The pros and cons of paid book reviews

by Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, Book Publicist 

When an indie or self-published author doesn’t have a major marketing machine behind them and doesn’t have professional bound galleys of their book ready 6-9 months in advance, the lure of paid reviews can be intriguing. (Heck, the lure of paid reviews is intriguing when you do have those things.) How do you decide if it’s worth it?

The pros

  • Several of the paid review sites do have prestige and reach – they are being read by the people who make the decision about what books bookstores buy (book buyers) and librarians, the people you want to see and buy your book.
  • You know exactly what you’re getting in terms of word count, links, and social sharing. Without paid reviews, you might pursue a book review only to get a few sentences or be part of a round-up. With a paid review, you know what you’re paying for.
  • With a traditional review, and especially with organic social shares – social media posts and links about your book that you didn’t pay for but happened naturally – you don’t know what impact they have. You can look at the number of retweets or likes, but how many people followed the link? How many made a purchase? With (some) paid review services, you get very specific analytics to at least let you know how many people engaged with a post, or at the very most tell you who clicked through to purchase a book.

The cons

  • What you generally do not know is whether you are going to get a positive review. Throwing the dice (and a big chunk of change) at one review and not knowing if it will bolster or break your book is nerve-wracking.
  • Many authors are unaware of the fact that the people these reviews are targeted at – editors and publishers, booksellers, librarians, and die-hard readers – can spot a paid review from a mile away. Therefore it doesn’t have the impact of a review earned through a traditional book marketing campaign. While you may have a review in Kirkus, which the industry keeps an eye on, professionals know that Kirkus Indie Reviews are paid placements. Much like when a blogger is paid to write about a product, a review that is paid for can carry less weight with insiders.
  • The price for a single review generally ranges from $150 at smaller sites to $500 up to $1,000 for major players depending on the package. As a book publicist (and also a book reviewer!) who spends a lot of my time showing reviewers why my client’s books deserve a spot on their roster, this seems pricey. You could end up paying for a few reviews about what you could have spent on an entire marketing campaign that targets legitimate book reviewers and writers who are not paid for their opinions. An author could use that money to invest in advertising, reaching out to booksellers, printing galleys. There are a lot of initiatives that cost less and have a larger impact – you can find some of them here

Often, the decision is going to come down to budget and how important you find having a review in a particular publication.