Seasons in Love by Dave Malone
Poems rich in romance, life, and nature, Seasons in Love journeys through four seasons and through love that breaks and sustains us.
Ozark summer heat to winter blizzards, long-lasting love grips these poems. With words and language from southern Missouri hills, Malone takes us into the romantic backwoods of moon, creek, and mountain, but ultimately leads us to life — “it’s blue light, barely seen.”
By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From August 30, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
Never heard of an author before and see her book on the list? That may very well be why.
Jane Litte at the Dear Author site has been mincing no words about it, and rightly so.
As the book-review-buying scandal broke, it felt like the whole beleaguered publishing world was just heading straight to hell. In a phrase, we didn’t need this.
There’s a storm of more than 125 comments in the EtherDome, following my Extra Ether: Buying Book Reviews — Still Admire John Locke?
In the main Ether of the week here, we’re going to gather a few more observations, angles, and voices on the spectacle of people in the industry! the industry! stooping to conquer.
And then we’re going to pressure-wash several aspects of this grotesquerie. We’ll pull those points, dripping, out of the flotsam. They’re issues with which some would like to obfuscate this squalor. And that won’t work here.
— Grigory Ryzhakov (@GrigoryRyzhakov) August 29, 2012
First, a bit more from Litte’s able write:
Buying reviews is worthwhile for authors. It’s not ethical, but it works.
If your heart isn’t sinking already, her wrapup’s section called Cheaters Prospering will get it riding lower in the water. This is her good follow, of course, to the work of David Streitfeld in the New York Times, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.
Author loops exist for co-dependent self-promotion like this. Mailing list emails will go out asking for “Likes” because a sufficient number of likes will move a book to the top of a search engine result and can be included in Amazon’s email lists. Being included in an Amazon email instantly results in success…Cheaters do prosper.
Both Litte and Suw Charman-Anderson (no relation) at Forbes find room in their writes — packed with the disgrace that author John Locke has made of his once vaunted first-to-sell-a-miliion career — so they can note the sorry case of another author, England’s Stephen Leather.
In Fake Reviews: Amazon’s Rotten Core, Charman-Anderson writes that Leather:
Has a network of friends and friends-of-friends who help “create a buzz” and whose relationship to Leather is unknown to the reader.
Charman-Anderson comes to this:
The mood among authors I’ve spoken to is pessimistic. No one believes that Amazon will step up to the plate unless forced, so how do we force Amazon to act? How do we create a genuine cost to unethical behaviour?
Here’s the first point I’d like to pull out of the murk: It is incorrect that “no one believes that Amazon will step up to the plate unless forced.”
Instead, many observers are watching to see Amazon move on this. Its own policy has been violated by Leather and others, certainly by John Locke, who has confessed in the Times to defrauding Amazon consumers with his “store-bought” bogus reviews, 300 of them.
Author Robert Kroese at the New Wave Authors Blog writes this, in the colorfully headlined post If Opinions Are Like Assholes, John Locke’s Got 300 of Them:
Amazon has strict Terms of Service that prohibit the posting of fraudulent reviews, but that only makes the situation worse by giving the impression that Amazon proactively polices the reviews section (as far as I can tell, while they respond to complaints, they do not have any procedures in place to proactively identify and remove fake reviews).
Amazon says it has run out of the Kindle Fire, just one week before a scheduled press conference in Calif.
— Julie Bosman (@juliebosman) August 30, 2012
If, in fact, “there are no procedures in place to proactively identify and remove fake reviews,” you can bet that Amazon’s administration understands better than anyone how much the company needs those procedures.
But further, as I wrote in my Extra Ether piece, the fraudulent review-and-recommendation activities perpetrated on Amazon’s site are not Amazon’s fault.
Yes, the company needs to respond to the problem. But this problem is being created by members of the publishing community.
— Matthew Turner (@turndog_million) August 30, 2012
Not Just Self-Publishing
Erin Keane’s piece in Salon, Can self-publishing buy respect? — in addition to incorrectly stating that Publishers Weekly sells reviews (it does not, and that has been corrected) — set the Locke affair firmly in the DIY context. Too firmly.
As I wrote in my Extra post:
It’s worth pointing out that self-publishing authors aren’t necessarily the only bad apples here. What’s to have stopped a traditionally published author who wanted to gin up her or his sales of a newly listed book with a splash of gushing, fabricated reviews?
And Nathan Bransford rightly has followed up with the same concern. In What Do You Think About Authors Paying for Positive Reviews? he writes:
Some of the responses to (Streifeld’s New York Times) post, including Salon’s, aligned this practice with self-publishing, likely because most of the authors featured in the article, including John Locke, were self-published authors. I feel like this is unfair. There’s no reason why a traditionally published author couldn’t do the same thing, and in this day and age there’s every incentive for everyone to try and generate as much attention as possible.
Bransford, himself a traditionally published author, is entirely right to call this into question.
With many folk from traditional publishers using paid-for reviews as yet another stick to beat self-published authors with, in some cases it’s hard to pinpoint if publishers are more angered by the moral issues these have thrown up or by the fact that these authors have manipulated the system to propel their books above more “worthy” traditionally published books.
I appreciate the tack Missingham takes on this, particularly in her view of the establishment’s supposed remove from such issues:
Clearly there is no justification for authors paying for reviews—it is a fraud being perpetrated against the paying public. However, perhaps traditional publishers should pause for a moment of quiet reflection and humility? I doubt any established publisher would be as gauche as to pay cash money in return for book reviews but they do have a more subtle, codified model of rewards for reviews, from free books to parties.
However, I’m alarmed when I find folks going too quickly to the “this is nothing new” line. Pickpocketing isn’t new. It’s still wrong. So I’ll cordially decline to let anyone off the hook on a “this is just the latest form of an old problem” dodge. It is a dodge. Fraud needs to be stopped however old or new.
What’s more, the assumption many have made — that this is a self-publishing community problem — is something worth examining in terms of the mass of material now moving on the market.
Streitfeld’s story in the times carried this information on competition:
In 2006, before Amazon supercharged electronic publishing with the Kindle, 51,237 self-published titles appeared as physical books, according to the data company Bowker. Last year, Bowker estimates that more than 300,000 self-published titles were issued in either print or digital form.
They closed a Cape Cod beach after a shark ate a seal near the shore. Another seal wrote a book about it. A penguin published it.
— Pablo Slickasso (@MrAlexisPereira) August 31, 2012
Visibility is one of the most difficult parts of the self-publishing equation. No matter how great your book is, it is fighting against a tidal wave of cheap ebooks on Amazon. If you can get your book into the top 100 (or even the top 10 of a subgenre bestseller list) on Amazon, it has a good chance of staying there.
If you can pay enough people to buy your .99 ebook and review it positively, and crack one of Amazon’s bestseller lists, readers are going to check it out. Especially at a low price point like .99. Customers are suckers for the fallacy that the cream rises to the top.
None of which can condone the use of fraudulent reviews or other manipulative buzz-building tactics. Self- or traditionally published, no author can be excused by the community of publishing for perpetrating this kind of illegal and immoral scam.
One way to test for what’s appropriate: Who pays?
In any case of a paid reviewer, the simplest way to test whether a reviewer’s activity is correct is to ask the “Who pays?” question.
- In the longtime, familiar setting of journalistic critics (the role I’ve held many times during my career), the news or entertainment medium pays the reviewer. This, of course, is the cleanest format because the reviewer’s “boss” has nothing to do with the artist or author being reviewed. The reviewer is writing for the medium and for its readership,.
- As soon as it’s determined that the reviewed party is in some way paying for a review, either directly or through an intermediary like Todd Jason Rutherford in Streitford’s Times story, then something’s wrong. The party being reviewed should never pay for such a service. If she or he does, then the reviewer is “working for” that author or artist and cannot be trusted to produce a balanced and fair review.
So is there going to be a news dump today or can we relax?
— Megan McCarthy (@Megan) August 31, 2012
So: are Amazon et al, with their bought-and-paid-for notices, killing off the book review? Or are they rather making the traditional, commissioned book review more important than ever?
Laity makes the point that what’s happening with reader reviews in “the Amazon scandals reaffirm the importance of the much-maligned traditional book review.”
Crowd-reviewing, Laity admits, suffers in the old-school journalistic-critical settng.
Yes, there’s only one wise voice rather than the wisdom of the crowd, but these critics are convincing, independent, entertaining and trustworthy enough that, time and again, they are paid to offer their opinion.
Here is the “Who pays? question:
And not in the way that Todd Rutherford was paid, by the authors of the books themselves.
— Sebastian Posth (@posth) August 31, 2012
Lastly, probably the most dispiriting comments I found coming in this week on the Extra Ether article ran along the lines of, “Why is everybody so shocked?” and “What’s the big deal?” and, from a commenter named Seeley James:
Why do people feel conned by John Locke? It’s a $0.99 book for crying out loud.
And James’ attitude reminds me of people who will prop open security barriers at gated communities so the pizza guy can get in — it’s fine if they want to compromise their own security; it’s unacceptable to compromise the whole community’s security.
Fraud in the publishing marketplace is perpetrated against all of us. At all price points. In all formats of production and distribution. At all career stages. The business is so violently rocked by change at this point that, apparently, it’s possible for that silly “wide open Wild West” nonsense some folks like to talk to convince creeps that fraud is fine. It is not fine.
The last thing we need is another indication to the world at large that publishing can’t run its house with simple, trustworthy decency. And even the invasion of amateurs now sweeping the field cannot be allowed to overturn the tables of best practice.
This is a serious issue and a potent problem.
— Don Linn (@DonLinn) August 30, 2012