More on the paid reviews scandal, John Locke, loyalty transfer and Joe Paterno

By now the New York Times article about a “pay for customer reviews” service that I blogged about yesterday has filtered through the online writing and publishing world, so here are some more responses:

At Self Publishing Review which offers a “pay for review service” similarly to Kirkus (where you pay, but get a thorough review that is not guaranteed to be good), Henry Baum wonders whether the extreme profit and money orientation of some indie writers is not at the root of issues like paying for dishonest reviews and also blames the “get rich quick” mentality peddled by Joe Konrath (who to my knowledge never paid for reviews) and John Locke. As for me, I’m wondering whether Henry Baum is not Paul Jessup (who has nothing to say on this latest scandal yet) in disguise.

At Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig agrees that the behaviour of John Locke and others who pay for reviews is a little scummy, but that it doesn’t really concern him. He also cautions authors other against bringing out the pitchforks, because mobs armed with torches and pitchforks never changed anything. I actually agree with his last point. But the biggest culprits of pitchwork wielding mob behaviour are not found in the indie community.

At Salon, Erin Keane writes that indie writers should uphold community standards and come down hard on stuff like paying for reviews. Otherwise, readers might start to believe that assertions like Sue Grafton’s recent complaint that indie authors are lazy do have a point.

Of course, plenty of people already believe that most four and five star reviews on indie books are from friends and family or otherwise fake. This is also the point that K.W. Jeter makes in his take on the whole issue.

K.W. Jeter also goes a bit into John Locke’s supposed marketing and sales tactics and wonders how well Locke’s infamous “Why I love Joe Paterno and my Mom post” actually worked. The post still is online BTW, if you want to read it again, though the URL has changed.

Like I said in the previous post, I actually had a blogpost go viral last year and it did diddly squat for sales. Now my viral post was not exactly a carefully designed loyalty transfer post, it was just something that struck a chord through no fault of my own.

Can loyalty transfer work? I guess it can. I have bought books based on author’s clever comments on favourite TV shows, comics or a dozen other things online. I’ve also not bought books because the author has trashed a book or film or TV show I loved online, so it works both ways.

The strangest thing about all this is that until John Locke started extolling his loyalty transfer post about Joe Paterno as the way to make sales, I had never heard of Joe Paterno. Indeed, my first reaction to that post was “Who the fuck is Joe Paterno?” By the time the scandal hit, Joe Paterno was “the guy from that John Locke post” to me.

During the discussion about John Locke`s marketing methods, I joked that I would have to write my John Locke copycat loyalty transfer post about Otto Rehhagel or Thomas Schaaf, which would be a massive problem, because neither is all that well known outside Germany. Never mind that I don’t think that Werder Bremen fans will necessarily enjoy my books, though the editor who bought two of the previously published stories in Heartache and Murder in the Family is a huge Werder fan.

However, the real takeaway from the whole “loyalty transfer” concept is be interesting and blog about something other than yourself or your books once in a while. It doesn’t really matter whether that something other is Joe Paterno or Werder Bremen or Misfits or Game of Thrones or something else entirely.

For example, I would probably never have started watching Criminal Minds, if not for Elizabeth Bear’s recaps, which made a show of which I’d only seen one or two episodes seem a lot more interesting than it had looked on screen. Now how many fans of Criminal Minds went the other way round and found Elizabeth Bear’s blog via her Criminal Minds recaps and went on to buy her books? On the other hand, I always skip over Elizabeth Bear’s rockclimbing posts, because I have zero interest in rockclimbing. But how many rockclimbing enthusiasts have found her blog via those posts?

So in short, loyalty transfer can work on a person by person basis, though it’s not a magic bullet. And your enthusiasm should be genuine rather than faked just in order to drum up interest in your books.

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11 Responses to More on the paid reviews scandal, John Locke, loyalty transfer and Joe Paterno

  1. Henry Baum says:

    I had to look up Paul Jessup and came on this –

    You think that I’m anti-self-publishing because of that post? I’m a longstanding advocate of self-publishing, I’m just not a fan of writers putting money first.

    • Cora says:

      No, sorry, I expressed myself wrong there. I didn’t think you were anti-self-publishing. Would you write for a site called Self-publishing Review?

      It’s just that your complaints about the money and profit focus of many self-publishers (which I share to some degree) and about the “get rich quick” mentality of John Locke (totally agree there, particularly in the light of recent revelations) and Joe Konrath reminded me a lot of Paul Jessup’s regular rants on the subject.

      Sorry about the misunderstanding.

      • Paul Jessup says:

        Nope, he’s not me.

        Two things, btw-
        1- I hate the money money money of both selfpublishing AND genre fiction in the main publishing sphere of things. Professional genre fiction writers are just as bad as the current Konrath/Locke people as far as being money focused and only money focused

        2- I’ve got nothing against selfpublishing. When I say I refuse to call it indie, it’s not all selfpublishers I refuse to call indie. Just the ones who follow the Locke/Konrath frame of mind (and Konrath was the first to use indie to describe this). In my mind, I think that indie books, music, art and movies are about doing things different and edgy and outside the normal churning business as usual. They are defined by not following the latest fads, about being unique and original, by being different. When you start talking about money all the time and business all the time, in my mind you’re not indie, you’re part of the big business side of it. And if you’re writing something in a certain genre or format just because it’s popular, means in my mind you are as far from indie as possible.

        I’m not leveraging these accusations at you, by the way. This is just a general overall picture, a quick impression of the whole KDP franchise in general.

        • Cora says:

          Thanks for the clarification, Paul.

          I think we’re actually in agreement here, because the intense and exclusive money focus of some self-publishers can be annoying, i.e. the sort of writers who chase trends and change their blurb and book cover every two weeks (and usually make it blander with every incarnation) hoping that now they will finally strike it rich. But then, you get the trendchasers in the traditional publishing world as well. How many people in both camps are writing “billionaire and virgin secretary erotic romance with mild BDSM” these days, not because it’s what they really want to write, but to cash in on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey? Before that it was dystopian YA and before that thinly veiled Twilight knockoffs that gave the whole urban fantasy/paranormal romance a bad name.

          As for the terms “indie” and “traditional publishing”, they’re not what I would have chosen (and I never liked the term “indie” as applied to anything – it always makes me think of Indiana Jones) but the terms that have become accepted. “Legacy publishing” is the one I really hate and refuse to use, because until someone dies and decides to bequeath a publishing house to me, there is no such thing as “legacy publishing”.

          I think there’s also a difference here between “indie” (for lack of a better word) as a production mode and “indie” as an attitude. “Indie” as an attitude means outside the mainstream (and more power to them), while “indie” as a production mode simply means produced independently from the big media conglomerates. In the “indie as production mode” sense of the term, Uwe Boll is an indie film maker and amateur choirs recording CDs of painfully saccharine pseudo folk music are indie musicians and ultra-commercial self-publishers like John Locke are indie authors.

          It would be great if we could find a way to differentiate between the two meanings of the term, but so far it seems we’re stuck with it.

      • Saravanan says:

        There’s only one way. Submit book to one of the 100+ reviewers on the Indie Reviewers List. Get your book reiwveed. Get a 3 star or better rating and send us the url to the review that’s it. Simple as eating apple pie

  2. Andre Jute says:

    You’re so right, Cora. As a hillwalker and rockclimber retired to cycling through force of circumstances, I won’t be buying your books after you put down rockclimbers like that. But lead me to this Elizabeth Bear.*

    I’m also a fan of Criminal Minds, when my wife selects it for me to watch in what little time I have to give to television.

    The truth is, I don’t think it matters what sort of reviews you receive. What matters is that you’re noticed, and where you’re noticed. Back in the days before Kirkus made itself contemptible by taking paid reviews, I once had a book highly praised, among other things for its wit, on one page of Kirkus, and on the opposite page had a pseudonymous book condemned root and branch for political reasons, with a sourpuss note that it contained “involuntary humor”. The highly praised book just about earned the advance and a cup of coffee. The condemned book outsold the highly praised one 21:1.

    We shouldn’t go too far though in our condemnation of these crude practices by crude people in indieland. Back in the days of the gentleman-publishers, until the accountants of the Big Six took over c1990, the circle of writers guaranteed reviews in the Times (London, New York, Delhi, Dublin, and equivalents in Melbourne, Johannesburg, Toronto, Sydney, etc) and the circle of the top reviewers very largely overlapped. It was exceedingly likely that a writer either knew or would come to know, because we all moved in the same circles, quite a few of the people who wrote about his books. It didn’t guarantee a good review, of course, but, as I said, it wasn’t so much what was said about your book in the quality broadsheets as that your book was important enough to be noticed.

    Some of us, perhaps a bit over-sensitively, removed ourselves from even the suspicion of tit-for-tat reviews. For instance, I very rarely reviewed books, but thought nothing of reviewing the performing and visual arts extensively — but only after I stopped painting myself, and had left writing for the theatre and directing in it behind me for good.

    *Normally I would not make this kind of crack to a non-anglophone, but I think your excellent English will easily stretch to encompass sly humor.

    • Cora says:

      Well, if you live in a place so flat that the highest local point is fifty four meters above sea level (We still call it “mountain” though), rockclimbing isn’t much of a possibility. In fact, climbing the WWI memorial on top of that “mountain” would probably be more worthwhile than climbing the mountain itself. 😉

      I must confess that as a non-American, I have never quite understood the purpose of Kirkus. Their reviews were always in the editorial review section at Amazon, often above the book description, and they were always exceedingly negative. I don’t think Kirkus ever said a nice thing about a book I enjoyed. Whatever they liked (and I’m not sure if they ever liked anything), their taste was sure as hell opposite to mine.

      I think it’s an open secret that there was and is quite a bit of tit for tat backscratching going on in the traditional publishing industry. And reviews are just one person’s personal opinion, not the kind of unbiased judgment handed down from on high that some people seem to view them as. At any rate, I got badly blasted a few months ago when I politely suggested that every reviewer or review outlet was biased and that there was no such thing as a completely objective review. A self-appointed guardian of literary quality begged to differ, quite vehemently. Apparently, I missed the announcement that God had died and named that guy his successor.

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  6. Kindle says:

    I joined a forum that is full of Kindle authors for a while. Many of them reviewed the books of their friends. People they traded services with such as critique, editing, etc, sometimes even close friends. New books started on Amazon with one dozen of 5 star reviews, sometimes a couple of four stars reviews for credibility. I checked the books of some of the more active in the forum and all had this type of reviews. They were the actual accounts of the writers, no fake accounts. I wasn’t even there for a week, and people started contacting me for reviewing their books. They should be ashamed of their practices. I would say that ranks lower than buying reviews. Due to the Amazon system, even 20-30 favorable reviews can bring a book up in sales and visibility and 100 can make a best-seller.

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