Scammer of the Month Reponds

A while back, I criticized as a scam for offering to review books for a fee. Heather Froeschl, associate editor of the service, has responded and thinks I was way out-of-line (I wonder if she’s also a member of the Colonial Fan Force, "the power brokers of the new Babylon"?)

Every writer providing a review deserves to be paid for the service. This does not mean paying for a rave, it means paying for the reviewer’s time and written word.

Sure, a reviewer should be paid. By her editor, not by the person whose work she is reviewing.

My goal is to give authors what they ask for…a review of their work. Sometimes I have to give bad news, sometimes I do give a rave, but in the end, authors respect what I have said about their book. Can you buy MY respect? Nope. But you can get a review from us within 14 business days. And that’s no scam.

Heather argues that the reviewers, despite being paid by the author or publisher for their comments, can maintain their objectivity and journalistic integrity. Paying for a review, she says, doesn’t guarantee a rave or that the reviewer will tread gently.

Okay, for the sake of argument, I’ll take her word for that.

How could anybody respect a book review that’s paid for by the author or publisher? How could anybody trust a critic who takes cash from the subjects of her reviews?

Of course the assumption is that a review that’s bought and paid for will be positive. If a  book gets a negative review from her,  I’d have to figure the author’s check bounced…or he wouldn’t kick in the extra $50 for a rave.

She doesn’t seem to get why anyone would question the validity of a review that’s paid for… or a critic who is in the pocket of the author or publisher. Heather also doesn’t seem to get the ethical problems, either…or how the practice creates a glaring conflict of interest.

Would you respect a movie review from a critic hired by the studio? Would you trust Consumer Reports on their review of a car, appliance, or other product if they were paid for the review by the manufacturers? Would you respect a restaurant review from a critic who was paid by the chef?

Apparently, Heather would.

17 thoughts on “Scammer of the Month Reponds”

  1. As a publisher, bookseller and a professional book reviewer (The Denver Post, What Do I Read Next?) the payment of a fee to insure a review–even if that review is unfavorable–is unethical. I recall when a friend’s book was blasted in a Times review, he was depressed until I told him that in one week all anyone would remember was that the Times had reviewed it; the week after that people would remember it as a favorable review.
    Yes, reviewers should be paid (we are) but the money should never come from the people who are being reviewed. Period. You can call it anything you want but I call it unethical.

  2. Hmm… So how much for the rave? I can spare about $150.
    Of course, I’ve never been paid at all for a review. I hope to change all that in 2005, but it will be an editor, not the reviewee, paying me for my time.

  3. Another professional reviewer piping up–the onus is on the organization to provide payment to its reviewers out of its own pocket, not out of the writers’. So what if a good review isn’t “guaranteed”–it’s still tainted.

  4. I just checked out that site… it’s crap.
    If you look at the page listing the Most Recent mystery reviews, it shows 40 or so books that they’ve covered. The lowest rating any of them gets is “Very Good!” and most of them are “Excellent!”
    (looks again…)
    Oh hell, no wonder! They’re all by Harriet!
    What a joke. I love it. 🙂

  5. Lee, what about the much bigger news that Kirkus is trying to do the same thing? They are planning to offer a service to review small press and self published books – for a fee.
    Lee 2.0

  6. Well, we’ve heard from reviewers and authors. How about a reader’s viewpoint?
    The short answer – not only would I not trust these reviews, I won’t even bother going to the website to read them.
    The long version….
    Do people actually expect us to believe that these reviews will not be tainted? If I understood the original message correctly, paying for a review expedites that review. What’s not clear to me is whether or not they will still review books if they are not paid. If so, are they going to clearly label the reviews so that visitors to the site will know which reviews have been paid for and which haven’t? Because, cynic that I am, if none are labelled, I’m afraid I would just assume that any positive reviews had been paid for and any negative reviews were for those who didn’t pay.
    They’re charging $125 for these expedited reviews. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of change. Are we actually supposed to believe that they’d risk offending the paying customers (and losing their repeat business) by giving their books bad reviews?
    There are plenty of review sites where the only “pay” the reviewers get is the free copy of the book. There are plenty of others (including sites of newspapers, etc) where the reviewers are paid by the organization that employs them, not by those whose books they are reviewing. Although I may not always agree with the reviewers at those sites, at least I feel their reviews are honest.

  7. PS Something I forgot to mention in my message above…
    From the official notice:
    The review will be posted on as well as….
    Does anyone else wonder if Amazon should be alerted that these reviews are being paid for by the authors?

  8. Does anyone else wonder if Amazon should be alerted that these reviews are being paid for by the authors?

    I think so. Then again, is it really any different than the regular reader reviews (say that three times fast!).

  9. Then again, is it really any different than the regular reader reviews….
    I have to figure you’re joking, right? Wasn’t the whole theme here the taintedness (?!) of reviews paid for by a book’s author?
    Yeah, some of the reader reviews on Amazon are, well, not all that useful, but at least they’re written by folks who reallyreallyreally looooove the books, not by folks who are paid to write them.

  10. I was referring to the controversy some months ago, reported in PW, that many of those Amazon reviews are written by the authors, the friends of the authors, and family members of the authors…hardly disinterested third parties… and how Amazon was going to crack down on the practice.

  11. And they have, much to reviewers dismay. They no longer accept annonomous reviews. You must have a credit card on file with them before you submit a review. They also have those “Real Name” badges to distinguish those of us who actually use their real names vs. a pen name when writing reviews.
    Believe me, this got the review community up in arms. There are teens who review who had to really work with Amazon to continue since they don’t have a credit card yet. And women hated the added recognition people get who put their real name up there. Many use pen names for safety’s sake.
    Yet at the same time, they were equally upset by the shadow cast on the reviewing community by the revolation that authors are reviewing books. I’m sick of so many of them I hardly visit the board they hang out at any more.
    And, in Lee’s defense, he does value a good review at Amazon. At least to my face. 🙂

  12. I do appreciate your reviews. In many ways, I value the reviews on Amazon more than the reviews from mystery publications. Afterall, it’s the readers you’re trying to reach, not the critics (though they have been nice to me, too). I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that so many Diagnosis Murder fans… and people who never watched the shows… are enjoying the books, here and overseas.

  13. I am firmly opposed to the idea of anonymous reviews. If it’s worth saying/writing in public, it’s worth signing your name to. There’s too much temptation to mischeif otherwise. (And who the hell would pay attention to an anon review, anyway?)

  14. A friend of mine at Amazon, now a top 50 reviewer, actually started with annonomous reviews. He didn’t feel confident sharing his opinion under his name. As this changed, he converted those old reviews over, and he’s seen the benefits. So it can get people started. But the ability to abuse it is much greater then any benefit to those too shy to state their names.
    Personally, I started reviewing to help people find new authors by reviewing all the books I read. The only way they could do that was if I reviewed under my own name.
    Ok, I’m also something of an ego maniac. 🙂

  15. Buying Praise

    The following comment from Bill Williams was posted in the back-blog discussion a blog entry of mine regarding an iUniverse author who feels that I’ve pissed on her parade by slamming vanity presses. Her book was positively reviewed by,


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