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Indie Authors: Would You Pay For A Book Review? Amy Edelman And Orna Ross Go Head-to-head

Indie Authors: Would You Pay for A Book Review? Amy Edelman and Orna Ross Go Head-to-head

Amy Edelman

Orna Ross

Orna Ross

Amy Edelman of Indie Reader (IR) recently posted a story, “Why Do Indie Authors Pay for Consumer Reviews?” on the IR blog. It attracted so much heat in the first twenty minutes that she took it down (as her lead, she made the unfortunate mistake of citing an unverified story). But her larger point, she insists, remains valid: it's understandable that indie authors, in certain cases, might pay for reviews. The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) invited Amy to our first Head-To-Head  (a new occasional series) to debate the issues with Orna Ross, who “cannot imagine any circumstances” under which she'd pay for a review.

AMY: I am, if nothing else, a realist and at this point in time — while I don’t condone it — I totally get why indie authors are likely to reach for their wallets in order to generate reader reviews and/or to call in favors to their peers. Indie authors are already at a disadvantage when it comes to promoting their titles, even — or perhaps especially — when their books are actually good.

Remember, indie authors are running the same race as their trade-pubbed brethren, except with one leg in a cast and their hands tied behind their backs. Despite the total absence of reviews by mainstream media, their ebooks are still bought by the hundreds of thousands and then fought over by traditional publishers.

ORNA: I've got my own personal feelings about this but we’ve also had to give this a lot of thought at ALLi. There are ethical issues at stake and it is an important question, not just for indies, but for the wider literary culture. There are three different kinds of reviews that are often confused in the heat of the debate: 1) Customer, aka consumer, reviews on online bookstores like Amazon; 2) peer-reviews, by other authors and; 3) the paid-for reviews from organizations like your own and BlueInk Review, where indies can  pay to have their book independently reviewed.

I guess the key point to make, first off, is that buying fake customer reviews is disallowed by our Code of Standards on ethical grounds.

AMY: I get that, obviously. But remember the hoo-ha around David Streitfeld’s case study about customer reviews in The New York Times awhile back? The fact that there are very few products or service industries — from tooth brushes to travel sites — that don’t solicit pay-for-good- reviews was mentioned in the piece. And Streitfeld had covered that subject in greater length in a previous post, describing how the enormous demand for reviews — on everything from hotels and restaurants to car dealerships and handymen — has led to a kind of review-factory involving little evaluation of services and products. He said, and he’s right, that the boundless demand for positive reviews has made the review system a sort of arms race. As more five-star reviews are handed out, even more five-star reviews are needed. Few want to risk being left behind.

But the news that you can buy positive feedback on TripAdvisor didn’t draw nearly the same outrage reserved for indie authors. Why is that?

ORNA: Maybe we expect more from writers than business owners?

AMY: Perhaps. But I think it’s easier for people to condemn an individual than it is a business. But—as I stated above—I think indie authors have few other choices. Because even though indie books have repeatedly cracked the most respectable bestseller lists—and I’m talking The New York Times and USA Today—they are still considered “lesser than”. Despite all the success of the Amanda Hockings, Hugh Howeys and Sergio de la Pavas—there have been at least sixteen indies who have been picked up by Big 5 publishers already just this year—the trad media still believe the propaganda about self-published books being crap (basically, I think they’re snobs).

On the other hand, you have trad published books being reviewed by trad media because the publishers—via ad dollars—support them. What we need to remember is that trade publishers can get their authors' books read and written about by mainstream reviewers, indies can not. Trade published authors can get their books touted in the trade and consumer magazines, which in turn leads to (potential) sales, which in turn leads to (potentially) more customer reviews. Indie authors can not.

ORNA: Indies do have other tools to get customer reviews. Many of my own early reviews have come from free promotions through the KDP Select program—and many of our members use Select for the first three months of a title’s life in that way. Also, I ask at the end of my books for readers to leave feedback on the website where they bought the book or on Goodreads. And I have a similar call on my website.

AMY: That’s true. But what of the third type of review you cite above? The reviews that take the place of those earned by trad pubbed authors from the trades? Indie authors are criticized for buying them, even if it’s from a respected outlet like Kirkus or BlueInk.

ORNA: Or Indie Reader.

AMY: Yes. If the review is positive, it is treated as suspect because it’s paid for, or it won’t make a big enough splash over at Amazon or GoodReads, where it counts.

ORNA: This is a choice each writer must make for themselves. I do appreciate that reviewers, and the people like yourself, who do  great work foregrounding indie authors, need to eat. Somebody has to pay, somebody always does. And I understand that payment to IndieReader or BlueInk doesn't make the review any less impartial than it would otherwise be. But for me, personally, I just wouldn't feel the same about a paid review as I would about a spontaneous review from a reader, or a review in a publication that takes its payments from advertisers. Illogical maybe, but there it is. I can't imagine any circumstances under which I'd pay for a review.

AMY: What about reviewing other authors or being reviewed by them? The response to that too seems to depend which side of the book shelf you’re on. To many, a review is considered fake if it’s swapped or traded between authors. Tell that to The New York Times!

ORNA: Definitely. The back-slapping on the review pages of all the mainstream books press is scandalous too — but that doesn't make it right for us to do it. Two wrongs… and all that. My own policy is that I never review a book by somebody I know personally, and personally in this context also means through online social media. This was my response to the sock puppet controversy you talked about earlier. When it comes to ALLI members, we have a number of schemes in place to foreground their books in different ways, but I no longer review books by ALLi members.

AMY: I was interested in Zoë Heller’s recent article in The New York Times, “Are Novelists Too Wary of Criticizing Other Novelists?” She wrote: “…the real reason for encouraging novelists to overcome their critical inhibitions is that their contributions help maintain the rigor and vitality of the public conversation about books.” And further, “Whenever a novelist wades into the critical fray, he is not only helping to explain and maintain literary standards, but also, in some important sense, defending the value of his vocation.”

ORNA: I do agree with that. I want to be part of that conversation. I like to review. The way around it is to review books by authors you don’t know. It’s very difficult, I’d say impossible, to give a reader-centered review—which is what all reviews should be—if you know the writer. I used to review books for a newspaper years ago and it was policy never to commission a review from anyone who know the writer personally. But journalistic standards—especially in literary journalism—have fallen badly in recent years. Now “reviews” are often no more than a regurgitation of the publisher’s press release.

AMY: The sad fact of the matter is that, like the blood spot in Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost: no matter how hard an author-publisher scrubs, the indie taint remains. And until indie authors are able to become a recognizable and desirable niche to book-loving consumers — akin to indie films and music — they’ll remain at the mercy of traditional publishers (who buy them up once they've succeeded) and the establishment media (who ignore them). So why do indies pay for reviews? In the end, it’s because they can. And because up till now, it's worked.


So there you have it. What do you think?




This Post Has 53 Comments
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  3. I’ve never bought a review and I think the quality won’t be good so even if you don’t have a moral problem with it, it really isn’t worth it. I feel that I can spot a fake review a mile away.

    Do you consider sites like easybookreviews.com as buying book reviews? They have a different model.

  4. I’d also like to add – I’ve never bought a review – because I’ve never found someone as honest as I am. Many are just out to make a quick buck. I don’t want something throwing fake praise. Really, is that one fake positive review worth it for a dozen others to come back and say that they felt cheated?

    No. Not in the slightest. But imagine if there were dozens of people who operate the way I do? (I’d be broke, lol,) but you could find the authors who are really serious (willing to buy) about what they’re doing and obviously aren’t in it for the money, get some really AWESOME reviews on books that really deserve it and some really awful reviews on books that deserve it (as opposed to troll culture reviews) and a very real idea of what a book is like. How many people honestly come back to review a book?

    I gave away 900 free copies of my book last month through KDP Select – the one that Amy is touting – not a single review from it. None good. None bad. Indie authors have to take things into their own hands.

    Also, might I point out – if you trad pub, you make less revenue – that revenue pays a dozen other people to do half your work for you. I don’t see a difference. If anything, I view that as LESS honest. Oh, and paying an agent to sell your book to a publisher who then makes you millions?

    Explain the difference, please?

  5. *Shrug* I make a living doing honest reviews.

    I review products, books, movies, whatever.

    I deal mostly in book reviews – http://ramblingreviewer.wix.com/fivedollarreviews#!past-reviews/c1z5d

    I think ‘fake’ reviewers are bullshit, I’ll agree with that.

    However, I work on a different business model – mostly because I used to do free reviews and review trades – only to find many people would never return the reviews and just keep their handout – that and I’m a busy man who ran out of time to review for free, let alone friggin’ read.

    So now I advertise paid reviews for five dollars (concept came from Fiverr but I got sick of some of the interface and waiting two weeks for every five dollar order) – I’ll buy their book, honestly review it and butthurt authors be damned. I advertise and deliver 100% HONEST reviews. If your book sucks, your book sucks. That’s a harsh reality. I’ve told more than one author that, too.

    After reviewing (Reviews contain SEO Keywords and are always upwards of 500 words) the book, if I enjoyed it (scored over three stars), then that five dollars also buys advertising space on my website – a dedicated webpage encouraging anyone who comes to my site to check the books out and buy them (I provide direct links to Amazon and other links for people to share the book right there on Facebook themselves). I also backlink to the personal website of any author who contracts through me if they have one, boosting their traffic numbers further.

    I then share them with my 25,000+ Fans on Facebook.

    Also, I must say – none of my forty odd customers have been penalized, my reviews have never been taken down and my traffic is higher than ever.

    I realize I’m probably an oddity, but maybe if we had more articles encouraging people to be HONEST in their practices, and less blasting anyone who needs to put their skills to work to feed their kids, we would have more people operating on a premise like myself.

    I really would love to see more Indie Authors succeed.

    We’re not all evil, you know.

    If anyone is interested in my services, drop onto my page and shoot me a message through my contact page. 🙂 Enjoy! And to all authors – best of luck and keep writing.

  6. I’m still not getting what the issue about ‘paying for a review’ is about.

    Kirkus: you PAY for that, and that’s a review.

    1. It’s about the perception that payment will compromise objectivity. What business doesn’t want (and indeed, need) to keep its customers happy?

      Think Arthur Andersen and Enron.

  7. Going off in a different direction, I’m surprised there’s been no discussion here of blog book tours. When I launched my book, I payed an organization (recommended to me by a friend who’s a few steps ahead of me on her indie author journey) to arrange a blog book tour. In return for a fairly modest fee they handled the logistics of dealing with all the many bloggers they worked with.

    The bloggers (around 30) featured my promotional content on their website, and some also, of their own volition, wrote reviews. The bloggers themselves were not paid for either. Although yes, one could argue that they accrued non-cash benefits from the arrangement.

    It was a simple way of getting word out into the blogosphere. I’m personally comfortable with it on an ethical level, and – just as importantly – I don’t know of any online communities that have huge moral problems with this form of PR. A handful of the bloggers even went on to post their reviews on Amazon, Shelfari, and Goodreads – with appropriate declarations that they had received a free copy of my book as part of the arrangement.

    Oh, in case you’re wondering, the specific agency I used was goddessfish.com, although there are other organizations offering similar services.

    1. Hi Theo. You missed a post! A few days previously we had in fact addressed blog tours with a great post by Gregory Delaurentis here – and guess who he used? Goddessfish.com! Other providers are available, as they like to say on the BBC!

  8. So… just wondering. The authors that would never, under any circumstances, pay for a review, would then never hire a publicist to garner them reviews? And if they were to find themselves with a traditional publisher they would shun the services of said publisher’s publicity department in favor of seeking out unpaid-for peer reviews? (Disclosure, I used to be an entertainment publicist – music, films and a few books.) The part of this discussion that seems to be missing, to me, is that the trad publishers are already paying for reviews, they just aren’t using paypal to do it. There is no such thing as ‘free publicity’. This idea that by paying the media outlet directly is somehow dirtier than paying an intermediary/publicist to get the reviews seems a bit misplaced. Any good publicist will have a roster of established authors that media want – for interviews, opinions, or the above-mentioned peer reviews. They will also have new authors that they need to get reviewed. There is no invoice, but there is a subtle exchange of services that happens. And everyone pretends that there is a Chinese wall between paid advertising and editorial integrity. There are a lot of holes in that wall. Let’s face it, the indie authors out there are not buying the quarter page ads in the NYTimes and the NYTimes is not reviewing indie authors. As an author of young adult fiction I’m at the mercy of the twelve-year-old with a blog and 10 followers who may decide she hates my book. Her review carries just as much weight on Goodreads and Amazon as the well-read reviewer with thoughtful comments who may still give me a bad review, but with valid reasoning, not just because. Democracy is great, (except that you have to let everyone vote, ha!) but if legitimate review sites, such as Indie Reader, or Kirkus, or Clarion Foreward, can keep themselves honest, or at least as honest as they are with the traditional publishers, then I’m willing to bypass the publicist and pay for a review by an actual critic. Perhaps ALLi could put its watchdogs on this and validate those media outlets that do provide honest reviews for indie authors.

    1. Having a publicist who promotes your book and gets other people excited about your book and garner reviews does not mean the publicist is paying book reviewers for the reviews. And no, if paid reviews were part of the traditional model, I wouldn’t object as strongly. I think it’s mostly because in self-publishing, it’s my out of pocket money, and I feel inauthentic knowing I paid for a review.

      1. Forgive me, Zara for repeating myself, but reused comment that follows plays to the point in question. Arguably, all reviews are paid reviews. A publisher’s lordly advertising budget commands attention. For example, the 3 August 2014 Sunday NY Times Book Review offered fourteen major reviews, eleven of which were from the Big Five, and the twelfth, from Europa, which is distributed by Random House. The other two were from Harvard University Press. (Who on the NYTBR went to school there?) Of seven “tiny” reviews (under sixty words) six were from the Big Five and the seventh was from Europa. Of four minor reviews (under two hundred words) all were from the Big Five. Not only that, the NYTBR commits five full pages to Best Sellers, or as I described them “tout sheets.” Disgraceful.

        Those who review for the Times — depending on who they are and who their publisher maybe be — is looking at a thousand dollar or more payday. Bite the hand?

    2. I think there are two issues here that we need to think about separately.

      The first is the pure exercise of conscience.

      The second is the “realpolitik” of the situation: the practical business of garnering reviews that will actually be useful in increasing rather than decreasing our sales.

      On a “pure” ethical level, Deborah’s point is entirely valid. Of course we are all aware that there is almost a “shadow economy” in the advertising and PR world. Editorial policy is not independent of advertising dollars. But we are all largely habituated to this unpleasant reality.

      By contrast, in the online world, there are whole reviewer communities growing up on sites like Amazon and Goodreads that take an extremely negative view of this sort of thing happening in what they see as THEIR backyard. Few of us may be able to do much about the policies of major media outlets. But a lot of people are actively doing everything they can what they see as shill reviews in the online world.

      I know that this is a double standard, but that’s the way it is.

      Which is why, despite the fact that on a purely ethical level I cannot find fault with a single word that Deborah wrote, I believe that on a pragmatic level, it leads to a slippery slope towards disaster.

      That said, I’m not going to sternly waggle my finger at anyone and say “cheaters never prosper”. The really _good_ cheaters, the cheaters who know the game backwards and understand exactly what they’re doing, frequently do prosper.

      But I think everyone needs to understand the reputational risks involved her. To think about the very real possibility of waking up one day and finding their name spattered all over “Badly Behaved Authors” threads across the internet. To wake up one day and find that when people Google your name or the name of your book, the very first thing they find in their results are accusations that you bought your way to all your good reviews.

      Finally, it’s difficult for me to say everything I want to say here without descending into blatant self promotion. But it does seem to me that a lot of this conversation is predicated on the idea that getting honest, unpaid reviews online is somehow incredibly hard. It isn’t. It’s actually pretty easy. You just need some understanding of people you’re dealing with, and a willingness to put in the hours necessary to talk to them on an individual level.

  9. I’m a little vague on what proponents are suggesting we actually _do_ with paid-for reviews.

    Where would they appear? How would they influence prospective customers?

    Posting paid-for reviews on Amazon or Goodreads would clearly violate the rules of those sites. Goodreads explicitly forbids “Commercial reviews”, and Amazon even more explicitly forbids “reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product”.



    And as Orna pointed out, fake customer reviews contravene the ethics of ALLi.

    On a pragmatic level, both Amazon and Goodreads have very robust reviewer communities that take an extremely dim view of what they see as “shill reviews”. There are serious reputational risks involved in engaging in this kind of behaviour.

  10. I wouldn’t pay for just a review, especial not consumer reviews, but I would pay for a thorough assessment of my work that could be published and possibly bring about discussions of my book. I’ve seen a few bloggers who’ve started doing these long and involved 10 to 20 point breakdowns of books (that they are not charging for) and they always seems to start great discussions. I’m sure these bloggers are not charging because they are doing something they love and want to be presented as unbiased, but I would totally pay for something like that, especially if it was done by a well-known and accredited source, company, or publication. People will always argue “how honest can a review be if it’s paid for”, but with 10 to 20 points to be evaluated, I’d be willing to give the reviewer the benefit of the doubt…

    This will always be a touchy subject in this industry. I think the mine problem is, is that it’s too hard to get the word out and too many authors are becoming desperate and doing desperate things…I haven’t paid for a review yet, but I’m not completely opposed to the idea…I’ve also never received payment for a review and I never will. I’m not offering 10 to 20 point breakdowns of anyone’s work at the moment.

      1. LOL, Orna!

        This was one of those situations where I was bursting at the seams to say something, but I couldn’t think of anything to say without descending into crass self-promotion ;-P

  11. Pay for an “honest review.” What exactly does that mean? Please identify those sources who ask for a fee and make no promises that the review will be good. Most of the sites I’ve see say, “we’ll send you the review before posting, and if you prefer, we will not post it.” Or, they might say “if our reviewer is not able to give the book at least 3 stars, we will pass it on to another reviewer. Or some such.

    I see the paid review issue as entirely unrelated to the peer review issue. I have plenty of peer reviews, and I don’t doubt their authenticity. I also review peers.

    I do, however, disclose both my relationship with the peer (I am acquainted with the author through various social media sites, for instance) and the fact that the author reviewed my book previously.

    I think credibility is essential. Disclosure achieves that. Perhaps there would be no problem if the paid reviews carried a similar disclaimer:

    “The author paid a fee for this book review.”

  12. I wrote this post on paid reviews two years ago for BoxOcto, and an interesting discussion ensued:

    A lot has changed in the two years since then, but I still feel pretty much the same about it.

    Also, I do review books by authors I know, because I think readers enjoy hearing a bit of backstory sometimes, and sometimes, it’s the author I’m actually recommending, as with this review of Colleen Thompson’s SALT MAIDEN:

  13. Hi Orna & Amy:Thanks for your interesting face-off. I believe that you are each correct in your feelings re: paid reviews. Extending the question: Author’s Consultants are paid for their services. O.K., it’s not exactly the same as reviewing, but having your book read by a reviewer who specializes in your genre can be analytical and helpful. We don’t need to pay someone to just write blurbs. I can write a better blurb for my own work, and so can every author. The choice is the author’s. Stay well… Warren.

  14. No. I would not pay one dime to get someone to write a review. And my reasoning is pretty simple–just how honest and unbiased can a review really be if its been funded by the author? Additionally, it’s my hope to inspire readers to write reviews, whether good, bad, or indifferent. For the record, I also won’t accept money to write a review, either.

  15. Crossing my fingers and hoping that some stranger will review my book never worked. I joined The Kindle Book Review site for a couple of years as an unpaid reviewer. After a while, I realized that it was a huge chunk of my time, all give, and no get. I did break down and pay for 3 reviews, and I made certain that they would be honest and not spare my feelings. I think the author’s honesty can make a reviewer feel more comfortable about giving an honest review. Now, I am heavily into review exchanges with other indie authors. Usually, it works out great, but other times, uncomfortable. I rarely give below 3 stars, preferring to give constructive criticism. I have had a few occasions where I’ve told the author that I thought their book was a waste of energy, and they are not qualified writers. I remind them that this is only one person’s opinion, and that someone else may feel very differently.

    Ultimately, I want reviews, and I want them faster than waiting for them to “just happen.” What’s an author to do? Whatever works.

    — Java Davis, indie author

  16. There’s nothing wrong with paid reviews. Indie authors need them desperately and because of taboo sensitivities and community outrage, they often don’t do enough to solicit them. So they begin marketing with zero reviews and don’t understand why they aren’t selling.

    Ideally indie authors would have a fair, automatic system set up for trading prolifically genuine and honest peer reviews, with tons of checks and balances (such as the ability to screen and approve reviews before they are posted in public).

    But since there isn’t anything like that yet – I’ll do it eventually, but it’s going to take a ton of startup funding – authors are going around pleading and begging for someone to read their book, which is rarely a better way of getting honest reviews since there is so much personal baggage attached (nobody you asked for a review will want to post a bad review).

    If someone reads your book, that they wouldn’t have otherwise read, and leaves you a valuable review, their time is worth paying for. But you should go into it demanding that they be honest above all. Pay them, but tell them it’s OK to be critical and leave a low star review (You can ask them to show it to you first, but I wouldn’t. Low star, negative reviews can help sell books more than 5 star rave reviews).

    Pay for honest reviews, and there’s nothing anybody can find fault with. If your book is terrible, at least you’ll find out so you can stop marketing so hard. If your book is excellent, those early reviews are only helping readers to find and take a chance on you.

    The only kind of bad paid reviews are the lies, the fakes, the misleadings. Paying for lies is simply bad marketing, because readers will feel betrayed and leave worse reviews.

    1. Yes, Derek, I agree. But the line between “good” paid reviews and “bad” ones is really quite thin and in most cases when it’s an indie paying you’re not getting the benefit of the doubt.

  17. I’d say that if you’re up front with an audience that you know the author, it’s quite alright to offer up an honest review… All the way back to the golden age authors have been the biggest cheerleaders for other authors…

    As for paid reviews, if it’s a legit source the fee is getting you on the list, not guaranteeing you a great review. And there are multiple paid models, from the publisher running ads and so expecting reviews, to indie fees for Kirkus or PW to the not-so-great fee base review sites with poor traffic and few followers… The latter are the ones we need to protect authors from…

  18. I would never pay for a book review. I was once virtually approached to give a review for someone who I didn’t know, and they offered to pay me. I felt so pressured to write a good review that I worried that if I didn’t like it, I’d alienate the person. I wound up NOT agreein to write the review (paid or not) because I didn’t know the person. Based on my personal experience as the REVIEWER I have to wonder how honest paid reviews are. Are they completely honest or cleaned up and edited so no negative comments remain? Also, as an AUTHOR, many of the paid review sites can’t guarantee a good review (which is honest and good), but why would I PAY for a potentially bad review of my book? I’d rather solicit the many book reviewers out in the blogosphere who would do the same thing for free. That’s just my opinion.

  19. This is a major issue and deserves more attention, and solution. In reading the literary supplements of newspapers, I often see one, obvious indie published book, among many reviews of trad published books. How did it get there I wonder? did the author have an ‘in’ with the newspaper?

    Also, I have often been curious as to why so many ‘legit’ reviews of traditionally published books are written by other authors. You know, that little blurb at the end of the review that says so-and-so is a writer living in South Podunk, is working on his fourth novel.

    What is needed is a publication or supplement giving priority to the works of indie authors and made available in the book stores, possibly for free.

    1. Great idea, James, about a reviewing publication dealing with Indie authors. It would only work, though, if the reviewers were good, honest and workaholics (Imagine the cascade of submissions!) That way the publication would perhaps help put good indie in the way of a reading/buying public, and eventually gain respectability.

  20. I personally wouldn’t pay for a review, but that’s because I don’t have much money. However, if I’d been working in the corporate world for years and had lots of money, I’d be happy to pay a reviewer for their time, but they’d better be a good reviewer, not someone that will tell me what they like and don’t like, but someone who will give an objective constructively critical review of the craftsmanship. Anyone can say what they like, the reviews worth paying for are those written by people who know their stuff. Then they’re a bit like a very brief manuscript appraisal. Even if the review is negative, you get something out of it – that rare thing, truly constructive criticism. Where do you honestly get that these days? Obviously, I’m not talking about paying for positive reviews, that kind of thing harms everyone in the long run, most especially the integrity of the industry.

    I review for the Awesome Indies; the reviews are free, but authors can pay to have their review prioritised if they want. Their money simply makes it more likely that someone will actually want to read their book and that the review will be competed on time. In a climate where it’s really difficult to find willing reviewers, it’s simply a short cut, and we make it clear that the review will be competely honest. The author does not deal with the reviewer directly, so there isn’t that personal contact that might sway a reviewer, but even without that, our reviewers have such strong feelings about writing honest reviews regardless of who the book is by, that we can review each others books and know that we risk a 1 star review like everyone else. The only concession we make for ‘friends’ is that we probablby wouldn’t actually publish the review if we couldn’t give the book 3 stars.

    You can keep your professional role separate from your personal relationship when there is a strong culture that supports it, and the Awesome Indies has that in its review staff. When a fellow reviewer reviews my book, I’m nervous, because I know they mark hard. I trust them to be truthful and they do the same with me, without that, our reviews would be worthless.
    So I guess I’m saying that what’s most important is a culture of honesty, with that in place whether or not you pay for that honesty is simply a matter of choice.

  21. I have never paid for a review and I never will. And that’s not just because I’m stingey! The whole idea of paying for a review is crazy. How can such a review be taken seriously? Reviews by author-friends are slightly less dodgy, in my view, and I’m happy to accept (and do) those. The alternative – seeking out unpaid reviews from reviewer sites, like The Kindle Book Review – is too time-consuming and painfully slow. Orna: I would argue with you about refusing to review any book by an author you “know”. There will surely be times when an author you don’t “know” will respond to your review by joining Alli, thus muddying that distinction. In a short while you won’t remember whether you really knew any given author or not when you wrote the review. The only way forward, in my view, is to write nothing but honest reviews for known and unknown authors alike. That way you will get and maintain a reputation for honesty and your reviews will be valued by all who read them. JJ

      1. I actually prefer to review authors I know, because I’m able to share some ‘insider info’ about the background of the book and put a face on the author, bringing an added dimension to the experience of the book. Basically, it’s an opportunity to introduce my author friends to my reader friends.

        Example: http://www.whatstellareads.com/2013/03/if-wasp-lands-on-book-i-reviewing-does.html

        I get around conflict by only reviewing books I find myself recommending in day-to-day conversation — books I genuinely like/love — which means I don’t do a ton of reviews, but when I do one, I’m sincere, and I hope it shows.

    1. JJ, we can agree to disagree on this point, but, arguably, all reviews are paid reviews. A publisher’s lordly advertising budget commands attention. For example, the 3 August 2014 Sunday NY Times Book Review offered fourteen major reviews, eleven of which were from the Big Five, and the twelfth, from Europa, which is distributed by Random House. The other two were from Harvard University Press. (Who on the NYTBR went to school there?) Of seven “tiny” reviews (under sixty words) six were from the Big Five and the seventh was from Europa. Of four minor reviews (under two hundred words) all were from the Big Five. Not only that, the NYTBR commits five full pages to Best Sellers, or as I described them “tout sheets.” Disgraceful.

      Those who review for the Times — depending on who they are and who their publisher maybe be — is looking at a thousand dollar or more payday. Bite the hand?

      JJ, we’re on the same page about Orna’s Rule, especially regarding the ALLi people. You make a very good point. Although I understand her position, I’d suggest to her that all she needs do to play fair would be to add a phrase of “full disclosure.” On the other hand, the argument holds for lovers and mates: You don’t review their books. However, to go all fundamentalist over a book review is selling yourself and your integrity short.

      Well done, JJ. You got me thinking. Cheers, Jeff

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