Carolyn Berates the Skunk-Like
Odor Emanating from Paid-For Reviews
you going to plunk down your $ for something tainted?
is an old saying: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
I’m revising the adage to: “An old dog can go terribly
awry when it tries a new trick.”
by the time a dog is old, he should know better than to take on
something that smacks of the word ‘trick’ and he should
sure as heck know when to turn up his nose at something that smells
I’m not losing my mind. And, you may have guessed, I’m
not talking about dogs here. I’m talking about the venerable
Kirkus Reviews that has been respected by authors and librarians
everywhere since 1933. It is published in print 24 times a year,
and now has an online branch as well. It critiques some 5,000 titles--books
of all kinds--in that period of time. It wields enormous power.
A Kirkus review (or lack of one) can make or break a book by influencing
the major book buyers in the country--both bookstores and libraries.
recently wrote to their editors taking them to task for not attaching
the names of the reviewer to each of their reviews. Kirkus’
own site says “The reviews are reliable and authoritative,
written by specialists selected for their knowledge and expertise
in a particular field.” It doesn't say that these reviews
are often (always?) unsigned. It seems to me that anyone with the
kind of influence these critics wield over the welfare of a book
should be willing--nay, required-- to attach her name to whatever
praise or vitriol she dishes out and I told them so. That was only
a couple of weeks ago and now this! THIS!!
is what has ticked me off: Kirkus is offering a new service to self-publishers
and POD authors (and, it has come to light more recently) big publishers
who feel their books were passed over unjustly. This isn’t
a new ploy. Fly-by-night reviewers have been preying on desperate
authors in this way for some time but Kirkus should know better.
Pay-for-Review works against authors two ways. First an entity like
Kirkus knows that books it chooses not to review will be their most
likely paying customers; this is not a situation that encourages
a just, evenhanded selection process. Not that the method has ever
been something that assured all worthy authors of consideration,
but at least there was no reason for this journal--or any other--
not to attempt to choose the crème de la crème of
submitted books, or at least the books that best fit their editorial
There is no way that a reviewer who is being paid by the author
or publisher of the same work under consideration can offer a fair
review to her readers. After all, if the journal bashed 9 of 10
of these books, pretty soon no one would be paying them for a reviewing
service! Further, no matter how fair the critique, it cannot be
trusted any more than one trusts the press secretaries and spin
doctors who work for this or any other president’s administration;
when one is in the employ of another, one's attitude is forever
changed, for better or worse.
of our industry's promotion gurus recently informed his newsletter
subscribers of this new “perk” offered by Kirkus. It
would naturally appeal to his readers, many of whom are independent
or small publishers or emerging authors. He said, “Do I think
this is a good deal? No, probably not.” He feels that because
of Kirkus’ fine reputation, it might be worth the fee (some
two to three hundred dollars!) for the value of being able to quote
something positive from Kirkus.
isn’t exactly wrong. He’s looking at this like the great
promoter he is--something I, with a book out like THE FRUGAL BOOK
PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T am in total sympathy
with. But he isn’t exactly right either. The “assets”
that a publisher or author might reap from plunking down their hard-earned
cash is going to be tainted--if not right now then later when people
figure out that something here, truly stinks.
dating myself with this story, but in the old days, journalism schools
had ethics classes and they still do. We were told not to take out-and-out
bribes or to accept gifts and to be very careful to write careful,
clean, unbiased copy. TV reared its inexperienced head and producers
hadn't any training in journalism--or, obviously, ethics. The payola
scandals emerged from the lush, rich land of TVland and everyone
got squeaky clean because now (gasp!) the public had their number.
I’m here to tell you that this is akin to the payola scandals.
We have here another cycle. This kind of thing undermines the public
trust and that public includes book buyers and the wholesale level
and book readers at the retail level. Thanks to a higher power who
loves books we still have Library Journal and a few good newspapers
but I worry. If Kirkus leads and makes a lot of money will the rest
follow? Maybe so. And if so, our only hope will be to quit using
their d---products so they'll die a well-deserved death! Let's hear
it from the public. “Do not foul our free press! Leave our
opinion pages and criticism unpolluted.”
you think I am over reacting consider: Our Democratic system is
based on free speech and our free press is its watchdog. Speaking
of dogs again, they tend to have good noses. Mine is lots less astute
and even I can smell something rotten in the publishing world.
is where you can access a stylebook without running off to
the library or getting a reporter friend to swipe one from
her newspaper’s library? Go to wwww.journals.uchicago.edu/mailman/listinfo.cgi/cmsupdate.
It’s a free alert. Or for $55 you can invest in a guide
of your own.
authors: Go to www.radio-locator.com for leads to radio programs
that might be looking for you as an expert. Also, check out
for my new book of nitty gritty promotion ideas.
Here is another
site that may interest writers: www.writersbreak.com.
to the SPAN CONNECTION for providing some of these leads.
It’s my favorite in-print newsletter. You can only get
it by joining SPAN and it’s well worth the membership
fee! You can get a trial copy, however, by sending an e-mail
to Deb@Spannet.org. Tell her I sent you.
Tip: Have you discovered Amazon’s “Listmanias?”
Go to http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/cm/member-fil/-/A3JH18T58CY65P/ref=cm_aya_bb_lm/102-0304642-4469763
to check mine out. And get in the “Listmania”
habit! It’s a great way to find out what other avid
readers are reading and what they like.
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