Things are Changing – with Poll

Two very interesting posts came out last week signifying major shifts in publishing and how self-publishing may be regarded.  This article is a must read: Adding to the Bottom Line With Self-Published Titles.  Thie gist of the article is this: self-published titles are not the money-drain they used to be and now can be seen as a way for bookstore to…wait for it…turn a profit:

At the 20,000-square-foot Boulder Bookstore in Boulder Colorado, Arsen Kashkashian said self-published books are “definitely a growth market for us.” After getting “inundated” with local authors looking to sell their self-published books, the bookstore instituted a policy and fee structure loosely modeled on publishers’ co-op policies. Self-published books are taken on consignment, and authors are charged a basic one-time stocking fee of $25. The fee goes up from there for a book’s newsletter placement, website promotion, etc. There is also a fee for participation at events, which usually feature several authors who divide the cost. As long as the book looks professionally bound, Boulder Bookstore will accept it on consignment. By the end of the year, Boulder will stock about 100 self-published titles on its shelves.

Some may be dissapointed, as this is a pay to play model of publishing, and granted, it’s unfeasibly to spend $25 at bookstores all over the country to carry a book.  Still, it’s a significant development in that it shows how bookstores are adapting to the new environment and seeing self-published books as a way to actually make money, rather than books put out by less-than-talented writers who have no business being on the shelves.  As the article goes on, “Kashkashian noted that self-published books are of a much higher quality than 10 or 15 years ago, and they often hit a niche that books from the big houses can’t.”

More: “Viewpoint Books in Columbus, Indiana, also carries self-published books on consignment and has seen a positive effect on sales.” Consignment isn’t anything new, but the fact that consignment is leading to better sales is significant.

Still, the problem is that this is mostly for local authors.  National distribution for self-published authors still remains the Great White Whale of self-publishing.

Authors of the Future

Nathan Bransford has a great post titled Will Authors of the Future need Publishers? He writes:

The industry right now is facing a looming restructuring as e-books become more and more a part of the landscape. And as e-books become more and more common publishers will increasingly see their raison d’etre challenged by digital and self-publishing.

Right now, with e-books hovering somewhere around 5% of sales, authors still need publishers…But what about in the future if e-books become 50% or more of an author’s sales?  You don’t need infrastructure to distribute e-books: you just need an Internet connection….

I really don’t think publishers are going to disappear entirely. The package of services and expertise they offer are unmatched (when things are running as they should), and it would be extremely difficult for Authors of the Future to navigate all of the complexities of making a bestselling book of the future by themselves.

I don’t think publishers are going to be obsolete either, but as Bransford goes on, publishers will be more service-based, rather than gatekeeper-based.  One of the more positive things to come out of a bad economy is that it leads to a restructuring of the system that led to the initial recession.  A growing number of bookstores now see self-published titles as a viable economic opportunity.  Publishers are seeing self-published sales as an economic opportunity as well.

We just have to wait for ebooks to become 50% of the market and the Espresso Book Machine to be at your local Walgreen’s before the restructuring of publishing is complete.

Paying for Reviews

On a somewhat-related note, I want to revisit the idea of paid-for reviews.  It’s just a different media world right now, which means there needs to be a different model for how web-based vehicles make money.  Fox is experimenting with a subscription model for news sites – which is not likely to be successful because you can find the same information for free elsewhere. But at least it’s an example of old media trying to adapt to the new media environment and shows how you can’t look at monetization online through the same lens as you view old media.

The old criticism is that a paid-for review cannot be honest.  To this I ask, Why not?  If a reviewer is able to retain objectivity, what is the problem with payment coming from the writer – this is no different than the pay-to-play model at the Boulder bookstore mentioned above.  What’s worse: not being reviewed due to the impossibility of reviewing the thousands of self-published books that come out every year – which are going to grow in years to come – or gathering together a reliable stable of reviewers who will review books in a timely fashion because they are being paid for it.  Most of the POD review sites review a few books a month.  What really needs to happen is for a site to review several books a week, which is much less likely to occur with a free review system.

The main issue I have is with accessibility. The advantage of self-publishing is that no one is locked out of the gates.  And charging for reviews means those that can’t afford it won’t be able to get a review.  Money and publishing are a bad mixture, as has been shown with the marketing madness in mainstream publishing.  But if the cost is kept well below the exorbitant prices of Kirkus reviews ($400), it’s less of a barrier.

I am not just playing devil’s advocate here.  I am actually trying to figure out a way to review more writers and find a way to bring in quality reviewers who might be attracted by paid reviews – even if it’s a relatively small amount – $30 or so per review.

So, taking that all into account:

[poll over]
  • Henry:

    It takes awhile, but one can get unpaid reviews. I have over a dozen for “The Shenandoah Spy” and none were paid for. Of course it costs about ten bucks to actually send a review copy, but the big problem with reviews, paid by the author or not, is the reviewer who does not actually read the book and reviews from press releases or slective reading of a few chapters or pages. In this day of “anyone can be a reviewer” we need standards and code of ethics, and editorial direction.

    If reviewers are to be paid, then $30 is not enough to assure a quality review. Reviews used to be one of the training grounds for freelance writers. I quit the Los Angeles Daily News when the new book editor, in an effort to trim costs, cut my fee from $125 to $50. It wasn’t really the money, but no freelancer can afford to be bullied into taking less for the same work.

  • I think the question that should be asked here is whether or not authors would be wiling to pay a fee to have their books reviewed on this site. This is a well-known, highly trafficked website, and as has been seen with the John Lacombe Winter Games review, even getting a negative review brings publicity here. Possibly moreso than a generally positive review. I honestly do not see how an author paying for a book review to a site that is literally inundated with authors wanting their books reviewed can be in any way seen as a conflict of interest or somehow unethical. The publishing model is changing in all areas, with newspapers completely cutting out or slashing dramatically their book review pages, so with editors dumping those paid writers, it only seems logical that the authors themselves would pay for the publicity of a review on a highly trafficked site. As an author myself, I can tell you unequivecally that I would have paid good dough to have certain sites consider my book for review over the 10,000 others sitting in the piles. How is that any different than a publisher deciding that their top tier books (i.e. those books that they have loads of advance cash and promo money already invested in) “need” the most publicity and therefore pay Barnes & Noble and Borders to put those books on the front tables or for Entertainment Weekly to review those books? The entire system is set up like this. It always has been set up like this. It is a caste system in a capitalistic society and like it or not, I don’t see it going anywhere soon. Any aspiring author needs to consider–whether they go the self-pubbed route or actually do land that dream book deal–that unless you got a 6 figure advance (HIGH 6 figure), you face the same exact hurdles as far as publicity and reviews as someone who has published through lulu. And you’d better be prepared to shell out some cash for publicity purposes if you want this ride to last longer than that first book. Selling the second one is even harder. Getting people to know your book exists in the first place, “major” published or not, is the hardest trick of all to pull off. Anybody want to buy a book?

  • I thought Podler beat this horse to death already???? If you want to charge for reviews, then charge for reviews. What’s the worst that could happen? People look elsewhere for reviews, and your site traffic drops. And I don’t think using the pay-to-stock at a bookstore sufficiently justifies your intent. If you are running a business and you want to “get paid,” then just admit it and charge for your services. Do realise though that this will blur the line between being a true advocate and a lobbyist.

    What I am trying to say with that statement is: Perception is everything. Doesn’t matter what your real intentions are, it’s how it will be perceived. You’ve already had some issue with perception already on this site. No amount of rhetoric is going to change a perception. For most people, the definition of an advocate is someone who volunteers their time to further a cause they believe in. “Getting paid” doesn’t enter into the equation. Volunteering is a selfless act, an act without compensation. For most people, a lobbyist is someone to tries to influence others to further a cause and his opinion is bought and paid for. Volunteer = honest and Lobbyist = dishonest. This is the perception.

    The second hurdle is the already grim perception of self-published authors. Paying for reviews only reinforces that. “Traditional authors do not pay for reviews. See, self-published authors suck so bad that if they want a review they have to pay for it. How pathetic is that.” Yes, I have seen that one many times. Along with: “Their book must have gotten rejected, otherwise they wouldn’t have self published.”

    The third hurdle is the self-published author. Reviews, unless they get printed in the New York Times or other highly regarded review outlets do not equate to much in the way of PR and so fall very low on the list of things an author could and should spend their PR money on. Or any of their money for that matter, especially if the review isn’t cross-posted to the eCommerce sites that matter, like Amazon. A review is not the same as having book placement on the front table at Borders. Authors know they should be spending their money on cover design, editing, web presence etc. If you charge for reviews, you will limit your queue to the truly naive who don’t understand what a review actually does and doesn’t do, or only to those who have that kind of expendable income. Doesn’t mean the books will be any better, just means that the authors will be a bit wealthier. What sort of perception do you think that fosters?

    Even if you give a bad review from time to time, people will just assume you were obligated to throw it in to give an air of objectivity. They really won’t buy into it.

    In order to change the perception, we have to change the attitude, and in order to change the attitude, we have to lead by example. We have to say, “That self-published book was worth my time for no other reason than the work was good in and of itself.” In order to do that, your time and your opinion must be voluntary in the truest sense of the word: a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.

    A pay-to-stock model in no way indicates that the paradigm is shifting, all it indicates is that a new revenue stream has been found that can be capitalized on. Self-publishing companies and PR firms are making money hand over fist. Of course, the savvy self-pubbed author knows the reasons why, and who wouldn’t want to get in on that. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for the author. Even Traditionally published authors, especially mid-list authors have to pay for PR services, and again, book reviews rate low on the list.

    I don’t see anything wrong with a fee for an expedited “pushed to the top of the review queue” type deal, but anything else, you will risk your reputation as a true advocate. That’s just the way things are. You have to consider your readers. Does your traffic come mostly from the self-publishing community, or does the majority of your traffic consist of bona-fide book buyers? Whatever decision you make Henry, you have to try to figure out what perception your readers are going to have of it, and can you risk a bad one?

  • I also agree with Francis on the review standards issue. I have spoken to this many times on the podpeople site and have actually linked to college level review standards and practices. We all know of one reviewer who loves to pass judgement on books after barely reading a few pages. In no way shape or form is it a credible review site. It’s not really even a review site at all yet labels itself as such. It might have value in a different way, but saying it’s a review site is misleading.

    I see a lot of crap reviews, even on Amazon, where reviews are basically just paraphrased cover detail. That’s the sort of PR that ain’t worth a turd in the shallow end.

  • Cheryl, I’m bringing it up again because the issue still matters and the web is always evolving. I have great respect for Pod People, but you guys only post a few reviews a month, and Lulu alone has 1000’s of books being printed every day. I’m getting overwhelmed with submissions and tried one tactic with the Call Out for Reviewers post. This is another.

    I just think this is sort of heavy-handed: “this will blur the line between being a true advocate and a lobbyist.” Journalists get paid. If the standards are exactly the same as have been illustrated on the site – or even better – what’s the difference? Money doesn’t equal corruption.

    If I were a true lobbyist I would be paid by POD services to write good reviews of their services – that’s a direct form of corporate lobbying and it’s not happening. I don’t think you could equate that kind of lobbying with book reviewing. I think people can trust a book reviewer who’s getting paid that he or still can still be honest – just like a reviewer in a trad newspaper.

    This is a good point: “If you charge for reviews, you will limit your queue to the truly naive who don’t understand what a review actually does and doesn’t do, or only to those who have that kind of expendable income.” An argument could be made, though, that it could also separate those who more deeply believe in their books. I charge to remove up in the queue and the books that get submitted through this system are generally strong compared to other submissions. Writers know they’re worth the investment.

    Even if you give a bad review from time to time, people will just assume you were obligated to throw it in to give an air of objectivity. They really won’t buy into it.

    I just don’t see it. Money doesn’t automatically wipe away your potential for objectivity. I always point out flaws in a good book or positive aspects of a flawed book. There’s no overly-effusive praise or trashing of books – and I try to convey this outlook to other reviewers.

    It’s true that book reviews on this site will not lead to overnight success, and this is the problem with the whole review system nowadays – reviews just don’t have the impact that they used to. But reviewing’s not going away, nor is this site. This site’s going to grow as self-publishing gets more entrenched, and it’s possible paying reviewers could offer more professionalism, not less. I think the site’s proven itself as an advocate for self-publishing, and I’m not sure paid reviews are going to shatter the site’s credibility.

    P.S. I’m surprised by the poll – it’s pretty even. I thought No was going to win handily.

  • I’m a self-publisher because I want to put my work out into the world without having to deal with intermediary businesses whose first priority is money. If SPR starts charging for reviews, I’ve gotta say that would throw it firmly into the “preying on authors’ ambitions for cash” category.

    I realise there are considerable overheads involved in running a site like this and keeping on top of the flood of submissions you must be receiving, but get yourself into the indie headspace and this idea become anathema. Generally, criticism involves negativity, because we seem to equate critical opinions as markers of a superior insight. And surely the reviewers will feel compelled to not just blither like a fan in order to feel justified as a reviewer and not just a paid shill.

    So from the author’s perspective, it’s a bit like paying for a whore in a public square, then having them bleat out your shortcomings into a megaphone. I believe in this site and the good intentions behind it, but as an indie I find this idea repellent.

  • It might seem heavy handed, but that doesn’t change the overall perception.

    We know what we know. We know what we are doing when we review, but unfortunately our perception of it is in the minority. I have never once until now heard “book reviewing” defined as journalism; it doesn’t even readily fit into the definition of journalism. It’s Literary Criticism and falls more in line with Editorial Commentary.

    However we define it doesn’t really even matter though. Popular perception will rule no matter what. And popular perception about money exchanging hands for services is wildly biased. And a reviewer in the paper is getting paid by the paper, not the author. It’s the chain of custody on that money that gives the impression, not the money itself. I know it’s an issue of semantics, but it’s an issue nonetheless. Readers, and I have talked to enough of them to know, as well as other book bloggers who refuse to read SP books, they will trust a random reader review before they will trust a review from a “pay for review” service. Harsh, yes, the truth of it is harsh, but that is the ugly truth. Just like the perception that all SP books are crap, poorly written with no editing.

    I understand you want to review more books. I understand your advocacy efforts. I understand getting qualified reviewers is a futile endeavor — podpeople is down to 3, and I have had callouts before too. I understand the almighty power of the dollar. I do. I feel your pain Henry. I am not telling you what to do or how to do it or even giving my personal opinion on the issue. None of what I said is my own personal opinion. It’s opinion I have gleaned from talking to people over the last 3 years. My opinion, your opinion, it’s irrelevant really. We are too close to the issue. I am telling you the truth about perception. What you do with that is entirely up to you.

    I would like to see that poll tweaked for a mainstream reader perspective and see how it would play out. “Would you, as a book buyer, trust a review that was paid for by the author?” I would like to see that poll on a mainstream book review site and see what the ratio would be. I hate to be cynical, but it would probably be rather ugly.

    And yes, The Podpeople turn a lot of books away, and it has little to do with time. Just like I don’t buy every book that comes out either — I only review what turns me on as a reader. Doesn’t mean the other books we turned away are crap. It’s just the way the review game is. The NYTimes doesn’t review every book that hits their desk either. Mature authors know this.

    As far as writers knowing their worth. I don’t think a writer is even remotely qualified to assess their own worth as a writer, so saying worthy writers would be willing to pay a fee and that this is an indication of quality is a gatekeeping generalization I am not going to touch with a comment. It’s just not true.

    I don’t know how to get around the perception issue Henry. But it is a very real issue. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. All I can say to you is, here are the cold hard facts, so if it’s worth taking the risk, then try it and see what happens. You can always make a course correction down the road if you need to.

  • I have found that writers who are the most obsessed with getting the word out also happen to be better writers. Kristen Tsetsi and Frank Daniels are examples. It’s a generalization, but one that holds true for the people who pay the fee to move up in the queue, which is something I’ve been doing for several months.

    By journalism, I was just trying to compare it to writing in a trad newspaper – so the NY Times pays its reporters and its reviewers, all under the same umbrella. But you’re right, not strictly journalism.

    I should do a poll about perception – but readers who come to this site probably won’t know the difference. The site will still look the same, reviews will read the same. So a reader comes to this site, reads a review and thinks, that book sounds interesting, I’m going to check it out. Then the reader sees that the review was paid for. Will he or she automatically think the review is BS? I don’t know, I wouldn’t, so long as the review’s thorough.

    I’m not saying I’m going to start charging, I just don’t think it’s totally unjustifiable.

  • As usual, Cheryl Gardner has resorted to hyperbole and exaggeration to make completely dubious (and unproven) claims. I’ll prove it using her own words:

    Exhibit A: ” If you want to charge for reviews, then charge for reviews. What’s the worst that could happen? People look elsewhere for reviews, and your site traffic drops.”

    This is jumping from point a to point z. People arent going to look elsewhere for reviews unless they think the reviews here are forceably nice and therefore scripted based on the reviewer having gotten paid. I dont k now of any reviewer who is going to sell himself out for the $30 Henry is proposing to charge for reviews.

    Exhibit B: ” If you are running a business and you want to “get paid,” then just admit it and charge for your services. Do realise though that this will blur the line between being a true advocate and a lobbyist.”

    The phrase ‘true advocate’ is a scare tactic all on its own. A true advocate of what? Books? Self-published books? The whole point of this site is to show that there is cause for concern that self-published books as a whole are smudged with the mark of shoddy workmanship and therefore undeserving of even a second glance. Again we must go back to the incredibly small book review fee being suggested here. Nobody in their right mind could see such a small fee as a turning point between advocacy and lobbying. It just isn’t enough money. Nobody could get rich off of this, much less make a living.

    Exhibit C: “For most people, the definition of an advocate is someone who volunteers their time to further a cause they believe in. “Getting paid” doesn’t enter into the equation.”

    WRONG. There are thousands of non-profit and charity organizations whose workers are paid for their work. It’s called making a living wage for the greater good. Another typical Cheryl Gardner scare tactic.

    Exhibit D: “Traditional authors do not pay for reviews.”

    Maybe not, but their books are reviewed by papers/mags/websites whose reviewers are paid by the editorial board (which is directly influenced by publishers as to which books they are going to review in the first place). There’s just a longer line of hands out with money still being exchanged in the end.

    Exhibit E: “Reviews, unless they get printed in the New York Times or other highly regarded review outlets do not equate to much in the way of PR and so fall very low on the list of things an author could and should spend their PR money on. Or any of their money for that matter, especially if the review isn’t cross-posted to the eCommerce sites that matter, like Amazon. A review is not the same as having book placement on the front table at Borders.”

    Well, Cheryl, since these self-pubbed authors arent going to see their books in Borders any time soon, should they just throw up their hands and walk away? The way a self-pubbed book is going to get noticed more than any other is through it being talked about and noticed through the many different outlets the internet proveides, maybe with reviews more than anything else. This is ridiculous. Your argument is circular. I think the real problem here is that you, like so many writers I know, have a problem with making money. I hate to break it to you, but there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with currency crossing the hand and this belief you are so vehemently spouting here doesnt begin to hold up when given even the most cursory once-over.

    Exhibit F: “If you charge for reviews, you will limit your queue to the truly naive who don’t understand what a review actually does and doesn’t do, or only to those who have that kind of expendable income.”

    Once again I cry bullshit. Any aspiring author who has taken the time to write and self-publish a book has spent far more than 30 or 40 bucks to just get the book ready for print. It is not going to separate out any author. Again, the price is not high enough to warrant these sorts of alarmist claims.

    Exhibit G: “Even if you give a bad review from time to time, people will just assume you were obligated to throw it in to give an air of objectivity. They really won’t buy into it.”

    Once again, a ridiculous, baseless claim. You have absolutely no evidence to support this.

    Exhibit H: “We have to say, “That self-published book was worth my time for no other reason than the work was good in and of itself.” In order to do that, your time and your opinion must be voluntary in the truest sense of the word: a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.”

    This is the most shocking and ridiculous of everything you have said so far. I truly do not understand why you would feel that your own martyr complex needs to be inflicted on everyone else. Again, I go back to the non-profit example: people who work for non-profits are doing work that many of us would never even consider, and yet THEY MAKE A LIVING WAGE. What Henry is suggesting here isnt even advocating giving him or any reviewer that sort of money from these poor, abused, naive self-published authors. They arent lambs being led to slaughter, ma’am. They are writers trying to get their work recognized, and as far as I am concerned, YOU are standing in the way of that happening. The reason Henry has dozens of unread books waiting for review is because he can’t find anyone who will review these books without getting paid and he can’t afford to pay them out of his own pocket. So maybe THAT is the solution: YOU should pay writers to review books, Cheryl. Then there won’t be any compromises that make you feel uncomfortable. Instead of allowing those books to sit on tables and chairs all around Henry’s apartment, unread, you should dip into your obviously sizeable bank account and create a fund for reviewers so that everyone can have their books reviewed and still feel good about themselves in the morning.

    THIS IS YOUR ISSUE, CHERYL, NO ONE ELSE’S. I say Henry should implement the fee immediately and see what happens. Because it doesnt seem this issue is ever going to die until it is put to the test.

  • Sadly, the pay for review issue is not my issue Frank. It is and has been a known issue in the SP world for quite some time, debated hotly over the last few years. Regardless of that fact, I don’t know you, so I would appreciate it if you might consider limiting the personal attacks. Calling me a martyr and suggesting that the negative perception of pay for review services doesn’t exist isn’t helping matters. The perception is not a scare tactic. It’s just a fact that has to be addressed before making a decision.

    Henry knows it exists, and he has to decide for himself how he wants to approach it. And each individual author will also have to decide how they want to approach it. Do they ignore the perception and move on with it or not. That’s all I am saying to Henry. If he wants to risk it and buck the perception what’s the worst that could happen??? Ultimately, Henry has to figure that out and decide. Henry knows I am on his side and have backed his endeavor from the start. All I offer is a very real perspective, one that’s out there, not mine personally. I don’t get personal.

    As far as obsessed writers go, well, I am not familiar with Kristen or Frank’s work, although Kristen’s short story collection is currently in my queue for review. But as an example, I reviewed Broken Bulbs by Eddie Wright and said it was the best book I had read last year, not just SP books either. Not only did Mr Wright not pay me for a review, but he also didn’t solicit one either. I happened to find his book while fumbling around Lulu looking for something to read. Some writers are obsessed and are very vocal and some writers are obsessed and rather recluse. We have excellent quality and god awful bad on both sides. I can’t say which one Eddie is — vocal or recluse — but I loved the book regardless. It was quality hands down, aside from some minor interior formatting stuff.

    As far as trying it and seeing what happens, sure. I said that in the very beginning of my first post. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe this site morphs into something along the lines of ReaderViews and does quite well with a full range of PR services, although the perception of their reviews not being credible is still out there. I hear it all the time. Or, we could find that something happens like what happened with Podler. He mentioned the charging for reviews and got little response. Then he put up a donation box, which quickly dissapeared, and then the blog went dead. Then he reopens and not too long after, goes through the same issue again, resulting in another dead blog. The whole thing was a downright shame, cause we need people reviewing SP books and his review team was good. Then we have Kirkus. I have seen some of the paid reviews that come out of their Discoveries program. Limp single paragraphs that do little for the author for the heafty price.

    So we have some examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly as far as how things could go. It’s your call Henry, but you must be concerned just a little bit with perception otherwise this post and the discussion would not exist. Every single one of my exhibits had to do with perception not necessarily fact. The Indie Reader and the Pub Vault debacles are a testament to perception. We aren’t talking about fact here or the perception of existing readers and supporters of this site, we are talking about the perception of readers we are trying to gain. It’s a tough call no matter how you look at it.

  • And as a small token of proof that this isn’t just my personal perception and that this issue has been talked about and debated for quite some time I offer two unrelated sites: another blogger who reviews self-published books, and the other a discussion over on goodreads earlier this year. As you can see, the facts matter little. The negative perception is there. Heck, Emily even discussed it on the Podpeople blog long before I became a reviewer with her site. A site Emily began in 2006 to help the cause, and she is not a self-published author.



  • “All I offer is a very real perspective, one that’s out there, not mine personally.” Seriously? You’re actually trying to take that stance now? You obviously do believe it yourself or you wouldn’t have said all that you have already said on the matter. Trying to pass it off as merely “things PEOPLE say” doesn’t do anything to help the situation. In the end, it might just require vocal people such as yourself, Cheryl, to take a stand against what is obviously a bogus claim: that a paid reviewer is a compromised reviewer. If you truly support self-publishing and writers who self-publish, then you need to try to find the solution for helping those deserving writers get their work noticed on a larger scale. Regardless of whether or not Eddie Wright is “reclusive” or “vocal,” you still only came upon his book by chance. I don’t know about you, but as for me, I don’t want my future as a writer to depend on a bunch of people just “happening” upon my book.

    I am sorry if I have come across as harsh to you, Cheryl, but I will say as a means of hopefully slightly rectifying that perception, that I do believe you are a strong advocate of self-publishing generally, but that you are stuck in the same sort of misguided mindset that Hamish Macdonald and so many others seem to have. That there is a blight on a book or a reviewer if the reviewer was compensated for his time and effort. Everybody is struggling right now. Authors, publishers, ditch-diggers—and every little bit counts and if I am an author who has gone through the hell of writing, editing, designing and publishing my own book, paying a stand-up site such as this one to review my book is more than worth the few dollars.

    You can be part of this solution. If you don’t personally believe that there is something inherently ‘wrong’ with a reviewer getting a few bucks to take the time to read and review a book he would most likely have never heard about in the first place, then use your considerable clout to change the perception that you keep pointing out to be so ubiquitous in the minds of readers (though I still think this is mostly exaggerated scare tactic boogie man b.s. perpetuated by a few ‘indie’ die-harders). Changing this perception can only help the greater good, in the end: get these struggling writers noticed for all the effort they have put in. Otherwise you’re wasting far more than a $30 check for a possibly negative review. You’re wasting the time and effort (and, yes, money they had to spend on having review copies printed) it took them to send a book to Self Publishing Review only to have those books end up in boxes where they will most likely never get read or reviewed at all.

  • It’s not a stance Frank, it’s a fact. And it’s not “things people say” it’s “things people believe.” That’s the conundrum.

    You didn’t come across as harsh Frank, you came across as personal, and I have to draw a line when it comes to making assumptions about people you don’t know. I am neither a martyr nor an idiot when it comes to self-publishing. I might review for The Podpeople Blog, but I am also intimately familiar with the self-publishing process. A little insight here: I am not stuck in anyone’s mindset. I had to make decision when I decided to join The Podpeople. I joined because a lot of the crap being said about SP just pissed me off to no end. I took a long hard look at my own skill set and thought: How can I best help other self-published authors. Sure, I could spend my time ranting and raging against the machine on a thousand other sites that put down SP authors, but in the long run, that tactic is just a waste of time. Now, I am personally and intimately aware of how a paid for review can affect perception in a negative way. I myself used Readerviews to write a press release, do a promo interview, and other such PR stuff for one of my books. An expedited review was part of the package. The review was positive, as were many I didn’t pay for, but that didn’t seem to matter much. The stigma hangs over that review, despite the others that came before or after it. Let’s just say that when the perception starts flying, it digs in deep. So, when deciding where my advocacy efforts would be better spent, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to give SP authors a professional critique and review, one there would be no possibility for them to feel shame over. A fair and balanced and free review. That is my contribution to the cause, and that was my choice because I feel that that is what SP authors deserve. If I can stand on my soapbox and say, “Look at all these god-damn wonderful SP books I have read and reviewed. All SP books aren’t crap.” No one in the audience can stand up and tell me that that declaration was bought and paid for. That’s my version of advocacy. It’s the one that works for me. Everyone has to make their own choice, just like Henry does. And books don’t get accepted and sit around waiting at the Peeps site. We request what we can manage; we notify the authors of any lengthy time delays, and we accept e-books, PDFs, and we will go out and read it from your website as well. An author only pays to send us a hardcopy if they want to. If they do, we offer it up as a giveaway later, which we publicize to draw in readers unfamiliar with the quality of SP books. I cross post my reviews to Amazon. I forward my recommendations onto other Book Bloggers, and I also speak very vocally on the site about what it means to be an Indie.

    I don’t personally believe there is anything wrong or unethical with a reviewer receiving compensation for a review, providing the review is objective, knowledgeable, balanced, and of proper tone. However, mine is a minority opinion. That is a fact. My personal perception is not the one that counts. Not every pay service is a scam either, but there are enough of them that are to set precedent and foster the perception we are now dealing with.

    Can a reviewer receive compensation without the author themselves handing the reviewer money. I think there is. And that will alleviate the tension over this issue. Advertising revenue is just one way. Sometimes it’s not about trying to bash the wall down; sometimes it’s about lobbing one over it or finding away around it.

    I appreciate your enthusiasm Frank. We all get frustrated with what seems like an exercise in futility. But we are all on the same side. Our approach to advocacy might be different, very different in tone and texture, but we are all trying to help authors here. I can say that honestly, cause I am a Indie author myself. I have felt the pain of it. And I have enough emails from authors saying my efforts are appreciated, and in some cases, the peeps efforts have gotten books noticed in some small way, be it sales or a news interview or another review.

  • This is a tough one.

    As an indie, I’ve enjoyed not paying for reviews. If I approached a reviewer and learned I’d have to pay $30, I would – fairly or not – think, “Great. Yet another ‘the more money you already have, the better your chances’ situation. I don’t have money, so I’m screwed. Don’t the money-people already have enough advantages?” (And other such whining.)

    However, if Henry’s call for book reviewers included “Reviewers will be paid $30 per review” I, the unemployed (and generally averse to writing book reviews), I might have to consider it. A lot of time goes into reading a book, thinking about the book, and then writing about the book. People like to be paid for their time.

    As to how readers would see paid-for reviews, I just don’t know. I do know that when I see a Kirkus review, I think, “Well, there’s someone who could afford a ridiculously overpriced Kirkus review.” But their price is exorbitant, so it stands out to me. I have to agree with Frank that the big-time reviewers are paid for the reviews–just not directly from the author.

    Money going directly from the author to the reviewer could make people suspicious of the objectivity of the review, I suppose…and it could also lead to the perception that the book was so initially unappealing the author had to pay to get someone to read it…but, on the other hand, Kirkus has been doing it for years and no one seems to mind. (Well, I guess some people mind.)

    I seriously can’t pick a side, and that bugs me.

    I’d recommend what Cheryl recommends: give it a shot and see what happens. There’s no reason you can’t write an intro piece explaining your position and that you’re doing an experiment. It would be an interesting thing to follow–considering the strong opinions on either side–and watch develop.

    [P.S. re the value of reviews: while a good review from a small reviewer may indeed have little to no impact on sales, a good review from a small place helps get a review from a slightly bigger place. That slightly bigger review, if good, can give the book enough credibility to be reviewed somewhere even bigger. And so on.]

  • Okay, back when I was a regular reviewer for The Los Angeles Daily News and got $100 per review for about 800,000 readers, I got , unsolicited, more than a hundred review copies every month. Between one and three actually got reviewed because I did read them, each and every one and would have been fired if I had not. Not all came from mainstream publishers because the choice was left up to me, and I submitted the review as a done deal. I’d read the book, written the review, and please send me the check because I’ve got bills to pay.

    I mostly did spy thrillers and science fiction, areas where I enjoy some expertise, But no one told me what to write or even what books to cover. My only restriction was word length, to fill a hole. 800 words.

    You are correct, Henry, that there are thousands of books and less of them are ignored now than before because of all the volunteers out there posting to Amazon and other web sites. But most of them will go unsung. Which means that when you send a book for review, it has to be a real book, with a cover and interior design that is pleasing to the eye. Most self-published books fail to get selected because they just look wrong; like they were done by amateurs. I don’t send electronic copies for review precisely because they are incomplete and presented in such a way as to weary the eye of the beholder.

    The review process is a filter; the first one you have to overcome to gain acceptance and sales so you need to think beyond the text. You’re not just producing a literary work, but designing a product. It’s a Darwinian, but necessary process.

    As for getting reviews, just keep pounding and never be satisfied you have enough. It’s all about word of mouth. Self-publishers don’t and will never have the resources of the big, traditional publishing houses; the brute-force distribution, the massive and global publicity and the ability to actually buy shelf space. The costs of all that are just too high. Instead we are literary guerrillas; in for the long fight and waiting for our chance to overcome the odds against us. Our cycle is not weeks but years of effort.

  • A I gree with that to some extent Francis, but the book world is changing with the advent of e-books and online only fiction. I buy a lot of ebooks from Lulu and Scribd and a few from Smashwords, not to mention Kindle. Many of these books are e-format only. There is no “print” copy, but that doesn’t mean that the book is not worthy of being read or reviewed. When I get an actual hardcopy for review, which isn’t often, I expect a professional product, but e-books are different.

    However, I do expect a decent cover, e-book or not. Even for e-books, the cover is all important as that is what catches the reader’s eye. As for interior layout, not so much. If it’s a PDF, then I expect the PDF to be formatted like an actual book so if I need to print it for reading and making notes, it looks like the printed pages of a book. But in other e-formats like html and kindle, because of the nature of the beast, interior formatting is irrelevant.

    As far as culling the submission pile. I can only speak for The Podpeople here of course, but we first look at the query. If the query is well done, then we read the synopsis, if that engages us and the genre is something we are interested in then we go out and look at the book cover and the preview pages or excerpts. No preview, the odds are unlikely we will consider it. Previews are of the utmost importance. If we like what we read, and it looks professional and well written then we request a copy — in whatever format — from the author and schedule the review. Sometimes the reason we decline a book is nothing more than the fact that we just are not interested in that genre. Other times, the query is so poorly written that we question the quality of the book straight away. Other times we just aren’t engaged by what we have read in the preview, or there were too many editorial issues in what we read.

    I think authors should pay close attention to where they submit for a review. You want the best reviewer for your genre. I wouldn’t suggest submitting a horror story to a reviewer who reads primarly historical romance unless that is a huge sub-plot in your horror story. There are a lot of Book Bloggers out there, a lot of really good ones, and book blogger/reviewers talk to each other. I know as I belong to several book blog/review groups. Read the reviews, understand their style and what they are looking for before you make a decision to submit. Reader reviews are even better. Readers spread the word. Blogs that review and then do giveaways are a huge hit with readers. Reviewers that cross blog on Facebook and Goodreads and twitter their reviews are also excellent for exposure. But don’t get discouraged by a negative review or two. Just keep pluggin’ away. As Francis said, “The cycle is not weeks but years of effort.”

  • Steven Reynolds

    “So from the author’s perspective, it’s a bit like paying for a whore in a public square, then having them bleat out your shortcomings into a megaphone.” – Hamish MacDonald

    My rates are $100 per hour ($850 for overnight). Versatile, experienced. Out calls only. Own megaphone provided.

  • $100/hour?

    Men have it tough. If you were a woman, you could probably charge as much as $250.

    (I’m just guessing based on what I’ve seen in movies. I mean, Vivienne in “Pretty Woman” was making $100 an hour – in 1990. You have to raise your rates, Steven. Not only has there been inflation, but times are tough! And the rich will always pay for sex. [I get that from movies, too.])

  • Steven Reynolds

    Yeah, but Vivian had far better legs than I do.

    Jokes aside, has anyone here been down the Kirkus Discoveries path, either as a self-published author or a reviewer?

    From what I know, it sounds like a reasonable model that could be applied to sites like SPR: the author pays for an anonymous review, and if they like what they get then they can opt to it have it published on the Kirkus website.

    To my mind, this works well for everyone…

    For authors: If the book doesn’t receive the kind of glowing endorsement they wanted, they can prevent the review going out to the world. To use Hamish’s analogy, the author is the one holding the megaphone. At the very least, the “whore” gives them some professional feedback on their technique, and that feedback might be valuable.

    For reviewers: They get paid for their time (as they should), and the “conflict of interest” issue simply doesn’t arise. They’re paid by Kirkus, and their only obligation is to uphold whatever turnaround time and editorial standards Kirkus enforces. The reviewer can be as blunt as they like about a bad book because they know that if the author doesn’t like the review, they won’t be forced to use it. Anonymity removes the risk of harassment, too.

    For readers: Whether they be end consumers, booksellers, librarians, traditional publishers or agents, they can trust the review if they trust the Kirkus name and the independence it promises. If they don’t trust Kirkus, they can look elsewhere.

    The only issue would seem to be the value for money of what Kirkus Discoveries offers. It sounds very expensive: $400 for “no less than 250 words”, but never more than about 350 from what I’ve seen. I think $100 for no less than 1000 words would be reasonable.

    SPR could easily adopt a similar model: grow the stable of reviewers by offering payment, meaning SPR could review far more books; apply some strict editorial standards to the reviewers’ work to ensure quality; charge authors, say, $100 for a 1000-word review, with the fee split between SPR and the reviewer; give authors a PDF copy of the review and veto power over it going up on the site; if and when a review does go up, it goes up anonymously; declare all of this on the website so readers know the process.

    Looking forward to seeing this shot to pieces.

  • Frank Daniels


    Like your idea, though would appreciate some clarification on why the reviews should be anonymous, and why the writer would be able to dictate if the review is actually published or not, as this would seem to completely quash any claims that the reviews are impartial. Seems to me that once the reviewer pays for a review, it is then only logical that that review should be published regardless of whether or not the reviewer finds the book to be “good” or not. If the writer fears his/her book might get a negative review, then perhaps he/she shouldn’t submit a book for review in the first place. I say this as someone whose own book was trashed in large part by you in review. As much as I obviously disagreed with your review of my book, I think it speaks to the veracity of my status as a writer that there be reviews out there that aren’t necessarily completely glowing. Which I suppose is a back-handed way of thanking you for your review, despite feeling slighted. 🙂

    I just don’t want to see this site turn into yet another percieved home of the across-the-board “good” review. The review I am about to turn in is not strictly negative, but it will definitely give what I can consider to be a well-reasoned argument for how the author didn’t do her job as a stroy-teller. And in the end I would hope this would help a writer to perhaps write a better book the next time, which might help her actually land the book deal all writers strive for, whether they will admit that that’s what they want or not.

  • I agree with you there Frank. I got a lukewarm review a while back from mrsgiggles, and as much as it stung that she didn’t like or connect with the main character because she thought the character was too dettached and flat, I had to take that comment under advisement. I had to sit down an seriously consider that maybe I hadn’t dug in deep enough with the character, maybe I hadn’t made her motivations clear, maybe I missed a bit of backstory that would foster the compassion and/or relatability I was looking for. The rest of the review was positive, but the fact remains that those maybes existed.

    Later, during the analysis of the review, we can toss aside negative commentary we might feel is biased based on personal preference or whatnot and hopefully take a long hard look at the comments that might have value. It’s a tough call. One every writer has to make. The critics aren’t always right, and they aren’t always wrong either.

    I decided to take giggles comment to heart, and now that I am re-editing for a second edition, I thought I would dig in a bit deeper. Why? Cause it wouldn’t hurt the story either way.

    Fluffy across the board good reviews do nothing for anyone but the author’s ego, and all serious writers know, whether they want a writing career or not, that you just have to check your ego at the door. Vanity is no good for the work. It makes you blind. So if an author submits for review, then the review should get posted. I don’t go in for the “anonymous” reviewer thing either. If you are gonna take the role of critic, then you have to be prepared to take the backlash that can come with it. It’s only fair. We expect authors to be thick skinned. Why shouldn’t that be expected of us as well?

  • Steven Reynolds

    I take your point, Frank, about the risk of SPR becoming just another fluffy site full of across-the-board “good” reviews. If Henry applied the model I suggested, a year from now it could well be a site full of glowing reviews that authors had not only paid for, but personally approved. Described in that way, it would certainly sound like a site full of complete bullshit, no matter how much bracing feedback was actually handed out to author’s privately along the way. So, fair call. It wouldn’t be a good look.

    I suggested borrowing Kirkus Discoveries’ rules about author veto and anonymous reviewing because these seemed to solve two perennial issues the “paid review debate” throws up: (1) authors’ resistance to the idea of paying to be (possibly) humiliated in public; and (2) the “conflict of interest” that seems to hang over a reviewer who gets paid by the author.

    Let me explain my reasoning, and why I’ve changed my mind.

    Giving authors the choice as to whether or not the review gets posted might encourage more to go with the paid review model. That would give Henry some cashflow to hire more reviewers and more qualified or semi-professional ones, with the result that more books get looked at critically by people who can do this well. Granted, much of that critical coverage would never see the light of day as published “reviews”, due to author veto. But every author would at least get 1000 words of detailed feedback for 100 bucks. That’s potentially helpful to them, even if it’s something they’d rather not have plastered across the internet – unless, of course, they take John Lacombe’s view that a reviewer can never teach a writer anything. At the very least, SPR would be offering a kind of paid manuscript assessment service for anyone who wanted it. Given most self-published novels deliberately bypass the editorial process, that kind of feedback could make a significant contribution to the quality and credibility of self-published work (assuming authors took the advice). But the net result is that only glowing reviews would be published, and that would undermine SPR’s credibility – so you’re right, this is a bad idea. Of course, there is nothing to prevent SPR offering a paid manuscript assessment service on the side.

    I saw reviewer anonymity as a way around the potential conflict of interest that arises when authors pay. The worry is that if a reviewer is paid $100 to review your book, they’re going to be very tempted to give it a great review so you’ll tell all your self-published buddies to hire them, too. Making the reviews anonymous would be one way to break that personal connection: if people don’t know who actually wrote the review, they can’t approach them and offer to pay for the same kind of positive treatment. Anonymity also undermines another impediment to reviewer “objectivity”: reviewers pulling their punches because they don’t want to hurt the feelings of someone who is paying them, or because they don’t want to get stalked and prank-called by the author or their mother.

    But you know what? The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that this whole “conflict of interest” fear is ridiculous. In reality, there is zero incentive for any site or individual reviewer to write good reviews of bad books. Think about it. If SPR started posting glowing paid reviews for demonstrably awful books, this would quickly become obvious when other people read them. Can you imagine the Comments the review pages here would start getting? It would make the “Winter Games” controversy look like a love-in. It would completely destroy the site’s credibility within months. If a site is charging for reviews, there is actually a far greater incentive to be honest and to work to defensible professional standards of criticism. The spotlight of suspicion would on it from the start. So as editor, Henry would need to ensure everything in those paid reviews was well argued and justified with examples. This could actually raise critical standards, not lower them. That’s at the site level. On the level of individual reviewers, there is equally no personal incentive to puff bad books. First, the site posting your reviews would soon fire you for blackening their name. Secondly, you’re getting paid regardless of whether you loved the book or loathed it, so why lie? A reviewer who goes out to the world with a series of paid glowing reviews for what are, by consensus, lame books isn’t going to be popular with self-published authors for very long. His or her stock-in-trade – their reputation for impartiality and insight – would be quickly eroded. Imagine if I went out with a glowing paid review of Sam Moffie’s “No Mad” – would you, as a writer, want me to review your next book? After my review of “Futureproof” you probably wouldn’t be calling me anyway, but I think you can see my point. It’s always in the reviewer’s interest to be even-handed and thorough. And Cheryl is right: plastering the reviewer’s name on it makes them own it and defend it if asked to.

    So perhaps if SPR does move to paid reviews, it will need to go hand-in-hand with an elevation of clear and documented critical standards. That could be the selling point: “We don’t promise to love your book, but we will give you 1000 words of professional-grade commentary.”

    Fear of whores with megaphones would probably still keep the list of applicants quite short. But as others have intimated already, if a writer isn’t ballsy enough to back their own work in an open forum like SPR, then they probably aren’t ready to publish anyway.

  • Kirkus Discoveries, as mentioned above, is IMHO a glowing example of a review system that fleeces the author and does them very little good and probably some harm.

  • Justin Gilson

    There has been discussion on the SPR site about the purpose of book reviews and whether or not to charge for them. That assumes, of course, that reviews have value, and arguably they do.

    Interestingly, though, a German study conducted by Clement, Proppe and Rott (Journal of Media Economics, (Vol. 20, Issue 2, May 2007, pp 77-105) found that favorable book reviews have little impact on a book’s success. Word-of-mouth is the most crucial factor in determining a book’s success. The authors also concluded that a book is more likely to succeed if critics disagree about the quality, and express differing judgments. In fact, if some of those judgments are extremely negative, sales improve.

    As Frank Daniels mentions above, Carol Buchanan gave Winter Games, by John Lacombe a poor review, and it has generated a fair amount of responses at the SPR site.

    To see if Buchanan’s review has had an adverse affect on sales of Lacombe’s book, I checked the Amazon ranking for Winter Games on the afternoon of Oct. 2.

    The paperback version was ranked 38,461

    At the same time today, Oct. 5, it is ranked 82,172

    As points of reference and comparison, also today, Oct. 5,

    Henry Baum’s “North of Sunset” (paperback) is ranked 2,127,443

    Frank Daniels’ “Futureproof” (paperback) 719,975

    Francis Hamit’s “The Shenandoah Spy” (paperback) 598.152

    Carol Buchanan’s “God’s Thunderbolt: Vigilantes of Montana: 540,986

    Carol Buchanan’s negative review does not seem to have adversely affected the sales of Winter Games. In fact, it may have helped!

    Writers might do well to save their hard earned dollars with respect to paying for any review. Rather than seek reviews and worry about the negative ones, the German study suggests that book talks, giving workshops–even asking fans to tell their friends about the book—make more sense, and are a better use of one’s time and energy.

  • Here is another interesting read on the State of Book Reviews in the web 2.0 age. While the articles aren’t really long or comprehensive, there is still some food for thought here, however you want to take it.


  • Corrine

    Paying for reviews might be worth a try. However, there needs to a credible pool of respected reviewers to draw that pay. Several of you mention John Lacombe’s Winter Games, and for a good reason. When you have Frank Daniels showing up on the original thread hurling the f-bomb and laughing about Carol Buchanan’s hallucination about robots in Winter Games, it serves to illustrate that your reviewers need to have garnered a certain amount of respect. Carol lost so much respect with her review of Winter Games that she should NOT be one you’d want to be paying for her reviews, even if it’s only thirty dollars.

    Both Henry Baum and John Lacombe won the Grand Prize at the Hollywood Book Festival. I’d say they both deserved it. Henry suggests that there’s some editing and precursors to reviews being posted on his site, but it’s my sense that not that much scrutiny went into posting Carol Buchanan’s review. I didn’t want to be crtical on that thread. She took enough damage. But we’re not on that thread and traffic here will be more limited. But come on. Call it for what it is. She screwed up and she damaged your reputation. You’re fortunate that John Lacombe remained gracious, but all you need to do, like Steve, (and Frank, why don’t you and Cheryl be the next) is to read the book to realize the extent to which Buchanan has damaged SPR’s reputation for credible reviewing. Steve did his best to repair the damage in his defense of her. Lacombe’s book is a hot seller and fortunately people who carefully read, saw Buchanan’s review for what it was. But the more you defend her, the more you lose respect. I say cut her loose.

    If you’re going to charge for reviews, you should have people reviewing who have the ability to evaluate a book professionally and realistically. You can’t have people making Frank’s statements about the f-ing (as he put it) robot after reading a review. But it was when he finally showed up, that he put the whole debacle in perspective. Manners? I give Steve kudos. Telling it like it is? Frank wins, hands down.

    Charge money? Fine. But get people who deserve the money.

  • Call me deluded, but I don’t think the Winter Games situation damaged the credibility of the site. Overall, I think it was good for the site: brought up a lot of interesting discussion about reviewing. If one reviewer gets it “wrong” this doesn’t mean that every other review is suspect. The review showed that a review like that is kind of self-correcting because there’s so much vocal dissatisfaction. Now, if that was happening over and over again, that would be one thing. But it isn’t.

  • Steven Reynolds

    I’d be interested to hear from Francis Hamit, if he’s out there – what was the editorial process for book reviews at the Los Angeles Daily News? Did the book editor (or anyone else) critically read, fact-check or challenge your reviews before they were published?

  • Steven Reynolds

    Just found this blog piece from earlier in the year. It’s from Australian novelist and avid blogger James Bradley (no, not that American guy who wrote “Flags of Our Fathers”).


    It’s about the place of the brutal review (aka ‘the hatchet job’) in the literary culture. I haven’t posted this on the Reviewing the Reviewers thread because I know I’d be instantly accused of trying to justify or defend Carol’s criticism of “Winter Games”, which I am not doing. The people most interested in reviewing seem to be looking at this thread, and I thought you might enjoy this piece. The Comments are good, too. (“Steven” is not me.)

  • “Carol lost so much respect with her review of Winter Games…”

    I disagree. I think a small cluster of people took issue with her review, but I wouldn’t say that overall she lost any respect.

  • Credible reviewers or not, charging for reviews and accepting money directly from the author will still challenge the reviewer’s and the site’s credibility, and now with the new FTC disclosure guidelines, charging for reviews creates and even larger headache, even accepting a hardcopy of a book and keeping it will now be considered compensation, along with affiliate links and advertising.

    The water is muddy in this situation and getting muddier. I, personally, don’t see it being worth the time, the money, or the grief.

  • Steven Reynolds

    You’re right to point out the financial and administrative headaches, Cheryl. Having a stable of paid reviewers is effectively running a multi-employee business, with all the legal and tax implications that entails. This was one of the reasons Podler decided not to go down that path, apparently. As much as I think the arguments against paid reviews are mostly bogus, there’s no arguing with the business obligations it would involve for a site like SPR.

  • Smart move on his part. Charging for reviews always seems like a good plan at first: more reviewers equals more reviews equals more free time for the site owner, when in reality, it creates more work than was initially planned. Not to mention all those sniggling legal and administrative headaches. Not to mention, I would rather not have an FTC enema.

  • Frank Daniels

    These new FTC rules do not applied to something such as book reviews. They are clearly targeted at bloggers who appear to merely give their opinions on products pushed by corporations.


  • It most certainly does apply Frank, according to FTC representative Richard Cleland. See here: http://www.edrants.com/interview-with-the-ftcs-richard-cleland/

    But what it amounts to in the long run is disclosure. They just want all blogger compensation disclosed from affilaite links to free products to sponsors to fees. If you get an ARC to review and you keep it, it’s considered compensation and must be disclosed on the site or the review. All tangible connections must be disclosed. Take that however you will.

    They may be “targeting” a certain type of blogger, but when issuing legal mandate, it has to be broad sweeping as to not give the impression of finger-pointing. Publishers are businesses pushing a product and seeking opinion on that product, no matter how small the publisher is.

    It’s fine line semantics, agreed, in most blogger cases a nuisance of horsehit on the shoes magnitude. But what can you do. It is what it is, and if they feel entegrity will prevail with disclosure, then I guess the podpeople and every other blogger out their who receives product for opinion will need to comply. Especially if that opinion is deemed favorable and can subsequently be used for advertising of said product.

  • So, reviewers will now have to say, “Send me your book – along with return postage” if they want to review the work, I suppose.

    This all seems like such an unnecessary hassle. Someone must have been bored.

  • It is a hassle, no doubt, Kristen. But they say it protects consumers from biased positive reviews and corporate bribery. I can see their point — to some extent.

    As far as book reviewing, well, the Podpeople get around that issue of return postage by reviewing PDFs and ebooks, even HTML. Some authors just want to send a live review copy, so we don’t request one until we have read the preview and are sure we are going to review it. After that, we give the books away to charities, libraries, and once a month we give a book away on the blog. It’s another reader for the author, contests generate buzz, and it gets the book off my hands. I like PDFs personally. I can type notes while I am reading. I can see the internal layout and I can judge if it would print well, and as long as the cover represents well on screen, I can judge it’s design quality even if I can’t judge the print quality.

    I shot a disclaimer to address the FTC disclosure thing over to Emily this morning so she can post it in full view on the blog. And then we will be adding a disclosure statement to the reviews on a case by case basis only if we received and kept a free ARC.

  • I started to write a comment about this but my vitriol got the better of me: http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2009/10/06/the-stupid-stupid-ftc-guidelines/

    Cheryl, it’s good that you only accept PDF’s, but a book reviewer shouldn’t have to. And by the standards of the FTC, an ebook is also compensation because they’re for sale online. What’s especially annoying about the guidelines is that they don’t make clear what the disclaimer needs to be: per post, in an “About” section? The whole thing doesn’t seem very well thought-through.

  • PDFs are technically e-books in a way I suppose as well. Maybe they consider e-books virtual books and so it’s not tangible by their definition.

    The whole thing is giving me a friggin’ headache. Bless you for your rants. And you are so right. The vagaries are typical of most goverment mandates. Convoluted diatribe.

    I get ARCs as well; I don’t only accept PDFs … I accept whatever the author wants to send me providing it isn’t written on used toilet paper with ass-hair stuck to it. I would have to request a pdf in that case.

    You might be able to get around all this anyway. If your site is registered as a bona-fide online newspaper of a sorts and the business entity technically had ownership of the ARCs, then I don’t think it makes a difference as long as the reviewer doesn’t keep it for themselves. Who knows. I am about 1/2 way through reading the PDF of the actual legal guidelines, and I want to stab myself in the eyes with a paperclip.

  • Please let me know of your findings. Legalese starts reading like gibberish to me after 5 sentences. The fact that a blog should have to register as an online newspaper will transform the web in a bad way. It will make new media more like old media. The guidelines seem devised by someone who’s never sent an email.

  • Will do. I am used to reading this shit — all day long.

    The pdf is 81 pages and it seems to hinge a lot on what they consider and “endorsement” and a marketer or advertiser. In our case both would be the self-published author.

    I am highlighting the critical bits that seem to be relevant to us and I will email you the PDF so you can skim the highlighted parts.

    I hate them meddling, but if it’s routine disclosure they want, well, I am happy to oblige, providing that that’s all they want.

  • Corrine

    Regarding # 28, Henry, I don’t think you’re deluded and actually, I agree that the negative review was good for the site. I think it was the reputation of the reviewer that was tarnished, mainly because of comments like Frank’s that called the robot situation the funniest sh * * t he had ever read. As long as reviews are free, you can get away with a wacky review or two. If a reviewer develops a reputation for not reading carefully or imagining things that don’t exist, however, and it happens often enough, then authors will want to request certain reviewers and not others. It will be like choosing your doctor. If it’s a free neighborhood clinic, that’s one thing. But if you’re paying hundreds of dollars, you want a choice or service provider. The question is, could that work with book reviewers if they were paid what they’re worth?

    If an author DOES pay hundreds of dollars, and gets a review that basically lifts the book jacket synopsis with little or no insightful commentary, then the author might demand his money back, much like people are doing with those “flu kits” people shelled out $29.95 to order on line, only to get a box of tissues and some hand sanitizer.

    Maybe there needs to be an independent “review checker,” or two, to ensure quality control. I hope Francis H. does show up to answer the question Steve posed in # 29.