Barry Eisler recently posted thoughtfully (and thoroughly) upon the topic of sock-puppetry and other systems of paid and falsified reviewing in the book industry. (Actually, his article is more focused upon the recent rash of response to it, but includes thoughts of reviews as well.) I’ve been examining my own actions in this regard–something Eisler urged authors to do. His article was, for me, timely. I recently sent SAVING MARS to Kirkus Indie for a paid review. (This is Kirkus’s solution for books unattached to one of the publishers with whom they already work offering not-for-pay reviewing.) I’ve concluded, after consulting with writers whose integrity I trust, that Kirkus Indie provides a very different service from the kinds of services that have come under fire recently. In fact, in these discussions, that conclusion pretty much fell in the category of “self-evident.” But what about my other review practices? Are they above reproach or not?
My practice has been to send review copies out fairly indiscriminately. Anyone who asks for a review copy gets one. Early in my indie-publishing career, I spent a great deal of time pondering big publishing’s ARCs review system and decided I didn’t have a good way of replicating it. That is, I don’t have the ability, time, dedicated staff, etc. to have a 3-6 month period prior to a book’s release during which I run a buzz campaign. In fact, the indie curve for buzz seems to run the reverse of the traditional curve. That is, a book starts out with no recognition whatsoever and builds buzz in the 3-6 months after it is released. Once I recognized this, I realized I would need a different approach in the buzz department.
I did what many writers do: I wrote to book bloggers and asked if they would review my book. Then, I did something I thought was smart marketing at the time: I added a sentence at the conclusion of my books inviting readers to leave a review so others could figure out if a book was right for them or not. I then offered to send review copies of the next-in-series to anyone who told me about their review.
Now I’m feeling uncertain about having done that, in light of all of the talk about sketchy review practices. Have I added to the number of errors it is possible to commit in the area of acquiring reviews? On the one hand, I want books in the hands of those who are likely to review them. On the other hand, I’ve created a system where there is some incentive (a free review copy) for posting a review. Does that invalidate the integrity of those reviews?
In looking through my reviews, I can’t see much difference between the reviews by those who posted and then requested the next copy as compared to those who post and never make the request. (Or those who post, tell me, and then say, “Don’t send me the next book—I already bought it.”) My books receive super-short reviews from all three groups. My books receive super-long reviews from all three groups. The rankings are all over the place. That is, there is not a pattern of higher rated reviews from the reviewers who wrote to request a review copy of the next in series.
However, in light of Barry Eisler’s musings upon the subject, I’m trying to come up with a better system of which I could say, “That’s above reproach.” Because his message to take the mote out of one’s own eye first sounded like pretty good advice. Do you have any ideas regarding what a better system might look like?