I read for pleasure, and sometimes, I read for profit. As a book reviewer for various publications, I can peruse a list of available titles and select the books that interest me. My pay = the books I select. It's a great gig for a bibliophile.
And with a few publications, I have the opportunity to earn money by reviewing a sponsored book.
What is a sponsored book? In most cases, an author (or perhaps a small publishing company) pays the review publication a set sum - or purchases a package (various options available) - to have a qualified reviewer critique the book. Before the review ever reaches publication, the author (or person who purchased the review) has a chance to read the critique and decide whether or not the review ends up in print.
Herein lies the dilemma: does the reviewer have the responsibility of offering a balanced, truthful review? Or should the reviewer sugarcoat the analysis, giving the author what he or she "wants" to hear? After all, the author has paid for the review.
I found myself in this predicament a few years ago when an editor sent out a list of available sponsored reviews. A particular title intrigued me, so I offered to give my opinion.
Big mistake. Huge.
First, the book was self-published. Now, I'm not bashing self-published works. A lot of quality reading material available is self-published and quite a few self-published works have a home on my bookshelves.
But this was different. First, the book was of poor quality: light-bond paper meant ink soaked through, making it difficult to read, 10-point Lucida Handwriting made it difficult to focus on the text, and hundreds of grammatical errors per page screamed "amateur" or at the very least, "No proofreader available."
What did I do?
I wrote an honest assessment of the book. I pointed out the negatives, but I also gave praise where it was due. The final section of the book would have made an interesting stand-alone piece. I told the truth, for a simple, common-sense reason: If I am shelling out $45+ for a book, I expect the quality of the final product to meet a high standard.
A few weeks later, my editor sent the voice message this book's author left on the review site's telephone. The author thought I was too critical. The author thought I should rewrite the piece. The author thought another reviewer should read and review it. The author thought since his/her first book received a great recommendation from the review publication, it needed to carry over to this review.
I said 'no.'
As a book lover, I value books and the stories told. As a book lover, I could not justify telling readers the piece was perfect when it clearly lacked in detail.As a book lover, I could not warrant a positive, glowing review when multiple issues existed.
It took some convincing, but my editor finally understood my point of view and the importance of not being swayed by an author who believed a sponsored review guaranteed a red-hot review.
Yes, authors rely book reviews because they DO help sell books. But authors also need to take a realistic look at the story and the construction of the book before it reaches the hands of a reviewer.
Have you used a "sponsored" book review service? What has been your experience?
by LuAnn Schindler