Can you trust a book review?

Nope.  Or at least not according to an article in today’s New York Times.  If  you review books for love, not money, you will find this article very disheartening.  Basically, many of those big, wet smooches out there were bought and paid for.  And the cost?  As low as $5.

Titled  The Best Reviews Money Can Buy, the article by David Streitfeld tells the story of Todd Rutherford.  Entrepreneurial Rutherford, struggling as a cog in the PR marketing machine for a self-publishing company, found it extremely difficult to entice reviewers to review the books… and even harder to get the kind of stellar reviews the authors wanted.  The solution?  Create a company to pay readers to review positively.  Actually reading the book?  Not required.

Disturbingly, Rutherford’s company made tons of money, as much as $28,000 in one month, according to the Times article.   But an unhappy author posted “loud, angry accusation” on several consumer websites about Rutherford, and the next thing you know, Amazon took down his reviews and Google  suspended his advertising.  Another service he launched – to get authors to review each other’s works – was not successful.  He’s trying the review business again, but with no payment to the reviewers.  Good luck with that.

This is the 226th post on Literary Lunchbox.  The vast majority are book reviews.  Not a single one has been paid for.  Not a one has been done as a favor.  Many are middling reviews, a few are scathing, and I think you can tell when I really, really love a book.  It should be pretty clear that I’ve read every book I reviewed, cover to cover.  I don’t hand out stars or give numerical ratings on my blog because books are a little more complicated than that.

Recently, however, I did a review of David Cristofano‘s new book, The Exceptions.  I had previously read and liked his debut novel, and I got a notice by email from his publisher that the new one was out.   I replied by email to say thank you for letting me know, I’ll be sure to read it!  I put it on hold at the library and went on my merry way.

The next day, a follow-up email.  Send me your snail mail address and I will send you a complimentary copy.  I thought about this carefully before I replied.  Thoughts included:

  1. Really?  You noticed my blog?
  2. But will getting the book for free influence my review?
  3. Still, how is this different than getting an Advanced Reading Copy at a conference?
  4. And how is this different from the books that are sent to reviewers who work for traditional media outlets, such as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times?

I provided my mailing address.  The book came.  I read it and enjoyed it, and my review reflected that, but there was no gushing.  If I had been disappointed by The Exceptions, I would have said so.   There’s a line between right and wrong, and I don’t think I crossed it.

There is no doubt that the publishing industry is in flux.  Everything’s changing.  But for authors to buy positive reviews is just out-and-out unethical, and the practice of buying and selling reviews is diminishing the value of everybody’s reviews.  And that makes me pretty discouraged.

So, listen to your friends.  Find reviewers that you trust.  And consider doing some reviews yourself… on Amazon, on Goodreads, or even start your own blog. Because the more people who really love books share the love, the less opportunity there is for hacks and scammers!

2 responses to “Can you trust a book review?

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  2. Great review. I really appreciate you taking the time to write on this subject.

    Have you ever considered writing reviews about Internet Marketing systems designed to make money online?

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