Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Are Paid Book Reviews Credible?

What if you could get 50 people to post positive reviews of your book on Amazon? For a reasonable fee?

I know the importance of having reviews of my books on Amazon. A mix of professional reviews and customer reviews is ideal. But for indie publishers and self-published authors, reviews--especially professional reviews--can be hard to get. Many professional reviewers still refuse to review books not published by mainstream publishers.

Sites that will review our books are increasingly charging a fee for what they term an expedited review or for posting the review they write on sites like Amazon and B&N. While most of these book review sites continue to offer free reviews, they warn that due to increasing numbers of submissions, a book submitted for a free review may take months to get reviewed or might not get reviewed at all.

So should you pay for a review?

Purists on author discussion groups and blogs continue to insist loudly that paying for a review with anything other than a free copy of the book, it is wrong. They say these reviews have little to no credibility and will ruin your reputation.

When I researched and wrote about this issue three years ago, I concluded that paid reviews could be honest and meaningful and were a reasonable option for indie publishers and self-published authors. The debate, however, continues to rage. Irene Watson's editorial in this week's Reader Views Newsletter offers an interesting discussion of the issue of paid reviews of a variety of products as well as books. Sadly, her research found that many opportunities exist for reviewers to be paid for reviewing products (including books) they have never seen or used.

I did some research of my own and found a site, gettingbookreviews.com, that for $999 will pitch your book to reviewers until they get 50 reviewers to post reviews on Amazon.com and B&N.com. That's about $20/review, which is a low price as these things go. And apparently the author doesn't have to supply books or pay postage to mail books to reviewers. Once you have purchased your book review package, gettingbookreviews.com only asks you to complete a questionnaire and email them a pdf or Word doc of the book. They even say, "Pre-final edit versions are acceptable as we are focused on content."

While I'm not such a purist that I will take a stand against paying for an expedited review from an established review site, gettingbookreviews.com strikes me as a whole different animal. It's run by Todd Rutherford out of Tulsa, OK. He writes a blog called publishingguru, where his about page says he has "been involved with every aspect of writing, publishing, and marketing books for nearly 30 years." He currently lists himself as a writing, publishing and book marketing coach. I looked at Todd Rutherford's 261 reviews on Amazon and found that they are all 5-star reviews.

Further research led me to a recent post at WritersWeekly, written by Angela Hoy, co-owner of booklocker.com. Her extensive exploration of gettingbookreviews.com discovered that Rutherford advertises online for freelance writers to write reviews, for which they will be paid $10/review as long as the reviews are 5-star. The book author gets to approve or suggest changes to the review before it is posted to Amazon and B&N.

As Kindle owners, my husband and I buy virtually all our books from Amazon. We also buy lots of other stuff online.  And whether I'm looking for a book, a toaster, a zhu-zhu pet for my grandson, or a hotel to stay in on vacation, I pay attention to the reviews I find on product pages. But now I'll look at these reviews a little more skeptically. How can I tell which customer reviews are for real?

This situation with reviews is certainly unfortunate for indie publishers and self-published authors. Reviews are our best marketing tool. How can we preserve their credibility?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Jump on the Roller Coaster of Publishing Changes

The e-book revolution is taking off! And that is nothing but good news for indie publishers and self-published authors.

Back in 2008, I wrote on this blog:
The history of mankind is rife with examples of ideas, inventions and social policies that were originally considered foolhardy but are now mainstream....I predict that trajectory for publishing. Soon digital printing, e-books and publishing formats we haven't heard of yet will be the order of the day. It's a long uphill road, but a lot has happened in the last few years and movement is accelerating.

For example, back in 2003 The Rocky Mountain Writer, the newsletter of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers reported on a roundtable discussion where local editors and agents commented on publishing trends. They asked the panelists, "Is there a future for e-publishing and/or POD?" The unanimous answer was an emphatic No! In fact, one panelist suggested that, if an author’s contract with a publisher mentions POD, “run like your hair’s on fire!”

Fast forward to January 2008...more than three-quarters of the approximately 200,000 books published in this country each year are self-published or published by a small press. And eBooks are taking off. Amazon already has over 99,000 books available for sale to readers who use their Kindle, which only came out in December.

Wow! Let's fast forward again to 2011. Amazon now has nearly a million books available for the Kindle, and reports that last summer it sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books. Barnes&Noble has more than two million titles for the Nook. Then there's the Sony Reader, Apple iPad, and more. Digital books are definitely taking off.

The digital edition of Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has sold a million copies, according to yesterday's New York Times -- a first for an e-book. The combined digital sales for all three books in Larsson's popular trilogy is now more than three million.

I have a Kindle and I love it, but what I love more about digital publishing is the way it levels the playing field. Any author or publisher can create and sell a Kindle version of their books through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing and/or release other e-book versions through Smashwords. You don't even need an ISBN number, except for distribution to Apple.

I'm not saying it's easy. The formatting of your manuscript for digital release takes some work. But Smashwords has a free style guide you can download in pdf. And April Hamilton offers a free pdf IndieAuthor Guide for publishing with Amazon Kindle. I carefully followed the instructions in both of these guides and got six PMI Books titles up for Amazon's Kindle and in the Smashwords Premium Catalog (for distribution to B&N Nook, Sony Reader, Apple iPad and more).

It takes some time and patience to do the formatting, but that's really nothing compared to the time and patience it takes to repeatedly query agents and publishers in an attempt to get your book out through traditional publishers.

How things have changed! Thanks to digital printing and e-books, today's writers—unlike those in past generations—all have the opportunity to have their work published, read, and listed for sale on online bookstores right along with traditionally published books. Jump on the roller coaster. You won't be sorry!