The Writing Zone: Stage 16 - Are Paid Book Reviews Worth It?

The Writing Zone: Stage 16 - Are Paid Book Reviews Worth It?

I recently posted a question on Twitter to get people’s thoughts on paid, or premium, book reviews versus requesting free reviews in exchange for a free copy of your book.

In retrospect, I realized I could have expanded my list of options since the question isn’t so black-and-white as the poll I ran suggested. That’s because like the world in which we live, there is more than what appears on the surface.

If you make art, people will talk about it. Some of the things they say will be nice, some won’t. You’ll already have made that art, and when they’re talking about the last thing you did, you should already be making the next thing...
— Neil Gaiman

Why Reviews Are Important

As I’ve shared in a previous post regarding my self-publishing journey, a fair bit of money was already spent on my novel independent of editor fees. Once I reach the end of the line for Eternal Shadow I’ll share all the gory details regarding exactly how much I’ve spent, but to give you an idea of what costs can look like, check out these two informative articles.

So you’ve spent well over a thousand dollars on getting your self-published novel in the best shape you could imagine - you love the cover and interior design, and you’ve committed to a selection of advertising campaigns. One more marketing area which cannot be ignored are book reviews.

“No way - you want me to pay for book reviews, too? Shouldn’t those come organically once my book is released?”

You’d think that - I certainly used to - but like I said, it’s not that simple. Yes, you could certainly receive a handful of reviews within the days following your novel’s launch, but they aren’t guaranteed and you’ll have no idea what sort of reviews you would receive.

Even before your book is released, you want a strong collection of reviews to be there right out of the gate. Why?

  • The more reviews you have, the greater likelihood that your novel will be found by others.

  • They reduce the risk a reader may have for purchasing from a new (and to be frank, unknown) author. Book reviews help bring to light details and thoughts about a novel which may not be present in the book’s blurb - details which may further help drive someone to a purchase.

  • More is better. The more reviews you have, the likelihood of you getting more sales - and book reviews - increases. Like it or not, but having a large number of book reviews can, for some, indicate the “worthiness” of a book. Let’s face facts: many people prefer books with a decent number of reviews versus one with a handful or none.

What About Paid Reviews

Knowing that reviews are important in the success of a novel pre- and post-launch, the question then becomes: “How can I get reviews out of my readers?”

This is a question with lots of different answers, but if you scrolled through many other articles about this subject the majority of them lean towards the soliciting of individuals that have a decent online following. They can be YouTubers or bloggers, but in the end, they are folks who would read your creation and write a review of it in exchange for a physical or digital version of your book (for many of them, getting a paperback is preferred - in some instances that I’ve seen, those who provide paperbacks get a higher priority in their reading queue). Other than the cost of postage and getting your book printed, there wouldn’t be much else to spend beyond that.

To put it another way, those sort of reviews - which can come from your interactions with people listed on The Indie View and Indies Today - are “free” in that you aren’t paying them to read your book. There’s no guarantee they’ll actually read it other than their word during your interactions. The review may arrive when you’d like it, a month or so later than expected, or never come at all.

...If bad reviews (of whatever kind) upset you, just don’t read them. It’s not like you’ve signed an agreement with the person buying the book to exchange your book for their opinion...
— Neil Gaiman

Trade and Non-Trade Reviews

This is where paid - or “premium,” as I’ve been calling them - reviews come into play. These reviews - usually from trade organizations like Kirkus and Foreward Reviews - can cost hundreds of dollars. However, in exchange for your money you will have a guaranteed review in your marketing arsenal.

But… it isn’t that simple.

See, trade organizations don’t usually have book readers as their target audience for their publications. Bookstores, industry magazines, and libraries are some of the more common targets of the big names in premium reviews, not those who would actually consume your book. This is a very important distinction because although the larger names in premium reviews have prestigious reputations, that doesn’t mean a positive review from them will equate to book sales.

Buying a premium review from trade organizations is a better fit if you intend on driving an equally premium marketing campaign for your book.

There are other forms of premium reviews to consider. Non-trade publications can be a better option as they tend to have audiences which are a mix of industry organizations and the readers who are looking for a new book for their shelves. Examples of these are Indie Reader, The Book Review Directory, and Self-Publishing Review. They aren’t usually as expensive when compared to the likes of Kirkus, but their growing influence reflects a market where the demand for reviews continues to grow.

What To Do

Knowing these details, it can put the value of even a Kirkus review under a brighter spotlight. Are such reviews worth the money for indie authors? The number of articles which exist that promote both sides of this question are numerous. Whether one should pay for reviews at all is a controversial topic.

I intend on sharing my experiences with all of you in the months following Eternal Shadow’s release. Disclaimer: I have paid for a handful of reviews. You can think of it this way: I paid for them so you don’t have to.

Of course, these premium reviews aren’t the only avenues I’m funneling my attention (and money), as they are part of a larger marketing effort which I’ve been pushing hard for the last few months - and in the months to come.

I cannot tell you whether dropping hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars on premium reviews is the right thing for your creation. However, what I can say is to consider your marketing initiative from top to bottom. Where do premium reviews fit in that picture?

Please note that I don’t call out reader reviews (the reviews you’ll get on Amazon, Goodreads, etc) because no matter what, you’ll want as many of those as possible.

Just know that, again, these words are coming from someone who has invested some money into premium reviews, but that my words aren’t those which are biased. I have a good idea where these reviews fit in the grand scheme of my marketing efforts so I feel I will get my money’s worth, provided the reviews are positive (two came in recently - both were VERY positive). And one of those reviews, in less than 24 hours of being published, got the attention of The New York Review of Books… so I guess they are starting to pay for themselves.

...Do whatever you have to do to keep making art. I know people who love bad reviews, because it means they’ve made something happen and made people talk; I know people who have never read any of their reviews. It’s their call. You get on with making art.
— Neil Gaiman

What are your thoughts on premium (paid) reviews? Should authors pay for reviews at all? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

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