If you’re at-all into Indie Publishing, you probably have read one of the articles about our own, nerdier doping scandal in the last few weeks. The New York Times ran a piece called “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”, featuring an opportunistic man, Todd Rutherford, who gets paid to write 5-star reviews of books for authors on Amazon. With his annual income (nearly $340,000!), it’s obvious he doesn’t read the books. Another piece in The Huffington Post outs How I Sold 1 Million eBooks is 5 Months author John Locke for purchasing reviews from Mr. Rutherford the month his sales finally took off.
This news is especially troubling for Indie authors, because not only does it show a serious lapse in ethics, but because it sheds doubts on all of our success. Big 5 Purists, Indie Haters, don’t need another reason to spit on independently published work. They already think that we’re sub-par because we decided to sieze control of the packaging and marketing of our work. We’re penalized in the eyes of many reviewers because we chose to sell to a niche market, rather than homogenize our work for mass appeal and let someone else decide the fate of our book. Indie authors should be proud that they took control of their work– who it was marketed to, how it was pitched, how it was priced, how long it will be made available to the public– yet this stain on our movement makes it harder to sell books to those who are still on the fence.
Before I started this endeavor, I read The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott. I know I’ve already pimped this book on my blog, but it is worth it. There is a lot of great advice for all marketers in it. Mr. Scott outlined famous cases of big companies getting caught lying and cheating online in his book.The lesson? They always find out. Don’t count on anonymity.
John Locke, using fake reviews to boost his sales and then omitting that important “shortcut” from his How I Sold… book, is despicable. But we’re not all like that.
Yes, many of us do send free copies of our books to bloggers in exchange for a unbiased review. Sometimes the blogger loves it, sometimes they hate it, and oftentimes they never even review it and we’ve wasted our money purchasing and shipping it. This is exactly what publishers do– they distribute books to the press in exchange for publicity. Not all publicity is good publicity.
And yes, some of us even pay for Kirkus reviews (though I have not). Those reviews come with no guarantee that they will be positive, but Kirkus does allow paid reviews to be hidden if the author doesn’t like them.
Most of us rely on friendly book bloggers, book giveaways, and honest-to-goodness reviews from readers. Most of us are doing it– very slowly– the right way.
This scandal is shameful and you have the right to feel cheated if you find out that someone you purchased a book from bought reviews. You may even enjoy John Locke’s work, but that still doesn’t make it right and it makes his How I Sold... book totally invalid, in my mind. Just please don’t turn your back on all Indie works. Unethical practices are not unique to Indies. We hope that we can earn back your trust.
Plenty of Indie Authors have made success without buying reviews. Example: Blake Northcott, the writer of Vs. Reality and Relapse had amassed a horde of nerdy fanboys on her Twitter, Blog, and Facebook before she ever put her book up for sale. Her success was from genuine social interaction, not from falsely inflated sales.
When you think of Indies, please think of her and not John Locke.
If you’ve ever considered posting your own reviews from a pseudonym or buying work, don’t. I know you can’t stop your Mom from giving you a glowing review, but don’t engage in dishonest behavior. It will backfire and you will get caught. The internet ALWAYS finds out eventually. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a fraud lawsuit in John Locke’s future. It’s just not worth it.
I know it’s hard to get readers to review your book. You may sell 100 copies of your latest book in one month, but only get one review. Not all readers are writers and not all readers want to take the time to review your book. Those are just the breaks. We have to deal with it.
Even if you are an unethical person who is not swayed by right and wrong, know that once you get caught cheating, the internet and its extreme sense of justice will make sure that everywhere your name is Googled, it is associated with what you did. Don’t do it, man. It’s not worth it.