Here Come The Vultures

The Age of Ebooks has created a very fascinating situation. Anybody now can publish an Ebook for virtually nothing. The problem is that there no longer are gatekeepers (i.e.; the old publishing industry) to separate the good from the bad and the bad from the truly awful. It used to be that a book that made it to Barnes and Noble had to pass the approval of a literary agent and then an acquisitions editor and then a board.

Today books filled with grammatical mistakes and misspelled words are being born by the millions. That’s not to say that some self-published books are not wonderful; I’m proud of a few of mine. Still, you get the drift of what I’m saying. How do you distinguish quality from dreck when the pile of books reaches half-way to the Moon?

One answer is the insightful book review. Book bloggers today are filling the role that used to be filled by newspaper and journal book reviewers. There are thousands and thousands of amateur book review bloggers. Some claim to reach a book a week on top of their jobs and household responsibilities. That’s pretty amazing! The vast majority provide a brief summary of the book’s plot along with their overall opinion and a star rating similar to the one that Amazon uses. These bloggers are a Godsend for authors because they help their books to be noticed by the general public. Some bloggers have hundreds or even thousands of followers.

The flood of books on the market has swamped most book bloggers. Many now are either declining new books to review or indicating that it might take months to publish a review if they do accept the book. Into this vacuum has stepped the professional vultures. Some of these vultures used to have decent reputations such as Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Now they offer paid for reviews. Of course they promise their reviews will be impartial, but a review loses much of its clout when the author is paying to have it written.

All kinds of websites have appeared recently that promise paid for reviews. Some book bloggers have even offered “step to the front of the line” queues for those authors willing to pay for a review. Unfortunately, this situation will only get worse and authors become more and more desperate to find reviewers. I’m in the process of looking for reviewers myself at the moment. Don’t think I haven’t been tempted to “buy” a review from one of these websites or even to go to Fiver and pay some poor hack $5 to write a review.

I’ve never paid for a review, but I realize the playing field right now is getting very uneven. Let’s say some author kickstarts his or her book by paying $1000 for a large number of reviews. Amazon now lists 50 four and five star reviews and begins suggesting the book to customers looking for a good mystery. The sales mushroom. Meanwhile authors unwilling to pay a vulture for a review, stand at the corner, cup in hand, and whisper “Brother, can you spare me a review?” to book bloggers as they walk by.

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