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November 25th, 2007

1:20 AM

Random thoughts on reviewing process

I don't normally go out of my way to ask people to send me stuff for reviews so it is rather an eye-opener for me when I recently follow some discussions on various online author hang-outs on the quirks of reviewers that they have to deal with. The lengths that some of these (usually new, usually published with small presses or self-published with vanity publishers, and therefore, I suspect, more desperate than most) authors do to get a review boggle my mind.

Many of them are actually willing to pay for reviews. This is not some scam that originated from online folks in Nigeria, though. Kirkus, in fact, has a charming "special" program where you pay hundreds of bucks, more if you want the review to be up faster, for a self-published book to get reviewed by them. I suppose the logic here is that if you are willing to pay thousands to get a book printed, er, I mean, published by a vanity publisher, you will not hesitate to pay a few hundred bucks more for a review. I also see a few online review sites that charge money for "guaranteed" or "faster" review processes.

What puzzles me about these online review sites are that they are often very amateurish-looking and the reviewers often go by names like "Sunshine" and "Maryland". You know, I have people wanting to know my real name, address, credentials, credit account, pedigree, and photograph before they will even consider me as "real", and yet here are other people willing to shell out anything from $50 and above to get a review from "Sunshine" and "Maryland". I must be hanging out with the wrong crowd. Is it okay if I start charging, oh, $20 for a review? That's a pretty good rate for a site that has a proven track record of being visited by readers unlike many of these sites, I must say.

I'm also puzzled by how these authors can be willing to shell out money to strangers yet at the same time worried about what happens to the books that they mailed or emailed to these strangers. In fact, it never occurs to me to put up a statement about how I will deal with these books until I come across these authors' concerns. I don't understand them, to be honest. They are worried that reviewers will start selling ARCs on Amazon or eBay. A legitimate concern, I suppose, but unless there are millions of ARCs of that book floating around, I doubt the sales of these ARCs will affect the author's bottom line.

Also, I may certainly be wrong about this, but the only people I see that will buy an ARC are fans of the authors who will definitely buy a copy of the "real" book when it comes out. Have you seen an  ARC? They are ugly things, often being nothing more than cheap paper bound together with a thin cover that has nothing more than words on it. They are worth something only to fans, and to these fans, ARCs are either collectibles or something they have to get because they are too impatient to wait until the real book hits the streets. And if these fans are willing to shell out money for an ARC, they will certainly buy the real book when it comes out. No random Joe or Jane shell out money for ARCs on a whim.

As for ebook versions of a book, some authors fear that these reviewers will send copies of the book to everyone and anyone. Please. I can say that, on my part, at least, my friends and family members will hate me if I start spamming their mailboxes with ebooks. I hate to say this, but there aren't enough people out there that care about ebooks, much less want to start some kind of massive piracy of ebooks. Oh, I know there are ebooks out there on P2P filesharing programs, but these are pretty much ebooks of insanely popular books like the Harry Potter books. I don't think there is a massive demand for ebooks by lesser-known authors. On my part, I don't think I can give away the ebooks I've bought or received even if I want to. The authors' worries that zillions of copies of their ebooks will flood the market if they send them to some reviewer are, in my opinion, blown out of proportion.

On the flip side, I find myself following some discussions on Amazon reviews and I am surprised by the emergence of a school of thought that a reviewer must not receive anything from anyone, because if that happens the reviewer will not be able to remain unbiased. This goes well with what I encounter on some forums where some authors have this assumption that they are entitled to a glowing review because they send a book to some reviewer. That is, the belief that a reviewer is obligated to fawn over something because the very act of sending something to the reviewer is a form of bribery. Does this mean that established print media like the New York Times put out biased reviews that are paid for by the people behind the products that are reviewed?

I'm also puzzled by Amazon's recent offers to send camcorders to their top reviewers so that these people can submit video recordings of their "reviews". These Amazon folks must have plenty of money to burn, I see. I should know, I pay their exorbitant shipping rates. But do people really care enough to watch a video from some random person on Amazon? On the other hand, I wish I am part of Amazon's "Vine" program. The thought of these people sending me free books, CDs, and DVDs is a pretty appealing one. Alas, I stopped reviewing on Amazon ages ago because it's a pain in the ass to do so (reviews often won't show up, for one) and I don't qualify for Vine since I live outside the US.

I also learn that Harriet Klausner put up 75 new reviews a day recently and that was supposed to be a slow day for her, what with Thanksgiving and all. 

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