Paid Book Reviews – Are they worth it?

Recently I received an email asking my opinion with regards to a certain “book review” site. The email came from an author, (a friend of mine) who  was unsure if it was worth paying for a book review. I had to be totally honest with my friend here; especially when the reviewer in question used the standard line “I would love to review your book…” within the pitch.

Perhaps my responses here lean towards the negative, but after nearly ten years in the writing world, I merely consider them realistic.

To Note: My opinions are not intended to dissuade indie authors from ‘seeking’ reviews. Reviews ARE without a doubt a very important element of an author’s career. They also help readers to judge their position when purchasing a title. I do, however, have some reservations  when it comes to ‘purchasing’ online reviews.

Below is the emailed response to my friend, which I thought it a good idea to print here for the benefit of others.

1. Book review sites online are ten to the dozen. The reviewer in question sounds like a genuinely nice girl, but does she have a leg in the book industry or an advantage within powerful media though? If I said “Ooh “Mel the Book Lover” reviewed my book,”  will the masses go wild then rush out to buy it? I think not.
Perhaps if it was Lorraine Kelly from Breakfast TV, or Ellen Degeneres..  (now we’re talking!) but Miss X  from Oregon… or wherever it is? No, I think not.

As you know, I used to review books for free, loads of them, for about two years, no-one ever paid me for that kinda thing. They would probably laugh if I asked. Why? Because you can acquire free reviews,  (bloggers, Goodreads and dozens of others, if you are bothered and try hard enough.)

My rule of thumb:

To pay hard earned cash for a full book review is to know that the reviewer/site is truly worth the cost, and if they are worth that cost – there is no question that it’ll be expensive today, even for half a book.

2. As far as I’m aware, Kirkus is the one place where mentioning an indie review can add some credibility to your book, and Kirkus took many years to build up their name brand to the point that it became more familiar and somewhat respected. Today they charge approx $500 per book, if not more. Still… go google and you’ll find that some authors question the efficacy in terms of a cost/results comparison.

3. If readers gauge that you have paid money for a review: it’s not so good. Aside from the fact that  Amazon won’t allow ‘paid’ reviews and are increasingly clamping down staunchly on anything they can sniff out as having been ‘paid for and posted to amazon’ by review sites. (Similarly reviews from Fiverr, Craigslist are not permitted. ) The crackdown is to ensure readers get as much unbiased feedback on their products as possible, which, hey,  is a really good thing! I don’t want to buy a book that has a semi-biased opinion because I stuffed the readers pocket with some cash – ever. I want books that have been read and reviewed by people that don’t have a clue who the author is and will speak his/her mind, no matter how good or bad.

Consider too that a reader will act more favourably towards a ‘natural’ review which is of more interest to the general public. I don’t believe general readers want a run down/re-hash of a book’s plot, climax, denouement, etc, they want to know how a book made another reader feel. It can be a simple sentence left by Joe Bloggs that nudges a reader to hit the BUY button.  On average it works better than two pages of an in-depth editorial review that the reader isn’t interested in.

4. The site has a genuine policy of refunding for books they do not like which is a respectable philosophy! You won’t have your book trashed on their  own pages at least – and at a price.

5. I get lots of emails from individuals/sites telling me that they’d love to review my books. Of course they can word it how they please; I know it’s still a mailshot, and sure business is business, that’s fair enough, but without $$$ in the equation you’ll see that love evaporate pretty quickly.  That said: if they are really good at reviewing books, and you are willing to pay the cash, that’s fine and totally your prerogative.

6. Sales Perspective: I do not believe that one review, however discerning it may be, can make an effective enough hit on a sales graph, (unless it comes from top media of course). I have tons of good reviews, but wait… so do thousands of other books. Remember, a reader’s choice is infinite. Gathering timely reviews ( fairly balanced and natural) will most definitely get your graphs moving upward, but I have never seen a spike in sales on the back of one review alone.

7. It doesn’t matter if Mike, Karen, or Maggie from Liverpool reviewed my book…. reviews are not the singular biggest effective marketing ploy anymore. For good effect they  must be consistently dripped in to a continuous and (often expensive) marketing campaign by actual marketing savvy people, including wherever possible, radio/TV/posters on shop windows etc.

Why do  Penguin/ Hodder/ Bloomsbury/ Harper..  etc have the biggest clout of all when it comes to selling and marketing? They spend thousands to earn it.

Sure, my friend, the reviewer is doing nothing ‘wrong’ per se, she is probably making a few bucks on her site, and good for her, though I’d say mainly on the back of her reputation and honesty, coupled with the undampening halo of most indie authors innocent enthusiasm. She  fits “somewhere.”

Bottom Line: Keep seeking reviews: just be wise about the sources.