By January 16, 2009 1 Comments Read More →

Buying Reviews and Undropping F-Bombs

An update on David Carnoy’s Knife Music: just before New Year’s, I noticed a review of the book in Kirkus Discoveries. The review praises the pacing and prose, and sums up by calling it a “gripping thriller debut that is just what the doctor ordered.” A review almost any writer would kill for–and which any writer can apply for by paying $400-550. It should be noted that Kirkus sells the opportunity to be reviewed, but does not guarantee the review will be positive. Given Kirkus‘ reputation for giving snarky, dismissive reviews, it’s easy to imagine a self-published author shelling out $550 for an express review and getting panned for his trouble.

I asked Carnoy whether the review was worth the money and received this response:

The Kirkus Discoveries review is definitely worth the money if you get a good review (they also featured the book in their newsletter). Most importantly, it allowed me to replace the “product description” copy on my Amazon page with a “real” review that was more descriptive than my product description (which Amazon limits in length).

I think more book-review companies should offer this service. I actually suggested it to some folks at CNET because we get a lot of people who want us to review their products—but we just don’t have time (the resources) to review them. But if someone was willing to pay a fee for us to assign the review out to one of our freelancers, it might make sense. Obviously, it’s a slippery slope in terms of the integrity of the reviews and your brand. But as long as you keep the guidelines exactly the same, I think it can work. (That said, I don’t think CNET would go this route; we usually partner with other well-respected sites to supplement our content).

The fact is that with the economy the way it is, a lot of “media” companies are trying to figure out ways to increase revenue and acquire cheap content, so it wouldn’t surprise me if we start to see more pay-for-a-review situations. Eventually, someone will also try to tap into reviewing all the e-books that come out. There’s a business there.

Carnoy (who is an editor at CNET) is a highly motivated self-publisher who is clearly willing to work every angle to sell his highly polished product (i.e., book). He’ll have the Kindle version for sale shortly, and he just posted it on Smashwords as well. I’m looking forward to a promised update on the e-book topic. But I’m imagining that the success or failure of his efforts will prove something of a benchmark: if a self-publisher like Carnoy can’t find big success, who can? Yes, of course, it has a lot to do with the quality of the book (I haven’t had time to read it yet, so I can’t confirm or quibble with the Kirkus assessment), but even in traditional publishing, a good book can die a lonely death without the right kind of sales and marketing effort.

And, in an update on our update, which actually updates an earlier update: Knife Music has been approved for Apple’s App Store. To gain approval, Carnoy had to un-drop a couple of F-bombs. His rationale:

“I decided to censor because it wasn’t that big a deal. I changed it very little. It’s more important to have people check the book out–along with the whole concept of ebooks on the iPhone. It’s kind of virgin territory now, but it’s going to be really big soon,” Carnoy said in an e-mail.

On Gizmodo, Wilson Rothman writes:

Not only does “F me like you mean it” fail to maintain the same ring as the original NSFW dialog, but this chilling effect, directly or indirectly censoring our budding novelists, isn’t something Apple should be engendering.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

1 Comment on "Buying Reviews and Undropping F-Bombs"

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  1. jimaach@comcast.net' James Aach says:

    Very interesting. With the conglomeration and contraction and copycatting of publishing, it can be very difficult for a new writer or someone with a different approach to get a “mainstream publisher.” And without that, a “real” review is almost impossible to get, which practically dooms a book to obscurity. So the Kirkus approach, however risky, is bound to intrigue many. James Aach, author of “Rad Decision: A Novel of Nuclear Power”

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