Paid reviews and the ethics of push-up bras

Joe Konrath has a post up in which he's proposing a "Writer's Code of Ethics" which addresses the issue of paying for reviews, blurbs, etc. This is deeply sarcastic, since publishing has always been a fantasy land of paid promotions, quid pro quo reviews, artificially hyped materials, one-hit wonders and Astroturfing.

So let's talk about deceptive marketing, shall we? (WARNING: contains an extended metaphor relating "books and marketing" to "jiggly bits and fancy underwear". Duh.)

You know your book is great. Other people have told you your book is great. You may have made it great yourself, you may have hired other people to make it a great book. Maybe you paid the editor and cover artist a flat rate as work-for-hire, maybe they get a percentage of sales. Regardless, you KNOW readers would love to get their hands on your junk. Any warm-blooded reader would have a great time with your volumes, and would be sure to tell all his friends how incredible they are.

But how to attract those readers in the first place? There are so many great books out there, and there are only so many eyeballs to go around. You don't want to LIE about your book, you don't want to MISREPRESENT your book, but you don't want your book to go unnoticed, either. It would be unethical to say that your book is something other than what it is, but surely it's OK to use some creative emphasis for the things that ARE part of your book, right?

So, you decide to pay for a little bit of... packaging. You enlist some help to highlight the most enticing parts of your book and push them out where people can see them. Accentuate a few lines here, reveal a bit of plot summary there, make sure readers can see the outline of your book's attributes, and PRESTO, your great book is now a knock-em-dead sexy book.
"After all", you say to yourself, "once the reader gets her hands on my big, thick, long book - 115,000 words! - she won't even notice that it's not quite exactly the book that the reviews and blurbs led her to believe it would be. Even after the packaging is gone and my book stands up on its own merits, she'll still love it, and she'll tell all her friends about it. After that, my little bit of marketing won't be necessary anymore."

There's no padding in any of this marketing, no fabrications or deliberate untruths. You're only paying for a little... extra emphasis. That's what marketing is all about, right?


Push-up bra image credit: "Liquid lift", by Fredrick's of Hollywood

Enhancement briefs image credit: "Shower assets", by Banglads

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Great post, Tony. Along the same lines, I saw something this a.m. about a bestselling author posting favorable reviews on Amazon for their own book. As if I couldn't be anymore jaded. *lol* Anyhow, I must be the only book consumer who doesn't read blurbs.

    Hope you're doing well!

    1. Thanks, Ezzy! I used to think blurbs were a kind of peer-review process for books, with knowledgeable writers commenting on the merits of other books based truly on their merits. Now, I see that - to a large extent - blurbing of Book A by Author B is as much a publicity move by Author B for his/her own book.

      "This is a great read - you'll love it!" - Tony Noland, author of "Blood Picnic and other stories"

      I'm practicing my quid pro quo blurbs already.


  2. The world of marketing has always been thus: walking the line between what you call "creative emphasis" and outright deception.

    I had an insight (there's some creative emphasis for you) last night: while the traditional publishing industry has veered off into the weeds for now, the processes they use to turn an MSS into a finished product remain valid. That goes for promotional bits, and (as you pointed out) that includes blurbage that markets both the blurbed book and the blurb-writer's book. Why plug one book when you can get a two-fer, right?

    I think, in the indie/SP realm, there's going to be a lot of quid pro quo, and not just trading blurbs or reviews or what have you. The process is still there, it's just going to involve less money changing hands.

  3. I think, in the indie/SP realm, there's going to be a lot of quid pro quo, and not just trading blurbs or reviews or what have you. The process is still there, it's just going to involve less money changing hands.

    And I have to think that the reason it's a bartering, quid pro quo arrangement is that the community of indie writers is still relatively small and based on personal relationships. Once it gets big enough that Author A and Author B don't know each other well enough to arrange mutual blurbage, there will have to be a population of some sort of go-betweens. There may perhaps even be a mutually agreed upon, easily fungible medium of exchange to sweeten the deal when A's blurb for B is more valuable than B's blurb for A.

    Guess what? We're back to agents, publicists and money.

    1. Which is why I think, in the long run, publishers will either adjust or get replaced by new publishers w/o the baggage. Or they might work more like co-ops.

  4. I came for the pictures. It works. Let's just accept human nature.

    P.S. Either I've got naked photos of myself on my blog today or a giveaway:

    Maybe both?


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