This question plagues many authors, and those who ask often find that they’ve struck a nerve in the writing community. Paying for reviews used to be considered taboo, and in many circles, it still is. However, thanks to Kirkus, BookLife, and other services that promise honest, unbiased reviews, paid reviews have become more acceptable and, in some cases, even sought-after for the extra credibility they can provide.
Ultimately, review services are just marketing services. Reviews are marketing tools that reportedly help authors sell books, though increased sales aren’t guaranteed, and the impact reviews have on sales is more challenging to measure than the impact of other marketing tools. To get an idea of how much a review might currently cost, Kirkus charges just under $500 for a traditional review. In contrast, the basic express review package from Readers’ Favorite costs $59 and throws in a month of advertising. If you pay for reviews, you’ll likely want quantifiable results, but that isn’t possible when gauging reviews’ effectiveness.
It’s also worth noting that paid reviews are banned from the customer review sections of most sellers by their terms and conditions, including those of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Goodreads and Litsy are other places reviews are featured, with similar terms banning paid reviews. If you’re primarily concerned with collecting customer reviews, know that paid reviews aren’t the way to go. Should you pay for customer reviews on, say, Amazon, those reviews stand a chance of being taken down by moderators, and the reviewers who provided them can have their accounts revoked. Reputable and knowledgeable reviewers won’t share paid reviews as customer reviews for this reason.
As far as Amazon goes, you can still feature paid reviews in your editorial reviews section. However, that’s for you to do, not the reviewer. The power of Amazon editorial reviews hinges partly on the reputation and popularity of the reviewers/review services listed. For instance, a review from a respected author or Kirkus would hold clout and catch readers’ attention because they’re well-known and widely trusted in the literary world. A review from a lesser-known source, such as a new independent blog, wouldn’t attract as much attention.
Before paying for a review, be aware of the free alternatives. For instance, Readers’ Favorite offers free reviews featured on their website. An internet search can turn up more free review options. If you’re looking to be reviewed, these free services should be sufficient, and the respectable and older ones, such as Readers’ Favorite, will still bolster your credibility. The downside is that many free services are backed up. With some free services, you may have to wait a few months, although sometimes you have to wait up to five weeks or more for a paid review to be posted. Some services charge extra to expedite the process.
Should you decide to pay for a review, consider what all you’re receiving for your money. Here are some questions for you to consider:
- Does the service post its reviews on its website?
If so, read them. Get a feel for their review style. Some reviews mostly rehash the plot. Readers can learn about your book’s plot from the summary you provide on Amazon or Goodreads. The point of a review is to share opinions, and usually, the point of paying for a review is to get a professional opinion to share. Also, take note of whether the reviews are well-written. A review will do you little good if it’s not strung together coherently. If there are no reviews readily available for you to peruse, run.
- Does the service publicly post both positive and negative reviews, or do they keep negative reviews private?
Readers’ Favorite is one company that provides honest reviews but won’t publicly post a review under four stars. They only share reviews under four stars privately with the author. This may be preferable if you’re worried about negative reviews, and it’s more ethical than bribing reviewers to give you only five-star reviews.
- Where will the service share your review?
It’s mainly up to you to promote whatever reviews you receive. Even so, it’s nice when you have a little help. The more people who hear about your book, the better. Services that share their reviews on their websites, on social media, and in their newsletters may be preferred over those with fewer promotion channels.
- Will the service allow you to share reviews or quotes on your website, Amazon page, etc.?
- How long has the service been around, and what kind of following does the service have?
The more established a review website, the more people will see the review on it, and the more trustworthy the website is considered. Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Readers’ Favorite, and other popular review services have a large following, so they can further publicize your book on their website and social media than most smaller blogs. It’s important to note that the publicity may not be strictly positive. Honest reviews may be positive or negative, whether you’re paying for them or not.
- Can you find any testimonials from previous customers of the service?
Beware of scams. If a service doesn’t have testimonials or a large following, it isn’t an instant red flag, but it should encourage you to do further research.
- Does the service provide editorial reviews?
Tough Nickle defines an editorial review as “an objective, third-party review of a book, by a professional editor, columnist, critic, or other authority in the book’s genre or topic.” Editorial reviews are typically held in higher esteem than average reviews. You can determine whether the review you receive will be an editorial review by asking about the reviewer’s experience and qualifications.
- Are extra services included in the quoted price, such as a private critique or further promotional assistance?
- Does the service make unrealistic promises?
If it seems too good to be true, it often is. For instance, review services don’t usually have turnaround times under two weeks. A reviewer needs enough time to thoroughly read a book and write a decent review. This time varies from service to service. A Readers’ Favorite express review promises a turnaround time of two weeks. Kirkus promises a traditional review in five to seven weeks. If a service promises a review sooner than two weeks, be wary. That isn’t an impossible feat, but it’s unlikely, especially if the service has many customers or if the reviewers are volunteers. In a nutshell, some companies make shining promises such as three-day turnarounds and five to ten reviews per week. Check reviews on Trustpilot and other sites before making a decision.
- Would your money be better spent on a blog tour?
Blog tours are like virtual book tours. They’re conducted by a service that amasses a group of reviewers and shares a copy of your book among them. The reviewers may or may not be professionals. You pay the tour service, but the reviewers don’t usually receive compensation, enabling them to leave reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Each reviewer typically leaves a review on their own blog and sends the review link to the tour host. This is an excellent way to collect a large number of reviews in a predetermined period of time. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to take the positive reviews with the negative.
- Would your money be better spent promoting your work on platforms such as BookSirens, Edelweiss+, or NetGalley?
BookSirens, NetGalley, and Edelweiss+ (by Above the Treeline) are platforms that help you connect to reviewers. You can promote your book on them for a fee. Reviewers can then download a copy of your book for free, or, if you want to vet your reviewers, you can require reviewers to contact you to request a copy. BookSirens is also a reviewer directory that keeps detailed statistics on each reviewer registered through them, allowing you to see what each reviewer reads most and how lenient their rating system is, among other things. Edelweiss+ and NetGalley both help you distribute protected copies of your work. BookSirens charges a base rate of $10 per ARC, plus $2 per reader, but NetGalley and Edelweiss+ require you to contact them for fees. The best part about this route is that the reviewers can share their reviews in places where paid reviews are banned, as you pay the platform, not the reviewers registered there.
- Would your money be better spent on other marketing endeavors? In other words, compared to the offerings of other marketing services, is what the review service provides worth the cost?
One final word of advice: Focus on creating a quality product before trying to market it. Budgeting for editing, cover design, and other aspects of book production is more important than paying for reviews. In fact, if you scrimp on the production, you’ll likely find that you don’t have a product worthy of marketing. Many negative reviews center around grammatical mistakes, cheap formatting, and other issues that should have been addressed before publication. Spending money on review services when your book isn’t at its best is wasteful. This is where 1106 Design comes in. Contact us today to learn more about how we can bring your book up to professional publishing standards and help you achieve your publishing goals.