I have to tell you that the whole time the sock puppet controversy was raging, I was cringing inside. The reason? I’ve paid for reviews. Kind of. Oh, not through some fly-by-night “good reviews guaranteed!” outfit. Instead, I’ve bought a couple of review-only blog tours.
I talked last week about virtual blog tours. If you missed that post, you can read it here. One of the flavors of tours that most outfits offer is the review-only tour, in which the operator recruits a number of bloggers to read and review your book. The tour operator asks you to provide a copy of your book, or a coupon or gift card so the reviewer can buy a copy, as well as the usual stuff: blurb, cover image, author picture, and buy links. If the reviewer hates your book, he or she can use the other materials to put together a book feature to run instead of a scathing review. Most of the time, bloggers will post their reviews not only on their blog, but also on Amazon and/or Goodreads, which of course helps your rating.
The question that nagged at me, all through the sock puppet brouhaha, was whether this practice equaled “paying for reviews.” After all, money has changed hands, right? The tour operator is the one getting paid, but the reviewer gets a free book. The reviewer promises upfront to give you a fair review, but has the option to run a feature instead of a one- or two-star review. So in reality, you’re probably only going to get decent reviews out of a review-only tour.
Of course, I suppose someone’s book could be so bad that every blogger on the tour declines to review it. That’s never happened to me, thankfully, but I would think that in that case, the tour operator might offer to give the author a refund.
After thinking about it for a while, I decided that indie authors are probably on sound ethical ground when buying review-only tours. The reviewers do read the books, after all, and they don’t promise five stars (or one star) for every book. That alone sets them apart from the sock-puppet crew. And too, the reviewers have their own established book blogs – blogs that they have voluntarily created in their spare time. They’re not anonymous hacks, writing reviews for the money; they’re doing it for the love of reading, and to help out authors who deserve a wider audience.
Phew. I’m glad that’s settled. Because the only sock puppets I want in my life are the ones I knit myself.