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August 2012


Even though CultureGeek is on hiatus, I bring you this: The best reviews money can buy.

Call me a babe in the woods, but this really shocked me. Not that people pay for reviews - as an author, I've bumped into the charlatan review sites that say a "donation" will guarantee a review - but that it is so widespread. This article estimates that one-third of online reviews are not even written by reviewers, paid or unpaid; they are written by the self-pub machines as part of their "services" to their authors, or by the publishers themselves.

I couldn't let this go, so I brought CultureGeek out of its temporary hiatus. As an author, I would never pay money for someone to review my book, or allow my publisher to do it for me. What good is that? Sure, I can get a terrific quote, but it would be meaningless and I'd feel like a fraud putting it up on my site.

Could this be the final answer to how really, really bad books with fig-leaf publishers and no editing get to the top of the download list while really, really good stuff vanishes sight unseen? After all, we're in the world of do-it-yourself now, even if the final product isn't nearly what it could have been with a good editor, competent book designer and talented artist at the helm. Do-it-yourself editing, layout, publishing and art, why not fake the reviews as well? 

Worse, readers can't tell the difference between a sock-puppet reviewer and someone who's taking the time to read and review the books floating around out there. How do they know who to trust?

At CultureGeek, I've never promised reviews, good or bad. When an author or publisher wants to send me a book, I tell them to send me the PDF; I know how much it costs to send out those advance reader copies, and I never want to cost an author money. We're poor enough.

Publishers still send me books by the boatload, many of which don't fit the parameters of this column. Whether I am able to review the book or not, when I'm finished, it is donated to the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists, which collects used and new books to fund its journalism scholarship. I will never profit from the books sent to me for review. As a journalist and an author, I find that idea as abhorrent as throwing them into a dumpster, a barbaric practice quite common at some news outlets. If SPJ could not take a book, I would donate it to a library or other charitable cause.

Conversely, I don't promise anything. I actually read those books, and I'm not overflowing with spare time, so it takes a while. I try to get to the books in a quasi-timely fashion, in between the 931 other plates I may be spinning. I may not write a review because too much time has passed and the review is no longer relevant. I may not write a review because I have too many others waiting in line, and the scope of this column is still fairly broad.

I may not write a review because I started the book and didn't finish it. It happens; sometimes it isn't my kind of book and it isn't fair to the author to slam his book when it's just not my style. A fellow author ran into that this week: a reviewer skewered his sword-and-sorcery novel and started out by saying she doesn't even like that kind of book. If you don't like fantasy, you won't like the fantasy novel you're reviewing even if it's the best book since Tolkein. If you don't like gay-male romances in distopian futures and alternate histories, you shouldn't review Angelia Sparrow. If you have to have your story in a particular genre and can't stand horror/fantasy/steampunk/love story multi-genre novels, you should skip Sara Harvey.

Likewise, if you don't like hard-drinking, cursing warrior women fighting zombies and other things that go chomp in the night, don't bother reviewing me. Also, you're pretty boring and should stick to the chick-lit aisle. (Oh, that's gonna get me letters.)


Therefore, I as CultureGeek promise you this:

  1. Every review on CultureGeek is 100 percent real. It's a book I read and it's what I think about that book, nothing more or less.
  2. I will never accept money for a review, nor ask for anything as compensation.
  3. I will never profit from your trust by selling these books. Every one of them will go to a good cause, not my wallet. The sole financial support of this column comes from reader donations and my own pocket.
  4. Should I ever accept guest reviewers, I will require that they follow the same guidelines as I have laid out. Reviews will never come from a publisher or anyone associated with the author.


Thank you for your trust, for reading these admittedly infrequent reviews and for continuing to support the written word in all its forms. I repeat what I have said many times in other places: You, the readers, vote with your dollars. Choose wisely where you spend, because in the end, you're the ones who will decide the shape and form of our future culture.