Full disclosure: SPR charges for reviews. People hate this, and don’t necessarily differentiate between paid good reviews and paid reviews in general, especially with the current controversy of paying for 5-star reviews. Since SPR started charging, we’ve been able to review many more books than before, and pay reviewers for their time. So I do think there’s a difference between what Kirkus, or SPR, does, and guaranteeing a block of 5-star reviews without even reading the book. Even so, people are now decrying the entire paid review model. This may seem like self-protection, but I don’t think the paid review model is corrupt on its face. We can guarantee a minimum 500-word review and never guarantee that the review will be good. If this site made a lot of money via advertising, reviewers could be paid in this way, but it doesn’t, so this is the alternative.
All that said, the NY Times story about paid reviews is a dark day for self-publishing. As KW Jeter says,
You only have to scroll through the comments to the New York Times article to find a lot of people piling on, saying that incidents such as this demonstrate that indie ebooks are crap, that authors have to pay people to say nice things about, and that’s why they don’t buy them.
One person I blame (in part) for this is JA Konrath. For years now, he’s been plugging the financial viability of self-publishing, all with the purpose of showing that self-publishing is the future and traditional publishing is a dying model. He seems to care less if a book is well written than if it’s sold a lot, so he can put another nail into the coffin of “legacy” publishing. He’s been pushing the financial viability at the expense of the cultural viability.
Of course, John Locke is more to blame, as are all the writers who have used this service. But one of the most distressing things I’ve seen in recent years is everybody touting how much money you can make with self-publishing. This is exactly the kind of thinking that made me flee traditional publishing: money and sales are more important than content. If that’s the mantra, it’s not very surprising then if people do whatever they can to make money, at the expense of integrity. The entire publishing industry has been losing its integrity bit by bit, so it’s not just these authors who are at fault, it’s the entire culture around book selling.
As a result, some writers have gotten dollar signs in their eyes – the money was more important than the writing. If you’ve written a bad book, what other avenue do you have except to pay for a good review, as five star reviews aren’t going to come rolling in? If you’re confident in your book, you put it up and wait to see what happens.
What’s particularly stupid is why pay for reviews at all? If you’re so unscrupulous as to pay for good reviews, how hard is it to create a bunch of fake Amazon accounts with a bunch of different email addresses? Paying someone else to be fraudulent is doubly lazy.
At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to paint too broad a brush. Everyone who’s self-publishing doesn’t care more about money than art, and everyone who’s self-publishing isn’t a weak-willed no-talent creep who pays for good reviews. This is a terrible development, but it’s isolated to a handful of writers out of the thousands who are self-publishing. Most writers wouldn’t think to do this. So while some people are jumping at the chance to gloat – See, I told you self-publishing is terrible – this is just a variant of the same old argument. There are good books and bad books. There are good writers and bad writers.
But writers? Behave yourselves – because your behavior really is a reflection on everybody.
About the Author: Henry Baum
I’m the author of The American Book of the Dead. The novel won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." I'm also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Visit henrybaum.com for more information. I’m the editor of Self-Publishing Review.