Late in August, I contacted BookRooster.com, mentioned on this board, and signed up for the package: $67 in exchange for an unspecified number (maybe 10) authentic, unbiased reviews from “readers who love to read books.” The readers don’t get a dime. The money is to fund the selection of reviewers, to arrange the online event. I filled out a form describing the book and received a McCheerful email, giving dates when I could expect the reviews to start and the date for a progress report.

Days passed, and I sent a what’s happening email. No response. Days later, the first review appeared on my novel Dear Cynthia. It was brief, contained a disclaimer “I have reviewed this book on the basis of a free copy,” a favorable comment, and low star conclusion. Days later, a second review arrived with the same disclaimer. This review was much more detailed, from an experienced reviewer, with an identical disclaimer, a few sops to the author, and one star. Is Amazon running out of stars, I wondered?

I shot off an email to Martin of BR, expressing my dissatisfaction with the disclaimer. I said it was graceless and hinted at a bribe: free book for review. No response. Days later, Kaynine Mom sunk her teeth into my novel, shook it, and dropped it like a dead rat. At that point, in fear of destruction of my novel, I told Martin to stop the reviews, just stop them. No email response. Not a peep. As of this writing, no more BR reviews.

Re-reading BR’s guidelines for its reviewers, I discovered that they claim the disclaimer is required by Amazon. So, this is yet another clumsy attempt to authenticate the customer review. Of course, any sock puppet can swear on a stack of Bibles that his or her review is the true grit. Does Amazon now require provenance for all reviews? “I obtained this book for free on Kindle Select.” “I am a Premium reader and only read free books.”

This sort of reviewing arrangement is a difficult dance. The company wants to demonstrate impartiality in its sponsored reviews; and the client wants something (good) for his money. If Kaynine Mom kills off too many books as “confusing,” the word eventually gets around. The unwritten understanding between company and client should mean something in the two-three star range. If the reviewer doesn’t quite get it, maybe she should take a step back and tack on an extra star. Is the reader always superior to the book? The author wants a review that at least sniffs out the sensibility of the work, gives the reader something to chew on. Otherwise, why should the paying customer stand and watch his book being put to the sword on the world’s largest book forum?

I wonder what the attraction is for the reviewer, who supposedly does not receive a kick-back, and must pass on free books she might prefer to read, submitting to BR selections what might confuse her, waste her time and damage her mind?

Of course, not all books are equal, are they.

Dear Cynthia is an epistolary novel, always rare, but most of us have read letters. Much more worrisome for me, is the possibility that the general or literary reader no longer recognizes the Romantic imagination–not identical to the Romance imagination. Americans once read Proust and had a concept of the remembrance of things past. Are books of memory obsolete? Speak, Memory, no more? So I have my marketing work cut out for me.

BookRooster posts a list of a dozen or so testimonials from happy authors. Joe Konrath endorses BR. Your book might sail through their system with five gold stars and a 21-gun salute. If BR was trying to get rid of my, they succeeded, requiring only three reviews to do the job; so they could quickly reassign those valuable reviewers to new projects. Our online progress report date has passed. I don’t expect to hear from Martin & Company again. They have my money, I told them to stop the reviews, I cannot demand better reviews, they’re not worth suing, goodbye.

There is an old saying in the business world: The customer is always right. I hate doing business with people who don’t answer my emails. There might be sufficient number of hungry sparrows out there that Book Rooster can survive despite poor customer service, even zero customer service, for awhile. But usually, in a competitive business environment, poor service will eventually show up on the bottom line.

This was originally posted on the Kindle Writers’ Cafe.

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