Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Even more about paying for reviews

[Previous posts on this theme.]

As economic hard times bite, yet another review venue has been bit by the vanity bug.  This time it is ForeWord magazine who are sending out emails including the following:

"Digital Reviews is our new review service for books that meet our standards for worthy books, but which we can't cover in our print magazine. ... Digital Reviews are the same as print ForeWord reviews in many respects: the books must meet our quality standards; we use the same proficient reviewers; and the reviews are featured on our Web site and iPhone app and licensed for publication in the top title information databases used by booksellers and librarians: Baker & Taylor's TitleSource III, Ingram's iPage, Bowker's Books in Print, and Gale's licensed databases. Digital Reviews are different from ForeWord reviews in that they are a fee-for-service review. A $99 fee covers the expense of writing and posting the review."

The paid for reviews are of course different in other ways, like almost nobody reads them. As I read through their website the unmistakable message seems to be this: we will review anything, but the worse the book is the more you pay and the less value the review will have. Great book are reviewed for free in the magazine, good books are reviewed for $99 on the website, all other books are reviewed for $305 (a "Clarion" review) and put on the website in a ring-fenced area.

"Paying $305 for a professional 400+ word critique is the best marketing value available in this industry."

I beg to differ.

The first author quote under the testimonials section is: "I am happy with your service as well as the Clarion Review, it gave me so many points I missed. Thank you again.” This seems to seriously confused a review of a customer-ready book with a critique of a manuscript. Reading the first five reviews in this section reinforced the idea that authors using this service might have done better to invest in editing rather than reviewing:

"The writing would also benefit from another round of editing to pare down repeated words and phrases."

"Awkward tense structures and punctuation occasionally detract from Sam’s thoughtful, humorous soliloquy as he searches for meaning in his life with the people he cares about."

"Unfortunately, there are several developmental flaws that distract from what is otherwise an interesting story. Character point-of-view often switches in the middle of the action, causing confusion and throwing the reader out of the main character’s head ... Although the characters are not flat, they are predictable and clichéd."

"...crude syntax and cringe-inducing typos deface this extraordinary work of science fiction. Professional editing is recommended for the author’s sequels or future works."

"The author has a florid writing style that can be exhausting for the reader."

It seems to me that reviews that you pay for are not real reviews, and not really doing the author any favors when their efforts (and money) would be better invested in improving the book. But if an author is paying for this service I think it would be reasonable for them to ask how much traffic an average Clarion review receives, and to check out their appearance.  When I visited the cover art image was broken on all of the reviews in this section, and there was no direct link to a point of sale. I would not call that $305 well spent.


Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Manuscripts critiques can be expensive, so this seems reasonable, but the wording is off. A manuscript critique is NOT marketing. Now some of those things are found in reviews. I read PW reviews all the time and stilted dialog, flat characters, and other writing issues are often mentioned in their reviews. So this is not unusual, but if the writing issues are the focus of the thing, then it's not really a review and so it's not really marketing either. Not to mention manuscript critiques are generally not published.

Victoria Sutherland, Publisher said...

One of the important points overlooked in your blog on vanity reviews is the fact that publishers who give us permission will have their reviews (good or bad)submitted to our licensees including Baker & Taylor's Title Source III, Ingram's iPage, Ebsco, BowkersBooksinPrint, Gale and more. For many, getting archived into these trade subscription services is well worth the fee for our services.

We know we have some issues communicating to people through our website about this complicated offer and appreciate this feedback.