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 GettingBookReviews.com) 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. (AuthorHouse, another 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 Review: This 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 CityBookReview.com 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”
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.