Look, I’m not about to criticize anyone for finding a way to make a buck. The self-publishing marketplace has blown up about a dozen ways for aspiring entrepreneurs to monetize all sorts of different aspects of the publishing world. Unfortunately, it has also opened a gigantic cans of worms.
I understand the time and effort that goes into reading a book and writing a thoughtful review. It’s work. Good reviewers deserve to profit off their labor just as much as good writers do. But writers paying reviewers is a horrible, horrible idea, and here’s why.
Reviews are meant to serve readers, providing them with honest and truthful information before they spend their money on a product – whether that’s a book, a movie, a restaurant or anything else. When an author pays for a review, this entire equation gets flipped and the reviewer stops serving readers and begins serving authors.
A paid reviewer who consistently churns out truly honest (read “sometimes negative”) reviews will lose customers – and that’s not their readers. With the risk of losing money, it’s only human nature to want to be nice, to want to please authors, and to put a positive spin on reviews.
As a reader, I wouldn’t put any faith in a book review that was paid for by the author. I couldn’t trust a word of it. The second an author has paid a penny for a review, every word that reviewer says is suspect.
Hell, I already feel that pressure when I write a review of a fellow writer. I don’t want to mean, I want people to like me, and usually whoever I am reviewing is just another little person like me hoping to make it big. Unfortunately if I hold back on my opinion, then it’s potential readers who pay the price.
From an author’s standpoint, I get it. We are competing in a crowded marketplace, seeking to build a following and hopefully see real money in return for our words. Paying a few bucks here or there to get a positive review of a book seems simple. But did you earn that review? Is it fair to your readers? Does it really mean a fucking thing? Or is just one big lie?
Think about the sea of paid reviews out there. A reader who might have plunked down a couple bucks for your glorious book instead buys a total crap book that a paid reviewer said was awesome. The more this happens, the less readers will trust any reviews, the less they will seek out new writers, and the more watered down with shit the self-publishing world becomes.
As an author, I will never pay for a review. I might choose to pay for marketing or advertising or even a service to help connect my work with reputable reviewers. But I will never, ever, ever pay anyone to read my books.
I care too much about my readers to try to cheat them like that. I hope that other authors will make the same choice. I know some won’t. I hope readers will ignore review sites that charge authors. And finally, I hope that more reviewers will look for ways to make money that doesn’t come from authors. I know that advertising and subscriptions aren’t always the solution.
Of course, reviewers should be competing for readers just like writers do. That competition means some review sites won’t survive or thrive, just like every author won’t sell a million copies. Sorry, I know it sucks, but too bad. That’s the way the world and the marketplace work. You may succeed, or you may fail.
Taking money from authors short-circuits this and perverts just about everything. Just because some authors are desperate enough to plunk down money for a review doesn’t make it right or ethical.
In the long run, this will damage something that we all profess to love. So if you claim to love books and reading and writing, let’s stop supporting this practice. It’s a really bad thing.