Book Reviews in the Age of Self-Publishing

Although it was not the first salvo in the unveiling of the fiasco that is author-purchased book reviews, David Streitfeld’s article The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy (NY Times, Aug. 26, 2012) has set off a firestorm of discussions like the one I’m following on The Book Designer website (Should Authors Pay for Book Reviews?).

The core problem is that technology has opened Pandora’s publishing industry box. To the good, writers with a story to tell (fiction or non) that doesn’t fit into the traditional publishers’ sweetspot can publish their books for relatively little money and find an audience.  To the bad, that also means more competition for readers and the temptation to game the system by paying people to post five-star reviews of their books.

Even worse, there’s now the phenomenon of phony books published by phony authors (Read Thad McIlroy’s “Worse Than Paying for Online Reviews”).

Authentic writers–self-published and traditional–can bemoan these developments, but the best strategy is to make an upfront commitment to the highest ethical standards:  Do not pay for or trade for reviews.  Also, do not review/rate your own books. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going around.

I encourage people who read my books to review and rate them, but I want them to record their honest views. To praise me because we’re friends is an unfriendly thing to do if you didn’t like the books.

I’m hopeful that while it’s possible to game the system for a short time, people will catch on and figure out a way to stop whatever system is being gamed.

As a reader who finds reviews helpful, read those reviews carefully. You should be able to tell which ones are genuine and which are not.


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