If you follow self publishing news you may have seen several stories recently about authors paying for reviews. This has of course created great consternation within the community. Bloggers haven taken to their web pages to lash out these authors, claiming these paid reviews tarnish the system and make it harder for consumers to find quality material. This position is understandable as many of these authors decided on self publishing in order to avoid the somewhat messy traditional publishing scene. I have no problem with authors getting upset about paid reviews.
The part that really bothers me though is the witch hunt atmosphere that has emerged. Unfounded accusations are being tossed about. Even worse, unsupported blanket statements are issued, making successful authors look guilty by association. Authors are forced to try and prove a negative, leaving them in an untenable situation. They’ll never be able to prove a negative, at least not to the Inquisition’s satisfaction.
Accompanying the paid review witch hunt is something I find even more perplexing. Many in the industry feel that peer to peer, family/friend and trade reviews are just as bad. To clarify with some examples:
Peer to Peer - Writers from a co-op review each other’s work
Traded Reviews - Authors trade review for review with other authors
Family/Friend - If I have to explain this, well just stop reading now
There are other similar, unpaid reviews out there as well and the problem seems to be that these are not unbiased. Unbiased reviews can’t be trusted so we must do away with all of them.
I say: So effing what.
Seriously, how the heck are we supposed to make it as independents if we take away every avenue we have to get the word out? The few indie books that become successful do so by word of mouth. Where the heck do you think that starts? Mom, dad, drinking buddies, the guy you serve a grande nonfat mocha caramel to every morning at 6:45 who found out you were an author and couldn’t wait to see your book. They’re the ones that support us. Why can’t they have a voice?
If we want to support independent authors why are we tearing them down for being independent? Did Deathcab for Cutie tell their fiends to not talk about their first few albums (you younger kids can substitute Haim or MGMT for Deathcab if you want)? No, indie art gets out however the hell it can. Why in the world would we stifle that?
Some make the argument that you can’t trust these biased reviews. Well, tough. You can’t trust a lot of reviews. Some people rate all books a 5, they just love everything so much! Some people hate puppies and babies so they sure aren’t going to give your book more than a 1.
If you’re looking for something to read outside of your normal referral channels, the trick is to read a bunch of review. Pay attention to what is actually being said. Isn’t that why they publish the actual reviews on Amazon, so you can read them?
If you buy a book, site unseen, solely because it got a crap ton of 5 star reviews, well then don’t come cryin to me when it sucks. Read the reviews. See what people are saying. Take the “It’s the best book ever” and “This was pure crap” reviews with a grain of salt and pay attention to the ones that specify what was good and what was bad. You know, use your brain. It’s why we read in the first place right?
We can have the argument over whether paid reviews are OK if you want (although my argument will start with the fact that the traditional industry pays for them too). Let’s lay off the witch hunts and the snobbery though, OK? Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and go create something. Yes, a multi-book deal with a massive advance would be great but that’s not why we do this. We do this because we love to tell our tales, to get those epic yarns out of our head and onto the page.
Let’s stop throwing stones and get back to telling stories. That’s what it’s all about anyway.
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