Truth in Advertising: Reviews for Hire

The writing world is abuzz about how John Locke, the legendary self-publisher, allegedly paid reviewers to give his books glowing five star reviews. Most writers I’ve talked to about this, wrinkle their noses with the same disdain they usually reserve for their political enemies. “Paying for positive reviews,” it seems, feels like doping in sports or cheating at gin rummy.
Writing Tip for Today: How should writers and readers view this trick of getting folks to write good reviews regardless of the book’s quality?

  • We’re Not Reinventing the Wheel. In truth, publicists have been putting a spin on books they try to promote since Gutenberg’s printing press. In the past, a glowing endorsement from a prominent author meant (at least to me) that I could trust that endorser’s opinion. It often persuaded me to purchase. Now, sadly, endorsers are often paid, and as I’ve fumed before, every book seems to be a bestseller. But let’s face it: ad men have always put a positive spin on books they’ve been hired to push.
  • Hold the Presses. The biggest risk any author takes with promotion is in padding the reviews by either enlisting friends and family or paying for positive reviews. If the “word of mouth” reading public catches on to the scheme, it could backfire. Unless, of course, the book is about the color grey and the 50 shades thereof. With that kind of subject matter, people are bound to buy just to see for themselves how bad a book could be.
  • What’s Fair? In my own requests for reviews, I usually say, “If you like or love my book, please consider writing a brief review for Amazon, etc. If you don’t like it, please keep it to yourself.” I admit that’s kind of the same thing as getting your legions of fans to stuff the review box with over the top positive reviews. Many readers will go directly to the one or two star entries just to see what’s really going on in the book. But we’re all struggling to get a piece of the reading pie, and while I do think you ought to find sincere reviewers, it’s inevitable that some authors will try to pump up their sales with phony praise. Look what it did for John Locke. Let your conscience be your guide.

What’s your take? Should authors pay for positive reviews?

And dear Irene Kennedy, I’d love to send you Hidden in Dreams by Davis Bunn! I need to hear from you. Email me at Lindasclare (at) gmail (dot) com.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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