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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
or, The Mystery of the Disappearing Online Book Club (4 out of 4-star) Indie Book Review.

Or, Authors BEWARE!!

Hello everyone reading this,

Marty here. I'm still new around these parts having joined just last week.

This is a bit long but I promise that it's worth your time, as your money, time, ebook, efforts, and more may be at stake.

To begin, as I'm still green to both ebook publishing and social networking/online forums for promotion purposes, just as some of you reading this may be, there's a few things I'm not too clear about. Hopefully this can start a discussion "green" folks like me can benefit from others' experiences and knowledge. Just know that I'm an introvert at heart. So reaching out to people feels a little weird. But I am open; about my feelings, and as in "open to new ideas." (Note: Although there's at least one thread in this forum that talks about something similar to what I'm going to discuss, this I'm going to write about has its own merit and may not have been discussed in other threads.)

So anyway, yesterday, during my daily web surfing I happened to come across some articles and blogs that left my mind reeling. The articles I'm referring to relate to the scandal (which I was not aware of until last night!) dealing with some successful authors (some of them "Kindle rock stars") that have paid other individuals and companies to write favorable (fake) reviews about their books and they have also written reviews themselves to both increase the credibility of their supposed writing talent and bad mouth their competitors! Here are a couple of related links to the news stories I'm talking about in case you're also hearing about this for the first time:

h_http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

h_http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/technology/amazon-book-reviews-deleted-in-a-purge-aimed-at-manipulation.html?_r=0

Now, as many of you, writers, after self-publishing my ebook (late last year), I knew I also had to get the word out about its availability, so began looking into ways of doing this. But with the upcoming holidays (at the time, including related expenses) I waited until the beginning of this year 2013. Of course, I did tell a few friends and family members about my ebook's release by sending them copies directly from Amazon via gift vouchers. But specifically, I asked them NOT to write any reviews for obvious reasons. As they would not mean anything to me insofar as unbiased opinions about my work is concerned. I know my family and friends love me and would not want to hurt my feelings (if my stuff truly sucked) by telling me the truth.

Call it ethics or whatever, I've never asked anyone for a positive review to help me sell books. (I've self-published 2 print books about 8-11 years ago or so, which did not go on to become bestsellers). I couldn't look myself in the mirror in the mornings if I'd done something like this (but hey, to each its own). I rather have zero reviews and have my new ebook purchased based on its merits than have to rely on fake reviews. (Notice I say "fake," and not "paid for." As in my humble opinion there is a difference. But I'll address that in a moment.)

Now, as all of you know, reviews help sell books. Period. Good or bad they still help create a buzz and an awareness. Mind you, I never buy anything, ebooks included, simply based purely on what others (supposedly) have said/written. In my case, I see whether a book has been edited properly, how it "flows" when reading the free sample, quality of writing, etc. If anything, the reviews only help convey whether my discernment is correct or not. As there have been some books (very few) which I've bought simply because they had like twenty five 5-star reviews. Only to find after purchase that they're horrible! (I then ask myself, "were these reviewers on drugs?" "Did they actually read the same d*mn book I'm reading?")

I knew that what I needed was some reviews and critiques of my new ebook so as to help it get noticed and from that hopefully generate some sales. I also wanted to know whether I should devote myself full time to complete a series I have in mind (Spirit of Comedy series - 5 ebooks) of which I've just self-published the first instalment. So with this in mind and seeing that I was not getting any sales or reviews on Amazon, I decided to get an honest and unbiased assessment of Spirit of Comedy by Max McCullan. This way I could ascertain whether it was really any good at all and also if I had any talent as a storyteller. In searching around for a pro reviewer I found the Kirkus Book Review web site and in it, a section specializing in indie works/authors (italics mine):

Since I'm paying for the review, will it be positive?

Kirkus Indie reviewers are experienced professionals who give honest, impartial evaluations of the books they receive. The resulting reviews can be positive (even earning a Kirkus Star, one of the most revered designations in the industry), negative or anywhere in between. What we do guarantee is that you'll receive a fair and unbiased assessment of your work and its potential in the marketplace. If the review is negative, you will have the option of keeping it private and simply using the assessment as feedback to improve your craft. If it's positive, you will be able to use the review to market your book to consumers or to catch the attention of a literary agent or publisher

h_ https://www.kirkusreviews.com/indie/add/

Of course, I've never heard of Kurkis Book Review before (I'm weird that way, I guess!) But in going through their web site I quickly learned that they've been around for over 30 years doing book reviews for the major publishers. But there was a catch. For me at least. They charged in excess of $500 for each book review! This is fine. They can charge whatever they want. Thing is, I didn't want them to review a "book length"-book (like my print books which are 300 pages each) but rather my 25-page novelette. And so I decided against going with them for the review and went elsewhere.

(Question: How is this a bad thing? I know some of you can offer counter points but imagine if you had X number of reviewers and 5-10 times that amount of books still waiting for review with more coming in every day? Say the reviewers can volunteer (as in for free) to do 5 reviews per month. But again, there's 50-100 books for each reviewer! So the only logical thing would be for them to a) walk away from reviewing as it is simply "too much" for them to keep up together with their daytime job, or, b) they've have to quit their day job and dedicate themselves full-time to doing reviews! But then they'd need an income! So they'd have to charge… see what I mean?)

Anyway, getting back to the story, soon thereafter I found Online Book Club (and their forum) moderated and owned by Mr. Scott Hughes. In looking around I found the following (italics mine):

Get Your Ebook Reviewed

The trick to getting sales of a good book to go viral, even if the book is independently published, is to get good reviews from trusted sources who have top exposure…. We can offer you all of that. If you send us a review copy of your book in digital format, i.e. an ebook, someone on our team of reviewers will read the book and honestly review it. This review will be displayed on this website full of potential interested buyers who love to read and who trust the reviewers.

h_http://onlinebookclub.org/review-requests/

It sounded JUST like what I was looking for and the cost was only $100! That I could afford! Continuing… (italics mine)

Incentive and Extra Advertising

To expedite the process, attract our best and most trusted reviewers and increase the exposure of your review, you can pay a small fee that will be shared with the reviewer. Payable by PayPal.

(Now below there's a bunch I've put in italics and bold as it is very pertinent to the point I'm trying to make):

Please note, we do NOT offer 'positive' reviews in exchange for a review copy, only honest reviews. We will read and honestly review your book. If the reviewer does not like your book, then you can opt to not have the negative review published publicly and instead you can privately take the constructive critisim. In order to maintain the integrity of our reviews, we cannot edit out any bad or negative comments or otherwise give you editorial input on the review. The reason this system works so great at promoting an indepently published book and jumpstarting the sales of books is because the reviews are honest and have a trusting following. It's the trusting readers of the reviews who cause postively reviewed books to go viral by buying the book based on their trust of the good review. If your book is no good, then you are wasting your time trying to promote it anyway.

h_http://onlinebookclub.org/review-requests/

So I contacted Mr. Scott Hughes via email and he was initially very cordial (I've got emails and screen captures of everything by the way) while answering a couple of my questions and also while taking my money.

About 10 days later or so, I check for the status of my book review and to my SURPRISE and DELIGHT I read the following (italics mine):

Spirit of Comedy by Max McCullan by Zoe7

This review request is live. Check back for updates on the status of this review.

Current status: The review of your book is complete! The reviewer has finished writing the review of your book and has submitted it to us. Just as an extra precaution, we want to make sure the reviewer has carefully read the whole book. So we asked the reviewer to also write a paragraph…..commenting on the ending and other parts of the book that could not be commented on explicitly in the review (e.g. spoilers). Hopefully, this little extra review is constructive feedback for you in itself, but we also want you to look it over and see if you can assure us the reviewer has carefully read the whole book and not just skimmed through parts of it… [This all seemed reasonable, right? BTW, potential spoilers have been removed by me.]:

I loved the ending of this. I found it so funny. It kept just going down the line of twists from God to Max to Mr Triple X to the psychiatrist…. it just so d*mn funny! The name "Peter-Philip Peterson" is also a great one. I like the ********* report at the end. It's a nice touch at the end that just makes it. I'd be pretty interested in reading the other books [in the series] if they are all similar to this story. A really funny read! Cheers!

How cool was that! This made my day! I was as happy as a kid trapped inside a candy store.

So I waited a couple of days and after not hearing anything about my stellar review I checked the web site's section where my request was and found this (italics and bold mine):

Spirit of Comedy by Max McCullan by Zoe7

This review request is live. Check back for updates on the status of this review.

Current status: The review of your book is complete! This book was rated 4 out of 4. The reviewer has finished writing the review and submitted it. The editor simply needs to do some final touches and publish it publicly, which generally happens within 48 hours of the last status update. Status last updated: Wed Jan 23rd, 2013, 10:08pm EST.

Well, I emailed Mr. Scott Hughes to find out about when I would be able to receive or at least read (on his web site/forum as both promised and paid for) the reviewer's critique of my book, as remember what the web site advertisement said (italics mine):

In order to maintain the integrity of our reviews, we cannot edit out any bad or negative comments….

Well, I never heard back from Mr. Scott Hughes about my review since then Jan. 23, 2013. I tried PM's, alternate email address (at a ".biz" email address) contact form on web site, etc. Not only that, but he also deleted my posts on his forum in which I inquired about the status of my book paid review and he also kept my money to boot!

I may be far from a genius, but I am not stupid. Mr. Scott Hughes does not want my book review to see the light of day because by his own admission it could generate sales of my book, based on a positive reviewer's review! And apparently for whatever warped reason, he can't have that! So he's going to censor/prevent ANYONE from reading it including the person that bought it (and paid for it) as a service from his web site!!

Why? Because maybe HE didn't like it?

Or perhaps it's the opposite: he LOVED it (like his reviewer), and knew others would too?

So what??

I mean, I'm trying to figure out this man's intention here. Surely I can't be the ONLY author he's ever pulled this with? Or maybe my ebook and me are special that way? I really don't get it. Someone said to me after sharing this…

This Mr Hughes fellow seems to be either a crook/a stuck up nut/ridiculous human being.

Hmm. Probably. Or something!!

Now I'm feeling paranoid. Maybe it was the masturbation jokes in Spirit of Comedy by Max McCullan that did it? But don't we all do such "thing"??

But let's say he found those jokes not to his liking, then, shouldn't potential readers have the opportunity to make up their own mind in choosing WHAT to read and/or buy?

Instead of having "Stalin Jr." decide my book should be placed in some secret list of forbidden books of his? Because I tell ya, Stalin would be proud of such behavior!

From Wikipedia:

The Freedom of the Press
Orwell originally wrote a preface which complains about British self-censorship…. "The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.... Things are kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervenes but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact." Although the first edition allowed space for the preface, it was not included, and as of June 2009 has not been published with most editions of the book.

Sound familiar?

And this guy has the audacity to review Orwell's Animal Farm & 1984? Did I suddenly wake up in Bizarro world??

(Continued in next post)
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
h_http://onlinebookclub.org/1984.php

Interestingly, I cannot find his review of one of the infamous' "forbidden books" ( I think I read it at his web site a few days ago but it is no longer there coincidentally….)

(see picture at link:)

h_http://forums.onlinebookclub.org/authors/

Could it be that it is because Spirit of Comedy by Max McCullan is as good as Orwell's Animal Farm (being sarcastic) he's pulling this on me and my potential readers? I mean, according to Online Book Club Animal Farm has 4 out of 4 stars. JUST like mine interestingly enough.

Seriously, this that he's done is ugly, foul, cruel, unethical, disgusting… Not to mention this guy on top of all this has the nerve to also keep all my money!!! As remember, I didn't buy the *stars * in the review but the "WHY" I got the stars! Not to mention that I could have used that review for promotional purposes as was also intended!

I emailed Scott Hughes just a few days ago via another email that if I didn't get what I'd paid for, I'd go to the press. And I'm going to. I'm even going to go with this to the New York Times, Telegraph EVERYWHERE.

And since my "controversial" and "forbidden" novella deals with masturbation and "Stalin Jr." has attempted to censor it (as in censorship), I'll even approach Larry Flynt's people with this, an also Hugh Hefner's satellite radio program, and also Howard Stern's program. As those folks are all for FREE speech and against (blatant) censorship. This is ridiculous! This man Scott Hughes (if that's his real name) is a tyrant loon, or something!

What if this was done to you? Or to your wife, son, uncle? What would you do? Take it? Not me.

Anyway, finally, we get to the WHY of me writing all of this.

In reading the New York Times articles I shared earlier, I came to the realization that our "industry" or "field" or whatever other term you want to use, is in need of reputable and honest book reviewers. As people from all walks of life continue to join our ranks of self published authors every day.

I mean, for example, take a look at this Kindle program's web page and note how almost all of the reviewers are asking not to be sent any more books to review!

h_http://www.thekindlebookreview.net/get-reviewed/

So in lieu of this situation, I have an idea and a proposal. As I said at the beginning of this email, one thing I like above all is honesty.

I sent a Kindle board member I met here on the first day, Matthew Turner author of Beyond Parallel,

http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=140867.0

a copy of my ebook to read and see whether we could work together (as in he help me) with the marketing of my ebook, as this is something he does on the side. So it is in his best interest to get me to hire him by stroking my ego. Right?

(Continued on next post)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
So I propose doing this for our growing community: Among us create a group of honest and capable reviewers who would volunteer to do whatever number of reviews they can. But the reviews would not be credited to any one single individual but to the group. This way there would be no personal hard feelings with any one person, if the review had a low rating. These reviews would then be posted on the Amazon ebook/Kindle pages and on this board. As well, authors could use said review for other promo stuff.

We can form the group here. I'll gladly volunteer some of my personal time and efforts to the cause if there are others in this board that want to help new ebook authors like me. Especially so that they don't get taken advantage of and hurt emotionally or financially by unscrupulous individuals.

Anyway, thank you for reading this far, if you have. I hope what happened to me and my ebook does not happen to you. I will try my best for this to be so.

Peace.

Marty.      
 

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Well, the reason I'd imagine that most would find it "cheating" is because reviews that you pay for a rarely honest. After all, if you're making business selling people reviews, you wouldn't give them a review that would discourage them from buying from you again in the future. So basically, you have all these positive reviews that you've paid for, which then increases your book's visibility and makes it eclipse other books whose authors have actually tried getting reviews the honest way, but can't compete with you because they aren't buying amazing four and five star reviews.
 

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I confess I haven't read all of the three original posts because they're super long. But to answer your basic question, buying reviews in generally frowned on around here because it's assumed the reviewer is biased. Obviously, if they make it a habit to give negative reviews, authors aren't going to bring them return business, are they? Nobody wants to pay for a bad review that's going to drag down their sales.

Kirkus is (arguably) one of the few exceptions in that some still give weight to their reviews, despite their paid service. I suspect it's because the name Kirkus is an established one people associate with traditional publishing. If the average reader was aware indie reviews via Kirkus were paid for by the authors, I suspect they'd lose a lot of credibility.
 

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Dara England said:
Kirkus is (arguably) one of the few exceptions in that some still give weight to their reviews, despite their paid service. I suspect it's because the name Kirkus is an established one people associate with traditional publishing. If the average reader was aware indie reviews via Kirkus were paid for by the authors, I suspect they'd lose a lot of credibility.
PW has an indie paid program as well and some people lend credence to that.

Honestly, the fact is that those reviews have been paid for by publishers for decades. The "paid review=biased review" thing is a bit silly.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Hi Dara & Gaia,

I know that you didn't read my long post Dara, but I see you both have the same basic argument, which is "if its paid for is not really unbiased. If the paid review is bad then folks won't give those reviewers any new business." Obviously, "liking" something or not is very subjective. But in Kirkus' case you claim people don't know that they are paid reviews. But Kurkis states clearly that they will not publish a negative review if the author does not want to! So at the very least the writer IS getting a real review.

I mean, I'm sure that if we wanted too, we could submit, as an experiment, a HORRIBLE book for review and I bet they will not give it a 3-4-5 star rating simply to get future business from that author! And I don't think I'm wrong about this. I've been trying to get my ebook reviewed for weeks now, but from my experience thus far, there's just too many books to be reviewed and too little reviewers to review them!

So what to do?    

I proposed in my posting to create a group of honest and capable reviewers (from these boards) who would volunteer to do whatever number of reviews they can in an given amount of time. But the trick here is that reviews would not be credited to any one single individual but to the group!

This way there would be no personal hard feelings with any one person, if the review had a low rating. A writer would get an unbiased TRUE critique. (Doesn't everyone REALLY want that??) These reviews would then be posted on the Amazon ebook/Kindle pages and on this board. As well, authors could use said review for other promo stuff.

As I said earlier, we could form the group here. I'll gladly volunteer some of my personal time and efforts to the cause if there are others in this board that want to help new ebook authors like me.

A good idea?

Or....


Marty
 

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A lot of this post seems to be related to another site, and I won't comment on that. But the upshot seems to be this:

So I propose doing this for our growing community: Among us create a group of honest and capable reviewers who would volunteer to do whatever number of reviews they can. But the reviews would not be credited to any one single individual but to the group. This way there would be no personal hard feelings with any one person, if the review had a low rating. These reviews would then be posted on the Amazon ebook/Kindle pages and on this board. As well, authors could use said review for other promo stuff.
No. Bad idea. Doing this gives the impression of trading reviews or of a quid pro quo situation (even if that's not actually the case). It is almost impossible to give fair reviews to someone you know, IMHO, even if the acquaintance is extremely casual. This sort of thing is best avoided.

Also, I suspect Amazon would frown upon such reviews if they noticed them, and I don't think KB would want them posted, either.
 

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Prediction of how long this thread will last before getting locked: less than 24 hours.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Wow Mathew, YES! I concur! Of course they are "paid" one way or the other! But MAYBE we can do here soemthing different. Kinda like "a public service by authors, for authors."

Just a thought...

MArty
 

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Marty,

Posting private PMs or emails here is not allowed.  I've removed the content that you posted related to a private exchange between you and another member.  Please do not add it back again; I will permanently lock this thread.

Also, we have a rule here--What Happens on Another Site stays on that site; the WHOA rule.  Most of what you've posted in your first couple posts probably goes against the rule--I have to read it fully and will make a decision--but it really isn't necessary for your basic question, as you've found.

Betsy
KB Moderator
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Hear me out.

I propose doing this for our growing community: Among us create a group of honest and capable reviewers who would volunteer to do honest reviews without fear of retribution or any such silly thing. This way there would be no personal hard feelings with any one person, if the review had a low rating. Get it?

You see, the reviews would not be credited to any one single individual but to the group! (like The Society of Honest Reviewers -- just came up with that. It can have a much better name). And ONLY those authors that wanted a REAL assessment of their work would apply. A writer would then get an unbiased TRUE critique of their work.

Don't people want the truth? I know some do, like me.

And by doing this as a group and not as any single reviewer there would be no personal hard feelings with any one person, if the review had a low rating.

If positive, then, the author could opt to have the (positive or semi positive?) review posted on the Amazon ebook/Kindle pages and on this board.

As well, authors could use said review for other promo stuff.

Thoughts?

Marty
 

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Your idea is not a good one for several reasons, not the least of which is the peril inherent in a collective Amazon ID. It's like one GIANT SOCKPUPPET.

Just review the books you want to and others will do the same.
 

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Now that the thread is available again, I'll add to my previous comments that I think a big problem with your suggestion is lack of transparency. At least if I review another romance writer under my own name, everyone knows we write in the same genre. But if I review her under a group name, more or less anonymously, I might be using that anonymity to slam her book because she's a competitor (and yes, sadly, people do this), or to give her a five-star rating because I'm her best friend, or whatever. Making it "under a group name" doesn't make the ethics of reviewing other authors less problematic, but more so, it seems to me.

And Monique puts it more succinctly than I did. "One giant sockpuppet" covers the issue quite well.
 

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Well and Amazon tries to discourage. If they know you're reviewing in your own genre, they take you down. I mean, sure use something not related to pen name but it's just...it's not worth it, the being dishonest. I don't mean because you can't make money. CLEARLY John Locke did and how! I mean, if you ever get caught with a massaged review (whether paid for or traded), then forever on, people will figure every other review you get is just more paid for lip service. So if you don't want to avoid rigged reviews for ethical reasons (which I do), then you would want to avoid them for being discovered and crashing future business ventures and your reputation under that name.
 

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While I understand you are upset about the paid review you never got, ranting about it on your book page isn't going to lead anywhere good.
 
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