Saturday, August 28, 2010

Should writers pay for reviews?

This is the intriguing title of this GalleyCat item.

Well, after 25 years in the business we have seen all sorts of press reviews and all sorts of reviewers. They come in three categories:

A. The Good
Objective, impartial, informative, point out positive aspects as well as some shortcomings. Leave the reader with a good sense of the contents.

B. The Bad
Focus on certain things of interest to the reviewer and disregard the rest, leaves the reader knowing the title, the author, the publisher and a little bit about the subject of the book - and that's all.

C. The Ugly
These fall into into two sub-categories:
1. The glowing praise throughout, usually written by someone who is a mate of the author
2. The condemnation, put-down, pan throughout - written by someone who thinks he/she is the expert on the subject and how dare this unworthy author have the temerity to write a book, etc. Sometimes such a reviewer has tried and failed to write a book themselves, usually it is a 'would be if I could be, but never will be'.

Debate has existed in publishing circles about whether there is a such a thing as a bad review. After all the motives of the C category reviewers are fairly transparent, and both will help generate interest in the book. Sometimes in their haste to condemn, category C2 reviewers make mistakes of their own, which you can then write a letter to the editor about - and letters to editor are the most read part of a magazine or newspaper.

If book reviews were paid for, there would probably be more of them - the number that appear in the press has been steadily falling in recent years, but would the editors ensure that their reviewers produced category A work? Somehow one is inclined to doubt it.

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