Reviews: The Good, The Bad and…The Paid?

This week, I am pleased to feature a guest post by blogger and writer Engelia McCullough:

With the rise of self-publishing, blogging and social media being relevant has never been so important. This has put the average writer at a small disadvantage. How do I make my product stand out from the other half a million plus books published last year?

This question is even harder for self-published writers. Per Bowker, the company that handles ISBNs, 148,424 print books self-published in 2011. Print self-publishing accounts for 43% of all print books that entered the market in 2011 and this percentage is climbing at almost an exponential rate. For self-published eBooks, there are now over 230,000 titles available. The competition out there is fierce.

Every writer, traditional or self-published, must invest in an effective marketing strategy. A primary marketing tool is to obtain a book review. Reviews have long been used as a form of marketing going back to the original book club, Book-of-the-Month Club (1926) by Harry Sherman in Philadelphia. In today’s world, the avenue from which books reach readers isn’t limited to mail orders. The doors have sprung open to include online book clubs, book bloggers and other ways for writers to solicit reviews.

Lately, the two types of reviews that have been a hot topic is the pay for review versus the volunteer review. There’s no right or wrong in deciding to go with one over the other. Both have their pros and cons for the writer and reader.

Pay For Reviews
It’s not fair! This is a statement heard on literary blogs and discussion boards around the world. Like my mom always says, “Life isn’t fair.” The argument made by some is that a paid review pretty much guarantees a positive book review even if it’s not warranted. It creates a false sense of security on behalf of the reader who may select the book based on the review.

My answer: Who cares? The word of mouth is a powerful thing. All it takes is a handful of readers to blog about, tweet or discuss at a book club how bad a book is, despite reviews, to slowly see a decline in the credibility of the reviewer and the book.

Reviews are the end all to be all. Why is that? Because readers only consider reviews when deciding to read or purchase a book. Not true. Never underestimate the reader. There are more than enough avid readers out there who are very informed and do their research. I took an informal poll of fifty readers across different genres. 13% said they only consider reviews when buying a book. Other items considered in conjunction with reviews were:

• Front (Graphics) and Back Cover (Synopsis)
• Skimming (This is when the reader checks out the Amazon excerpt or if in a bookstore, flips to a random part of the book)
• How relevant and actively engaged the author is on social media
• Pictures of the author- Does the author look personable or interesting?
• Past books (ratings, reviews, skimming)
Yes, the number polled is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of readers in the world but it makes a point. Reviews are just part of the marketing machine.

The reviewer is only doing it because they’re getting paid. This takes away from the credibility of the review. Of course they are. Duh! It’s their job. If this is really a concern, below are some suggestions to consider when checking out pay for reviewers.

• Cost. Blue Ink Review (http://www.blueinkreview.com/) is a reputable company that employs trustworthy book reviewers. The book review fee: $395-$495. This does not guarantee a positive review. I don’t know about you but if I put forth a large car payment for a review, I’m using it whether it’s good or bad.
• What is the review selection process? Is it a blind process or is it funneled to reviewers that tend to give positive reviews?
• Check out a list of previously reviewed books. Is a specific genre reviewed more than others?
• Ask for references. Email writers that have utilized the service before.
• Does the review service tie your paid review into a mandatory advertising/promotion package? If so, run! Some sites (including book review clubs or publications) offer additional advertising services but these are optional and will not determine if they accept your book or not. Also, the last thing you want is for your reviewer to be influenced by the fact that you just dropped a small fortune on an advertising package.
• Google the service. Check their reviews. Oh, how the tables have turned!

What’s the alternative to pay for reviews? That’s easy.

Free Reviews
They’re everywhere. Yes, they are. Just remember they are free. This means individual reviewers and review groups are swarmed with requests. As a result, it can take weeks or months to review your submission, if they even get to it.

Don’t discriminate. Absolutely target the well-known reviewers such as Harriet Klausner and The Noh Hare. But search out up and coming book bloggers and book clubs as well.

Follow the rules. Submit your book to reviewers that specialize or prefer your genre. If you have an erotic novel, don’t submit it to a YA only reviewer. Also, be sure to pay attention and adhere to their submission format, process and special requests.

If the review listed on your website or back cover was paid for or not will not determine the success or failure of your book. What determines how far your book will go is the content between the front and back cover and a phenomenal marketing strategy. We all agree that reviews are a great addition to any product. Just make sure you have a good product and post publish plan to begin with and you’ll do just fine.

1. As a reader, do you pass books over that have pay for reviews?
2. As an author, have you paid for a review? What was your experience?
3. Would you pay for a review?

To connect with Engelia McCullough:



4 comments on “Reviews: The Good, The Bad and…The Paid?

  1. Good article. I do think reviews are important, but I agree that it doesn’t have to be from a huge review site to be helpful. Also, seeking out newer reviewers can mean getting your book read faster. I don’t know if I would ever spend that much money on a review, just because I could do quite a bit of advertising with that amount of money! I actually don’t think I would pay for a review at all.

    As a reader, I’m seriously lacking because I wouldn’t know what reviews were paid for and what weren’t. However, whether I like the book sample is the biggest factor in my decision on whether or not to buy a book. Thanks for the post!

  2. I have never paid for a review and I don’t think I ever would. I agree with Chantel that I would rather spend that money on advertising. Actually, I spent all my money on editing so at the moment I can’t much advertising, either, but that’s beside the point. Even if I had it to spend, I don’t think I’d pay for a review.

    I also don’t know enough about which reviews are paid for to actually discriminate against a book that had a purchased review. Yes, I do look at reviews a book has when deciding to take a chance on an unknown author, but it isn’t the only factor. Very interesting stats on that!

  3. Michele, thank you for the opportunity to contribute a guest post. As I go forward in the writing phase, I have found that reviews are part of eveyrday life even before the book is published.

  4. As a reviewer, I disagree with the paid review. As a reader, if I look at the reviews, and I do look at them, I have actually bought a book based on the worst review. I wanted to see if I agreed with them. I am working on my debut novel and I review debut authors. I read all the books that I review from a reader’s pov. I have a lot more experience in being a reader than I do as a writer. I honestly do not remember learning to read. My earliest memories are when i was 4 years old and I was already reading my 13 year old brother’s textbooks. I didn’t understand them, but I could read the words. The only payment I receive as a reviewer is a free pdf copy of the book, and it is always with the understanding that it will be a fair review. I do not guarantee that it will be a 5 star review, but it will be honest. If I read a book that I do not think was ready to be published, I will say so. If it is full of grammatical errors, I will also point that out. I do believe that I do it in a diplomatic way though. I would appreciate the same when it is my turn to be reviewed. What we all have to realize, paid for or not, this is one person’s opinion and it is subjective. I agree that there are plenty of free reviewers, and since I concentrate on only the debut novel, as you can imagine, I am swamped and my queue is extensive. I really enjoy it though. It has helped me a lot and I love to get the exposure for the “newbie,” 🙂

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