Author of 'The Cain File' – a Kindle Scout Selection

Reviewgate: Book Reviews for Sale and What it Really Means

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

A recent article in the New York Times brought to light the process of buying reviews to promote books online. I’m not going to mention the author’s name because he doesn’t need any more publicity. But as an Indie author struggling for attention, it disgusts me that some authors game the system and cheapen the review process by buying fake reviews.

But it’s not the end of the world.

What bothers me about the article is the implication that somehow this is a symptom of Indie publishing. I suspect reviewers for hire have been around a lot longer than the Indie publishing boom. The New York Times has been remarkably slow in picking up on the Indie/eBook trend and like many established gatekeepers of the publishing industry shun Indie books, many of which are eBooks. Does the NYT have an ax to grind? Maybe they don’t want to lose their exulted status as key book reviewers.

A book with many good reviews will attract eyeballs (and search engines) but ultimately an author still has to write a good book. And as more than one person has said, a book with too many good reviews looks like a plant. Lipstick on a pig. As a reader, I can spot a fake review from a genuine one. I won’t buy a book that has shills promoting it. And if I buy a book simply because a bunch of strangers are talking it up, what does that make me?

Buyers have the option to preview an eBook first or return a book that doesn’t satisfy.

There are other ways to sway you into book-buying: web ads, promotions, ‘blog tours’, Twitter, Facebook. As savvy consumers, we know that. Do I buy a product simply because a celebrity endorses it? If I do, shame on me. It’s the American way to oversell. Don’t we almost expect it?

It’s called Buyer Beware.

It means that you have to use your own brain and not someone else’s to decide if a book is any good.

It has always been that way really.


5 responses

  1. Tom Garrison

    Timely essay, Max. Just last night I was reading about this very topic. I was all excited about getting someone to review my ebook until I read the fine print–it cost $75 (and no guarantee that they would gush about what a great book it is). I’m still looking for reviews the old fashioned way, sending out emails to publications asking for them to review it. Not much (well, none) success so far. Take care.

    August 31, 2012 at 10:42 am

    • Hey Tom
      Getting people to write reviews is like pulling teeth. One thing I did was to give away copies on Goodreads but you need paper copies for that. I gave away 8 copies and got 3 reviews. But they were genuine reviews at least. If you make your eBook free for a promo you should get quite a few downloads and then get a few reviews out of that. It takes time though. Good luck.

      August 31, 2012 at 11:55 am

  2. Pingback: Reviewgate: Book Reviews for Sale and What it Really Means | MURDER by TYPE

  3. Wasn’t sure where to post this, but I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Award! Check out my post here for more info: Congratulations! 🙂

    September 6, 2012 at 3:23 am

    • Thanks much, Emily!

      September 6, 2012 at 6:14 am

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