Get What You Don’t Pay For

Misty MasseyMisty Massey
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A few days ago I received an email from PMI Publishing.  You probably haven’t heard of them – they don’t publish books, or magazines or short stories.  Apparently they’re a promotions agency.  Nothing wrong with that – lots of folks employ promo people to help get the word out about their careers.  But this particular email made me uncomfortable.  Let me share the bulk of the email with you, so you can get where I’m coming from.

“We just signed an exclusive deal with the three monthly publications in Florida to provide book reviews. As part of our agreement we are required to review between 36 and 64 books over the course of the next 12 months, which will appear in print.  There is no cost for the review.

Our goal is to provide a win-win scenario for both our client and for you, the author… so all reviews will be positive (we are not looking to slam any authors). Our client has a reader base of in excess of 120,000 readers per month, so it should be a great way to promote your book.”

Where do I begin?  How about with the first sentence?  They’re writing book reviews for three monthly publications in one state.  They conveniently leave out the circulation stats for these three unnamed publications.  I can guess why…because no one is reading magazines that much anymore.  Every day more and more people are turning to the internet for the kind of light reading they used to enjoy in the pages of magazines, so print magazines are disappearing quickly.  They say they have a reader base of 120K but without knowing what magazines these are and more specific circulation numbers, you already have a less-than-exceptional promotion opportunity.  I’m not crazy about the reviews being seen in only one state, too.  Why don’t these publications have online presences, which would allow people all over the country to access the reviews? 

But then we get to my favorite part – all the reviews will be positive.  That tells me the reviewers won’t be sharing their personal opinions – they’ll be writing their reviews according to a formula that tells readers nothing useful.  It’s hard enough now to know which books will please me and which won’t, but to find out that reviews are being slammed out 50 at a time reminds me of the old complaints about Harriet Klausner and her speed reading.  No one trusted anything she said because she never disliked a book, and she reviewed a ton of them at once.  We may not like unfavorable reviews, but they’re more honest than a guaranteed positive you had to pay money to get. 

Not everyone will love your work.  Some people will flat out hate it, with spit and vitriol and maybe even a few curses thrown in for color.  It happens, and it’s okay.  Treasure the honest good reviews you get, and let the unpleasant ones fuel your fire to write a better book the next time.  A very wise pal of mine (*coughDavidCoecough*) said, “Chances are I’m going to tick off someone, and I’m okay with that. I once had a reviewer of the third book in my first trilogy say that it was the worst conclusion to a trilogy ever written. I figured if I’d reached this reader so deeply that he felt compelled to trash it so thoroughly, I must have done something right.”

Isn’t that better than paying some yes-man to massage your ego?  Yeah, I thought so, too.

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8 comments to Get What You Don’t Pay For

  • I’ve gotten that email, too. You read further into it than I did. My favorite part is the dangling phrase at the end of the second sentence. Will the books appear in print? The reviews? Is this the quality of writing we can expect in our reviews. Yeah, I’ll take my chances with real reviewers, thanks very much. Sure I might get panned. But the good reviews will actually mean something.

  • Not to mention that if I ever bought into that sort of service when I got published, part of me would feel very slimy for doing so. That feels like cheating. I’d rather earn reviews, even if they’re crappy.

  • sagablessed

    I’m not even published and I would view that type of e-mail with some serious concerns.

  • Ick. Double Ick. Yeah, we owe more to our readers than that. PR is hard enough in this quickly-evolving business without that sort of thing. Misty, you did a favor to all our readers. When they get published, they’ll have to beware of so called PR like this.

  • “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.” —Oscar Wilde

  • Any reviewer who said, “Send me a glowing review of the book you wrote, and we’ll publish it,” even if in someone’s bathroom paper roll, would send me running the other direction.

  • Circling around late… I react as everyone on this list has reacted. And yet, I read articles about some of the most successful self-pub authors out there investing in just this sort of scheme (not for unnamed, small Florida publications, but for the national platform of Amazon), and I wonder if I’m not a chump, for relying on real word of mouth…

  • The “review industry” is why I don’t take reviews seriously anymore. :(

    And this smells a lot like the largely-bogus search-engine-optimization industry.