An interesting debate cropped up around Romance Blog Land over the weekend involving an unnamed author who paid "readers" through a service to chat up her books on various blogs. This coming on the heels of an interesting post over at Romancing The Blog about a very disconcerting bookseller panel at a recent conference.
Seriously now, I can't be the only one not surprised. It's just the latest evidence of the desperate measures some authors will go to to get noticed. That said, can we blame them? Yes, it's unsavory. Yes, it's dishonest. But no, we shouldn't be surprised - especially if it's romance authors going to such lengths.
Romance readers are the most voracious readers out there. It's nothing for them to plunk down hundreds (thousands even) of dollars on books every year and read anywhere from 1 to 10 books a week. They love the genre, and they are gluttons. They want more. In response to this, publishers are putting out more. Harlequin alone publishes over 100 books every, single month. Every month people! That's an obscene amount of competition.
Competition is the key here. Every author I know dreams of quitting their day job and making their livelihood as a "professional writer." In order to do that, they need to sell a mess of books. Enough books to where publishers will take notice and offer them nice, big contracts. With so many romances being published, the market saturated, this creates desperate authors. Of course they'll go to great, often obscene, lengths to promote their book.
I'm not saying this author should have paid for this "reader" commenting service, but I do understand why she did it.
I often wonder what Nora Roberts career would be like if she were starting out today. It took years of her churning out books, polishing her writing and paying her dues before she conquered the publishing industry. It took time. She wasn't an overnight sensation. Yet, these days that's the vibe that the publishing industry is giving off (at least from this lay person's perspective). Sink or swim. Sell well out of the gate, hit the bestseller lists or don't let the door smack you in the ass on the way out. Which means new and mid list authors spend an inordinate amount of their time dithering about "promo" and praying to the publishing gods.
Where does this leave the reader? Marginally desperate. This is why we're stuck with "trends." Authors want to make a living, publishers want to make money, so they latch on to the "hot new thing" until we're all bloody sick of it. It also means we have to get more savvy. Just as we learned to not trust every five star review over at Amazon, we must now learn to read through blog comments and posts carefully. Not that it will be hard. It's been my experience that the disingenuous comments can be seen from space. Hey, we may be romance readers, but having spent enough years online I think most of us are pretty jaded.
So no, I don't agree with what this author is doing and in my book it's right up there with paying someone to give you a favorable review. It stinks like week old fish. But am I surprised? Hardly.