Getting the Word Out: Reviews: Forewords Clarion Reviews and San Francisco Book Reviews

While I was researching this week’s blog, I ran across an article commenting on a New York Times piece I remember reading about a (now-defunct) paid review service.  It’s worthwhile reading both articles–here and here–if only because they point up that, like it or not, paid review services are probably here to stay because so many writers are jumping into the self-publishing pool and need some way to help their work stand out from the rest.  Forbes also did a very nice piece about the same thing here.

Concerning Holfelder’s article, though, I disagree, completely, with his conclusion that negative reviews are somehow more reliable indicators than positive ones.  Having been the recipient of both, I can tell you first-hand: no way.  I’ve had negative reviews of MechWarrior books where the person decided that I was a sick cookie for including a pedophilic serial killer in the mix; some folks even thought I needed to see a psychiatrist.  (For the record, I do . . . every single morning when I brush my teeth.)  Now, were those “reviews” about the story?  No.  They were rants and personal attacks, and to Amazon’s credit, they took those  things down.  (OTOH, this was in the early days when the site wasn’t the behemoth it is.  Would they do the same now?  I hope never to test this out.)

So what I’d say is. . . a negative review is no more valuable than a positive review if it doesn’t address content, period.  To say that a negative review has more feeling behind it than a positive one doesn’t make sense either, frankly.  When I love a book, I gush about it.

Similarly, I don’t view paid reviews as unethical just because you’re paying someone for the service.  If you want to look at it a different way, paying for a freelance editor could be seen as being somewhat similar.  Think about it (and I’ve said this before): that editor is now your employee.  That editor has no incentive to tell you that you suck.  Your paid-for editor will tell you that you’ve written a great book, especially if the editor needs money and/or to get his/her name spread around.  So is that unethical for you to buy that service?  Of course not.

Same thing for paid reviews, although, okay, buying a slew of five-star reviews?  All right, that’s a little sleazy, but no more so than rounding up a bunch of friends and relatives to buy the book and say nice things (which happens more than you think,  I’ll bet). In his own defense, Rutherford (who ran suggested that he wasn’t providing critiques; he was providing and promising a marketing service.

And it’s not as if there aren’t other players waiting to take up the slack.  Take a look at Get Book Reviews, if you don’t believe me.  For a price, reviewers there will either read sample pages of your book on Amazon and then post positive reviews, or buy your book on Kindle and do the same.  Want five fabulous reviews?  That’ll be $125.  Want 50 glowing gushers?  Cough up $1,250.

Thing is, you can’t use these . . . none of these, not one. . . on Amazon.  You.  Can.  Not.

Or, that is, you’re not supposed to.

See, it’s a little fuzzy.  Here are Amazon’s guidelines; take a few seconds to read them  Sounds like they’ve covered their ass, right?

Well . . . go read that fine print again. What Amazon says is that only customers, people who actually bought the book, are allowed to leave reviews. What they say they don’t allow are:

Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package. (italics mine)”

Know how Get Book Reviews gets around this?  Simple.  They purchase the book after you give the money to do so.  Now, is the book less expensive than what you’ll pay?  Of course.  It’s little shady, but if you pay them for the time it takes them to buy and read a copy of your book, then you haven’t paid for the review.  They’re buying the bloody book, after all.  So that makes their reviewers into Amazon’s definition of customers.

Yeah.  Pretty sleazy.  But perfectly legal because they’re following Amazon’s rules.

Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.  While there are others –and face it, folks, this is a growth industry because all these services are playing on your desire to break out–I figure you’ve probably heard of these two services, Clarion Review and San Francisco Book Review.  So let’s just focus on them because life is short, and I got other things to do today.

Forewords Clarion Reviews:  Honestly, when I first heard of this service, I thought, Wow, the Clarion Workshop does reviews, too?  Nope, my bad: the workshops I was thinking of are geared for sf/f writers and been around since the ’60s.

Forewords launched Clarion Review in 2001, claiming it as the first venue of its kind for small publishers who had a harder time getting their authors noticed.  Funny thing is, do a Wikipedia search for the service, and you find it referenced under “vanity awards.”  Like . . . ouch.

Anyway, they say they aim for librarians and booksellers (no different from the other paid-review services).  I’ve got zero numbers on their circulation, so I can’t tell you if they reach their intended audience or not.  But, for $335 (an additional $100 if you want an expedited review done in 3-4 weeks), in 6-8 weeks, you’ll get a 400-500 word review which might, with your permission, “be posted on Foreword‘s high-traffic website and licensed to our partners at Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Cengage, Bowker, and EBSCO.”  (For those of you who don’t recognize the names, these are wholesalers.)  Conversely, if you want to pay someone else to submit your book to Clarion Review, Friesen Press, a book packaging company for the self-published author–so think along the lines of Vook–will be happy to do the legwork, but tack on anywhere from an additional $114 ($189, expedited) for the same thing and on top of whatever you’ve shelled out for them to turn your manuscript into a book.  (AuthorHouseanother venue for the self-pubbed, will submit to Clarion for $500.  If you use CreateSpace, they’ll offer Kirkus and Clarion reviews, too.  And so it goes . . . honestly, there are scads of services catering to the indie author.)

But does a Clarion Review do you any good?  Beats the hell out of me.  A couple different searches, different wording each time . . . I couldn’t find much of anything one way or the other.  The only people who seemed to be talking about Clarion Review were either book-publishing services who offered the review service as part of a marketing plan, or writers suggesting that you might want to be wary of such services as this article on Writer Beware®, a blog–originally solely sponsored by SFFWA but now supported by MWA and HWA that trawls the web for scams and publishing pitfalls–suggests.  From what little I could find–and that was one thread on a discussion forum–it’s like any other review service: sometimes they get what you were after and sometimes they don’t.  For this one guy, Clarion gave him an outstanding review; predictably, Kirkus didn’t.  But, later, in the same thread, another writer said that Kirkus loved his book.  It’s all a roll of the dice, and only you can decide how much you’re willing to spend–and, again, whether anyone who matters is reading these reviews in the first place.

San Francisco Book ReviewThis print magazine began in 2009, a year after the founders’ first publication, Sacramento Book Review, was born (although SBR subsequently died in 2014 . . . so, think about that).  The founders also offer author podcast interviews (Audible Authors), the Portland Book Review, the Tulsa Book Review, and Library Book Review, and they claim to offer their magazines as apps.  (But try to find SFBR in the iTunes app store.  You can’t.   Unless I’m missing something . . . I even clicked on a link offered through one of their websites and got a message from iTunes telling me that the app wasn’t available in the U.S.  So go figure.)   Kids Book Review, which began life as an SFBR and SBR supplement, will launch this month as a bimonthly standalone.  The pub says they get about 300 books/week for review, and promise to do their best to review them all.

Now, to their credit, if you want a shot at an eBook review or are a local author and don’t want/need a guarantee of a review, then this magazine will accept your work (though they prefer to go through NetGalley).  So you don’t have to pay a thing if you don’t want to, and then you take your chances that the book might be reviewed, and then again . . . might not (sort of like PW Select, except there, as I said, you’re paying for that teeny-tiny ad in a supplement that I’ll bet maybe three people read).

If, on the other hand, you’re willing to pony up $125 for an 8-10 week turnaround ($299, expedited, 3-5 weeks), you’ll get a 300 word review you can use if you wish.  The review will also be posted on and published as part of the magazine app . . . which I can’t find . . . so who knows what good that does you.

Visit their page about this, and you’ll also find this bizarre sentence under #3 of What You’ll Get: “. . . or the ad equivalent, if you find the review unfavorable:

  • Standard turnaround = 1/4-page ad in the magazine
  • Expedited turnaround = 1/2-page ad in the magazine”

(italics mine)

Now . . . can you parse that sentence?  Because I sure can’t.  Wuh, if you don’t like the review, you can post that crummy review as a half-page ad?

Okay, I’m being a tad sarcastic.  But think about this, guys.  This is their website.  They’re trying to get you to part with your money for a review . . . and they can’t even edit their own stuff?  Gee, yeah, I want to pay for a service like that.  Don’t you?

And who reads this magazine?  I have no bloody clue.  Can’t find a thing about it, really, although if you want a look inside the Jan./Feb. 2014 issue, you can click here.  I mean, it’s a nice looking magazine.  It really is.  But it feels . . . regional?  Unless you’re a local author, I can’t imagine how buying a review here helps in any way, but I might be wrong there.  Maybe local/regional booksellers look at this, but I can’t find data to support that one way or the other.

* * *

If you’re starting to get the impression that–IMHO and on the whole–paying for reviews is quite possibly a waste of your money, you’d be right.  There’s only one service I might take a crap shoot at, and that would be PW Select, only because I know that its reach is wider, and if you get that great review you can blurb . . . you go, girl.

There are lots of paid reviews services out there–some for much less money ($49) than others.  But the question you must always ask is just who are you trying to reach?  What’s your goal?  Is it to score a pull quote?  Are you hoping for some great reviews to put up in your Amazon Editorial Reviews section? (‘Member I said that Amazon doesn’t allow paid reviews?  Well, that’s only under general customer reviews.  You can post paid reviews in the ER section through Author Central.)  Do you want certain people to read the review?  (In other words, do you have a target demographic in mind?)  All these are important considerations.

Just remember: someone’s always happy to take your money.  While you can’t always control what you get in return–because, as I said last week, in the real world, you are never guaranteed a positive review–you can at least decide if the money spent is done so wisely and as an investment in your career.




9 thoughts on “Getting the Word Out: Reviews: Forewords Clarion Reviews and San Francisco Book Reviews”

  1. Hi Ilsa. I’m the CEO of San Francisco Book Review, and wanted to address some of the things you wrote about in your blog so as to clarify some of your points or answer questions.

    It’s true that we have been publishing San Francisco Book Review (SFBR) since 2009. We published Sacramento Book Review (SBR) from 2008 – 2014. In January 2014, we made the decision to stop publishing SBR and to focus, instead, on SFBR and launch Kids’ Book Review (KBR) as its own magazine. Juggling three magazines would have been a challenge for us.

    We experimented with producing SFBR and SBR during 2013 as magazine APPS (meaning they were available through Apple Newsstand, Google Play for the Android tablets, and Kindle Fire). Subscriptions weren’t what we had hoped for, and it was costing us more money than we were making to produce them as apps, so we stopped doing that with our January 2014 issue. Which reminds me that I need to change the content on our Sponsored Reviews page (thanks for catching that). What we did do, which has, oddly enough, led to even more subscriptions than we had in all of 2013 was to only offer the magazines as PDF. We didn’t ADD that service, we just took away three platforms. Go figure?!

    We now have roughly 2,000 subscribers to SFBR, so I’d say it’s a fairly successful magazine. So, I’m a bit baffled by your sarcastic remark without actually fact-checking what you’re writing about. Bad journalism, on your part.

    As far as I’m aware, we are the only book review magazine that incorporates video book trailers and as much technology as a PDF version of a magazine can accommodate. We had even more in the magazine app, but PDF can only handle so much “bells and whistles.”

    As for the Sponsored Review program, as you pointed out, we do receive about 400 books a month from publishers and independent writers who send us their books to review. We have a staff of about 120 reviewers from around the country — and that’s not counting the more than 80 children reviewing for Kids’ Book Review (but they do not participate in Sponsored Reviews).

    To clear up your confusion about what a “trade ad” is about, we didn’t want an author to feel that they wasted their money on a Sponsored Review if their review came back unfavorable. We give them the option of trading the review for an advertisement in the magazine. We will design it to their specifications at no additional charge (or they can provide an ad).

    If you or your readers have further questions about our magazine, website or how to get a book reviewed, me or my staff would be very happy to answer questions.

    Heidi Komlofske
    San Francisco Book Review

  2. Well, hi there, thanks for chiming in. As a bit of clarification for you, I’m not a journalist, investigative or otherwise, so whatever information I put in a blog is my opinion based on available data. I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic; there was no ready source of data on your subscription numbers and Google searches didn’t yield much. I could find very little — actually, I’m not sure I saw anything — from authors who’ve discussed their experiences with SFBR. So, for the average person looking into your service and publication, there was/is no way of knowing your reach, your target audience or who your subscribers are. Any writer wondering if she wants to send in her work or potentially pay for that service would want to know that. I can only speak for me, but again, if the information isn’t there or part of your mission statement, then it would be tough to evaluate if a review in SFBR would reach the audience I’d want (as an example). The circulation numbers and intended audience for some of the other services and publications I’ve looked into are available. If I were an investigative journalist, perhaps I would contact your staff to ask about this. But I’m looking at this as a potential consumer. So, again, no sarcasm intended, but if the information isn’t there, it isn’t there.

  3. My experience with the San Francisco Book Review was negative. As authors we want reviews and of course we would love them to be positive but even more important we want the reviewer to actually read our book. You also have to pray that you are not stuck with a bigoted, or biased reviewer who will not be able to get pass their own prejudices – if your characters aren’t molded to his prejudices.
    The short version of my complaint is that the person assigned to review my book , “The Christmas Special,” wrote a review that was full of terrible mistakes about it. They did not even know who was telling the story or the correct names of two of its main characters.
    The reviewer wrote:
    “The story itself is mostly framed as a collection of documents that the FBI has gathered to recreate the events leading up to the plot.”
    When I complained to Heidi Komlofske one of the owners of San Francisco Book Review of the inaccuracies in the review she referred my concerns to the actual reviewer who replied back to her with the following response.
    I will grant that I did mix up the father and brother’s names. That’s a quick fix. Same thing with Roberto Roma. Considering he’s only mentioned briefly in the half-page Chapter 3 (page 19), it’s understandable why I didn’t remember it 669 pages later..

    If you go to Amazon and search my book (The Christmas Special) for “Roberto Roma” you will discover he’s mentioned with his full name 69 times and of course referred to with pronouns many more times. In fact, on the next to the last page he is mentioned twice in the following conversation:
    The caller replied in her slightly accented English, “Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Roma.”
    I asked her if Santa had visited her way up there in Iceland,
    She giggled and said, “He certainly did, Mr. Roma…………”
    So the reviewer had no idea of who was even telling the story and had wrong names for two of the main characters in the novel.
    To me his ignorance of who’s telling the story and the correct names of the main characters either means he’s just a super incompetent reviewer or one who simply never seriously read the novel, yet that is what I paid Heidi Komlofske for and thought that is what would happen.
    Ross Rojek also told me he felt that his reviewer was a very competent reviewer and (as usual) an English major. Just going back to just that one sentence mentioned previously:
    “The story itself is mostly framed as a collection of documents that the FBI has gathered to recreate the events leading up to the plot.”
    What does the reviewer mean when he writes “to recreate the events leading up to the plot?” Does the reviewer even know how to use the word plot? Did he mean plot point or the climax of the plot????? Remember Mr. Rojek states this is one of his competent reviewers with an English major. Another one of the English major’s sentences is:
    “Sheeva’s father is abusive and gruff and somehow, not clear from the story, involved to the plot…Muslim males are evil, Muslim women are passive, Americans are nice and friendly…”

    Mr. Ross wanted me to mention that this is my second review with his company and that I didn’t complain about the first review on a previous novel. He is correct, that review was written when their company was much smaller and they were more concerned about the accuracy of their reviews.
    I also wanted to make clear that the novel “The Christmas Special,” had won awards in 5 literary contests – all 3rd place, but much better than losing. One award was given at the British Library in London, England so I think it is obvious that the novel was written well enough to assume the reader would be able to recognize who is telling the story.

    So Heidi Komlofske’s solution for the entire fiasco was to convert my fee into an ad, which I declined out of principle. I have advertised in their magazine before and it was a total flop. Remember the majority of people going to their site are authors plopping down their money for a review or to advertise to all the book readers that are suppose to flock to their site. However, if you look at their site’s homepage it is mainly targeted to sell to authors not to book readers. The only benefit you can really get from one of their reviews is to quote it and try to make it sounds as if some great literary journal has sanctioned your work as the best work of the century. Trouble is, if you are assigned someone who simply paraphrases your book description, skips around in your book to find a couple things to personalize his review he can complete the review without ever reading your book. Next thing, you will probably see a couple used copies of your masterpiece being sold by some used book dealer on Amazon and Ebay.
    The reviewer did tell me he hated my book cover and thought it was “Photoshopped.” Of course it was “Photoshopped” almost all book covers are. He spends an entire paragraph condemning it. I guess he is not only an English major but also an art critic. He also feels people in Texas are bigoted people and if you do not portray them that way they won’t appear authenic.
    So if you want to pay for a review from the “San Francisco Book Review” you now know what to expect.
    Getting a review from them, good or bad, will not sell any books unless you promote the review as part of your marketing campaign. It is very unlikely that anyone will ever take notice of your review, unless you put it in front of the buyers face. More reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles are far more important. Buyers actually read them.

  4. Oy. Truly, a cautionary tale. I do hope you’ve written about this on your blog. People should know what they’re in for.

  5. Hello,
    I have been using Pacific Book Review for many years with my books and extremely happy with the book review services they provide. They have different book review packages depending on the level of marketing you need for your book. Each review they have done for me has been above and beyond my expectations. They also have the Pacific Book Awards Contest and do video book trailers for authors. I have recommended others to Pacific Book Review and they all have been very pleased with the results. I do know that Pacific Book Review also has a sister company called Hollywood Book Reviews I will provide the links below if interested. I hope this info helps, 🙂 because they have certainly helped me as an author get the word about about my book!

    Pacific Book Review:

    Pacific Book Awards:

    Hollywood Book Reviews:

  6. David Hearne’s experience is unfair, for sure: I can tell you Kirkus Indie, too, is no better than any of the reviewing services on offer. If considering any paid-for reviewing service, the most self-promoting is probably Kirkus. SELF-PUBLISHED WRITERS BEWARE: KIRKUS INDIE IS IN FACT UNABLE TO REALISTICALLY GUARANTEE AN UNBIASED REVIEW. CONSUMERS’ COMPLAINTS TO CONSUMER AFFAIRS DEPARTMENTS AND GROUPS HAVE LIKELY BEEN FORMALLY SUBMITTED IN DROVES. KIRKUS OVERALL TENDS TO REVIEW SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS SOMEWHAT DIFFERENTLY TO TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED BOOKS. KIRKUS INDIE IS INUNDATED WITH SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS AT MORE THAN $425 PER BOOK ON AVERAGE, RELIES THEREFORE ON INCREASINGLY OBSCURELY SOURCED REVIEWERS WHO ARE NO MORE PRESTIGIOUS OR RELIABLE THAN THOSE AT SAN FRANCISCO BOOK REVIEW, AND HEAVILY FAVOURS BOOKS THAT HAVE ORDINARY NARRATIVES AND SIMPLISTIC WRITING STYLES. PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS TEND TO DISFAVOUR SIGNING AUTHORS WHO HAVE HAD PUBLISHED REVIEWS FROM KIRKUS INDIE, AS THE PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS GREATLY PREFER TO SUBMIT THEIR OWN BOOKS TO KIRKUS (FOR PUBLICITY REASONS). USE CLARION REVIEWS INSTEAD–IF IT’S A CHOICE BETWEEN KIRKUS AND CLARION, CLARION IS WHAT AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS SURELY PREFER OF SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS WHO SUBMIT WORK TO THEM. As ever so many authors essentially say, Kirkus staff use the excuse of subjectivity on a regular basis with self-published authors who complain to them. But the Kirkus staff are unable to pretend in the same way with well-known authors, whose readerships would laugh at the seeming dishonesty of the reviews in question. If a conservative-styled, intelligent famous writer such as Alan Furst were a self-published author reviewed by Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Indie almost certainly would deliver him negative reviews mostly regardless, as Furst’s sophistication of writing style would upset the Kirkus Indie reviewers (they do favour simplistic writing styles) and Furst as an unknown writer would have little or no chance of recourse after the negative reviews. An independent official audit of Kirkus would likely uncover plenty of interesting facts, leading to some very intriguing questions such as: (1) Is the political culture that predominates among Kirkus staff of a particular bent, and is that bent left-wing? Yes. (2) Are Kirkus Indie review turnaround times often irreconcilable with the limited number of Kirkus Indie reviewers, suggesting that skimming of books must be unavoidable in the reviewing practices? Yes. (3) Does offering two prices (each with a different turnaround time) for a Kirkus Indie review mean that those reviewers receiving the lesser payment for service will be more likely to give a negative review? Yes. (4) Do Kirkus staff deliberately rely on the subjectivity excuse when dealing with complaints from authors, while objectively common sense dictates the obviousness of the fact that such subjectivity is often a false front for reviewer (and editorial) bias (such as pretending that writing style preferences are technical errors in writing)? Yes. (5) Does the predominating political culture (rather than due work process) at Kirkus often interfere with reviewer services before the reviews reach authors, by acting as a filter against certain politically-aligned content of reviews being published? Yes. (6) Is there evidence in the published lists of Kirkus reviews that indicates that by far the majority of positive reviews are those given to writings that have ordinary narratives and simplistic styles? Yes. (7) Should Kirkus be legally purged, in the conclusion that insufficient regulatory and legal oversight of Kirkus work practices (in an industry that by its very nature is liable to predation for monetary gain, and its excuses to complainants are dubious at best) has allowed an unacceptably large number of complainants to remain unsatisfied? Yes. (8) Should Kirkus be legally forced, at the very least, to claim in its promotions that, as with any reviewing service, its reviews are subject to reviewer subjectivity, which means that personal bias of reviewers may influence the reviews no matter the best intentions of the reviewers? Absolutely, yes. Kirkus makes millions of dollars each year, with unjustifiably massive profit margins, and with little independent quality-control of its services affecting huge numbers of people in the hands of such a small group whose culture would appear to be a major impediment. And the Kirkus reputation of evidentially erroneous, implausible excuses to rightly unsatisfied complainants is inexcusable… US government consumer watchdogs must investigate this misrepresentative monopoly euphemistically called ‘Kirkus’. Kirkus reeks.

  7. Heidi Komlofske of SFBR wrote, “me or my staff would be very happy to answer questions.”

  8. Really.

    That is…rather disturbing, yes. Like, what are you going to ask? Why did you pan my book? Why don’t you love me?

    A trifle bizarre. Did you ask?

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