It’s no secret that SCOTUS has declared that money is a form of speech. I’m no constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that money is the volume knob on the megaphone you speak into, not speech itself, but maybe that’s not a valuable distinction. At least, the top court in the country didn’t think so.
But money is visibility, too. It’s common for creative types to talk about obscurity as the biggest threat to our… well, I guess the word would have to be “careers” even though it makes me want to go back to bed for the rest of the week. Writers obsess about getting the word out about our work; yesterday’s post about the best seller letting her husband, assistant, and readers harass reviewers for low ratings is one example. Another was my own obsession with sending Child of Fire to every blog reviewer I could find.
People buy ads in magazines, on blogs, in Google search results. They make bookmarks, keychains, and other swag. They plead for positive reviews on Amazon.
And so on and so forth. Anything to spread the word. Even if it’s not ethical.
This week, the news came out that self-publishing success story John Locke boosted himself out of the long tail by purchasing reviews on Amazon. He paid a service an even grand for fifty reviews (to start); each reviewer also bought his 99 cent book, so the reviews would show up as ‘verified.’
Now, he claims that he didn’t demand the reviews be positive, but surprise surprise, they were. He also couldn’t have made the Kindle 1 million seller list if he hadn’t had something in his books that made people want to read them. Have you read any of this work? It’s not good, but it has a quick pace some readers want.
Still, the dude rose out of obscurity by lying to readers. That’s a shitty way to build a career and not only is it deadly to his reputation, but to the entire system of reader endorsements. Customers are still enchanted by the idea that the best stuff will naturally accrue positive attention; game that, and you leave us with nothing but paid ads and publisher PR campaigns.
Worse, the review vendor outed in the article is treating it like a PR boost, which I suppose it is. Quick tip for Mr. Rutherford: he should stop identifying his clients to journalists if he intends to stay in business.
Salon touched on this, too. Here’s a quick quote: … employing a service that dishonest and cynical demonstrates a bizarre contempt for the reader. It casts the writer as a producer of widgets and the reader as a sucker who probably won’t complain if the product doesn’t live up to the hype, because hey, at least it was cheap. Books, in this scenario, become flea market trash — wind-up toys you buy on a whim and expect to break.
The comments on that Salon article are the usual hash of self-publisher ranting. It doesn’t matter what charge you lay on any self-publisher anywhere, publishers are always worse in some unspecified way.
But it comes down to one thing, really: Don’t lie to people. Don’t try to trick them into liking you or your work. It’s not that hard.