Let’s start with the story, which appeared in the Sunday edition of the New York Times on August 26th, 2012.
The title was “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” and it was written by Mr. David Streitfeld who is a reporter for the newspaper.
In order to understand my role in this story, we’ll have to back track a little so I can explain in as few words as possible.
Finding Reviewers for Self-Published Books
I self-published my memoir in November of 2010. In the search for publicity and book reviews, I stumbled upon a paid review service offered by Kirkus. They had a long history in the publishing industry and seemed reputable enough, so I figured their reviewers would be objective.
Alas, the price tag on their reviews for self-published books was upwards of $400 – a bit out of my budget at that time.
I figured there must be others like them at more reasonable prices, so I did a Google search. I must say that until that day, I’d NEVER clicked on a Google ad. Boy, did that turn out to be a mistake.
I saw a single ad on the right side of my screen for a site called GettingBookReviews.com. They offered reviews for $99 instead, which I decided to take a chance on.
Can Paid Reviews be Written Fairly?
That’s where it all started. The site was run by a guy named Todd Rutherford. He did what I refer to as “dicking around” for over a month, when the review was promised to be delivered in 7-10 days. That wasn’t my main issue with him, however. Upon further research, I learned that Mr. Rutherford’s company was recruiting freelance writers from Craigslist and only offering to pay them for five star reviews.
Being a freelance writer myself, that was a huge turn off for me. I was having second thoughts about this already. What troubled me most about it all was that I heard nothing from this guy after putting in my order. Every time I exchanged emails with him, it was because I took the initiative to contact him first. After a couple of weeks, he still had no update for me unless I bugged him about it. Not how you treat customers, in my opinion.
Finally, after all the unsavory things I discovered about Mr. Rutherford and after waiting several weeks, I simply wanted nothing to do with him. I asked him for a refund and wished to be done dealing with him. He responded by refusing to give me my money back, which pissed me off pretty bad. I didn’t want his review. I wouldn’t use it. I just wanted my money and hoped to never speak with this guy again.
The Power of One Pissed Off Customer
So I wrote a nasty rant about his service.
I informed him that I would be posting this letter on all the consumer complaint sites that I could find, which was a threat that I more than followed through with.
I spread it as far and wide as I possibly could. So far and wide, in fact, that on August 8th, 2011, I received an email from Mr. Streitfeld of the New York Times who said he wished to speak to me without telling me what the email was regarding.
I honestly wasn’t sure why I’d get an email from a reporter for the Times, but I was terribly curious and so I called the phone number he left in his email and once I had him on the phone, he told me that he had found my rant and explained that paid and fake reviews were topics he had been covering a great deal.
Meeting In Person
Nearly eight months passed and I was edited out of another story written on the same topic by Mr. Streitfeld. My part shrank until there was no room for me at all, he explained. I understood. But he did keep telling me that it would happen eventually.
Then on April 3rd, 2012 I received another email from him telling me that he would be visiting Portland soon and wanted to know if I could meet up with him in person to talk while he was in town. I said yes and we ended up meeting at a coffee shop near my house on the 10th of that same month.
We spoke for probably a couple of hours total. We talked more about paid reviews, the ethics involved and about writing books in general. It was a thought provoking discussion to say the least.
So after we parted ways, I waited some more. I next heard from him on July 19th. All he said was that he was still writing the story.
The Photo Shoot
Less than a week after that, they sent a freelance photographer named Leah Nash over to my house to shoot some photos of me. We took some of me on my couch in the living room and then moved outside to the deck. The one that was in the newspaper was from the second group, and wasn’t my favorite of all the ones taken at all. Oh well.
She was a very friendly and interesting lady and it was fun talking with her.
Over A Year Later…
So it might have taken over a year until it finally happened, but the story was finally published in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times in August of 2012. I went downtown to buy a print copy and was surprised to see Mr. Rutherford’s face looking at me from the cover of the business section. The piece is very long for a story in the newspaper. But man did it shake people up!
On the New York Times website, the story has over 300 comments. Most of them express pretty strongly worded opinions about the whole concept, from both sides of the fence.
So what do you guys think about all this? Share in the comments.