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:

Kirkus Reviews (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/).

Self-Publishing Review - Self-Publishing Review writes a 500-word review of a book in 2-4 weeks and charges $59 to $249. (http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/)

Indie Reader – Indie Reader writes a 300-word review of a book in 4-9 weeks and charges $225 - $300. (http://indiereader.com/authorservices/service-sample/)

BlueInk Reviews – BlueInk Reviews writes a 250-word review of a book in 4-9 weeks and charges $395 - $495. (http://www.blueinkreviews.com/purchase)

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.

Disclosure: 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.

And yes, I have talked much about reviews before:

Amazon’s Broken, Unfixable, Rotten Core

Selling Your Soul to the Company Store

Authors “Writing” Their Own Reviews

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek 

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