The Great Paid Review Scandal, Follow-Up

January 25th, 2007 · 7 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

We were somewhat intrigued by Slate’s storyon self-published authors and Amazon’s BookSurge division. The fact that BookSurge offers paid reviews as part of the service didn’t make us blink. Sure, we wonder about the authors who believe this is a valuable service, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

What gave us pause was the phrasing in an email from the company to an author (see page two of the story)– while Slate’s reading of the service was that the review would be written by a New York Times bestselling author (in this case, probably the extremely extended list), the company’s email to the self-published author suggests that the review is an actual New York Times review.

Big difference.

But oddly, not the most interesting part of this story. As we were somewhat intrigued by this story, we thought we’d engage in “research” (clicking on links and whatnot). What to our wondering eyes did appear but…wait for it…nada! All copy referencing the review, one Ellen Tanner Marsh, has been removed from the BookSurge site. Wethinks someone realized some bad mojo was happening.

Marsh’s reviews still appear on Amazon, but the paid service has been, shall we say, discontinued. Without explanation. Okay, so someone figured out this wasn’t the best way to do business. Sure, BookSurge (and probably Marsh) made some money, but a single review on for a self-published novel simply isn’t going to be effective. Despite our own career as a book reviewer, we are not entirely sure that reviews have that much power over the consumer anyway.

Here’s why: people are cynical. One review by someone the reader has never heard of is not enough to sway opinion. We’ll go so far as to say that savvy readers expect friends of the author to post glowing reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other places. For self-published authors, these reviews likely don’t do much to sway staff at newspapers or magazines either. It’s that cynicism thing again. The truth of the matter is that self-published authors need to work harder to get their books read.

We’re sorry to say this, but the barrier for entry into the world of being a published author is low. Getting distribution via Amazon isn’t that hard. Selling your book to interested customers is. It requires a lot of good, old-fashioned legwork. Paying for reviews might seem like a brilliant shortcut, but it isn’t.

File Under: Reviewing Reviewing

7 responses so far ↓

  • Ruth Gunter Mitchell // Jan 25, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    Sad to say, but I am one of those self-published authors who paid for Ms. Marsh’s review. You’re exactly right about how hard it is to get my book read. I’ve done very well in my own community, but I can’t get the bookstores interested. I’ve learned a lot from my experience with BookSurge and some of its “packages.”

  • KR Blog » Blog Archive » Short Takes // Jan 25, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    […] “We’re sorry to say this, but the barrier for entry into the world of being a published author is low.” […]

  • ktwice // Jan 25, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Ruth — I’m sorry that you had to learn this the hard way. I firmly believe that self-publishing is a great avenue toward publishing, but self-published authors really need to educate themselves about the business. If selling lots of books is your goal, then you need to think like an old-fashioned door-to-door salesman. So do many traditionally published authors — getting reviews for their works isn’t easy, either. Too many books, too few outlets for publicity. This is why you need to keep working it.

    When you say community, do you mean target audience or where you live? Because the thing about the Internet is that it changes our definition of community, and I find that authors who understand that their community is not defined by physical boundaries tend to find a higher level of success. But it depends on the book, the subject, the author…well, you know.

  • Books : blog -- Books Blog: A Conspiracy of Smart People » Lessons in self-publishing -- -- Albany N.Y. // Jan 26, 2007 at 8:37 am

    […] The Book Square blog follows up, and finds the service may no longer be available. That blog is here: […]

  • Joey // Jul 16, 2007 at 11:16 am

    I’m an author who took BookSurge’s service to Publish my book “Maximum Influence Advantage” at Amazon. Hmm… they never offered any review service for my book but I doubt it would even have helped anyway. Folks are very wary of ‘testimonials’ and would rather scour forums and blogs for reviews.

  • Ruth Gunter Mitchell // Aug 24, 2007 at 8:28 am

    Thanks for the comments. It was my first–and maybe last–novel, and I learned a lot from the experience. If I ever repeat the process, I will be more willing to pound the pavement for myself.

  • Amazon’s Review System Needs to Be Changed | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary // Apr 13, 2008 at 2:01 am

    […] year offered a positive review for the cost of $399.00. After being outed by Slate, you apparently discontinued the public offering of this […]