Unscrupulous Self-Pubbers II: Sleazy Review Services
Yesterday I spent far too long reading a Twilight ripoff. The author said as much in her interview about the book on the product page, though I didn't notice it was a vampire trilogy until I had already downloaded it. It was at the top of the Kindle charts, the cover and description looked interesting, the editorial reviews were highly complimentary (even though I'd never heard of most of the sources), and hey, it was free. So why not?
I must now, unfortunately, join the leagues of readers who complain about books they received for free. I didn't lose out monetarily, but I felt ripped off anyway. It wasn't a bad book. It was just very, very far from the engaging, thrilling read it was purported to be. It was slow and plodding, with inconsistent characters and cliché dialogue around every turn, with chapters of long-winded discussion on 19th century poets and novelists that, I'm sure, were supposed to be deep and significant. The pages were practically stamped with a logo saying, "I have an M.A. in English."
I may be a little harsher towards this author than the average consumer, because she happened to write about a librarian and then have the misfortune to get a reader with an MLS. The heroine was supposed to be a departmental liaison for a college library, but she spent all of her time hanging around the circulation desk and delivering books to (and flirting with) faculty like a clerk paid minimum wage. The author clearly chose the position because it was convenient and snuggly, and she didn't bother to glance over a sample job ad for what departmental liaisons actually do. Collection development? Information literacy classes? Managing support staff and student pages? Wahh? She probably didn't even realize that a woman like that would need an MLS plus a subject-specific master's, and preferably a PhD. She just assumed, per the stereotype, that librarians are old maids who take pleasant strolls with trolleys through the stacks, sniffing the aging tomes like cocaine (the girl literally says, in chapter 18, that "There's nothing more lovely to a librarian than a roomful of books.").
Anyway, though I was ticked off enough that she Did Not Do The Research, I was mostly angry that I'd been misled by the editorial reviews into expecting something good. It wasn't until I looked up the sources that I found they were questionable at best, and sleazy at worst.
San Francisco Book Review is apparently part of a chain of review organizations in different Northwest cities: Sacramento, Portland, etc. They take general submissions and send them out to independent reviewers, just like Booklist and Library Journal. Just like Booklist and Library Journal, reviews are not guaranteed to be complimentary, or even written at all. That is, unless you participate in their "Sponsored Reviews Program."
For only $125, or $299 for expedited service, you can get "a 300+ words professional review usable by the author for marketing, sales, or other material." No, no they're not in the business of providing glowing "vanity reviews." If you don't like it, you can just exchange it for a paid ad on their website. And if you do, "you can choose to also run it in Portland Book Review, our sister publication, for only $99!"
Just like San Francisco Book Review, Allbooks Review doesn't guarantee reviews for free submissions. Books submitted for Promo Packages are a different story. Then you can choose which staff member you want to write your review, though it doesn't matter much who you pick because "98% of our reviews are positive and usable" (they put this in their FAQs; I kid you not). The sample merchandise for this particular book:
The author is a true master of the written word. The characters are realistic and easy to know. The descriptions are vivid and enriching. An excellent read that will keep you involved until the final page.
I seem to have seen that review copy/pasted a time or twenty before. Probably on various pages of Goodreads, where they're happy to post the review if you ask (they were banned from doing the same on Amazon). But they're not shady or anything. They're just running this business out of the goodness of their hearts.
Why doesn't Allbooks Reviews charge exorbitant rates like some other promotion companies? Because we are authors ourselves and we know how hard it is to promote your book. Our prime objective is to be of assistance, to encourage and support fellow authors, we are not here to get rich or take advantage of anyone. The small fee that we charge for our promo package covers our administration costs and helps us improve our services and our site so that your book will receive the best promotion possible.
Indie Reader is the clean one. They don't peddle reviews like second-hand engagement rings...anymore.
IndieReader no longer offers paid book reviews. The only way to guarantee a review...is for us to select your book from among the many we receive. The other option is to sign-up for the IR Discovery Awards, entry to which includes a guaranteed review.
...And the entry to which costs only $150! Plus $50 for each additional category you want to enter the book in. See? No paid reviews. That would just be unethical. The investment for this contest is worth it, believe me. Because if you win, you could get:
- A professional IndieReader review
- Exposure to a panel of judges who can make a difference in your book's success
- An IndieReader "All About the Book" feature
- A sticker pronouncing your book an "IndieReader Discovery Awards" winner
OMG, a sticker?! Who doesn't love stickers? Also, there's one final grand prize up their sleeves: a review from Kirkus Reviews! So if you win, the entry fee is actually saving you some $275....
The author of this book didn't use Kirkus, but they've been on my radar for some time. Unlike the smaller garage start-ups listed above, Kirkus has a long and lustrous history, beginning from the respectable Kirkus' Book Shop Bulletin of 1933. Now they've decided to capitalize on the self-publishing craze by offering Kirkus Indie, which "curates the self-published segment of the industry to help consumers and industry influencers (such as publishers, agents, film producers, librarians and booksellers) discover books they may otherwise never find."
How do they do this? Well, first they charge $425 per review, or $575 for the express service (mainstream book submissions, on the other hand, cost nothing). For this, they'll send you a 250-350 word review via email.
On top of that, our editors will consider it for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Your review may also be selected to be featured in our email newsletter, which is distributed to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.
You might be considered for publication in a giant list of traditional books that were included for free! And you may be selected to be featured in an emailed newsletter! Never underestimate the power of the emailed newsletter. Your $575 will come zipping back to you in a matter of minutes once the secretary clicks the "send" button.
Now, it's perfectly possible that the author of this book I hated received all of those reviews through anonymous readers and the general, free submission processes of these companies. But I wouldn't count on it. When companies are up to despicable things like this, dangling five star carrots in front of desperate self-publishers, I wouldn't trust anything they say much more than I do the testimony of those "real women" on cosmetics infomercials.