The world recently learnt that successful indie author John Locke bought reviews for his novels. Locke was confident in his writing ability so he stipulated reviewers were to give their honest opinion, but the fact remains he paid for reviews, something which goes against Amazon policy and at least one law.
A couple months after commissioning the reviews, sales of John Locke's novels took off. Coincidence? Perhaps. It was in December, a time book sales explode, but even so it seems as though Locke's decision to pay for reviews may have been a significant factor in his success.
My first reaction was astonishment. I had read Locke's book, How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months and his emphasis was on building a community and, as any indie author knows, building a community takes time and a lot of hard work. In The New York Times article which exposed Locke's business practises, I read this:
Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.” [Emphasis mine]Indeed.
Then I remembered, indie authors have been offered the opportunity to pay for reviews for a while now, and from no less a name than Kirkus.
Kirkus charges $425 for a standard review, $575 for their express service. They guarantee the review will be approximately 250 to 350 words.
From the Kirkus website:
Kirkus Indie will send you the review via email, at which point you may choose to keep it private or publish it on our website (at no extra charge). If you choose to keep it private, it will never see the light of day. If you decide to publish the review on our site, you may use it any way you choose—on the back cover of your book, in marketing collateral, on your website or in a letter to an agent or publisher.So Kirkus gets a minimum of $425 per review and the author has the opportunity to bury the review if they don't like it.
If you choose to publish your review on our website, we will also distribute it to our licensees, including Google, BN.com, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and more. On top of that, our editors will consider it for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Your review may also be selected to be featured in our email newsletter, which is distributed to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.
My question: Why is it okay for Kirkus to sell reviews?
Recently Stephen Leather told the Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, and so the world, that he uses sockpuppet accounts. I'll let wikipedia explain what a sockpuppet account is:
A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term—a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock—originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an internet community who spoke to, or about himself while pretending to be another person. The term now includes other uses of misleading online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a third party or organization, or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer. (Wikipedia, Sockpuppet (Internet))For instance, let's say Matilda has published a book--whether herself or through a traditional publisher--Keeping Hummingbirds Happy and she creates an accont on Amazon under an assumed name, Hummingbird1. This is a sockpuppet account. Using this account she will give her book a good review. Of course one positive review is unlikely to make much of a difference so she creates Hummingbird2, Hmmingbird3, and so on.
I would like to stress that Stephen Leather never publicly said he had made a sockpuppet account on Amazon. He admitted to having one on Twitter, which is a very different thing. Stephen Leather is a fellow indie author and I have no wish to attack him.
That said, what startled me about Stephen Leather's admission (well, that he admitted it at a writers' conference in front of dozens of people surprised the heck out of me!) was that he apparently thought everyone had sockpuppet accounts. Here's how it went:
Stephen Leather: I’ll go onto several forums, from the well-known forums, and post there, under my own name and under various other names and various other characters. You build this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself. And then I’ve got enough fans…If readers aren't buying one's books because of ones sockpuppet account(s), then why go to all the bother of setting them up? Sure, to create buzz, but if there's no connection between 'buzz' and booksales, why do it?
Steve Mosby: So you use sockpuppet accounts basically?
SL: I think everyone does. Everyone does. Or I have friends who are sockpuppets, who might be real, but they might pick a fight with me.
SM: Are your readers aware of this, or…?
SL: Well, I think that everyone … well, are the readers aware of it? No … But they’re not buying it because of the sockpuppet. What you’re trying to do is create a buzz. And it’s very hard, one person, surrounded by a hundred thousand other writers, to create a buzz. I mean, that’s one of the things that publishers do. They create a buzz. One person on their own, difficult to create a buzz. If you’ve got ten friends, and they’ve got friends, and you can get them all as one creating a buzz, then hopefully you’ll be all right.
Does it work? Do paid reviews and sockpuppet accounts help sell books?
I would imagine the answer is yes, they do. Or at least the folks who pay for the reviews and spend the time to set up the sockpuppet accounts believe they do.
But I think the real question isn't whether these techniques help sell books, but whether an author's time is best spent buying reviews, setting up sockpuppet accounts or writing new work.
How many books do you think Stephen Leather would have been able to write if he hadn't been busy with sockpuppet accounts? Does the amount of money that SL made due to his sockpuppet accounts exceed the amount of money he would have made on sales of new books?
It is, of course, impossible to know. I think the best way of selling books is to write more books. I know how much time it takes me to maintain my @woodwardkaren Twitter account, I can't imagine maintaining two. I would have no time for writing! If a person has a real twitter account, a couple of fake twitter accounts and three or four fake Amazon accounts, when are they going to find the time to write?
You've heard the old saying: Are you a man or a mouse? Here's mine: Are you a writer or a sockpuppet? We are our choices. Let's write.
Other articles you might like:
- John Locke Paid For Book Reviews
- Fifty Shades of Alice In Wonderland: Sales Peak At $1,000 Per Day
- Hugh Howey, Bestselling Author Of Wool, On The Key To Writing Success
Links to articles (off site):
- Anonymous Author Shares Fiverr Experience
- The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy
- Publishing's Drug Problem
- Fake Reviews: Amazon's Rotten Core
Photo credit: johndal