This week’s story makes me sick to my stomach. After last week’s article about an author who admitted manipulating Amazon’s sales rankings and reviews, I received an email from a reader who had applied for a freelance writing job online. The company in question wanted to pay writers for book reviews….but only for 5-star ones. I couldn’t believe anybody would be stupid enough to put their real name on such a pitch….but “Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing Coach” Todd Rutherford did.
I was so stunned by this that I didn’t think it was real. Perhaps it was posted by one of his enemies and they were trying to generate bad press about him? I mean, really, what reputable business purporting to support writers and authors, or a person calling himself a “Publishing Guru”, would sling mud in their own face by offering to buy only positive book reviews? And, the payment amounts promised to the book reviewers were beyond insulting when compared to, not only the price they’re charging authors for those reviews, but also for the amount of work involved (reading a book, reviewing it, AND posting it to two websites directly!).
But, let’s back up a bit. Last November, an author sent us a copy of a spam email received by GetBookReviews.com. In the spam, they claimed to charge authors for a book review. (Remember, you should NEVER, EVER pay for a book review! Doing so can ruin your reputation!) They also claimed to have a press release distribution service and more. (Um, if they’re using spam to contact authors they find online, does that mean they are distributing their press releases in spam fashion as well?)
So, I contacted Todd Rutherford through his website, basically asking him if the email I received from a reader was real. He responded quite quickly, with the subject line of his email saying, “It is legit.”
In the body of his email, he directed me to a webpage he set up for this. I was flabbergasted.
1. THE PAY SUCKS
They have a $999 package on their website that states:
A. Fifty reviewers will post reviews on Amazon.com and BN.com (of course, they don’t say the “reviewers” are freelancer writers responding to a cheap ad online);
B. They guarantee positive reviews only.
C. They offer a “money back guarantee” if the positive review is not “ethically feasible.” (I don’t even know what that means.)
So, they charge the author $999 but pay out only $500 to reviewers ($10 x 50 reviewers). They incur no costs for the books and no postage because they only send pdf files to the reviewers.
Why would any author pay that much money for book reviews by unknown reviewers, especially if their reputation might be ruined when someone learns they paid for only positive reviews of their book? If 50 reviewers are getting copies of the author’s notes and a copy of the ebook, that’s a LOT of people who know the author paid to have their book reviewed! Let’s face it…if a freelance “writer” is accepting that type of unethical work, what’s to stop them from later contacting the author and threatening to expose them in exchange for even more money?
And why is GettingBookReviews.com insulting writers by only offering $10 to read and review a book?
2. IT APPEARS THEY WILL ONLY PAY IF YOU GIVE THE BOOK A 5-STAR REVIEW
The original email said, “If after responding, you do not feel you can ethically provide a positive review, you may request to be removed from the assignment.”
From the wording on their initial email, it appears they only BUY 5-star reviews. So, if the freelance writer reads the book (heck, I’d be willing to bet most of those books do NOT get read in their entirety for that paltry amount of money), and thinks it sucks, they can’t say it sucks and give it a bad review because they won’t get paid. This encourages dishonest reviewing. Oh, and remember, the reviewers are NOT getting a free print book out of the deal. The email stated they were sending the books as pdf files. I mean, come on now…what incentive do they have to post a truly honest review?
3. REQUIRES MORE LABOR THAN JUST WRITING A BOOK REVIEW
The $10 doesn’t just cover reading the book and writing the review. Their email says the “reviewer” (and I do use that term VERY lightly) must also post the review to Amazon.com and BN.com. Of course, this would prevent Amazon and Barnes and Noble from banning reviews being bought by this company because they’re being posted by unknown freelancers.
4. AUTHOR IS ALLOWED TO SUGGEST “CHANGES” TO THE REVIEW BEFORE POSTING?!
It gets worse! According to their website, the author can “approve or suggest changes” to the book review before it gets posted to Amazon and BN.com!
In my opinion, all of this is beyond unethical. It’s no wonder so many people distrust self-published authors! With sites like this, how can reputable indie authors ever hope to gain the trust we deserve?! To add insult to injury, their website lists some of their “core values” as being Honesty, Integrity, and Trust, among others. I laughed out loud when I saw that!
Todd Rutherford’s email signature, and text from other emails, includes these names / websites:
Writing, Publishing, and Book Marketing Coach
Afterword Marketing Group
REMEMBER, NEVER PAY TO HAVE YOUR BOOK REVIEWED AND NEVER ASK FOR ONLY POSITIVE REVIEWS! You will be a far better writer (with a MUCH better reputation), AND obtain honest reviews only, by requesting readers and REAL book reviewers send their comments to you directly, while also asking them for permission to publish their words in your marketing materials. Yes, it’s even ethical to ask a reader or reviewer to post their review to online bookstores as long as you never ask them to only give you a good review.
I would LOVE to hear your opinions about outfits that only buy 5-star reviews from “book reviewers.” Please send your email to angela – at – writersweekly.com.
I’ll post your letters here and/or in next week’s letters column. Anonymity guaranteed, of course.