This is something I finally feel I can talk about, as I no longer associate with the person I’m going to be discussing. Regardless, names will be changed to protect the ignorant.
In one of my previous jobs, I seemed to work with more than the average amount of writers. While you’d think this would be a great thing to somebody who reads obsessively and writes almost as obsessively, the downside was this: these writers were all poets, and published through vanity press.
If you’ll pardon a little snobbery, vanity-press poets are sort of scraping the bottom of the literary barrel. One of them, after finding out that I did book reviews, tried pretty hard to convince me to buy her 80+ page book of poems (priced at $15.99) and do a review of it so she could get a few more sales. I don’t think she was too impressed when I told her that I had enough free review copies of books that were actually of the genre that I preferred to read and didn’t have the time to take on hers.
But the real cake-taker was a woman whom I’ll call Peggy. Peggy was also a vanity-press poet who liked to talk big. She was always going on about how she had a 4-book deal going with her publisher and how she just needed one more poem to finish the project but had writer’s block, etc.
Then she too found out that I did book reviews. Once that little fact was in the open, she seemed hell-bent on me helping her get better deals, to give her publicity. She came up to me one day and told me she’d finally finished another book of poems, and she wanted me to read them.
I was reluctant. That was when she threw out this gem: “Don’t worry, I’ll still pay you your reader’s fee for it.”
Now, for those who don’t know much about publishing and vanity press stuff, the rule of thumb is that if a company charges a reader’s fee, it’s usually a scam. A reader’s fee is something that a prospective author pays to the publisher or agent simply for the privilege of having their stuff read. It doesn’t guarantee publication. It doesn’t cover the cost of editing. It’s just money that an author shells out for no real reason other than that the publishing company or agent tells them to. As this article states, “Someone charging $25 per reading could average over $50,000 a year without ever leaving home or attempting to seek a publisher for anyone.“
Now, I could have been a dishonest person and charged Peggy $50, let her manuscript sit around for 2 days without me looking at it once, then tell her she can go right ahead and submit it to the vanity press that will publish it anyway, because she’s going to pay them even more money just to have her work in print. And she would have cheerfully paid it, too, because that was the rate she was paying to her current publisher.
I resisted the urge to teach her a lesson the hard way and instead tried to explain to her that most places that charge fees like that are scams, but she wouldn’t listen. I changed tack and tried to explain to her what it was that I actually did, which wasn’t charging people fees to read whatever they write so much as reading books and writing reviews of them online. I thought she got it at the time, but given that she approached me a week later and asked if I would still take the reader’s fee of $50, I’m guessing it didn’t sink in.
I want to feel bad for Peggy, but instead, I just felt annoyed. Not so much that she refused to listen to reason or do research that was easily accessible with a simple Google search, but that she continually misunderstood just what it is that I do here, even after I flat-out explained it to her. Is it actually that hard to understand, “I review books online”? I know Peggy wasn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box, but one thing that frustrates me more than anything else is people being unable to compehend something no matter how often they’re told.
It also bothers me to think that if Peggy conflated the two things, other people might be doing the same. It makes me wonder how many people will look at review blogs and scoff to themselves and mutter about how much the blogger must have been paid to write a good review.
Let me put it this way to show just how ridiculous this idea is. Let’s assume I’m an unscrupulous reviewer who charges $10 for a 3-star review, $20 for a 4-star, and $30 for a 5-star. This year alone, I would have made $1660. Which, I admit, is only about a month and a half’s wages at my dayjob, but would someone like to tell me how I managed to squeeze $20 out of China Mieville or James Dashner or Mercedes Lackey? And I believe that Suzanne Collins owes me $80 for me reviews of her Hunger Games trilogy.
And those rates are cheap. Hey, if Peggy was willing to pay me $50 just to read her poems, how about I start charging a flat $100 for every review I write, and they’ll always be at least 4 stars.
What? No takers? Why don’t you want this fantastic deal?
Oh, right, because it’s insulting and blatantly ridiculous. Knew I was forgetting something.
(If anyone’s curious, if I charged $100 for every 4- and 5-star review I wrote, I’d have made I’d have made $6400 this year and probably could have quit my dayjob to write deceptive commentary.)