A few days ago, I arrived home from work to find a package from Amazon. I didn’t recall ordering anything, and when I opened the package, I discovered it was book I’d never heard of by an author I’d never heard of. Included was a gift receipt and a note from the author. The note indicated the author was a member of SFWA and then asked for me to read the book and give it a Nebula nomination. It noted further that the book received high praise from a prestigious review outlet. As I’d never heard of the author, I checked the SFWA directory and found the listing.
I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sit right with me, being sent a book and being explicitly asked to consider it for Nebula nomination. Everything I’ve ever been told about this business is that an award season post, letting people know what you are eligible for is acceptable. You do not ask people for a nomination. Certainly you don’t send them a book unsolicited. If I give the author in question the benefit of the doubt, the book was sent to me as a gift with no obligation whatsoever. But the note clearly had a purpose and whether or not it was intended, it made me feel really uncomfortable. And why send it to me? Simple research would show that I am not a book reviewer. Was it because I am a SFWA member? Does that mean a book was sent to every SFWA member? I imagine that if a Nebula nomination was being sought, SFWA members would be the people to go to.
I’d pretty much forgotten about it until today when I was reading a newsletter from a prestigious review outlet and discovered the book I’d been sent featured rather prominently in the newsletter. Curious, I read the review and clearly the reviewer liked the book. But I also discovered that the program under which the book was reviewed was geared toward independent authors. An author can pay nearly $600 to have their book reviewed and then use that review for whatever purposes they like.
I suppose there is money to be made in the business of reviewing books, but to me, it seems kind of like cheating to pay for your own book review. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe paying for reviews is the new way of doing things, but if I get recognized, I want it to be because of the buzz my stories generate, not because I paid someone to review them.
I have not read the book I was sent. It may well be as good as the review indicates. But if it was really that good, why did it need a paid review in the first place? Wouldn’t I be hearing other people talking about it? And yet, I haven’t seen any buzz anywhere, not on Twitter, Facebook, not in the usual SF news and review outlets.
I come away from this whole thing feeling dirty for reasons I can’t quite explain. Both practices–asking for Nebula nominations and paying for book reviews–seem like cheating to me. If you want to be a writer, be a writer, work at it, earn your nominations and reviews, don’t pay for them. I would think you’d be more satisfied in the end.
Am I totally off base here?