Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Big six, paid reviews, and DRM .... oh my!

Today's post is for those that may be just starting out. Many of those reading my blog are seasoned professionals who are well aware of the basics, upperclassmen if you will. But I forget that there are those just starting out, let’s call you freshmen, and I sometimes over look what there are some basics that you need help on so today’s post is for you. I was reminded by this recently by three events. One while lecturing at Balticon, another while sitting in a coffee shop in New York the last day of my BEA trip, and the other while reading some comments on Joe Konrath’s blogs.

BIG-SIX
During a lecture at Balticon I used this phrase, and Michael pointed out that many in the audience may not know what I was talking about. Again, it is used so frequently that I forget some may not be aware.

In general I tend to divide publishing into three types: Self-publishing, big-six, and small press/independent publishing. When I say “Big-six” I’m referring to a very large publishing company that produces most of the big titles from authors that you would recognize their names. Due to consolidation in the publishing industry almost all of the names that are recognizable to an average consumer actually are imprints of one of six large conglomerates. The big six in the United States are: Hachette Book Group, Haper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Any publishing company that is not an imprint of one of these is defined as an Independent (Indie) Publisher.

The big six need to be separated from everyone else for two reasons.

1. Publishing through them has historically been the goal of most writers. Having a book produced by them is what most people consider being “a real writer” – notice the scare quotes there.

2. They define the industry by their business practices which generally include: a advance/royalty model for payment, performing large print runs that will be distributed through warehouses and brick and mortar retail outlets, and employ contracts similar to the early days of Hollywood which are designed to limit authors options. Now on the third point, in their defense, they have a business reason for this. Their business model requires a HUGE investment in an author and their work and they are only trying to protect that investment.

REVIEWS
During my BEA trip someone wrote me and asked if I would have time to sit down with them to pick their brains for a while. Between my marketing meeting with Orbit and the bus leaving for DC I sat with them at the Tick-Tock diner (great place by the way). One of the first things she said to me was, “I just signed up with Kirkus, so I’m set there...” I had to stop her. For those that don’t know Kirkus is a highly respected reviewer of books and one of the big names in the business of reviews. Others include Publisher’s Weekly, and Library Journal. Usually to get a review from them you need to have been published through the big-six. (They have very limited space and so they focus on big releases from major houses). Awhile ago, Kirkus created Kirkus Discovery, supposedly to “help out” the little guys get reviewed by them. They have since changed their name to Kirkus Indie. Here is what they say about their service:

The Kirkus Indie program gives independent authors a chance to obtain an unbiased, professional review of their work, written in the same format as a traditional Kirkus review, with the same chance of earning the coveted Kirkus Star.”

Sounds great right? Wrong. First they charge $425 for this service $575 if you pay to get it moved to the front of the line. That’s a TON of money that if you had that kind of cash burning a hole in your pocket I can tell you more productive marketing uses for, but more importantly a really bad idea. Paying for a review is the easiest way to lose credibility. Don’t ever do it. I’ll make my post tomorrow about more do’s and don’ts on reviews because it is an important topic. BTW Publisher’s Weekly has also offered paid reviews (at $149), which is still not a good idea. I’m not sure if they are still doing it or not as I didn’t bother to look it up.

so I’m set there. Reviews are, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects to focus on for a new writer. Regardless of which path you’ve taken to get published (small press, self published, or big-six)

DRM (Digital Rights Management)
While reviewing comments on Joe Konrath’s Blog two different people asked about DRM. For those that are self-published you need to make a decision on whether you use DRM or not, for those published by someone else, they’ll decide for you, but hopefully you can have some input into the decision.

Digital Rights Management is a technology whose purpose is to attempt to prevent piracy (stealing) of digital content. It basically locks a file to a particular machine and prevents it from being copied or shared. Sounds like a good idea right? After all you spent months, or years, or decades writing your book, and you want to be paid for that effort right?

DRM is a hotly debated topic, and everyone has their own opinion on it. This is my blog so I get to tell you mine ;-) Others are free to add their comments and unlike some Internet forums (cough Absolute Wrong cough) I won’t censor you or berate you for them.

I oppose DRM, from both a practical and business perspective. From a practical point of view, it won’t stop piracy. Removing DRM is insanely easy and it won’t stop anyone who wants to steal your work. From a business perspective it punishes people who have are have supported your writing with a legitimate purchase. I read books on my laptop, kindle, ipad…you get the picture. If I like a book I want to share it with my husband…I can do that with a print book – why not anebook? Trying to limit people from sharing your work is counterproductive. Word of mouth sells. You should rejoice where you get an email that says I loved your book and passed it on to … (insert name, friend, mother, sister, brother). Don’t worry about the pennies of a few lost sales, realize this a recommendation from an existing reader is the best form of advertising there is – embrace it.

Just one more thing I’ll say about piracy. First, you can’t stop it. I get google alerts all the time about Ridan author’s books showing up on a Torrent (mass download site). I used to try to get them taken down, which was like wack-a –mole. For each one that was removed, a new one popped up somewhere else – it was a colossal waste of time. The more important aspect about torrents, is that they are a sign that you are “making it”. If you have a crappy book that no one likes they won’t bother to steal it. When you start showing up on torrents it’s an indication of a following! I don’t know who said it but it’s true there that obscurity is worse than piracy. If someone likes your book enough to steal then its proof that you’re making it.

That’s al for today…I want to thank everyone here, on Joe’s blog, and kindle boards for their words of support since being banned from Absolute Write’s Water Cooler. To have so many people say so many nice things gives me a taste of what Michael feels when he gets fan mail.

Thanks for that.

63 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin. I'm a literary Agent in Toronto, On. I read your blog occasionally and am often impressed with your insight and advice to people looking to break into self publishing. However, I feel since you wrote this post for people who might not know definitions, I have to clarify a couple things.

1. It is generally accepted that there is "Big 7" given that Disney is a very major player and occasionally overtakes some of the others in publishing sales.

2. "Big 7" is title given to Major (global) Media conglomerates that operate publishing arms.

3. The Big 7 are not all USA based. Penguin, for example, the largest of all the conglomerate presses is UK based (Pearson PLC). Random House is German (Bertelsmann)... and so on.

4. Independent press and small press are not synonymous with each other. Bloomsbury is an independent press. It's just not part of a media conglomerate.

5. There are non-independent presses that are not part of "big 7": Harlequin.

I enjoy your posts, Robin. I have pointed a few of my colleagues to your website over the past few days. Don't be surprised if you get a few agented submissions down the road. Your sales are quite impressive.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

Hi Robin, thanks for the information about piracy. I just found out that not only is one of my books on a torrent site, but my audio recordings are there as well.

I found this out from a person who started buying a lot of my stuff. I asked him how he found out about me and the whole story unfolded.

So, you are right, it's good advertising. However, it was really hard to see my latest audio release (priced at $1.99 on my site) on a torrent site for free within 24 hours of me making it available.

I think it is really easy to see torrents as advertising if you are already making a good living. When you are just getting started it stings.

The #1 movie in America, Hangover 2, is on the same torrent as my book. If Hollywood hasn't gotten that pulled, then I realize there is little chance of me getting my items pulled.

Thanks again,

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-4

annie said...

Great post. I can't believe you can buy a review. That has to be a conflict of interest. The reviewer would feel obligated to give good reviews so that they get repeat business. I won't look at those things the same ever again.

looking forward to your blog post on reviews.

annie said...

One more most cus I forgot to click on the followup box.

Rob Cornell said...

Would love to hear more about the reviews/marketing side of things, as you are a master at it. I am in awe of what you've accomplished for your authors.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Veronica- yeah I know how you feel. When Michael's books started appearing on torrent sites was when his sales really "picked up" - can't say who is the chicken and who is the egg in this situation but it bodes well that people are stealing your stuff.

India Drummond said...

I think you're spot-on about DRM and piracy. It annoys me not to be able to share books I've paid for with my son, who enjoys the same epic fantasy reads I do.

I don't put DRM on my indie books. I'd rather lose a few dollars in sales than annoy the people who like my books enough to want to pass them on. Sadly, my publisher (for my small-press book), wouldn't even listen to my thoughts about piracy and DRM.

Another thing you didn't mention is the idea of 'trading' reviews among authors. This is also a very bad idea, but I see offers for this all the time on indie boards. It isn't hard to get reviews from reputable book bloggers without promising anything in exchange (except a copy of the book, of course), which is the way it should be done.

Great post.

Robin Sullivan said...

@India - you are absolutely correct and one of the things I talk about in tomorrows post. There's LOTS to say about reviews in general and I didn't want to derail today's post but trust me this will be one of them.

David Gaughran said...

DRM doesn't stop piracy. It only serves to antagonize your legal customers.

It's completely brain-dead.

What's worse is that publishers aren't the canary in the goldmine here.

We have years of mistakes in the music business to learn from. What do the Big 6 do? Copy them.

Memo to the Big 6: He who doesn't learn from history is condemned to repeat it.

Stephen T. Harper said...

@ India, I agree about the quid pro quo review. I don't know if my assumption is right or not, but everytime I see an author make an offer like that (the implication being that the reviews will be very positive), it makes me think their book can't be very good. It also seems disrespectful to other readers (the paying customers).*

I was briefly on the Authonomy website with my book. But the nature of the site more or less necessitates that kind of thing. Didn't like it at all.

Robin, I never really considered the DRM issue. I have an Ipad, but I actually prefer to use the Kindle app for it, so all my kindle purchases are synched to my various devices.

But... so, I can't send a book to my wife's Kindle? We rarely read the same books so it hasn't come up yet. But I'll think about that when it's time to publish again.

*Disclaimer: One of the reviews of King's X on the Amazon page was written by my mother. But she also genuinely liked the book.

Robin Sullivan said...

You are right David, and it's not just the big six as you can see India's small press wouldn't listen to her about it. Ridan is just the opposite - we assume non DRM and if an author asks us to put it on - we try to talk them out of it. So far its not been a problem ;-)

David Gaughran said...

True, there are a lot of small presses who are making missteps. But there are a lot (like Ridan) who have embraced the digital future.

One of the obvious things to point out is that DRM is on the way out in the music industry for all the reasons we mentioned above and more.

Michael Stackpole quoted part of a conversation with a NY editor on his blog the other day, which was eye-opening. I think we're dealing with people who lack a basic understanding of the internet, e-books, and online retailers.

Check it out:

http://www.michaelastackpole.com/?p=2601

Anonymous said...

"so, I can't send a book to my wife's Kindle?"

If you are on the same Kindle account you can share. If the book has lending enabled you can share. A friend and I with similar reading tastes share a Kindle account without problems.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

I tried several methods of getting reviews:

1. Giving away copies of a book to a certain number of people on sites like Library Thing and Goodreads. They are not required to give a favorable review.
2. Giving away copies of a book to people on my mailing list for the promise of a review. Again, there is no requirement for a good review.
3. Ask Facebooks fans to do reviews.

Here are my results:
1. Most of the folks on Library Thing or Goodreads that gave reviews seem to feel they must base their review on comparing my book to the classics. So unless my book was among the greatest ever written, it would not get a 4 or 5. Even the favorable reviews tended to get a rank of only 3.
2. The people on my mailing list are by and large already fans, so it wasn't surprising that most of them posted a favorable review with an average rank of about 4.
3. I couldn't determine whether any of my Facebook fans posted reviews. Although, in all fairness, most of these people are also on my mailing list.

So the option that worked best for me was #2. Those reviews were mostly favorable, but not over the top. I think they were fair reviews from people who like the type of book I write.

I have learned a surefire methods for picking up some one-star reviews:
1. Price the book at $0.99
2. Use a great cover that gives the wrong impression of what type of book it is
3. Write a description that tricks the reader into buying the book

Actually, I discovered that #1 alone is enough to get you some one-star reviews. And this is why: a person likes the low price, they like the cover, and if they bother to read the description, they like it. But they don't take the time to read the sample. Because, hey, it's only $0.99.

But after they read most or all of the book, they realize it's not at all what they thought it was. They hate this type of book. BAM! One-star review. Sometimes they even admit: "This is not the kind of book I like."

I never ask friends or relatives to review my books. In fact, I tell them not to. And I would never exchange reviews with anyone.

It's easy to get impatient waiting for reviews. But I will always remember how one of my books made it to #44 on the Kindle Bestseller list (two weeks ago) with only nine reviews. Of course, that was before the Sunshine Deals. :(

Merrill Heath said...

Good info, Robin. I also like the new look of your blog.

Merrill Heath
Novels by my father, W. L. Heath

Eloheim and Veronica said...

Hey Robin,

I was reading the Publishing Poynters Newsletter this morning and they mentioned this site. I'm going to give it a try.

http://www.paywithatweet.com/

I created a 27 page sample of my first book and I am going to use that in this promotion.

If people tweet or FB about my book, they get the free 27 page download. It's all automated and free to use.

I also added the 27 pager to my website and I am using a bit.ly URL to track traffic.
http://bit.ly/kkxWdS

I figured that if they wanted something FREE maybe they could do an easy exchange to get it. We will see.....

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-4

Melissa Douthit said...

Robin,

I have a quick question: if you should never pay for a review, then how else can a beginning indie author get a review from Kirkus, PW, or any of the other well-known, traditional book reviewers? As far as I know, the only way to get a review from them is to pay for it.

Thanks!

Melissa Douthit said...

There is also something I don't understand about unpaid book reviews - if these organizations (Kirkus, PW, etc.), and bloggers, read and review books for free, how do they make a living? Siskel and Ebert were paid for their reviews. How come book reviewers shouldn't be?

The fact is that there are a lot of books out there and many authors who are looking for reviewers. Reviewers are swamped. And they're doing this for free?!?! They should be paid. They could make a living doing it. You see, an author is not paying for the review. The author is paying for the reviewers' time to read and review the book. And time is money.

I've gotten turned down by so many busy online bloggers who do the reviewing for free that it's hardly worth my time to send them emails. I'm spending all this time when I could just be writing my next book. I would rather pay for a review that I know will definitely be there when the deadline for the review is due, than send hundreds of emails in the hopes that maybe one of them will come back positive.

I know you don't agree, Robin, and there are A LOT of people in this business who agree with you, but to me, the idea of paid reviews makes sense, especially in this new indie publishing world where everyone is competing with each other to get their books noticed ... but I could be wrong ...

Melissa Douthit said...

I'm sorry, Robin, one last point - when I pay someone for a review, I expect an honest review. Getting an honest review/critique of my book helps me to become a better writer. Just like when I hire an editor - I don't expect that editor to tell me how wonderful my writing is. I expect that editor to tell me what she or he thinks is wrong with my writing so that it will be better. And editors get paid. They need to make a living. So do reviewers.

David Gaughran said...

@Melissa,

There are a number of issues here.

First, I was an unknown, unpublished writer, and yet I managed to get over 40 reviews in my first month on sale (24 Amazon Reviews, 12 Goodreads reviews & ratings, 6 book bloggers, and more on the way). That's without the backing of a publishing house. So, it's possible. You don't need to pay for them.

Second, I think if your basic approach is that you can't get in line and wait for something, and you would rather pay and skip the queue, then you are going to end up spending a lot of money on things that should be free.

Third, Siskel and Ebert were paid by their employers, Buena Vista Entertainment, not by Martin Scorsese, John Travolta, or TOm Cruise. Michiko Kakutani is paid by the New YOrk Times, Kirkus reviewers are paid by the Kirkus owners, and the blog reviewers are largely volunteers. They are not being coerced into reviewing for free. They are doing it because they love books (and get lots free to read). Just like other people blog about all sorts of other stuff and don't charge for their content or the time it takes to put it together.

Fourth, aside from anything else, those review are expensive, over $500! If you are selling your book at 99c, that means you will have to sell nearly 1,500 books to cover the cost of that one review. If you are selling your book at $2.99, it's nearly 250 books. Do you really think the review will shift that many books on its own? I doubt it.

Fifth, I don't think the average reader is impressed by, or even knows what Kirkus or Publishers Weekly is. Personally, I think those ads are more aimed at people in the industry. If you are an indie writer, it's especially pointless.

Sixth, paying for a review is an ethical goldmine for all sorts of reason that I shouldn't have to go into. It's not the same as paying an editor - somebody you are contracting to provide a service. Think about it.

There are hundreds of people out there who will review your book for free. Yes, some of them are popular and busy and you have to get in line. But many are not. As I said, I was able to get over 40 reviews in the last month, and none of those were applied for or arranged before I released my e-book in the first week of May.

Oh, and none were paid for.

If you want to find out more about how to get reviews, Robin wrote an excellent post yesterday here: http://write2publish.blogspot.com/2011/06/marketing-101-reviews.html

I wrote a post a couple of weeks back which has some more info on getting Amazon reviews: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/indie-publishing-for-international-writers-step-7-reviews-how-to-get-them-and-how-to-deal-with-them/

Robin Sullivan said...

@Melissa Douthit the answer is simple -- you don't get reviews from those places. And you know what? In the long run it's going to mean very little to your sales. The top selling Ridan authors: Michael Sullivan, Nathan Lowell, and Marshall Thomas don't have reviews from these sites, yet they still manage to sell 10,500, 17,000, and 7,000 books a month respectively.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Melissa - most bloggers write reviews as a hobby - or for the love of writing - they don't make money at it. Many of them are members of the Amazon Affiliate Program so when someone "clicks" on a book on their site and then purchases it Amazon gives them money back (sort of like a commission). Still more offer ads on their sites and since they have an audience dedicated to reading, for many its worth paying a bit of cash to get exposure on their sites.

If you are getting constantly turned down for reviews, I suggest you look at the proposal you are sending out and the blogs you are targeting. If you are selecting blogs that read in your genre, and giving a professional presentation they will ask for a copy. It is definitely NOT a waste of time to continue making these requests. I suggest making a list of at least 200 bloggers and send out 5 requests a day...every day.

I stand by my assertion that paying for a review is NEVER a good idea.

Robin Sullivan said...

You may indeed "expect" a "fair and honest review". You may even "get" one. But there is no erasing the impression in the readers mind that of course someone will say nice things about your book when you grease their palm with a little money.

I'm not against reviewers making money. They can setup paid advertising or use the Amazon Affiliate program, heck the can even ask for donations from their readers. But getting it from the author just undermines their credibility.

Robin Sullivan said...

@David - excellent advice as always. I'll have to go read your blog on reviews - I must have missed that one.

Melissa Douthit said...

David,

Below, I address each point you made:

"First, I was an unknown, unpublished writer, and yet I managed to get over 40 reviews in my first month on sale (24 Amazon Reviews, 12 Goodreads reviews & ratings, 6 book bloggers, and more on the way)."

How long ago was this? If it was even just a few months ago, this would make sense. Even just a few months ago, indies were not flooding the market. With the recent news of Amanda Hocking and other successful indies hitting it big in indie publishing, the floodgates were opened. This has led to HUGE increase in demand for reviewers.


"Second, I think if your basic approach is that you can't get in line and wait for something, and you would rather pay and skip the queue, then you are going to end up spending a lot of money on things that should be free."

Free? You really think they should be putting all this time and energy into providing a service for people for free? I (politely) don't agree. When I first found out that these bloggers were doing this for authors for free, I was blown away, especially given the fact that there are so many authors vying for their attention and service. This is what I know - whenever there is this much competition and demand for something, it eventually will come down to money. It always does. And I can guarantee that as e-books start taking over more of the market, the demand for these reviewers will increase ... A LOT. In the future, people will be paying for this service. Actually, strike that, not in the future. It is already happening. I believe that it is just a matter of time before these bloggers get fed up and start charging for what they are doing for people. It is also a matter of time before the savvy, entrepreneurial types see the demand for reviewers and see that a person can make a good living being one.


"Third, Siskel and Ebert were paid by their employers, Buena Vista Entertainment, not by Martin Scorsese, John Travolta, or Tom Cruise. Michiko Kakutani is paid by the New York Times, Kirkus reviewers are paid by the Kirkus owners ..."

The point is that they were still paid. Who will pay these online bloggers when they get tired of authors beating down their doors for a service that authors expect should be free?


"They are not being coerced into reviewing for free. They are doing it because they love books (and get lots free to read). Just like other people blog about all sorts of other stuff and don't charge for their content or the time it takes to put it together."

Other bloggers are blogging about different things, things that may not have anything to do with people making money. That is very different. Bloggers doing reviews for authors is helping authors to get noticed and eventually helping them make money selling their books. The service they are providing is a commodity. It will eventually have to be paid for.

Melissa Douthit said...

David, my response continued:

"Fourth, aside from anything else, those review are expensive, over $500! If you are selling your book at 99c, that means you will have to sell nearly 1,500 books to cover the cost of that one review. If you are selling your book at $2.99, it's nearly 250 books. Do you really think the review will shift that many books on its own? I doubt it."

For a newbie, it is not about selling one book. It is about getting noticed and building a name. Putting $500 into it is an investment in a name you are building for yourself, a name that people will know when they hear it. I know that many say that you will ruin your name if you pay for a review. They say that it will ruin your credibility. I don't believe this. The only thing that can ruin your credibility as an author is if you write crap books. In the future, if or when paid reviews become the norm, will people still think you are ruining your credibility by paying for a review?
Also, the $500 Kirkus review is not just for the review, it is for promotion that Kirkus will do for the paying author as well.


"Fifth, I don't think the average reader is impressed by, or even knows what Kirkus or Publishers Weekly is. Personally, I think those ads are more aimed at people in the industry."

On this point, you may be right. I don't know what average readers are thinking. But for experienced readers who make up 20% of all readers and who also buy 50% of the books sold, they will know what Kirkus and PW are, along with the other traditional reviewers that still exist.


"Sixth, paying for a review is an ethical goldmine for all sorts of reason that I shouldn't have to go into. It's not the same as paying an editor - somebody you are contracting to provide a service. Think about it."

Again, I (politely) don't agree. It is exactly the same thing as paying an editor. Here is what I wrote on my blog:
"If the reviewer or organization has any integrity, they will give you an honest review. When you pay for a review, you are not “paying for the review.” You are paying for the reviewer’s time to read your work and give you an honest critique of it, just like you pay an editor for the editor’s time to edit your work. You don’t expect that editor to tell you how wonderful she or he thinks your work is. You expect that editor to tell you what she or he thinks is wrong with it. You expect the editor to be honest. That is the editor’s job. That is the only way the work gets better. Same thing with reviews. Only honest reviews will tell you how well you are doing as a writer. It will tell you if you are doing well or if you need to improve. Editors get paid because they need to make a living. Reviewers need to make a living too. Therefore, I believe that paid reviews are the future in indie publishing. Time is money and people want to get paid for their time. It is just human nature."

On my blog, I wrote about why I think paid reviews are a good thing and why I think they will be the norm in the future. In case you are interested to read it: http://melissadouthit.com/2011/06/09/paid-reviews/

Melissa Douthit said...

"Melissa Douthit the answer is simple -- you don't get reviews from those places. And you know what? In the long run it's going to mean very little to your sales. The top selling Ridan authors: Michael Sullivan, Nathan Lowell, and Marshall Thomas don't have reviews from these sites, yet they still manage to sell 10,500, 17,000, and 7,000 books a month respectively."

Hi Robin, the authors you mention here who are very successful at selling their books and who have not used these sites for reviews are all authors that are well established writers, who already have a fanbase, a fanbase who regularly reads them. In addition, they have the help and support of Ridan and that support is a huge leg up. A new indie author has none of this. When I speak of paid reviews, I am speaking on behalf of those new indies who have written really great material (I know quite a few) and who are sitting out there in cyberspace, waving their arms and saying, "Here I am! See me over here!" These are the authors who are creating the demand for reviewers that we are seeing in the market. And this demand will only increase.

Melissa Douthit said...

"Melissa - most bloggers write reviews as a hobby - or for the love of writing - they don't make money at it. Many of them are members of the Amazon Affiliate Program so when someone "clicks" on a book on their site and then purchases it Amazon gives them money back (sort of like a commission). Still more offer ads on their sites and since they have an audience dedicated to reading, for many its worth paying a bit of cash to get exposure on their sites."

Hi Robin, I know many of them are not getting paid but I really believe that they should be. The are takiing A LOT of time out of their busy schedules to do this for people for free. They should be getting a paycheck for it, not just a "maybe someone will click an icon on my site" or a "maybe someone will make a donation," they should be getting a promise of real money for the real work that they do.


"If you are getting constantly turned down for reviews, I suggest you look at the proposal you are sending out and the blogs you are targeting. If you are selecting blogs that read in your genre, and giving a professional presentation they will ask for a copy. It is definitely NOT a waste of time to continue making these requests. I suggest making a list of at least 200 bloggers and send out 5 requests a day...every day."

I created something similar to what you did - the ad you made for your husband. And then I spent one weekend finding over 200 sites that were in my genre and sending an email to them to politely ask them for a review. I only received a couple positive responses and still those bloggers told me that they were very busy and would get to it when they could. Also, I am waaaay too busy to do this every weekend. I have a full time job, I write full time and I have a family to care for. If I keep trying to get bloggers to review my work, I will never have time to write my next book.


"I stand by my assertion that paying for a review is NEVER a good idea."

I know and the majority of people in this business agree with you. I am the oddball. I am the one who is going against the grain in this case. I just can't get myself to jump to the other side on this one because I have very good reasons for believing the way I do.

David Gaughran said...

Hi Melissa,

1. It was last month, i.e. May 2011.

2. I was referring in a general sense to the large amount of promo stuff a writer can do which costs them nothing (but time). In any event, I disagree with your analysis. If Red Adept, or Big Al's or anyone of those guys started charging for reviews (which I believe would never happen), the indie writers would just go to the next biggest blog. Then the reviewers would have less books to read and readers would abandon them as they weren't reviewing all the best books anymore. I wasn't making declarations on what people should or shouldn't do with their time, let alone demands.

3a. No, you are missing the point. The movie producers, actors, or directors didn't pay for the review. The reviewer's employers did.

3b. I have no idea what you are talking about. Bloggers blog all the time about money making activities without compensation. Movie blogs, music blogs, I could list about 100 different things.

4. So you concede that you won't make enough book sales to cover the cost of a $500 review. However, you are ascribing some notional value to building your name that you say is worth it. I would respectfully suggest that this is not a sustainable business strategy. There are plenty of ways of building your name and your brand that don't cost you anything.

5. You think 20% of readers know what Kirkus and PW are? I would bet it's lower than that. You think that 50% of books sold are purchased by people who know what Kirkus and PW are? I would bet a kidney it's lower than that.

I just want to make a general point here. No-one has a divine right to earn money at their chosen career.

Let's say I decide I want to become a music blogger with a special focus on underground, indie music. Let's say I have dreams of writing for Rolling Stone one day, but I also know that 5 million other kids do too. In fact, I know that getting any kind of paid music writing gig is tough because there is a huge amount of people that want to do it.

I have a couple of options. I can intern at a music mag, but competition for those positions are tough. So instead, I set up a blog reviewing albums and concerts. Sometimes I have to buy the albums, but a lot of the time I get them for free because there are a lot of people trying to crack into the industry.

Sound familiar?

The simple fact is that there are lots and lots of people who like to write about books, and who like to do it for free. Unless that magically changes one day, the simple basic economics do not support all book bloggers suddenly charging for reviews.

But hey, if you want to shell out $500 for a review, its your money.

P.S. It's nothing like paying for an editor. An editor has an active role in shaping the product you want to sell. It's a different product when the editor is done.

David Gaughran said...

@Melissa

So, I blog about the publishing industry every day. How much should I be paid for that?

Melissa Douthit said...

"You may indeed "expect" a "fair and honest review". You may even "get" one. But there is no erasing the impression in the readers mind that of course someone will say nice things about your book when you grease their palm with a little money.
I'm not against reviewers making money. They can setup paid advertising or use the Amazon Affiliate program, heck the can even ask for donations from their readers. But getting it from the author just undermines their credibility."

Many of those who disagree with me have said this as well and I see their point. It is a very good point but I believe that this an old way of thinking that was born out of an old publishing world that is slowly fading away. What you see as desperation, I see as good business sense. I could be completely wrong because I am not a prophet, but I believe that paid reviews will become the norm in the future. If it becomes the norm, this attitude will change. At that point, readers will no longer see an author as losing credibility if they pay for a review. They will expect it.

David Gaughran said...

@Melissa

I also think you are missing the basic ethical point here. A review is supposed to be an impartial assessment of a product. Once you pay for a review, the impartiality of the reviewer is in question.

I would never buy a product based on a paid review. In fact, the very presence of a paid review would make me question the product, and the producer, and the reviewer.

Melissa Douthit said...

David,

"So, I blog about the publishing industry every day. How much should I be paid for that?"

Question: are you helping people make money?

David Gaughran said...

@Melissa

I sure am. I provide a free step-by-step guide to digital self-publishing. I put up 1,000-2,000 words a day on the publishing business.

And what about the bloggers that review cars? Bands? Motorbikes? E-readers? Clothes? Movies?

Should they all be paid?

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi David, below are my comments:

"If Red Adept, or Big Al's or anyone of those guys started charging for reviews (which I believe would never happen), the indie writers would just go to the next biggest blog."

Not if there are enough indie writers needing reviewers.


"Bloggers blog all the time about money making activities without compensation. Movie blogs, music blogs, I could list about 100 different things."

But are they as important to movie and music producers as online book bloggers are to authors?


"No, you are missing the point. The movie producers, actors, or directors didn't pay for the review. The reviewer's employers did."

The point is that they still got paid. Bloggers should too.


"So you concede that you won't make enough book sales to cover the cost of a $500 review."

Actually, no, I didn't concede that. If your book is really good and you sell thousands of copies, then your investment paid off.


"However, you are ascribing some notional value to building your name that you say is worth it. I would respectfully suggest that this is not a sustainable business strategy. There are plenty of ways of building your name and your brand that don't cost you anything."

I'm sorry I (politely) don't agree. The ways you speak of are very time consuming and for someone who is very busy, their time is money and it is not worth it for them to pursue this route.


"You think 20% of readers know what Kirkus and PW are? I would bet it's lower than that. You think that 50% of books sold are purchased by people who know what Kirkus and PW are? I would bet a kidney it's lower than that."

I'm sorry but I wouldn't make that bet.


"I just want to make a general point here. No-one has a divine right to earn money at their chosen career."

No, there are no divine right in making a living but if someone's chosen career is in demand, they will earn money.


"P.S. It's nothing like paying for an editor. An editor has an active role in shaping the product you want to sell. It's a different product when the editor is done."

I'm sorry but I disagree on this too. It is exactly like hiring an editor. An editor helps promote your work by helping you create a better product. So does a reviewer. Reviews, honest reviews, help you to create a better product in the future. There is nothing wrong with paying a reviwer for their time to do the work for you just as there is nothing wrong with hiring an editor to do their work for you.

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi David,

"I sure am. I provide a free step-by-step guide to digital self-publishing. I put up 1,000-2,000 words a day on the publishing business."

Well then you are very nice man.


"And what about the bloggers that review cars? Bands? Motorbikes? E-readers? Clothes? Movies?
Should they all be paid?"

Are the companies that sell these things in need of these bloggers as much as authors are in need of book review bloggers?

David Gaughran said...

Hi Melissa,

Indie filmamkers and indie musicians rely just as much on bloggers to get the word out. The situations, in this regard, are extremely alike. If I start a band, how do I get people to listen to my music? If I make a film, how to I get people to watch it?

They rely on bloggers just as much. You think bloggers should be paid. Okay. How will that work exactly? And which bloggers? All bloggers? How much should I be paid for my blog? What about you? What about Joe Konrath?

And who is going to pay them?

Ultimately, if your promotional activities are costing you more money than they bring you in you will go broke pretty fast. Self-publishing is as much a business as running a store. You need to break down every outgoing. You need to put a dollar value on the expected results.

I think paying for reviews is a waste of money. Joe Konrath thinks it's a waste of money. In fact, you are the only person I have talked to that thinks it isn't.

You know why Publisher's Weekly have started charging indies for reviews? Because they are broke.

You would be better off spending the money on lottery tickets.

Dave

P.S. It is absolutely nothing like hiring an editor. An editor's job is not to promote your book. An editor's job is to edit your book. You are confusing a cause and an effect. A review, good or bad, doesn't effect the product. It's an opinion of the product. It doesn't change the product.

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi David!

"They rely on bloggers just as much. You think bloggers should be paid. Okay. How will that work exactly? And which bloggers? All bloggers? How much should I be paid for my blog? What about you? What about Joe Konrath? And who is going to pay them?"

Yes, those are good questions. I don't know that answers. I do know that the publishing world is changing quickly and the answers to these questions will be worked out in time.


"Ultimately, if your promotional activities are costing you more money than they bring you in you will go broke pretty fast. Self-publishing is as much a business as running a store. You need to break down every outgoing. You need to put a dollar value on the expected results"

Yes, you are absolutely right but if you are investing money in your business and it is paying off and you are making more money than you are spending, then you won't go broke.


"I think paying for reviews is a waste of money. Joe Konrath thinks it's a waste of money. In fact, you are the only person I have talked to that thinks it isn't."

I know. You are right. I am the oddball. I am the one who is going against the grain in this case. I just can't get myself to jump to the other side on this one because I have very good reasons for believing the way I do.


"You know why Publisher's Weekly have started charging indies for reviews? Because they are broke."

Yes, this is exactly right. It is also what happened to Kirkus. This is one reason why I think that paid reviews are good. Did you read my blog? Here is what I said:

"Anyone who takes that much time out of their busy schedule to do something for someone else should be getting paid! Period.
And it is no different for the traditional reviewers. They should be paid as well. How else can they make a living and stay in business? They can’t. This is why Kirkus almost went out of business a few years ago but managed to stay alive when it was bought by N.B.A. owner Herb Simon (Kirkus Gets a New Owner — From the N.B.A.):

'Looks like Kirkus Reviews will live another day to praise — and skewer — authors, but with some rather unorthodox owners for a publication with a long literary pedigree.
Herb Simon, the owner of the Indiana Pacers of the N.B.A., and chairman emeritus of the shopping mall developer Simon Property Group, has bought the venerable journal of prepublication book reviews from the Nielsen Company, which announced in December it was closing the magazine.'

Shortly after that, Kirkus started offering paid book reviews, a step in the right direction IMHO, and they took a lot of heat from the literary community for making a smart business move. Many say that they lost credibility and yet authors are still striving to get those starred reviews from them. Interesting."


"You would be better off spending the money on lottery tickets."

Hmmm, I don't think a lottery ticket will help me sell books.


"P.S. It is absolutely nothing like hiring an editor. An editor's job is not to promote your book. An editor's job is to edit your book. You are confusing a cause and an effect. A review, good or bad, doesn't effect the product. It's an opinion of the product. It doesn't change the product."

I think we completely disagree on this one. That's okay.

David Gaughran said...

This is going in a loop.

Tell you what. You seem like you have made your mind up. Pay for your reviews. Come back and tell us next month how it all went. Tell us of PW even reviewed your book for that $149, because you know what? There is no guarantee. They only promise to list your book, not review it.

Paying for reviews is a terrible idea, you will lose money on it, and it is unethical.

If you don't want to take my word for it, Victoria Strauss's word for it, Robin Sullivan's word for it, and Joe Konrath's word for it, then take Lee Goldberg's word for it.

He called it "a vanity press scam". He's right.

David Gaughran said...

Just as a side note, in all the time it took you to read my posts and write your posts, you could have contacted 25 book bloggers.

And it would have cost you nothing.

David Gaughran said...

One last thing, because you don't seem to be catching the ethical side of this at all.

Kirkus Reviews are notoriously difficult reviews. They seem to pan everything.

Kirkus Discoveries (the paid for one where you only appear on the website) are overwhelmingly positive.

You are paying for a positive review. Still think it's ethical?

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi David!

"Tell you what. You seem like you have made your mind up. Pay for your reviews. Come back and tell us next month how it all went. Tell us of PW even reviewed your book for that $149, because you know what? There is no guarantee. They only promise to list your book, not review it."

I would never pay PW $149 for a "maybe we will review it." I will pay for something definite though and I have already for one review that I thought was worth it. All of the other reviews, like from Booklist, MBR, the bloggers who said yes, and the bloggers who will be hosting a blog tour for me in August are all doing it for free but you can bet that I will be making a donation to them for the work that they do for me.


"Just as a side note, in all the time it took you to read my posts and write your posts, you could have contacted 25 book bloggers.
And it would have cost you nothing."

And I can quarantee you that all of those bloggers would either not respond to it or they would send a response back saying: "I'm sorry but I'm way too busy right now."

David Gaughran said...

And I can quarantee you that all of those bloggers would either not respond to it or they would send a response back saying: "I'm sorry but I'm way too busy right now."

I got lots of reviews and I didn't pay for any of them.

If you are contacting book bloggers and they are not reviewing your book then you are doing something wrong.

You should try and figure out what that is instead of wasting your money on book reviews (and trying to convince other people to do the same).

David Gaughran said...

You know what else Kirkus Discoveries do as part of the "service"? If you don't like the review, you can veto it.

Still think it's ethical?

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi David,

"Kirkus Reviews are notoriously difficult reviews. They seem to pan everything.
Kirkus Discoveries (the paid for one where you only appear on the website) are overwhelmingly positive."

This is because they (Kirkus) only place the good reviews on their website. They choose to only promote the books they think are good. The books that don't receive good reviews usually don't see the light of day - by Kirkus' choosing and the author's choosing. And this gets back to my point that reviews make a better product. If I paid for a review and got back a bad review, I would shelve it and hit the drawing board again to write a better book.


"You are paying for a positive review. Still think it's ethical?"

That's just it - you're not paying them for a positive review because they don't always give authors positive reviews. Sometimes they totally shred the book to pieces. The reason you think that authors are paying for positive reviews is because you never see the bad ones for the reason I said above.

Do I think it is unethical to pay them for a review? Absolutely not. I think it is unethical to not pay them. I think it is unethical to expect free work from people who are taking a lot of time out of their schedule to provide you with a service because that's exactly what reviewers are doing for you - providing a service.

I think the main reason why people get angry with me when I say that reviewers should be paid is because authors don't want to pay for reviews. Authors like to get free things. All people like to get free things. If all the sudden reviews started costing them money, they would be really ticked.

Melissa Douthit said...

"You know what else Kirkus Discoveries do as part of the "service"? If you don't like the review, you can veto it."

Of course if you receive a bad review, you will shelve it. That's just common sense. Like I said, if I received a bad review, I would set it aside and write a better book.

David Gaughran said...

Do whatever you want. I'm not going to talk in circles anymore.

I'm an unknown writer with no publishing history. I spent maybe four hours emailing book reviewers. I got maybe 10 reviews, and I have more on the way. It cost me nothing.

Plus I had a competition and gave away a bunch of books. I got loads of Amazon and Goodreads reviews out of that (and a few people who wrote blog posts about my book because they enjoyed it). Cost = Zero. Time spent, less than 2 hours.

Simple strategies like that got me maybe 40 different reviews since my book was released in May, with minimal time input, and zero cost.

You keep paying for reviews if you like. I'll keep getting them for free.

Melissa Douthit said...

"I got lots of reviews and I didn't pay for any of them."

That is really great for you! But not all authors experience this.


"If you are contacting book bloggers and they are not reviewing your book then you are doing something wrong."

I did exactly what Robin suggested on her most recent post. I still got back only 1 positive response for every 100 sent out. I don't think I am doing anything wrong because I'm not the only new author who has had this experience. I know many of them who have written really good material and they have a hard time getting it reviewed.


"You should try and figure out what that is instead of wasting your money on book reviews (and trying to convince other people to do the same)."

I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. I disagreed with Robin and I told her why. I told her my reasons. I am telliing you my reasons too because you started the conversation with me.

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi David,

"Simple strategies like that got me maybe 40 different reviews since my book was released in May, with minimal time input, and zero cost.

You keep paying for reviews if you like. I'll keep getting them for free."

Okay, good luck to you! I hope you are very successful! I mean that. I'm not being sarcastic or spiteful. I wish you the best!

David Gaughran said...

I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. I disagreed with Robin and I told her why. I told her my reasons. I am telliing you my reasons too because you started the conversation with me.

I engaged you in conversation in the hope that I could dissuade you. It's was clear that was impossible some time ago.

I continued to engage you in the hope that no other writer would follow your lead and waste their money and engage in an unethical practice.

I have now made my points in that regard, so I will terminate the conversation.

Good luck to you.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Stephen - as for sending a book to your wife's Kindle...It's going to depend on whether the book in question has DRM or not - when you 'post' the book the author/publisher gets to decide which you will do.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Eloheim and Veronica - Thanks for the link - this is one of the great things about doing a blog and the whole social networking thing in general is learning new things from others - I took a quick look at pay with a tweet and it looks very interesting. I'll probably try it out with some stuff and I'll report on my results here - thanks for sharing.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Eloheim and Veronica - you also stole one of my upcoming posts -- bit.ly -- For those who don't know what we are talking about - check back in a few days....

Robin Sullivan said...

@Melissa and David - Wow - lots of back and forth and I'll comment on each of them....but too much to process at the moment. Just wanted to let you know I'm not ignoring the conversation.

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Anonymous said...

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