Paid reviews hurt everyone, except those being paid

There’s a caveat to the title of this post, explained later, but I don’t mind a bit of sensationalism. So, this has come around again. It’s a subject that has cropped up a few times and usually makes the news cycle once in a while. It basically boils down to predatory fuckwits offering to write glowing reviews of any book (which they won’t bother to read) in exchange for cashmoney. Idiot authors jump on the bandwagon and buy those reviews in a desperate attempt to get their work noticed.

Most recently there’s this guy selling reviews for $99. Or 20 reviews for $499. For a cool $999 he would write you 50 reviews. On the one hand you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit. On the other hand, you have to say, “Fuck you, pond scum, why are you devaluing the work of legitimate authors and reviewers everywhere!?” To which he’d reply, “Because it makes me around $28,000 a month!” and you can’t really argue with that. Well, you can, but clearly there are no ethics or morals involved here, so applying our own is pretty pointless. His business has failed, thankfully. More on that later.

Of course, it’s not just this guy. From that article:

[Bing Liu, a data-mining expert at the University of Illinois, Chicago] estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. Yet it is all but impossible to tell when reviews were written by the marketers or retailers (or by the authors themselves under pseudonyms), by customers (who might get a deal from a merchant for giving a good score) or by a hired third-party service.

Well, boil my nuts in the tears of angels, what’s the fucking point? Why don’t we all just buy the reviews we need? The guy in the article linked above has some of the best weasel words I’ve ever heard. How’s this:

“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things. These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”

The fuck does that mean, exactly? He’s likening the reviews to back cover blurbs, but that’s bollocks. Reviews are valuable because they’re impartial. We know that blurbs aren’t. He can “reason” it out any way he likes, he knows he’s lying. Misrepresentation.

Anyway, this particular story has a happy ending. The business was ratted out and subsequently failed, for which we can be thankful. The guy says he regrets his venture into what he called “artificially embellished reviews”. Which is good. At least he realises that what he did was wrong, so there might be hope for humanity yet. Shame he couldn’t admit even then that he was lying and misleading people. Just “artificially embellishing”, but there you go.

Here’s the thing, as far as I’m concerned. Paying for a review is not necessarily a bad thing. We all want to get noticed. We all want our work to fall before the eyes of more readers and reviews definitely help that. I’m always going on about reviewing. If you read something, review it! Two lines and a star rating at Amazon and Goodreads can make a massive difference. People are really busy and everyone needs to make a buck, so someone charging money for reviews is not neecessarily a bad thing. I’ve said that twice now in this paragraph and there’s one very important word that I’ve deliberately left out. That word is “good”. Paying for good reviews sucks Satan’s rancid balls, because you’re corrupting the system and devaluing the work of everyone. Paying someone to read your book and honestly review it, however, is fine. That’s a very important distinction.

I’ve never done it, but I wouldn’t completely write off the possibility. Getting reviews is hard and if someone is prepared to take a free book and a small fee, with the guarantee that they’ll leave an honest review in a variety of places, I see that as a good thing. Sure, you might be paying for someone to tell you, and the entire internet, that your writing sucks, your book is crap and no one should buy it unless they run out of toilet paper. But that’s what you always do when you send a book off for review. And when you do send it off, it might never actually get reviewed. Adding a few bucks to ensure it does makes sense. And if you’re told it’s shit, you know to try harder next time. Maybe listen to the advice of your writers’ group and beta readers. Or get new ones. Or something. Just don’t pay some schmuck to guarantee you a good review. You’re cheating your future readers, you’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating the very fucking concept of honesty. And the only one who really benefits is the person charging you for their artificially glowing review. If your book is good enough, it should hopefully get some good reviews all on its own. Regardless, it should garner some honest reviews over time. Hassle people about reviewing it. When people tell you they enjoyed it, ask them politely, ever so nicely, prettyplease can they put a quick review somewhere.

But, most importantly of all, please honestly review what you read. Lead by example. Make it a habit to add a line or two and a rating on a handful of sites every time you finish a book. Or even just one site of choice, like Goodreads. Whether you like it or not. A broad range of honest reviews will do wonders and takes no time at all. And if everyone got into that habit, we’d have fewer predators out there using sock puppets (multiple fake online personas) to leave bullshit reviews. And when you do find those people, don’t grab a pitchfork and a gang of friends and give them a good, old-fashioned online lynching. Why waste your time? Report them to the sites in question and let the policies of those sites deal with them. Then get on with your day, read a book and review it.

We love you when you review our work. Don’t let the sharks spoil it for everyone. Now I’m off to Goodreads to fill in a few gaps in my own reviewing.

(And if you’ve read any of my books, prettyplease can you put a quick review somewhere? And if you want to read my books and will leave me a review, drop me a line and I’ll send you ecopies for nothing, if you promise to leave an honest review at Goodreads and Amazon. Can’t say fairer than that, eh?)

.

A Killer Among Demons from Dark Prints Press

I’m very happy to announce that my short horror/crime story, The Beat Of A Pale Wing, has been accepted by editor, Craig Bezant, for his anthology, A Killer Among Demons, to be published by Dark Prints Press around April 2013.

From the website: A Killer Among Demons aims to encapsulate the deep, intriguing, and twisted tales that arise from the wonderful combination of paranormal/supernatural crime.

I’m very happy to be in this book and trust Craig to put together an excellent selection of yarns. I’ll post more information about it as I learn more. Now please excuse me while I Snoopy dance.

.

Farewell my old friend

A wet hand, a moment’s inattention and tragedy. Disaster struck! My favourite coffee mug is dead. Broken. Gone. This might seem like an over-reaction to people who don’t understand the attachment a writer can have to their favourite mug. Coffee is the fuel of writing – the actual energy used in the production of words. Along with alcohol, tears, angst and blind pig-headed stubbornness, it’s how stories are born. Word babies gestate in a sea of caffeine.

My wife bought me this mug some years ago. It holds nearly two palrty “normal” sized mugs worth of coffee. It’s round and slightly rough to the touch, a tactile experience. It’s sat beside my keyboard for hundreds of thousands of words. I’ve cupped its reassuring bowl in my palms as I’ve stared disconsolately at the virtual page. It’s steamed gently beside me as I’ve researched, read, muttered to myself while staring at the walls. It really is an old friend. And now it’s broken. I know it was an accident, but I feel a terrible sense of guilt along with the loss at the moment. I loved that old mug, and I dropped it.

There’s a curl of mouse cord on my desk that looks so empty now. It’s where my mug would sit. I want another coffee, but I feel as though I can’t, there’s nothing to hold it. My wife remembers the market where she bought it for me and next time that market comes around we’re going to see if I can get another. But it will never be the same.

When I first reported this terrible tragedy on Twitter, Angela Slatter said, “Noo! Quick, dance widdershins around the remains then throw coffee grounds over your left shoulder to ward off bad writer hoodoo.”

To which my initial response was, OH MY GODS IS THAT A THING!?

So I’ve done that ritual now. You know, just in case. I’ll have to soldier on with a temporary mug while I try to deal with the loss. Today is a writing day. I’ve been for a run with my wife and dog, done some bits and pieces that needed doing and now I plan to keep my arse parked here until there are 5,000 new words on the novel in progress. I just hope I can do it without my old pal.

Vale, mug. You were one of a kind.

.

Colin Harvey Memorial Ebook Bundle from Angry Robot – All Proceeds to Charity

Angry Robot author, Colin Harvey, died of a massive stroke on August 16th 2011, aged just 50.

To mark the one year anniversary of his passing, and to continue to bring his work to the wider audience it so richly deserves, Angry Robot Books are offering a bundle of Colin’s ebooks – his two Angry Robot novels, Damage Time and Winter Song, plus his flash fiction mini-collection – for the special price of only £6.00 (approximately US$8), via the Robot Trading Company.

All proceeds from the sale of this bundle will be donated to Colin’s favourite charity, Above and Beyond.

You can get all the details in this heartfelt post from Angry Robot‘s Lee Harris. That post also has a short film by Sam Lemberg embedded, based on Colin’s short story, Chameleon. It is a brilliant film, well worth 6 minutes of your time.

.