Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Are Paid Book Reviews Credible?

What if you could get 50 people to post positive reviews of your book on Amazon? For a reasonable fee?

I know the importance of having reviews of my books on Amazon. A mix of professional reviews and customer reviews is ideal. But for indie publishers and self-published authors, reviews--especially professional reviews--can be hard to get. Many professional reviewers still refuse to review books not published by mainstream publishers.

Sites that will review our books are increasingly charging a fee for what they term an expedited review or for posting the review they write on sites like Amazon and B&N. While most of these book review sites continue to offer free reviews, they warn that due to increasing numbers of submissions, a book submitted for a free review may take months to get reviewed or might not get reviewed at all.

So should you pay for a review?

Purists on author discussion groups and blogs continue to insist loudly that paying for a review with anything other than a free copy of the book, it is wrong. They say these reviews have little to no credibility and will ruin your reputation.

When I researched and wrote about this issue three years ago, I concluded that paid reviews could be honest and meaningful and were a reasonable option for indie publishers and self-published authors. The debate, however, continues to rage. Irene Watson's editorial in this week's Reader Views Newsletter offers an interesting discussion of the issue of paid reviews of a variety of products as well as books. Sadly, her research found that many opportunities exist for reviewers to be paid for reviewing products (including books) they have never seen or used.

I did some research of my own and found a site, gettingbookreviews.com, that for $999 will pitch your book to reviewers until they get 50 reviewers to post reviews on Amazon.com and B&N.com. That's about $20/review, which is a low price as these things go. And apparently the author doesn't have to supply books or pay postage to mail books to reviewers. Once you have purchased your book review package, gettingbookreviews.com only asks you to complete a questionnaire and email them a pdf or Word doc of the book. They even say, "Pre-final edit versions are acceptable as we are focused on content."

While I'm not such a purist that I will take a stand against paying for an expedited review from an established review site, gettingbookreviews.com strikes me as a whole different animal. It's run by Todd Rutherford out of Tulsa, OK. He writes a blog called publishingguru, where his about page says he has "been involved with every aspect of writing, publishing, and marketing books for nearly 30 years." He currently lists himself as a writing, publishing and book marketing coach. I looked at Todd Rutherford's 261 reviews on Amazon and found that they are all 5-star reviews.

Further research led me to a recent post at WritersWeekly, written by Angela Hoy, co-owner of booklocker.com. Her extensive exploration of gettingbookreviews.com discovered that Rutherford advertises online for freelance writers to write reviews, for which they will be paid $10/review as long as the reviews are 5-star. The book author gets to approve or suggest changes to the review before it is posted to Amazon and B&N.

As Kindle owners, my husband and I buy virtually all our books from Amazon. We also buy lots of other stuff online.  And whether I'm looking for a book, a toaster, a zhu-zhu pet for my grandson, or a hotel to stay in on vacation, I pay attention to the reviews I find on product pages. But now I'll look at these reviews a little more skeptically. How can I tell which customer reviews are for real?

This situation with reviews is certainly unfortunate for indie publishers and self-published authors. Reviews are our best marketing tool. How can we preserve their credibility?


  1. Which is why I decided to focus my blog on Indie Authors and do not take payment other than a free eBook. I have been thoroughly pleased with the quality of the stories and am amazed I'm getting to read so many good books.

    To write a negative review is just not worth the energy, so I don't review books that I don't personally like. I'm not being paid to do this so I figure that's my right.

    I'm hoping more bloggers step up to help Indie Authors as they become more well-known through Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

  2. Lynn Osterkamp, Ph.D.May 17, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    Thanks, Joel. I took a long break from this blog, but now that it's a whole new world out there for indie publishers, I decided to start posting again. And hopefully more frequently. I love your blog & have the RSS feed on my homepage. I've read your columns on cover design several times.

    I'm not sure it's as easy for ALL indie authors to get reviews just by asking as it is for you. You're a known author, respected in your content area. A new novelist faces a much different task in getting reviews.

  3. [...] I agree with that.  Unfortunately this is happening.  In an article by Lynn Osterkamp, Are Paid Reviews Credible?, she talks about the dangers of this: When I researched and wrote about this issue three years ago, [...]