With so many books in the marketplace, it can be difficult to make your story stand out. A beautiful cover and enticing descriptive copy will help catch a reader’s attention, but praise from others is one of the most persuasive means of convincing a reader to click the “Buy” button or walk to the cash register. Especially when shopping online, it’s rare that any of us makes a purchase these days without checking out the professional opinions of reviewers we trust, along with user reviews.
The obstacle for authors—especially those who are self-published or published by a traditional but small press—is that there are still way more books than professional reviewers, and you can mail a copy of your book to every newspaper, magazine, and blogger in the nation and still not get plucked from the pile for review. So how do you guarantee that your book gets in front of a professional reviewer? You can purchase a review.
What exactly is a paid review?
A paid review is when an author (or their agent, editor, or publicist) pays for a literary critique of a book—whether it’s from an individual, a company, or an established review publication. At reputable companies, you’re paying for someone’s time to read the book and publish a review—but payment does not influence the reviewer’s commentary. Here, we’ll be spaking about trade reviews specifically: established outlets like Kirkus Reviews' Kirkus Indie program, Reedsy Discovery, IndieReader, and BlueInk Review, which offer professional reviewing services. These are often called “editorial reviews” to distinguish them from reader reviews (such as the kind you find on Amazon).
Trade reviews do not guarantee a positive review but merely ensure that the book is read and assessed by an experienced and vetted book reviewer. So it is possible to pay for a review and not receive a glowing critique—maintaining objectivity is how editorial review services protect their integrity. That said, even negative or mixed-opinion reviews can be valuable because they offer insight into how readers may receive your work.
Where would I use a paid review?
Used correctly, a positive review (or positive excerpts from a mixed review) from a reputable review service can be used to market and promote your book. Reviews offer a legitimacy to your writing, making your book a less risky investment for readers with a limited book budget. A reader might be on the fence about purchasing your teen comedy, Got The Munchies: The Insatiable Memoirs of a Teen Cannibal. But if they read the reviews and see “an uproarious, witty look at the challenges of a nerdy underdog cannibal who goes vegan” (what the industry calls a “blurb”) by an established brand in the publishing industry, that might just be all the endorsement needed to make the sale.
Good reviews make good blurbs, which can lead to good sales. And you can use them for:
- press releases
- book jacket copy
- your social media, website, and more
To find out how to turn a review into a killer blurb—even if you didn’t get a great review—check out our article on The Art of the Blurb.
Why would I want a paid review?
Of course, there are certain preconceptions about paid reviews. “Oh, their book wasn’t good enough to be reviewed” tends to be the (erroneous) prevailing attitude. But there are a number of reasons authors might want to consider paying for a review:
- You have time constraints. Not everyone is able to properly ramp up their promotional machines in time to submit their books to traditional websites, magazines, or newspapers—most of which require submission of your book 4–6 months before publication. If you’re running short on time or already missed that submission window, a paid review is a guaranteed review. No waiting and wondering if your book will get chosen from the stacks of review copies. And you’ll know exactly when you can expect your review to be published, so you can control the timing before your launch. Sometimes that alone is worth the price paid.
- You need more reviews. Even if you’ve collected a few reader reviews and a review from a local or regional outlet, you may feel they’re not impressive enough or prestigious enough to influence potential buyers. Receiving a positive review from a respected source can fill that gap if your other options didn’t quite pan out.
- Your book was published too long ago to be considered for review. Generating fresh reviews is a solid strategy for reviving backlist titles, leading authors to promote a book long after it’s been published. The problem is that unless an old book touches on a suddenly timely topic, no media outlets will feature them—there are too many new books on the market to spend time on old ones. A paid review can refresh and potentially augment your marketing efforts.
What are the drawbacks of paid reviews?
- Paying for reviews can be expensive. Services charge around $200 to $500 per review.
- It’s not a substitute for a marketing campaign. Even with a positive review in hand, you still have to put time and effort into properly promoting and marketing your book. By using the blurb in various ways, you’ll get a lot more leverage out of paying for a review than an author looking for the ego boost of seeing their book reviewed who then passively waits for someone to notice.
- It won’t guarantee a good review. Remember that you’re not paying to hear someone say nice things about your book. You’re paying a professional to read your book and critically assess it, which takes time and effort.
Paid reviews can be an ethically murky area so make sure you research any review service and consider these points:
- DO make sure you’re working with a reputable and established company. Aside from the fact that the review will carry more weight due to brand recognition, you also want to make sure you’re dealing with a company who is looking out for your best interests.
- DON’T trust anyone who guarantees a positive review. This is a red flag, and you should run far, far away. Aside from being ethically suspect, this also is a great way to get flagged by booksellers like Amazon, who have been doing their level best to ensure that unethical reviews are eradicated from their site. It also doesn’t really help you because you’re not getting an honest assessment of your work.
- DON’T be tempted to pay for reader reviews. Do not pay for them. Ever. Period. Other than a free promotional copy of the book (which the reviewer will then need to indicate as having received that free copy for the purposes of the review), you cannot give them anything. No money, no barters or exchanges with other authors, and not even a batch of fresh-baked and ultradecadent chocolate brownie cookies.
As with all other aspects of publishing, when you’re considering working with a company or individual, google them to learn about their history and professional reputation, and ask your writing network about their experiences.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.