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Should You Pay for Professional Book Reviews?

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, getting your book noticed is one of the biggest challenges of the publishing process. Book reviews are a critical component in a book’s marketing efforts, and can be one of the best ways to get a book noticed. Reviews provide authors with content for their website, social media and email marketing, their Amazon author page, and on book covers themselves. In this blog post, we’ll focus on the pros and cons of paying the pros for book reviews.

Paid and Traditional Reviews

Traditional, free book reviews, such as those by Publishers Weekly (free) or the New York Times, can surely help authors make a big splash. Whether it is a review in PW, intended for the trade audience, or a NYT review that can reach thousands of potential customers, these heavyweights can help an author make a big splash. However, these publications receive thousands of review requests, and they simply do not have the manpower to review everything that comes their way. There are plenty of other small- to medium-sized book review blogs out there offering reviews for free, but again, they can’t always review every book they receive, nor do they always have the biggest audiences or enough prominence for their review to make much of a difference.

This is where professional paid reviews come into the picture. Some of the more widely known services include Kirkus Reviews (starting at $425), IndieReader (starting at $100), Self-Publishing Review (starting at $99), and Blue Ink Review (starting at $395). There are companies like Foreward Reviews that offer indie authors the chance for a free review, but if their book is not selected or they want to guarantee a review, they offer a paid service starting at $499. This is not an exhaustive list of all professional review options, but it gives you a general idea of what you’d be looking at if you decide to pay for a review.

For an additional cost, some sites will offer services above and beyond the review. For example, if you purchase a basic review from Kirkus, they will provide the review and (if you choose) will publish it to their website. They will also consider including it in their monthly magazine, which gets distribution to companies such as Barnes and Noble and Ingram. But that’s it. If you want to pay for assistance with promoting your review, they offer a few marketing packages that can help spread the word a bit farther than their standard service.

Making the Decision

If you decide to move ahead with paying for a review, doing some research in advance will help ensure you get the best for your money. Consider doing the following:

  • Visit the various services to get a sense of a company’s reach and reputation, and what you will get for your money. This means everything from how quickly the review will be done, how long and detailed the review will be, the type of review (summary only, summary and rating, etc.), what kind of assistance they will offer with publishing your review (do they send it to Ingram, news sites, blogs, or just post it on their website)? Take a look at their past reviews. This will give you a good sense on what to expect to receive. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to authors they’ve reviewed to see what their experience was.
  • Look at the various packages that each service offers. While they’ll all offer a basic package, many offer bonus packages that can prove to provide additional cost-efficient promotional efforts.
  • Think about how you will use the review. Paid reviews need to be one component of a larger, comprehensive marketing plan. If all you are going to do with a book review is put it on your website and Amazon book description, it probably isn’t going to translate to sales, and your money may be better spent elsewhere.
  • Determine who you are trying to reach. Do you want your review to land in front of booksellers and librarians (the trade industry), potential readers, or both? Different services have different audiences, and some services offer packages that can meet all audiences. There are even some niche services, such as SF Book Reviews, which reviews sci-fi and fantasy books for like-minded audiences.
  • See if the service offers any special perks to indie authors—some do!

Pros and Cons

Still trying to determine whether you should shell out some cash? Like any other marketing effort you undertake, there is no magic answer. In this day and age, almost anything you try is a gamble. But, never forget that some gambles do pay off.

 Pros

  • Paired with other efforts, paid book reviews can help enhance your overall marketing strategy.
  • A positive book review by prominent reviewers can help build credibility, in addition to buzz.
  • Professional review services can connect books with the trade industry, which is an audience that authors may not be able to reach with conventional blog reviews.

Cons

  • Even when you pay for someone to review your book, you can’t guarantee a positive review. In those instances, some companies will give you the opportunity to opt out of publishing the review (like Kirkus), but others may not, so you could end up with a negative review floating around.
  • Unless you have a decent marketing budget, paying to get your book reviewed can put a big dent in your wallet
  • There is no guarantee that your paid review will help increase sales, or that you’ll even break even. In general, reviews alone (paid or unpaid) don’t do much for book sales. They need to be part of a larger effort. That can’t be said enough.

If you decide to use a paid service, you should not turn away from reaching out to the no-cost review bloggers. While some may not have the same reach and pull as the professional services, the well-established review blogs usually have a solid audience and are often open to working with indie authors for the chance to do an author interview, book giveaway, or other activity that will only enhance the review.

I can’t end the blog post without stating what might be obvious to most authors. Using services to buy fake, positive Amazon reviews is not only unprofessional but can also be a waste of money.  Amazon long ago caught onto this practice and has made active steps toward curbing such reviews. You don’t want to mislead potential customers, anyway.

There’s no doubt that legitimate Amazon reviews can influence potential customers, so you should try to get as many “verified” or even authentic reader reviews as possible. These reviews carry their own weight. Always be sure to include a component in your marketing plan dedicated to generating as many reader reviews as possible—and yes, if your mother reads your book and likes it, she should post a review!

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