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Paid Reviews: Myths, Truths and Misses (Kirkus Reviews, Indie Reader, BlueInk Reviews, PW Select, Self-Publishing Review, BookRooster, Net Galley)
Anyone who’s visited Amazon knows there’s a problem with
reviews. Some books have thousands, many from questionable sources. But are
paid reviews the real problem? And what really is a paid review?
Amazon seems to have no problem with authors buying reviews
through giveaways and special offers designed for the express purpose of getting
readers to write reviews. I’ve seen authors giving away thousands of dollars’
worth of swag to readers if and only if they write reviews, everything
from $5000 vacations to $150 kindles to $50 Amazon gift cards. Sometimes these approaches
to buying reviews are as blatant as headlines in social media that read: “Review
my book, win a kindle.” Sometimes these approaches to buying reviews are
pitched right under Amazon’s nose, as in through Amazon’s own social media channels.
Amazon also seems to have no problem with authors buying
reviews through certain recognized paid review services, including:
(formerly called Kirkus Discoveries and Indie Book Review) – Kirkus Reviews writes
a 250-word review of a book in 4-9 weeks and charges $425 for standard service
or $575 for express service (https://www.kirkusreviews.com/author-services/indie/).
The paid review game is so lucrative Publishers Weekly even
got in on the action with PW Select, which is now BookLife (http://booklife.com/).
Under PW Select, authors were charged up to $475 for reviews of their books and
the reviews would then appear in special indie sections of their magazine.
Authors who got in that game early get to say for all time their books were
reviewed by Publishers Weekly, even if they bought and paid for the review out
of their own pocket.
So if these paid reviews, costing hundreds of dollars are
okay, why is a $5 review from Fivverr.com or any of the other cheap review
services not okay? I couldn’t tell you. But I do know this: The problem with
paid reviews isn’t with singular paid reviews. It’s with paid reviews bought by
the barrel full for the same book.
Some authors are buying paid reviews 20, 50,
100, or more at a time for a particular book. Some authors have hundreds or thousands
of reviews from these services—and that’s the real problem. A problem that makes
honest authors whose books have few reviews by comparison or few reviews
relative to actual sales look unsuccessful and unpopular—and publishing, like
a gallup poll, is a popularity contest.
Okay, so there I’ve said it. I believe there’s nothing wrong
with an author buying a single paid review for his or her book, but everything
wrong with an author buying reviews by the barrel full. If an author wants to
pay $500 for a review, she should have at it and Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and
the rest of them will gladly take her money. Some authors will even double or
triple down, buying reviews from one paid review service after the other in the
belief that all these paid reviews will help them become successful. But do
they? And what does it say about an author who shells out $1200, $1500 or $2000
to buy a handful of reviews? After a while, are they any different from the
author who paid $1000 for 50 reviews?
Also, is there really a difference between that $500 review
and a $5 review? I honestly don’t think there is. I think an honest $500 review
and an honest $5 review have similar value. If you’re an author of 10 books and
you want to buy a review for each of your books, whether you pay $5000 ($500 x
10) or $50 ($5 x 10) for the privilege should be up to you and I’m going to go
out on a limb here and say there’s nothing wrong with either approach if that’s
what you want to do. Why? Tens of thousands of authors already have bought reviews.
The five review services I mentioned, two of which are from industry titans,
collectively have written more than 50,000 reviews. Paid reviews are big
business, after all.
To be clear, I’m not talking about buying 10 reviews from 1
review source for 1 book, which is wrong and unethical. I’m talking about using
established, recognized sources to obtain a review for each of an author’s
books, and in this example that author has 10 books. Also, to be clear, whether
from industry sources or otherwise, all of these reviews, the $500 review or
the $5 review, can end up on Amazon as a customer review or an editorial review
with Verified Purchase / Real Name tags. Verified Purchase and Real Name tags
have no bearing whatsoever on whether a review is from an actual reader who was
not incentivized in some way to write the review.
In the old days of publishing, one way authors and
publishers would get honest reviews legitimately was by sending out galleys. Sending out
galleys was costly as publishers and authors had to pay for printing the
galleys, shipping and postage. In the Internet age, there are several services
that improve upon the galley model, including BookRooster (http://www.bookrooster.com/for-authors/)
and Net Galley (https://www.netgalley.com/home/request).
The idea with BookRooster and Net Galley is that they’ll
help get a galley of an author’s book into readers’ hands and that some of these
readers will then write reviews of the book. BookRooster is the most
economical, with prices ranging from $42 to $67. Typically, a book may go out
to several hundred readers, and out of these hundreds a small trickle may like
the book enough to write a review. Net Galley is the most expensive with prices
starting at $300 for one-week of availability and going up from there. Typically,
a book may go out to several thousand readers, and out of these thousands a
small handful may like the book enough to write a review. At Net Galley, there’s
also an indie special at $399 to $599 for a six-month listing.
I’ve never used Kirkus Reviews, Self-Publishing Review, Indie Reader, BlueInk
Reviews, PW Select, or BookLife. Although I haven’t tried Net Galley, I tried BookRooster once,
but had extremely limited results.