14 September 2011

Paid Online Book Reviews--the Good, the Bad, the Dilemma

             My new adventure started when I read this headline in the New York Times.
            David Streitfeld’s article covers paid reviews of hotels, products, and services, but here’s the paragraph that caught me eye:
            “Sandra Parker, a freelance writer who was hired by a review factory this spring to pump out Amazon reviews for $10 each, said her instructions were simple. ‘We were not asked to provide a five-star review, but would be asked to turn down an assignment if we could not give one. …’”

Hubble: gaseous outer layers of star reaching the end of its life

            What? “Review factories?” For books?
            Here’s why the review factories are sproutin’ up, this from the Book Marketing Maven blog:
“I cite a study by the Yale School of Management concluding that book reviews on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites affect sales of individual books, and also increase total sales on the sites.”

Hubble Observes Infant Stars in Nearby Galaxy
            Alas. As I stepped into deeper waters with this, an ethical dilemma arose: what does an author do if they publish independently? None of the big guys review self-published authors. And with the proliferation of writers being forced to self-publish because traditional publishing houses only want best sellers, what are an author’s choices when it comes to marketing themselves? Authors are forced to join social media groups, start a blog, do their own publicity and promotion (even if they’re NYC published), and find ways to break through the tidal wave of crap that washes to shore.
            Can we fault writers for hiring the services of a “review factory,” such as gettingbookreviews.com, to boost their review results on sites such as Amazon? Is it true desperate times call for desperate measures?
            Ah, dear readers, drop anchor a minute. Here’s the worst bilge: the reviewers for many of these services don’t even read the books. Nay! They read a synopsis provided by the author.
            So how, then, do readers know what’s credible and what’s not? Accordin’ to the David Streitfeld article and his sources, the experts couldn’t tell the difference between legit reviews and non. However, they do offer some tips:
            1) Look for overuse of the first person singular—I, I, I
            2) Non-legit reviews seem stuffed with adverbs and exclamation points.

            I asked me parrot to write a fake review and she came up with this:
            I really really loved this novel!! I couldn’t put it down because it was incredibly awesomely good and I just love incredibly awesomely good books!!
            Sorry, my parrot loves Valley Girl speak, but you get the idea.
Written in the stars
             So this piece of rock is tricky navigatin’ for readers. For an indepth, articulate article on the pros and cons of the subject, visit The Populist Publisher.

My Question for You
All pirates on deck! Do you read reviews at Amazon or Barnes & Nobel? How do you determine whether you’ll buy the book or not? Do you have a bilge meter? Or do you go a different route? Leave me a comment. Know a way to uncover the fake reviewers? Let's help each other.

My Five Star Review (yes, I'm mixing my mediums)

            I leave you with a quote about my favorite Beatle, George Harrison. Martin Scorsese’s new documentary about him George Harrison: Living in the Material World will be aired over two nights on HBO October 5 & 6th.

“He was a naughty boy, you know—an artist, a pirate. But his meditation left him well prepared for his death. He said he was ready to leave his body. He was always a ‘No need to panic’ kind of person.”  —Olivia Harrison, his wife

            Full sail ahead, maties, and no need to panic,
            Captain Val

Fashionable Writer-Pirates: What They're Wearing This Season
What it Takes to be a Writer

And … an unusual interview with cartoonist Jan Eliot of “Stone Soup”


Sue Ann Bowling said... [Reply to comment]

I had a couple of paid reviews (one was part of a contest entry) for my first book, but they posted them on their own websites and I could check ratings of other authors in the same genre. Mostly fours and fives. (The authors had the option of not having poor review posted.) Very few five star reviews, so I fest mine were deserved..

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

@Sybilla Cook via email:
Interesting--! I’ve reviewed for several major lib. journals as well as the newspaper--and it never dawned on me my feeble pay depended on a good review.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

@Sue Ann Bowling Hi Sue Ann, I'm not sure I understand. Did you pay for the reviews? Or did you write the reviews and the author posted them on their websites? Thanks for clarifying and commenting. A brave new world out there for writers.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

@Lou via email:
"I got my girl scout badge in cynicism a long time ago.
I only buy warranteed items or recommended materials from trusted friends."

Thanks for the laugh, Lou!

Julie Farrar said... [Reply to comment]

Hi Valerie. I'm passing on to you a couple of blog awards for your love of Paris and your writing style. You can see more over on my blog. Have a good weekend.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

@Julie Farrar Julie, I'm gobsmacked and honored! Huzzah! Pirate celebrations abound and you're being toasted by the crew. Would that we could meet up in Paris for the toast, n'est-ce pas? Merci beaucoup!

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

@Ellen Shurtleff via email I don't read Amazon or Barnes & Noble reviews, but then I almost never buy new books, either, when the cost of one book can buy me a week's groceries. I always take any book review with a large grain of salt, especially if it's gushy and full of glittering generalities.
By the way, where is this interview with Jan Eliot which you have been teasing us with for months now? Does it really exist, or are you using it just to get us to keep reading your blogs? That doesn't work with me because our local newspaper, The Medford Mail Tribune, doesn't even carry "Stone Soup." Perhaps you are holding Jan hostage aboard your pirate ship and she refuses to grant the interview.