Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Paying for Reviews?

For the last few days, I've been hearing (or rather, reading) about how Affaire de Couer's reviews have come under scrutiny. It seems to have come to light that their policy is to give positive reviews to authors/publishers based on the amount of ad space purchased by said publisher/author. I first read about it over at Absolute Write, but Dear Author covered it in this morning's post, and Lee Goldberg covered it here, as well as Karen Scott.

Now part of it is that apparently, Affaire de Couer's advertising director Bonny Kirby, is a co-owner of Light Sword Publishing. From what I've read on Lee's blog and others, is that this explains why many LSP titles received glowing reviews from Affaire de Couer (I can't comment on whether these reviews were deserved or not, since I've never read a book put out by LSP) - which is not only unethical, but downright sleazy.

It's not the first I've heard of a policy that links reviews to purchased ad space. Romantic Times also has a policy regarding reviews for small presses and the purchase of ad space. Now, as far as I know, the purchase of ad space will not reflect in the review itself, but it increases the chance of a particular title being reviewed in the first place. In other words, I (or one of my publishers, to be more exact) can submit a book to be reviewed, no problem. But there is no guarantee that it will be reviewed, strictly because of the sheer number of books this magazine reviews. However, I've heard that if I (or one of my publishers, to be more exact) purchases ad space, that pretty much guarantees my book will be reviewed. Is this any less unethical? I don't know. They claim it has no bearing on their reviews, but still...

And as I was reading over at DA, that Kirkus, which is a highly respected trade journal, will consider self-published books for review - for a fee of $350.
Kirkus Discoveries, rolling out later this year, will allow self-published authors, long ignored by the trade journals, to buy a Kirkus review for $350.

Now, for the most part, trade journals want nothing to do with self-pubbed books, for a variety of fairly obvious reasons. But this leads me to wonder, how honest a review will an author receive, once they've laid out nearly $400?

Not to mention, how does this compromise the integrity of the review itself? Sure, the publication can claim it doesn't, but how does one prove it? If the review is particularly stellar, how can I, as an author, ever be certain the book is really that good and didn't receive that stellar review because I've paid for the review itself?

I have never personally paid for a review. If a reviewer likes what I've written, terrific. If not, it stings a little, but I get over it (I did receive one scathing review on a book that infuriated me because the reviewer's biggest problem was with something that was explained early in the book and she, for whatever reason, missed it entirely. But that's another post entirely.) Nor do I often choose books based on reviews - the exception to that being Caleb Carr's The Alienist, which I read about in the NYT Book Review. That's the only one. I also have never read an issue of Affaire de Couer. I do read Romantic Times on occasion, but I can't quite bring myself to get a subscription because it's waaaay expensive, IMHO. But I do know that RT quotes are used quite often, and I'll assume Affaire de Couer's are as well.

So, is it crossing the line to pay for a review? Can it ever be ethical? I don't know. And what will it mean for Affaire de Couer and, possibly, Romantic Times? If it hasn't already, will it diminish the importance (however real or imagined) of their positive reviews?

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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