Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Should Book Reviewers be Paid for Promoting Your Book?

Image from Boyd Logan: boydlogan.wordpress.comOver on the Tenka International blog, Michael Norton wrote a post entitled "Book Reviewers Don’t Charge Enough, And Why You Under-Appreciate Them". In it, he explains the importance of book reviews in promoting one's work. While on the surface that seems like a no-brainer, he emphasizes the importance of book review blogs and how they help to spread the message about your book.
Book reviewers are the people who take the time to set up a website and cultivate a dedicated audience. They are under-appreciated by most independent authors, because most writers have no idea how to effectively market their work, and thus fail to see book reviewers as what they are: hubs, trusted by pre-established audiences, that directly influence awareness and conventional opinion of a writer’s work.
Norton then attacks the idea that book reviewers should be giving it away for free.
Many reviewers read and write for free, under the insecure belief that admitting that they’re professional critics detracts from their credibility—but I think this is the wrong mentality. As written: time and energy are resources that reviewers deserve to be paid for, especially if that reviewer is going to be a critical factor in determining whether or not a writer’s work sinks or swims in the market.
He acknowledges that there will be charlatans, but we all know that they already exist. But he emphasizes that if a reviewer is completely honest and transparent, then there's no reason why one shouldn't proceed in this direction.

Paid reviews are still controversial. The members of the Podler Staff debated it via email a few years ago, ultimately deciding not to do it. And a few years before that, Podler wrestled with the idea of doing it. He later rescinded that decision, but the dissenters on his staff had already quit.

Besides the complications brought up by money versus integrity, there's the problem with indie author budgets. Indie authors typically don't have a lot of money to spend on their book—although some don't spend anything. The smart author will hire an editor to proofread her work and a designer to handle her cover. Even if she finds affordable options, she's likely to spend a few hundred dollars (typically more) on those two. Coming up with money for marketing, whether it be for banner ads or book reviews, may be asking too much. As most indie authors sell less than a hundred copies of their book, getting that return on their investment may be a tall order.

From a reviewer's perspective, I appreciate Norton's acknowledgement for what we do. In just a few years, I've seen many a "labor of love" run its course. The blogosphere is littered with dead book review blogs. People burn out. The demands of family and work and other real world matters take priority. Free books are wonderful, but you can't redeem them for diapers or use them to pay the electric bill. Of course, only a select few might be able to review enough books to make any sort of living from it. I'm not one of those people. Still, I wonder if some kind of hybrid system could be achieved.

I think that the Self-Publishing Review has a good system in place. They offer a variety of packages based on one's budget. From my perspective it looks like a lot of work, but it seems to be working for them.

What if this blog offered "fast track" book reviews? I admit that we're slow; we're down to one book per month. It might go a little faster if I didn't take on 500+ page behemoths. But if I were to be paid to review books, then I'd have justification to spend my whole day reading. I do that now with proofreading and editing. The turnaround time would be vastly improved: 4-8 hours/day reading instead of 1. We'd churn out a lot more book reviews. For those not willing to pay, I'd leave the free option open, but they'd have to wait the usual month or so for their review.

But what about integrity? No one complains about The New York Times reviewers. Is it because they're paid by the newspaper and not by the publisher? Probably. In general, we don't like to give out bad reviews. We pre-screen books, hence the first three chapters request. Books that have major grammatical and structural issues automatically get rejected. That wouldn't change. We only read books in genres we like; I wouldn't start reading paranormal romance novels even if you paid me. We point out the flaws, and we'd have to still do that. Ultimately, you would have to decide if we retained our integrity.

We have no immediate plans to adopt a paid reviews program. This is just me thinking out loud. After 5+ years, I'm burning out on reviewing indie books (my traditionally published TBR pile is now too big and I've missed out on a lot of good books), and I know others here have as well (Note the shrinking "current contributor" list). We can't seem to attract new reviewers despite our flexible rules. Why join someone else's blog when you can start your own? We've had people do both, which I see as a value add. Maybe a cash incentive is in order. Or is it a slippery slope? I don't know. I do know that there's a good chance that we're going to go on long term hiatus, and based on other blogs that have done that...well, they tend to make that hiatus permanent.


Image Credit: boydlogan.wordpress.com


DED said...

The Self-Publishing Review just wrote a lengthy essay justifying their paid reviews system. If you disagree with their premise, you're in for a lengthy argument.

DED said...

The Self-Publishing Review now has survey data to further bolster their argument.

DED said...

Jane Friedman weighs in on the topic. She suggests that authors assess their marketing strategies before making the investment.

DED said...

The Self-Publishing Review doubled down on the need for paid reviews.

Ratul Roy said...

Well, DED, we understand your hardships and hard work in reviewing Indie books. Why not write a book on your own about this vast experience on book reviews? We at Orange Publishers, one of the best self-publishing book houses, would love to see you onboard with us.

DED said...

That's kind of you to say. I'll think about it.