On Reviews

Recently on Twitter (I seem to be on Twitter a lot while I’m writing fiction–it’s quick and easy) a bunch of us were discussing reviewers who blatantly ask for free books, and the value of such reviews.

Since then, I’ve been mulling over how to respond to these folks. Because according to some of my considerably more published friends, these requests will never stop.

I am a reviewer for a prominent online SF magazine. I am on the mailing lists of several publishing houses. To keep from overwhelming me with product, some publishing houses have let me know that I am free to ask for whatever I want, when necessary. From time to time, I have taken them up on this offer.

I am fully aware that what I provide for the authors I review is a free advertising service, as much as anything. But what about book bloggers? Those readers who are just really big fans of a particular author’s work, or of reading in general?

Book bloggers are valuable in that they spread the word. What I give with my review is a certain level of credibility. What book bloggers give with their input is reach — word of mouth to all their followers. Both of these things are incredibly important in this electronic age.

So where are these book bloggers? They’re online everywhere–throw a virtual rock and you’ll hit one. They have blogs and vlogs–sites and YouTube channels.

They’re on Goodreads. You know where they’re not? On Amazon.

Take this example: Enchanted on Amazon has 140 “likes” and 48 customer reviews. Enchanted on Goodreads has 1530 ratings and 385 reviews.

enchantedSeriously — who the heck is going to sift through 48 reviews, never mind 385? Even if I wanted to read them all, I just don’t have the time. So if a reader/reviewer contacts me with the promise of reviewing my book on Amazon and Goodreads (etc), what good is this really going to do? In my eyes: None. They will be review #386, and their friends will see it, if I’m lucky.

But they’ll have a free book — one that I had to purchase (at my discounted author rate) for them. For Enchanted, that’s about $9.00. Plus shipping to them (roughly $3.oo book rate domestic). Right now you can purchase a copy of Enchanted yourself on Amazon for $10.98. And if you play the Amazon game correctly (all us bibliophiles do), your shipping is free.

It actually COSTS ME AN EXTRA DOLLAR to send a reviewer a free copy of my book. On top of that I also lose the 10% royalty I would have made on that book…meaning that “free” book is an extra $2.70 out of my pocket compared to what you would pay on Amazon to get a copy yourself.

Quick recap:
Reader’s cost for Enchanted: $10.98 (and I make ~$1.70 in royalties).
My cost: ~$13.70

I should be sending reviewers $2.70 to buy the book themselves. And we’re talking about hardcovers here. Readers can get the Kindle/Nook versions for even cheaper than that.

“But that’s the cost of advertising!” you say. And you are right. But as it is my money coming out of my pocket, I get to decide where and to whom my advertising dollars go. The two things I look for? That’s right: Credibility and Reach.

Chances are good that if you are a blogger in a niche market (like my friend Soumi Roy in India, or my friend Precious in the Philippines) I’m going to jump at the chance to appear on your site.

I did not know Precious or Soumi before the publication of Enchanted. These ladies each contacted me on their own and inquired about reviews and interviews pre-publication date. Because of their professional and forward-thinking manner, I asked them to be part of my 2012 blog tour. In fact, I did the same with every blogger who contacted me pre-publication date–these folks became the basis for my tour. I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome, and will be happy to promote future books at their sites.

Enchanted has been on bookstore shelves for three months now, and I still get requests for free books, in return for reviews. What do you think I’m going to say to those requests?

What would you say?

Now…book bloggers are all different. I say they have reach, but I they also have credibility because they have made the effort to go out, find the book, obtain it, read it, and then take time out of their life to review it (for better or worse).

If someone is asking me for a free book specifically in exchange for good reviews, isn’t that a bit unethical? Beyond that, doesn’t it belittle the reviews out there written by people who CARE?

Take this reviewer, for instance. He read one of my books, enjoyed it, and–despite limited computer skills–convinced someone to blog about it on his behalf. He loved my book so much that he said, “We could give it to someone else, and then tell everyone in the world to give it to someone else, after they read it.” I am flattered by such high praise.

I am also flattered by the fact that this particular reviewer is only four years old. You can read the rest of his review here. (Do — you’ll get a kick out of it!)

People all over the world are going to read my books. They are going to love them and hate them and writer about them–or not–in their own words.

I’m going to advertise my books to the best of my abilities upon their release, but I am not going to belittle a four year old’s sentiments by continuing to stuff the ballot box.

And this is what I’m going to tell those folks who ask.