a17b2-hip-replacement-recall-briberyAs the self-publishing industry grows ever more competitive and crowded, it’s getting increasingly difficult for authors to receive the attention and validation they need in order to struggle on. This seems to be increasingly true even if you’re willing to swallow your pride a little and try to buy some love. The practice of paying for reviews has always been controversial. Some authors insist it’s a form of bribery, and declare they’ll never do it. While I admire their integrity, I wonder what you’re supposed to do if you can’t get more than a handful of reviews the “right” way. Several sites that reviewed my previous books for free have not responded to my latest requests. They’re more inundated than ever before, they say. Even giving away loads of e-book versions of Handmaidens of Rock hasn’t generated much attention.

Nor does paying for praise guarantee positive publicity as readily as it once did. It seems that with so many authors clamoring to be noticed, some paid review sites have new license to be almost as mean and dismissive as everyone else. That’s not always true, by any means. Many paid sites find a way to combine encouragement with constructive criticism, to avoid inflated or false praise, and to provide some exposure. But there are others that use their new-found power somewhat arrogantly.

I won’t call out anyone by name. But I was somewhat mortified that I paid to have my book listed on a site which presents a monthly list of reviewed titles, on which some were labeled “recommended” and the rest, including mine, were not. For my money, they might as well have tagged it “not recommended.” This was accompanied by a polite review that seemed to have been written with gritted teeth, and made a show of discussing what I “attempted” to do in the book, insinuating that I didn’t quite do it. I laughed when I received an offer to keep this listing up for another month if I paid again. Maybe I should’ve paid to have it taken down.

Then there are the paid contests that send out alerts to all their entrants the day before announcing the winners, with a big “good luck.” It almost looks like a taunt. They send you the list of winners, expecting everyone, even the losers, to celebrate the wonderfulness of indie books! All I can say is, are you kidding? I sincerely wish my fellow authors all the good fortune in the world, but I’m not a saint. I don’t have the time or energy to peruse, much less celebrate, a list of winners that doesn’t include my book.

I know the main objective is to get our stories right in our own eyes, and to get them read, whether the reviewers are sympathetic or not. So I’m posing the question: how do other authors feel about paid reviews these days? Has their degree of respectability changed over the years?

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The World’s Worst Book

January 22, 2013

I must have wrDark and Stormy Nightitten the most preposterous novel ever unleashed on the reading public of the Western World. Okay, there’s a chance I’m being a tad over-sensitive, but that’s what some reviewers seem to be saying about my 2010 novel Let’s Play Ball. Even paying for reviews doesn’t guarantee the reviewer will get it. And I do shamelessly pay for a few of them, because I need an occasional word of praise or at least less of a pummeling now and then. That doesn’t always work: one of my worst reviews came from an expensive service with a reputation for dishing out tough love to self-published authors.

I’ll concede that even the meanest reviewers are capable of making fair points, as long as they actually bother to read the book. It’s true that my story maintains a first-person viewpoint although most of the action happens to other people. Of course there are limitations to that approach, but it suited my goal for the story. My heroine has a fraternal twin sister with whom she is close but competitive. Their rivalry drives the plot. She’s  an ordinary bureaucrat with a lawyer husband, while her sister is a sportswriter, engaged to a major league ballplayer. When the fiancé is kidnapped, it’s the sister’s idyllic life that is torn apart.

My heroine tries not to get involved, but she’s inevitably drawn in for various reasons: her husband is having an affair with a possible suspect; she retaliates by sleeping with a teammate of the kidnapped player; through a comedy of errors, she briefly becomes a suspect herself. While her sister’s life is in the spotlight, hers is shaken up too. Does that make her too weak to be a heroine?

I’m also guilty of combining all sorts of genres, including sports, politics, crime, and chicklit. Two baseball teams, in the course of executive-level wheeling and dealing, encounter meddlesome politicians and their equally devious women. A scandal erupts that eventually threatens to bring down a President. Plausible or not?  I guess that’s why they call it fiction. I love baseball, political scandals, and catfights, so my readers get all of that.

I still stubbornly believe in this novel. It’s the story of a woman who’s peripheral and minimized and resents it, yet stumbles on the answers. It was my vision, and it endures. In my fevered imagination the story continues, with sleazy politicians and even foreign dictators continuing to meddle with professional sports teams, and gossipy women still churning up even more trouble behind the scenes. The reviewer says these threads are “promising,” but need to be fleshed out with stronger characters and action. I get it, but it’s only a 250-page novel. Is the reviewer perhaps encouraging me to write a sequel? How about Let’s Play Two?