Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Entitlement Perspective

Lately, I've been reading, and commenting, on posts about paid reviews. This seems to be a sore spot with most amateur writers, and maybe even some professional writers. Writers will gratefully and happily, albeit with a wince, depending on their financial situation, pay for editing, critiquing, publishing, book tour travel accommodations and charges, meals with their agent and even publishing, but they don't want to pay for reviews, believing it somehow makes the review suspect. The idea being that, if a review is paid for, it must be a ringer and the reviewer is paid to lie -- or at least fudge the review -- making the book sound better than it is. Not so.

I've been a professional (read: paid) reviewer for nearly eight years, not that I can make my rent payments on what I earn, but it comes close some months when I churn out a dozen reviews. I do not know the arrangement Authorlink has with authors requesting reviews, but I do get paid, and I get more than twice what I made starting out eight years ago. Do I give the authors unqualified rave reviews? Not on your tin type. I write balanced and honest reviews -- from my perspective -- and I don't play nice. I play fair and I'm civil, although with a rare snark with major typos and grammatical errors in a traditionally published book that do tend to rub me the wrong way. I mention them in one sentence without enumerating all the wrongs they have done to the printed word, but I'll write about my favorites (the worst examples) in another post. This post is about payment for services rendered, to whit: one book review.

Because there are so many free sites on the Internet, and because many writers starting out, and quite a few who are wealthy best sellers, are basically frugal (I did not say 'cheap'), they see reviews as a sideline that has nothing to do with the dollars and cents (and sense) necessary to get a professional writing career off the ground and keep it flying high. Reviews are important, but who buys a book based on reviews when there are so many other criteria for choosing (writer is a jerk, great advertising campaign, personal friend, relative, employee of writer, and, sometimes, if the author writes the kind of books you enjoy). There are always the bad boys and girls of publishing whose books sell because of the vicarious thrill of buying a bad boy or girl's books, and the burning curiosity to find out if they wrote about their misadventures and nefarious exploits.

Not true.

Okay, some of that is true, mostly about writers being cheap and thinking reviews are not nearly as important as a good editor or professional critique. And there is the rub, the one word that sets a reviewer apart from a reader, the word "professional." And that, my constant reader, is why reviewers shoud be paid. They have mouths to feed and bills to pay and they like to go out to dinner, the theater, or on the occasional vacation once a year.

Book reviewing is a business and businesses run on income, that income, in the reviewer's case, derived from the business of reading and reviewing books. It is an exchange of services. The author writes a book and contracts a professional reviewer to read and write their opinion on said book. This is called a contract and, like most contracts, is sealed with a handshake (often virtual) and an agreement for payment. You wouldn't buy a house and expect the banker to give you the house on your handshake, free and clear, without expecting some money in return. Neither should a reviewer.

"But," say authors, "the reviewer gets a free book worth money. Isn't that payment enough?"

If you've had to unload as many books as I have, you wouldn't see that as payment. I give them away and often donate them to libraries and Goodwill or the Volunteers of America. As far as I am concerned, most of the books I read and review are all right in the main, but not the kind of books I usually keep in my library. I reserve that limited shelf space for authors I follow and collect, although admittedly some authors I've found by having to review their work. That does not mean I don't expect my boss to forget to pay me. I expect payment as part of my contract with Authorlink as an employee.

Does that mean I give everyone a rave review? Not at all. In fact, I lost a friend over one of my reviews when I pointed out some of the problems, repetitions and mistakes in her book. I wasn't being vindictive, just writing what I thought of a book that was all right, but could have been much better. It's how I work.

Take a look at some of my reviews on The Celebrity Cafe or on Authorlink and you will see what I mean. I don't do nice. I don't do dressed up reviews. I don't smile when I have had to read utter crap and I do not ever sandbag my reviews. What I write is what I think and how I feel about the book. The author doesn't come into it at all, unless the book is one of a series I have followed and reviewed in the past, in which case I compare the character and writing to previous books. I am not above telling a writer, who may also be a good friend, that their book needs work and then go on to list the reasons why. Does that make my reviews suspect?

How about the reviews of Michiko Kakutani of the New York TImes or any of the professional reviewers in The New York Review of Books or Kirkus Reviews? Are their reviews suddenly suspect because you now know they are paid? What did you think they did up in their ivory towers, knit? The New York Times, NYRB, and Kirkus pay their employees to write reviews. That is their job. Like editors, book doctors, agents, publishers, and everyone else in the publishing business, or self-publishing business, book reviewers are professionals and should be paid for their services. They may do a book review as a favor for a friend, but you are taking up their time and expecting to make use of their expertise, so it is just business to pay them. Just because a reviewer doesn't work for a newspaper or a recognized review source doesn't mean they don't deserve your respect -- and your money. People work and people get paid. That is just business.

Good reviewers, like any good professional, are worth their weight in gold -- even when they say your book needs work or doesn't quite hit the mark. Not everyone will like every book you write, or even every book they read, but that is to be expected. Paying for a review is like paying someone to critique your work and put it in shape for publication. You may get a kudos and a pat on the back or you may get slammed. You pays for yo' ticket and you takes yo' chances. Nothing in life is guaranteed, as any published author will tell you. Don't ignore the contribution a professional makes to your success -- and that goes for reviewers, too.

You can get free reviews from several web sites, Goodreads, and Amazon, or from any reader at a hundred different book stores, but a professional review is far above what you get with the average reader. It is worth more in terms of proof that you did a good job and in terms of cost. If you want the best, you will have to pay the best. It's that simple.

While the readers count -- and they count a lot towards popularity of an author's work -- it is the professional review that lets you know you have arrived and all your hard work has paid off. A professional reviewer will also tell you where you went wrong and what could have been done better. So will some educated and opinionated readers. A professional review is in essence a mini-critique of your work. Don't get on the bad side of karma. If you want professional, pay for professional. If you want just anyone's opinion of your book, save your money and hope you can entice, cajole and motivate the average reader to write a review of your work that makes sense and highlights your book's good points.

You're entitled to the best; pay for it. Everything else is a crap shoot.

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