Thursday, March 7, 2013

Gaming the System

Does this look familiar? I imagine this is how every writer looks at some point during the process of producing their work. For those who do it all, you know, the indies, you know that this look extends far beyond the writing process. Not only do we produce the book, we market it too. Many of us have turned what might have been a slightly more than full time job into three in the snap of a finger. We work, raise families, maintain a household, then, because we're completely insane (sorry, there's no other explanation for it!), we add writer, editor, designer, and marketing manager to our resume. It's a wonder we have time to bathe, right? Right!

So, when this article was brought to my attention today, I was understandably miffed. I don't think it comes as a much of a surprise that there are some people who are willing and able to bilk the system. The more I submerge myself in the world of writing, the better I learn that there is no shortage of cheats. You have the shillers, those who ask their friends and family to write rave reviews to draw in readers. You have those who hire professional shillers, too! $100 for 50 five star reviews? Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Why not take it a step further, shoot for the big times? And by big times I mean The New York Times. Yes, folks, there is a way to get your name--and your book--on  that prestigious list. And guess what, you don't even have to work for it!

Apparently, if you have the right amount of cash, there is a company that will buy a bucket load of your books, and with some secret skills, they can ensure you a spot among the elite. So, okay, you do have to work for it, because where else are you going to get $50,000 to fund this little venture? But hey, it's all worth it, right? Once you hit the big times, you'll start raking in the cash, become famous, have Hollywood knocking on your door, and before you know it, you'll be hobnobbing it with R. Patz and dancing across Ellen's stage!

Obviously, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You may get yourself on the NYT, but once the you hit the list, you're on your own. As Jeffery Trachtenberg explains, those who have done this experience a brief moment of greatness followed by a dramatic drop off, because, surprise! The sales weren't real. The author is left with a spike that doesn't last, the ability to SAY they made it on the NYT, and if they are lucky, they may have caught the attention of a few readers along the way. In  the end, they still have to provide a product that people want to read. So what good does it do to spend a year's salary to artificially make it onto a list if readers come flocking to buy and ask, "Hey. If this guy's so good, why does he only have three reviews?"

I don't know about you, but I would rather earn every single rating and review on my own. If I am ever lucky enough to be recognized for my efforts, whether it be by NYT or the corner bookstore, I want to know that I got there all on my own. I want my writing to merit that attention. Call me crazy, but I don't want to be that person fingered for cheating my way to the top.

Now, if you're thinking, "Hey, Brandi, what about all those books I buy to pass around and do giveaways with? Won't purchasing those books boost my ratings? If I buy enough, won't I be able to eventually push myself to the top and avoid all those costly fees?" To which I will tell you, "Sadly, no." Apparently there's a system to this whole thing that determines where the sales come from and eliminates things like bulk order and promotional purchases. Don't ask me how they do it, they just do. But it seems that someone has found a loophole. Just by the fact that this has made the papers and sellers like Amazon have vowed to discontinue doing business with these companies, I would have to say that the window of opportunity will be closing soon enough. So if you want to get in on the action, better make it soon!


So, what are your thoughts on all of this? Is this something you would ever consider for yourself? Is it worth it? If you knew of an author who had used this method, would you still buy their book? Or would you blacklist them from your library?

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