Monday, November 5, 2007

Learned Behavior

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.


Jennie said...

I wouldn't think buying comments would be very effective -- anyone with any experience roaming the web can tell a spam comment from a genuine one. And any spam comments I see actually make me most definitely NOT want to read the author they're talking about.

Rosie said...

This is a second attempt to comment because my first one was longer than your post. Oy!

Payment for promotion is disingenuous unless it is disclosed by the reviewer, in my opinion. I can think of one blog I read regularly that does paid reviews and she discloses that with each review she is being paid to do.

I agree whole heartedly that this subject is more than a little slimey, but not surprising.

Catherine said...

It's a case of advertorials blogstyle. In my business degree I've been studying all things promotional and have an unhealthy awareness of many tactics.

The text book version advantage with an advertorial is supposedly its editorial style, trying to match the tone of the publication it's placed in.In Australia its a legal requirement that a paid advertisement be labeled as an advertisement. Somehow I can't see this being the case online.

I think sadly what will define this tactic is its effectiveness, not necessarily ethics. If it comes off as false I think it will die, if someone finds a way to impart the opinion without the slime factor I think we may see this tactic more and more.

sybil said...

eh I am all sorts of shades of cynical... who believes drive by random comments much less odd ones.

At best or worst it will make me click on the person look at the book and try and figure out what crack they are smoking.

It isn't something I can get really worked up over most likely because I don't find it odd or surprising at this point.

Wendy said...

Sybil: Yeah, I wasn't surprised either. But I was reading other comments around blogland from people who were shocked! Shocked I tell you! And I was like, "Yeah, whatever." So you and me can go sit in the cynical corner together.

Catherine: It definitely defeats the purpose in an electronic medium like blogs. I've gotten one odd comment so far that I think fell into this category, and I didn't delete it. If I get anymore (doubtful, I mean my traffic ain't that high) I'll probably just delete them like I do spam.

sybil said...

Can we have vodka in the corner with us?

I love that you left that comment! LOVE love love it. How you can mistake it for anything else is just funnah

Wendy said...

Sybil: Everything's better with vodka!

catherine said...

Freezing cold slushy vodka mmm...

I'm so going to have a life again, well as soon as my exams are over. I just handed in my last evil assignments for this semester in and can now hand back this book to the library called, and I kid you not the title really is...

' Blog Marketing - The revoluntionary new way to increase sales, build your brand and get exceptional results.'