Reviews for sale

Sigh – I came across a new low recently in the rapidly evolving book world – reviews for sale.

A random Twitter follower sent me a direct message asking if she might review one of my books on her blog. I didn’t know her, but then I have close to 27,000 Twitter followers so that’s not unusual. I checked out her book blog, it seemed superficially legit – there were reviews on there, it seemed to be regularly updated.

She didn’t use her name, just a pseudonym concerning her hair colour, but that didn’t seem too fishy – not everyone wants to be a public face. She described herself as a military wife, living somewhere in the USA, with a young family.

So I replied to her DM. Sure, which book did she want? I would ask my publisher to ping her over a Kindle copy.

Ah no she said, I had to respond to her by email, she gave me an address. Hmm, seemed a bit strange, but I did it anyway – sent her the same message by email.

I got back a long screed, a sort of embarrassed sales pitch. She was terribly sorry she said, she had forgotten one minor detail, which is that she charges for reviews. Her forgetting to mention this was such an unfortunate error – when she messaged me she said:  ‘I was very tired and had baby brain’.

So, to get a positive review of my book on her WordPress blog I just had to send her $55. This might sound a lot she said, but it was wonderful value because her blog receives a lot of traffic and having the review there would undoubtedly mean an increase in sales of my book. As well as putting the review on her blog, including any links I might specify, she would put it on Amazon and Goodreads.

She still didn’t say which book, or name any of my books – but I could rest assured that my novel ‘looks incredible’. She insisted she would never dream of taking my hard-earned money unless she was certain it would result in an increase in sales of my book. She was an honest woman she said, thus making herself sound anything but.

She spoke of her love of helping self-published authors. I’m not self-published but I’m guessing that perhaps most of the authors she sends this copy and paste email to are. She empathised about how hard it is to get reviews and attention for self-published novels. She painted herself as a kind of white knight, doing what she does to help independent authors.

Actually, getting genuine reviews for your work as a small press or self-published author isn’t impossible in my experience. Like many authors I’ve been thrilled by how many readers have responded to my work, reviewing it on Amazon, Goodreads, and on websites and blogs. I’ve never paid a penny for any of this, and have never been asked to. In fact, in the vast majority of cases the reviews are from people who have bought my books, rather than having been given review copies.

But the market is getting tougher I guess, more and more authors self-publishing their work hoping to attract attention from a finite band of readers. I suppose it’s this situation that my correspondent is trying to capitalise on. But she is being quite naïve. It’s lovely to get nice reviews, but a single review, on a blog or anywhere else, doesn’t really shift the dial as far as sales are concerned. If only it did – how simple she makes it seem.

In reality you can have lots of glowing reviews, written by genuine readers who enjoyed your work, without your books becoming best sellers. Just ask any author, just ask me.

My book blogger for hire knows she’s being shifty and a bit underhand. She says of her proposed fee: ‘I know this may seem incredibly high and incredibly unfair.’ Then, in a P.S to her email asks me not to share the contents with anyone because ‘a woman has done this previously and it was not pleasant.’ I’m sure it wasn’t – it’s the sort of thing which annoys people after all.

Authors work hard on their books, they put in thousands of hours of effort and, for the most part, get very little financial reward. The idea that someone wants to leech off you by taking significant payment for a fake review is galling to say the least.

I sent her a brief reply saying thanks but no thanks, I unfollowed her Twitter account. I wonder how many people take up this ‘reviewer’ on her offer? I’d like to think nobody does, but who knows? it’s a funny old business we are in.

My latest book The Pick-Up Artist is out on Kindle and paperback. If you have enjoyed this post please take a look, try a free sample, and see what you think! To take a look click here 

‘Loved this book, a bloke’s view of the dating game, made me laugh out loud.’

21 thoughts on “Reviews for sale”

      1. ” The idea that someone wants to leech off you by taking significant payment for a fake review is galling to say the least.”

        Exactly! It’s amazing that people think it’s a great idea. (I’m using “amazing” because I’m being polite at your site. 😉 ) But you hit the nail on the head.

        Do I want more reviews for my book? Of course I do. But to me, paying for a fake review is like paying for Twitter followers. What’s the point? We worked hard to complete our books. Maybe the casual reader might not know the review is fake but we would.

  1. I’m also a bit suspicious of those (free of charge) reviewers who have read a colossal number of books in a very short time. How much have they really taken in? How reliable is their opinion? A typical review seems to be abundant praise for some aspect of the novel; a digest of the plot, possibly gleaned from the blurb and other reviews; and then a tiny, half-apologetic quibble about something which, even so, didn’t spoil the reviewer’s enjoyment. I’m sure these reviewers are sincere but I do wonder whether their reading experience can be as immersive as most readers’, when they are speed reading dozens of books a month. Good post, Chris – it raises a lot of very topical issues.

    1. Thanks Nikki – a lot of it is pretty murky isn’t it? But certainly the business of charging for a review, or paying for one is just nonsense I think and something that no writer who takes their work seriously ought to bother with.

  2. Thanks for this heads up, Chris… Although I am not surprised to read about this, it still makes me equally sad and and angry to think someone would actually do that…

    1. It is annoying isn’t it? Plus it really isn’t going to work as a way of selling more books – as any authors fooled into going down that route are likely to find out.

  3. Hey Chris, nice post! I didn’t know it exists in the book industry, I might be too naive. I knew of bloggers who received ARC but sold them on eBay though.
    As a PR person, I know how people can get desperate to have free things. And some bloggers are really weird in their ways to handle a blog (lots of weird reviews). But there are still honest bloggers out there. Hopefully the bad ones aren’t the norm.

    1. This is the first time it has happened to me Estelle, which is why I found it worth remarking on. All the other book bloggers who have reviewed my books or interviewed me have been great.

  4. Hi Chris,
    What do you think about outfits like Kirkus and Foreword, which charge $4-500 for a limited-term review? I believe they have some quality control, don’t accept anything. They’re way out of my league anyway, but I’m not sure I feel comfortable about the concept.

    1. I’d not heard about that Judy but I don’t like the sound of it in principle. As a former newspaper editor I’m suspicious of anything which blurs the line between editorial and advertising. How can you trust the authenticity of a review which has been paid for? I imagine authors pay for these things as a way of getting their books in front of people who make the decisions on what books to stock in stores and so on. I don’t like the idea of it personally though, how about you?

      1. No, it feels phoney, akin to vanity publishing. I’ve just read a post by someone who hired a reviewer and got zero sales out of it, so maybe readers think so too.

    1. Thanks Roz. Yes, I thought the best thing to do was share the story, though I have stopped short of naming her – seemed a bit mean. She really should have a think about the way she is trying to make a living.

  5. Oh man no way! Sounds like a book review scammer to me – even though technically you’d be getting something in return for your money – still a scam artist in my eyes (imagine having the nerve to do that to people??) Really such a shame there are people like that out there in the blogging world!
    I’d have blogged about it too, I’m more of a #NothingButTheTruth person hahaha

    1. Thanks Milly, I didn’t name the person as I don’t want to seem mean or vindictive and, after all, she’s not doing anything illegal, though I do think it’s immoral – how could anyone trust a review which had been paid for? That’s basically an advert, not a review.

  6. I agree that this sounds like a scam. I don’t read most of my DMs because they seem to fall into two categories–pointless or fishy. I would never pay for a review, but I understand the lure. I’m having a hard time getting reviews. Every self-published author I know is in the same boat. People are more than happy to gush about the omelette they just ate at a cafe, but not the book they read. It’s a constant, brutal struggle to get reviews.

    Btw, Kirkus is legit. The big New York publishers use them. When you’re checking out a big pro book on Amazon and there’s a longish review after the blurb, that’s from Kirkus. I don’t know why this is considered okay–maybe because they have established high standards–but, apparently, it is.

    1. I wonder if this could be a growing trend – so many more authors now, many of them lacking advice or support, perhaps there are quite a few who would pay for a review like this – which would have absolutely no positive impact on their sales.

    2. As far as I can make out, Kirkus reviews of traditionally published books are legit. For a review of a self-published book you pay $425 for 7-9 weeks for a 250-word review.

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