Friday, July 27, 2012

Paying for reviews

The basis for this blog is the assumption that 'Reviews are Important'.  If you don't believe that, then none of the rest of this is worth reading.

For me, I believe that premise. As an avid reader with limited time for reading, I use reviews to inform my choices of the next book to read.  I look at both positive and negative reviews and if they are well written, I can usually suss out what my experience will be with a book.

Amazon recently started removing reviews from its website that were paid for.  Apparently Amazon believes that authors who pay for reviews are paying for GOOD reviews. I can understand that kind of destroys the values of reviews and as a reader and writer both, I despise the practice.  But what's a new, unknown author to do if they want to get their name out there?

Traditional web wisdom these days says that you should network,network,network. Write blogs, write reviews, make friends on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Library Thing. That seems to be good advice as far as it goes, but if you are doing all this, how do you find time to write? What if you're not good at it?

There are hundreds of good blogs and websites devoted to reviewing books.  A lot of them have good followings and decent reviews. So why not use them?

Why not indeed.  There are a lot of lists of good review sites out there.  Several months back, I went through one of these lists and sent out about a dozen emails asking if they would review my book. Out of these, the majority didn't respond, the next largest number said it wasn't the book for them and several had posted that they already had a backlog of tens to hundreds of books.

Wow. This feels an awful lot like trying to find an agent or a publisher.  It is a degrading, dehumanizing, and depressing process. You can probably add a few more 'de' words there as well. The nastiness of this process is the whole reason tens of thousands of authors are choosing to self publish in the first place.

There may be hundreds of these sites out there, providing this extremely valuable and free service out of the goodness of their hearts and their love of books, but there are tens or hundreds of thousands of authors out there. Smashwords alone has published over 138,000 books in the few years its been around! I don't have numbers for Amazon Kindle Direct, but I'm willing to bet they have published a lot more than that.

So lets say there are 1000 reviewers with blogs out there. That means to cover the need, that they each have to review several hundred books annually - just to get 1 review per book, not to mention the books that are reviewed by several reviewers.

That is not possible nor sustainable for someone reviewing books out of love. But what if you are a book lover and suddenly someone offers you a free book and say $10 to give an honest review of their book? Suddenly you can make money providing a valuable service.  This is called capitalism.

You might even be able to make a living off of it, or, if you are an aspiring full time author like me, it's an income stream that can take some of the pressure off the need to sell immediately and help defray the thousand dollars needed hire a decent editor for your book.

I've actually been on both sides of this system.  I have been paid to post reviews and I have paid for reviews.  On both sides, its been really a great deal. Here's my dark, painful, secret: if you go look at The Dryad's Kiss on Amazon you will see about a dozen reviews.  Nine of those were paid for reviews.  Can you tell which were paid for? To me, each review captures part of the truth of my story. I think someone reading through them will get a pretty good notion what the book is about and whether they would like it or not.  In my mind, that's the purpose of reviews.

There is lots more to say on the subject which I will cover in future blogs.  Meanwhile, I'd like to hear if anyone else has other opinions on the matter.


  1. Honestly, I think Amazon is right, not because of the author-seeking-review's point of view, but because of the reviewer-accepting-pay's point of view. The problem is that, in order to do the job right, the reviewer needs to be in service to readers, not the author. If the reviewer is taking money for the review, he or she will instinctively and automatically skew the review so as to please the author so as to get more reviews so as to make more money, etc. It doesn't matter if the author, a monument of integrity, is merely seeking to buy an honest review with good feedback -- the reviewer's own motivations are suspect.

    1. Good points, but how is paying for a review substantively different than paying for a critique of your work by an editor? A freelance editor has a vested interest in sucking up to their writer clients as well don't they?