this beautiful dream that if we write a great book our audience will find it, but it doesn't matter how great a book is, no one is going to read it unless they can find it.

So this whole thing about authors buying positive reviews is just an attempt to attract some attention in an over-crowded market. I don't blame them for trying.

Self-publishing is easy, but self-promotion is tough. That's one of the main reasons I want to go the traditional route. Yeah, I know authors have to do some self-promoting there too, but at least they have other people invested in their book for help.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

I have never paid for a review, positive or otherwise.

But I know some published authors--or their publishers--do pay for reviews.

So I guess the real question isn't so much, to me, how do I feel about paying for positive reviews as much as paying for reviews at all, since most often a writer, or publisher, is more likely to pay a reviewer for a positive review than a negative one, and likely reviewers, and reviewing companies--not just the one mentioned in the article--know that.

So, like writing advertising copy for a product that may or may not be good for the public, I'm certain there are people merely offering their skills (persuasive writing?) for a fee. But I hope to refrain from the temptation, as the goal for me is to get readers--but not pay liars to get them for me.

As an example, I stole this from a website of a well-known (reputable?) reviewing "service" for authors. It comes from their service particularly for "indie" and self-published authors:

"Simply request a review by clicking the link above. You'll give us as much information possible about your book, choose whether you want standard service (7-9 weeks) or express service (4-6 weeks) and pay for your review (standard service $425, express service $575)."

When I was looking for/hoping for reviews, I was "shocked, shocked" to find ANYONE charging for them.

Now, I'm just adding it to the list of disappointments in what some in academe like to still call American literature, and what I see as marketing of just another product to make the marketers money.

ChulaSlim said...

I never have and never will pay for a review. Although I've solicited free reviews, all of my reviews, both good and bad, are honest opinions and I've learned from them.
However I'll say that the ratings are a different matter. Many people search for books by ratings and the decision of a site like Amazon to promote your book weighs heavily on the ratings. Visibility also hinges on ratings. It's tempting to pay for high ratings regardless of the actual review, because it directly affects the success or failure of a book.
As for me, I'll let the readers decide.

Sam Mills said...

1) I find this wholly unethical. Paying for a single rave review is dishonest. Paying one person to pretend to be 50 people? Ugh.

2) Uh, authors: this can really backfire. If I buy a book with mediocre reviews, and it is mediocre, okay I got what I expected. If I buy a book with RAVE reviews ("this is the best thing ever five stars!!") and it is mediocre? Then it seem even suckier by comparison. Sure you conned me out of the price of one book, but I will never give another one of your books a shot again-- I'll just assume the rave reviews for your other books are by the same people (either fake, or holding very different standards than I do).

JDuncan said...

Is it wrong per se? No. There are no rules in place for this kind of commentary. If one wants to pay for reviews, so be it. Free country and all that. It's a problem when there's no transparency. As a reader I want to know the basis of reviewer opinion. As it stands now, we have to make the assumption that the review is put up there honestly, i.e. they bought the book on their own, read the whole thing, and decided to produce an opinion about it. Once money is introduced, that honesty goes out the window. Objectivity is gone or at the very least, significantly influenced. Anyone who tells me they could be paid to give positive reviews and not have their reading experience skewed by this, I would say "bullshit." The brain just doesn't function that way.

So, while on one level, this practice is kosher, it's deceptive to the reader, and the biggest problem with that is, this practice only works if the deception remains in place. Once a reader knows there is influence, the validity of the review goes out the window. At least it does for me. I hope they figure out a way to stop this. Or, you know, maybe authors who do this will realize it's actually not very cool to deceive readers and stop doing it. Find your success through more worthy means.

JDuncan said...

And as mentioned elsewhere, paid review services like Kirkus, where there is no expectation for a positive or negative review, are not what I'm talking about. I'm only talking about payment for specific outcomes. I suppose this could work on the opposite end as well, where people are paid to 1-star books that are direct competition to an author. That's a scary thought.

Naja Tau said...

I think it's a little white collar... because I really depend on reviews in order to make decisions about whether or not to buy a product!

It also seems impatient to pay for reviews. I only have one review for my first novel, but I wouldn't trade the richness of waiting for thorough and unbiased reviews for anything. I'm going to keep doing Kindle giveaways until I build up a buzz for my series.

As a consumer, it's gotten to the point where I won't even bother reading a book on Kindle that doesn't have extremely analytical and descriptive passages about what the book meant to them- whether positive or negative or a bit of both. (I've been totally burned by several four and five star Kindle books!)

So now, WHO reads the book is just as important to me as the book itself.

Mary Horner said...

39Some television commercials are designed to look like regular programming, and some magazine and newspaper ads are designed to look like editorial content. But, they must identify themselves as ads. On a local news show that features extended features, many spotlight local businesses and a message is scrawled across the bottom that the segment was a paid ad. I don't have a problem if this information is made available to me. When it is not, then I question the ethics of the participants, and wonder what they are trying to hide.

Reticulan said...

In general, I don't see anything wrong with an honest, paid review. Isn't Kirkus paid by the publisher? Otherwise, how do they make their money? If that's the way it works, how is that different from them charging an indie author for the same service?

Paying for a positive review is another matter entirely. That is dishonest, in my view.

Anonymous said...

This happens for real?!!! To ask/pay for one review, as long as it's honest, seems okay, BUT 50??? Oh no, no, no! That is definetely unfair to those of us who go about our work the right way! And although I feel I've been smacked upside the head with a tennis raquet with this info, I'm also saddened that it doesn't shock me as much as it should. Wow, the things people will do for a buck and a review... :( Not cool in the way of ethics...

Neil Larkins said...

I agree with the majority here that it's wrong and for the most part, self-defeating for the author. If readers find out a positive review has been paid for they won't buy the book no matter how glowing the report. So, the money has been wasted.
[Incidentally, thanks for posting that painting. I remember seeing it at the Kimble Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas around 1992 or so. It was in a show with other classic Rennaissance paintings. A huge work - the characters nearly life size - and absolutely fabulous! Having tried my hand at painting fabric I can appreciate the accomplishment of this artist in making it look so convincing you think you're looking at the real thing.

Anonymous said...

There will always be those fake glowing reviews and they are obvious. Smart consumers know how to machete through the BS. For example, I was excited to read The Tiger's Wife, but after reading a few amazing reviews I found the true ones. How did I know they were real? A common truth was in all of them, that the book was like short stories pasted together. I passed on reading it despite the "awesome" reviews and found another novel that was genuinely incredible.

Mike Ramberg said...

Finally a guy starts making money as a writer and everyone's all, like, "Hey, he can't make money as a writer!" And he's all, like, "Sure I'm a writer!" And they're, like, "But you write fake reviews for books that probably suck!" and he's all, "They're real reviews for real books. What's your point?" And they're all like, "But the person who wrote the book is supposed to make money, not you," and he's all, like, rolling his eyes and stuff.

I'm not sure what anyone expected to happen, but this isn't much of a surprise.

Mira said...

Nathan,

Thank you so much for noting that the bad press directed toward indie authors on this is skewed and unfair, since traditionally published authors have similar motivations and may have purchased Rutherford's or other similar services as well.

The New York Times has an anti-indie slant, and this article reinforces that by only naming indie authors.

The reality is that buying good reviews is an old tradition. Publishers buy reviews in journals through purchasing advertising, glad-handing and other sorts of tactics. Blurbs solicted on books are sometimes paid for, etc. Money may not always be exchanged, but there is plenty of tit-for-tat between authors, as well people soliciting friends and family who may not even have read the book, etc.

This is not something new, but Rutherford did it front and center, rather than behind the scenes, which brought it to everyone's attention.

Thank you for your fair response to this, Nathan.

Leanne Bridges said...

I don't read reviews, and I wouldn't rely on them to help me choose a novel to read. I think that readers needs and wants vary so vastly that only I can be the judge of what I would and wouldn't enjoy. The blurb and a few randomly selected pages are how I choose. ( I don't have an e-reader, so it's just hard copies for me).

As for paying for reviews, it's a marketing tool used in many industries, but I do not agree with it. At all.

J.C. Martin said...

Even an establishment as respectable as the Kirkus Reviews charge for reviewing indie books. Sadly, I see no feasible way of moderating this. I have heard of authors going it on their own, creating sock-puppet accounts to give themselves 5* ratings. While I don't do this, it sadly goes with the territory, and it's frustrating to think that for every hard-earned, genuine 5* review I get, someone else has dozens of phony ones that devalues mine.

Laura B. said...

What - now we can pay to be popular?
Authors already have problems dealing with reviewers that offer opinions in the realm of sticky sweet or viciously hateful. The practice of paying someone to review you only makes me doubt the validity of a recommendation more. There was a time when choosing to purchase a book was a deciding factor based upon content of reviews by other readers. I guess that reliability is out the window! It's sad we've reached a point where marketability takes precedence over ethics.

Mehmet Erkurt said...

It's hard for me to totally trust on reviews especially in my home country Turkey where literary magazines are so bound with publishing houses who pay for the advertisements they gave them. There is a quite close commercial relationship. Other reason, publishing sector is quite narrow, authors and reviewers mostly know each other, hence the reviews are more inclined to be positive. There are more recommendations and less critics. I am a half-publisher myself, but as a reader, I prefer to hear my friends recommendations than the reviews.

A. M. Perkins said...

Pay for good reviews?

Pshaw! That's what family and friends are for! ;-)

But seriously, this feels so wrong on so many levels.

Kat Sheridan said...

If I were a sociopath (and nobody's been able to prove anything, so I'm sticking with "IF"), I would be laughing maniacally at all the darling, naive, self-righteous newbies while standing in line at the bank to cash my million dollar checks (like John Locke).

In the dark old days, before I learned much about how the real world works, I would walk into a bookstore and immediately be confronted with a large table stacked high with books, and some splashy sign saying something like "New and Notable!". And I would think "some intelligent, discerning book seller has read these books and thinks they are worthy of my attention!" Same with end cap displays. And books face out instead of spine out. I had not a clue in the world that a PUBLISHER PAID for this placement, this inferred endorsement, this implied "good review" of the work.

How is paying for a review any different than that? If your tradtional pubbed contract included something that said the marketing departmet would be paying for end cap placement, you'd be crowing to all your friends about it (I know authors, and I've been the recipient of such crowing emails from them).

And honestly, when you go to the grocery and see all those red and white cans of Campbells lined up at eye level, you don't really beleive it's because that soup is a better quality than the store brand on the bottom shelf, do you? I mean you DO know they paid for that placement, right? Is that unethical, or is it simply good business to do what it takes to improve ones "discoverability"? Whether it's front table placement or a paid review that raises your ranking, what's the difference?

The average reader (the millions how, sadly, DON'T read Nathan or the NYT), have no clue a review is fake or that a publisher paid for visibility. How can people yelp about "ethics", when ethics has nothing to do with it, and sales has everything to do with it. Aren't authors, especially indies, always reminding one another this is a business? And isn't it your business to sell books?

Do I think paid reviews are scummy? Maybe. Would I do it? Well, that "sociopath" thing hasn't been proven (yet), but no, I do trust my work and have to look myself in the mirror daily.

Sommer Leigh said...

And this is why I have a handful of book bloggers I read regularly with similar tastes to mine. Good book bloggers leave positive and negative reviews and I love them for their honesty and analysis.

Kaila said...

Not all that surprised, disappointed but ever since I read Matched, which claimed to be the best book since the hunger games, I don't trust them too much, or I just look at the source of where the reviews come from. That kind of sucks though. Very sneaky, and a cheat.

Daniel McNeet said...

Nathan,

Word of mouth is best. Readers are smart. They will be able to check easily whether the author paid for a review. Then the reader can make a decision to buy. Buying a review does not mean the book is not worthy, just suspect.

K. M. Walton said...

It's not how it's supposed to be. Plain and simple.

AR said...

It's inaccurate to call this capitalism. Where was the capital, the investors? This was just shady business. And I know some smart-mouth is going to pop up and say, "shady business" is redundant - but that's inaccurate, too. Or rather, it's hyperbole that's funny only until it's believed to be literal truth. Without business none of us can live. With dishonest business, there's a subtle theft of power.

Kat Sheridan said...

AR, isn't the AUTHOR the investor? Capitalism doesn't mean some third party investing, as in venture capital. An author invests capital in himself.

thewriteedge said...

How pathetic!! As a reviewer, I'm insulted that someone thinks s/he could bribe me to make him/her look good. And that person doesn't realize that the insult goes back to the work requiring the review. As the author/creator of your work, do you not have enough faith in your story that you'll let it stand on its own merit? If you're such an insecure writer that you feel like you need to pay someone off to say nice things about your work, DON'T BE A WRITER!!!

Donna Brown said...

In a way, the relationship between a writer and a paid reviewer is similar to the relationship between a business man and a paid escort. A John pays the paid escort to gush over him and act like he's the most important person in the room. It's the same way with a writer and a paid reviewer.

Anonymous said...

@ Kat Sheridan

"If I were a sociopath (and nobody's been able to prove anything, so I'm sticking with "IF"), I would be laughing maniacally at all the darling, naive, self-righteous newbies while standing in line at the bank to cash my million dollar checks (like John Locke)."

I'm no newbie, and I know it takes more than paid reviews to make a big book.

What you have to realize is that the majority who are making money on these paid reviews are the people writing them. The authors, for the most part, are wasting their time and money. The few who have made money this way are in the minority.

petemorin said...

More troubling than the practice, I think, is the defiant attitude of some of the writers - "So what?" they say, with total disregard for this thing called "ethics."

Yet I wonder if the practice of big name authors' providing their endorsements is any less dubious - do they really read the book before exclaiming that so-and-so is "the next John Grisham?"

Whirlochre said...

It's like paying a vampire to suck on your neck in the hope that all your friends will go WOW!

Chrystal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chrystal said...

I'm not too man at John Locke in finding an enterprising lucrative scheme. However, I am a bit disappointed that he felt the need to be ridiculously greedy - greed is always the downfall.

As a Book Review Writer, my time is valuable too and I would Loooove to get paid to review a book - Alas, I do not - I wonder is it because I attempt to write an honest assessment of what I thought of the book. Do note, in my reviews I never try to slam an author for their work, because although I may not care for it, other readers may. An honest review does not have to equate to a negative or nasty review.
Happy reading.

JG said...

These "reviews" are promotions and should be categorized accordingly. Like when movies come out on dvd: "critics are calling "____" the #1 movie of the year", "a must-see"... These are promotional plugs not real reviews for the consumer and it seems to me that's exactly how these "buy-for-high" reviews are.
Also, a lot of big-name and blogger reviewers refuse to read self-published books so I think Indie authors are more desperate and willing to find ANYONE with any kind of platform to review their book. Any article you read about self-publishing always stressed the importance of getting your work seen and out there.
This said, I do think it's deceptive to the reader and another cheap shot by authors who maybe should have spent more time writing a solid, gripping novel instead of money for a (possibly) dishonest review. Are we loosing some integrity in the writing world?

JG said...

These "reviews" are promotions and should be categorized accordingly. Like when movies come out on dvd: "critics are calling "____" the #1 movie of the year", "a must-see"... These are promotional plugs not real reviews for the consumer and it seems to me that's exactly how these "buy-for-high" reviews are.
Also, a lot of big-name and blogger reviewers refuse to read self-published books so I think Indie authors are more desperate and willing to find ANYONE with any kind of platform to review their book. Any article you read about self-publishing always stressed the importance of getting your work seen and out there.
This said, I do think it's deceptive to the reader and another cheap shot by authors who maybe should have spent more time writing a solid, gripping novel instead of money for a (possibly) dishonest 5-star review. Are we loosing some integrity in the writing world?

Jason Runnels said...

I do think it is a little dishonest, whether by a self-published author or not. If the book is good, then there is nothing wrong with a little bit of "selling", but it still shows limited integrity on the author's part.

But should anyone really be so surprised? If we ask the front desk at a hotel where is a good place to eat, they have a glowing list of recommended restaurants usually paid for in kickbacks by, yep, then restaurants.

Helen Baggott - affordable proofreading for eBooks said...

I regularly review books and it's never occurred to me that I could charge.

If an author sends me their book and it's dire, I contact the author and explain why I can't recommend people buy it.

Yes, I could write a bad review - but I expect their friends and family will write a dozen good ones to cancel mine out and I don't have time to worry about it.

mtmcguire said...

As a reader, yes, I look at reviews but it's usually easy to spot a fake.

To be honest, the blurb and the way the book is pitched on its information page tells me a lot about whether it's the kind of thing I want to read. If it's full of Neuro Linguistic Programming power words, or I'm being overtly sold to in any other way, I tend to pass. I certainly shy away from sweeping phrases about how good it is. I'll decide that, what I want to know is what the book is about.

If I'm hooked by the blurb it's usually enough, but I'll always have a quick squint at the look inside feature first. If there isn't a look inside I will be wary.

As an author would I pay for a review?

It depends... there are many impartial review sites who require a 'donation' before they will read your book and review it. I tend to avoid them but even so they are pay per review even if they are impartial.

However, I would never pay anyone to make their review favourable. Why would I? If I don't believe my writing can stand on its own why would I put it out there.

In a nutshell then:

1. People are smart enough to spot a fake review and authors who buy them only have themselves to blame if their books aren't up to scratch and they end up catching a lot of flack and looking like an arse.
2. It takes confidence to sell a book. If you need to buy a fake review, you don't have enough belief in your work; the chances are it isn't ready for publication.
3. It's cheating. Although I'm sure the interns in the big publishing houses end up writing them for the house names.

The thing is, the shelf life of an e-book is infinite. You don't have to be an overnight success. Frankly I reckon that if I've written a decent book, I'll stand or fall by what's in it.

Sorry, long rambly answer but that's my two pennorth.

MTM

Mia said...

Are you sure this is relevant to reality? I paid for a review, and got a horrid result (two stars); I sent in my book to a reviewer for FREE and I got a wonderful result (four stars). I paid just to get reviewed, not to get reviewed beautifully!

Sheila Cull said...

Hey Bransford.

Paying for reviews is like paying for somebody (not to cut or groom)but to look at your hair and say either, "Looks good," or, "It could look better, pay some more money, we'll see, then it might improve."

I think it's desperate, foolish.

You asked!

Later B-Ford

Mira said...

So, it's interesting. From Passive Guy's blog, I found out that two authors recently admitted to doing this.

They are not indie, they are legacy published authors.

R.J. Elloy:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9515593/RJ-Ellory-detected-crime-writer-who-faked-his-own-glowing-reviews.html

And Orlando Figgs:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/7624186/Award-winning-historian-Orlando-Figes-I-posted-anonymous-reviews-on-Amazon.html

Thought folks might be interested.

Anonymous said...

The quality of amazon reviews has dropped over the last couple of years. I've found that the most honest reviews are those posted within the first week of a book showing up. Once more than a week has passed, the reviews are censored.

Anonymous said...

Paying for reviews is foolish. As soon as it's discovered, one's career is in serious jeopardy.

Fred said...

Well, if you're gonna pay for reviews, or create suck puppet accounts to bolster your books and denigrate others, all I can say is don't get caught.

Anonymous said...

I don't like this practice, but it is obviously effective. I myself read review of books I know nothing about to find out more, and am definitely swayed by an articulate positive or negative opinion. And the bad thing is - there is no way anyone can tell if these are genuine opinions or paid for. It is not something, as has been suggested in many comments here, that is ever going to be found out - you can guess all you like - for most reviews, we are never going to know.

Annette said...

Very interesting comments. Some comments have been that they would depend on word of mouth. Question: whose word and whose mouth? In this day of publishing where we are all trying to gain some "ear and eye"for the word, we need to do what we can. When we hire companies to go on blog tours, and reviews are part of that this is in a way is part of paying for the review so that your or my book will be noticed for a nanosecond so that a potential reader will experience it. We are all finding our way to be noticed. Not to different to the "likes" and tags which change statistics on certain places. Write the best book you can and then find a way for the reading public to find you. Reviews work, from mom or dad, or friends and the occasional reader and perhaps even those who read for money.

Lauren Jagger said...

Well...I'm an indie author and I've used paid review services! Don't see anything wrong with it--it's obviously a vanity/paid advertising service, but it's the author's choice when it comes to marketing.

And for the record, i've used
www.PennBookReview.com
and they are very helpful, critical, and professional. I fell like I got exactly what I was looking for--reviews and marketing!

Also, I fell that, rather than actually paying for the review--I paid for someone to manage my marketing strategy so that I could write more. & here is the other thing--I didn't get a five star bogus review--I got a thoughtful, creative, and professional one--more useful in my opinion.

Thanks.

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