Imagine you're an author of a book. In 2011, more than 300,000 new titles were published. Look for a publisher or an agent, and you'll be dead before you find one. So you publish it yourself.
The challenge: persuading someone to read it and review it.
On Aug. 25, 2012 The New York Times ran 3,300-word story by David Streitfeld titled "The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy" about bookish guy named Todd Rutherford who created the following business model:
In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a website, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.
There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm's-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.
Rutherford's business crashed and burned. The Times' reporter's interview with the top book reviewer of this niche service was startling:
Mr. Rutherford's busiest reviewer was Brittany Walters-Bearden, now 24, a freelancer who had just returned to the United States from a stint in South Africa. She had recently married a former professional wrestler, and the newlyweds had run out of money and were living in a hotel in Las Vegas when she saw the job posting.
Ms. Walters-Bearden had the energy of youth and an upbeat attitude. "A lot of the books were trying to prove creationism," she said. "I was like, I don't know where I stand, but they make a solid case."
For a 50-word review, she said she could find "enough information on the Internet so that I didn't need to read anything, really." For a 300-word review, she said, "I spent about 15 minutes reading the book." She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500.
"There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read," she said. "But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills."
Here is a now-professional publicist who gleefully boasted to Internet users about how she defrauded paying customers—a bush-league Jack Abramoff in drag.
Maybe this public confession was a gas for Brittany. I was aghast—especially after paying a book service several hundred dollars to review my novel and the anonymous reviewer spent 15 minutes and barfed all over it.
Social Media Weirdness
Several years ago, I wrote a column about an overseas company that had a worldwide public relations windfall. I described it and took off on a reverie on how to create a business model that would enable this product to generate big sales in the U.S.
A couple of days later I received the following email:
Thank you for your article ... My name is William and I am vice president of [the overseas company]. We got some inspirations from your lusted vision and insight in this article to capitalize this momentum. Now we are forging our strategy on how to launch this project to the Northern American market. My question for you is that do you have any background in [this] business before and will you have interest to participate in our mission? If positive would you please send me your resume see if we can cooperate together to put it into action? Look forward to your reply soon.
Hey, I'll talk to anybody about anything. This resulted in my doing some research and coming up with a business plan whereby these folks could make some small, relatively inexpensive tests. If the tests worked out, they could roll out nationally, open an exciting new market and cream it.
Early in the various exchanges I received a phone call from a young American man claiming to be the son of William's partner, and he wanted in on the action.
I have nothing to hide and figured if this kid was enthusiastic and wanted to work at implementing some of the ideas I proposed (and had a pipeline to William), I was happy he was on board. I immediately started copying the kid on my email exchanges with William.
Nothing ever came of the idea, but at some point I asked myself if this kid was somebody I would like to be in business with. So I Googled the guy.
How glad I am that the thing fizzled!
This 31-year-old kid’s social media pages were filled with photos of him goofily grinning—alone and with other dudes—surrounded by busty young women, and tipling at seemingly endless beer and booze parties. From one of his online profile's "about" page:
General: Hoops, Hoops, Hoops ... Huge NBA fan. I love all sports and all competition!
Music: Hip-Hop, R&B, Jazz
Heroes: KOBE B****!
Maybe a gas for this not-so-young man; I was aghast.
Job Hunters and Job Changers Be Careful!
"Want a Job?" writes Kathy Kristof of CBS News. "Give up Facebook."
The bad news is that employers are increasingly asking job seekers for their Facebook and other social-media passwords as part of the process of vetting them. While it's unclear how widespread that practice is, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is happening with increasing frequency ... You can, of course, refuse to give a job interviewer your passwords. But expect your employment application to hit the round file, or the trash, if you don't cooperate.
Takeaways to Consider
- Internet capers can follow you to the grave and beyond.
- It's tougher to delete stuff from the Web than to post it.
- Be very careful what you say to an interviewer.
- "My goal [in interviews] is to goad people into saying something that ruins their life." —Don Imus
- With print interviews, I ask for a list of questions and I will respond in writing.
- If the interviewer has follow-up questions, I'm happy to respond—in writing.
- On Aug. 20, The New York Times announced a new quote approval policy: “[S]tarting now, we want to draw a clear line on this. Citing Times policy, reporters should say no if a source demands, as a condition of an interview, that quotes be submitted afterward to the source or a press aide to review, approve or edit," the new policy states.
- If someone asks me to do a broadcast interview, I decline. I don't do sound bites.
- Before posting outrageous stuff on the Internet or in an email:
—Remember Congressman Anthony Weiner.
—Remember Congressman Chris Lee.
—Consider "Your Clever Little Blog Could Get You Fired."
—Consider Michael Hilltzik who posted stuff online using an assumed name.
—Consider CNN Middle East Affairs Editor Octavia Nasr, whose tweet got her canned.
—Consider that ... "at American companies with over 1,000 employees, 38 percent employ staff to read or otherwise analyze the content of outgoing email."