I was recently chatting with another writer on a well-known social network. We were talking about marketing for authors and what tactics can be used to increase our exposure to an increasingly saturated market. This particular writer was asking about paying a marketing company to help increase sales and widen his market segment. Now all of this was an interesting topic and definitely one I want to discuss on another day, but it was one of the comments on that post that has motivated me to write this blog today.
The writer in question said that she had paid a company $60 to provide reviews, via a blog tour agency and that it had helped to increase the sales of her book. For any one not familiar with the topic, the idea is that you pay money for a company or individual to get bloggers to review your book.
Now I did a little research and it seems like she got a sweet deal because the first site I researched was charging $1,000 to set up a blog tour with bloggers who had an interest in the genre that the author wrote in. For that they would ensure that the bloggers would provide exposure for the author and their book in the form of a review, an interview or ‘another promotional opportunity’. Yep, only $1,000 of your hard earned money to gain you exposure over a four week period to twenty bloggers who have reached at least a hundred hits per day. Now you might think this is a reasonable cost for the exposure you will gain, but that is another blog again, and perhaps one I will come back to. I think a whole blog should be dedicated to marketing and what price is worth paying for it. However, my first thought on hearing this authors story and following a little research was, ‘Buying reviews, isn’t that dishonest?’
My concern was three fold:
Firstly, that there is an inherent dishonesty about buying positive exposure for your writing. I don’t like paid for adverts, I don’t need some yahoo telling me how wonderful their product is and that by buying it I will somehow magically become younger, sexier, and/or happier. But at least there is an honesty in their dishonesty, you know you’re being given the big sell and if you have your wits about you, you can see it for what it is, a company trying to sell you things you mostly don’t need, at a price you mostly can’t afford for products you may well never knew that you had a need for. But there is a fair appearance issue with reviews; the impression is that reviews are written simply as a review of the writers work. Even if the reward for a review is a free book, there is an assumption that there is no silver changing hands to corrupt the ‘purity’ of the review. It does not honestly appear to most people that the review is simply another version of an advert for the writers work. Lets be honest, you’re not going to get many authors wanting to have you blog reviews, or produce reviews on book sites if you don’t give them a glowing report.
Which moved me onto my next concern That the value of reviews that are honestly and freely given, without payment, coercion or persuasion will be tarnished by writers delving into the murky and ethically questionable area of paid for reviews/publicity. By this I mean that if writers are seen to buy reviews to gain positive exposure for their books and to gain an audience base, any review that is done either through blogs or through social media and book sites/book review sites will be reduced in value as the public’s trust in the integrity of reviews is destroyed. How then do we maintain customer confidence and ensure that our audience trusts that when reviews are posted saying how amazing and ground-breaking our latest novel is that they believe a word that is written? In short we are creating a cynical audience and making marketing our books a lot harder for ourselves and other authors.
And finally my concern was that it further ingrains the system of money buying influence, exposing us all to a depressing of customer confidence in both indie and traditional published novels. This I suppose is largely a philosophical argument, in that I personally find it distasteful and crude. As an author it also worries me that by allowing the questionably talented to buy exposure through reviews, interview and promotional offers, books and literature are reduced to the lowest common denominator. While this creates a vast amount of wealth for a chosen few ‘authors’ (and I call them that cautiously and caustically) it reduces the value and worth of well written novels, that are not simply jumping on the latest genre bandwagon or hanging onto the coat tails of the one hit sensation that rises and falls within its own lifetime and has little to no literary value.
Of course not all authors that buy reviews are talentless hacks, neither are they inherently dishonest. But like justice, reviews must not only be completely transparent and honest, they must be seen to be completely transparent and honest. By allowing bought reviews to be used, review are certainly not transparent if they are paid for and it is misleading and dishonest to let the public think that there is no potential alternative motive behind the review given.
The writer who commented that she had paid for reviews assured me that reviewers would not give positive reviews for works they did not honestly like, but would simply refuse to print the review and email the author explaining why the positive review was not given. But to me this still unbalances the review process as it means bought for reviews, viewed by the public will only ever be the positive ones creating a skewed review system.
Which brings me back to my original question, isn’t buying reviews simply dishonest? The audience is not really seeing the full picture of what they will be getting, they may think it is simply a review of a good five star book, but if its paid for how valid is that review, how ethical and how trustworthy? There is enough distrust in the world without authors increasing the public’s scepticism, and we make it harder not only for ourselves but other authors by casting doubts on the validity of reviews and publicity our novels receive.