Is it Stigma or Reality that Readers Don’t Buy Books with Paid Reviews?

Lasts week’s editorial stirred up some viewpoints that are well taken. I want to address one such viewpoint:

… just as “POD press” has become synonymous with “vanity press,” paid reviews are now looked on as the last resort of people who can’t get “really published.”

Now, let’s look at the aspect of “paid reviews” rationally and who in fact is even concerned it’s a paid review. I challenge anyone that feels that paid reviews are a last resort (ouch!!) to go to their local brick and mortar or independent book store and poll the readers with these questions:

1. Do you read the blurbs on the backs of books before you purchase the book?
2. Do you make a decision whether or not you will buy the book because of the endorsements?
3. Do you know how those endorsements are obtained?

I can venture to say that 99% of the readers will answer something like yes, they read the blurbs; yes, they make a decision because of the endorsements; and, I suppose the author asks for them, or it would be No, I don’t know.

I can guarantee you the reader finds value in the endorsements but has no idea how the endorsement was received, let alone whether or not it was paid for. The only ones that even know anything about paid reviews are authors, publishers, and publicists. But, let’s be reasonable – as authors, is this our reading audience? I hardly think so, and if these select few people in the know will not read a book because it received a paid review as a last resort, then we, as authors (or publishers/publicists,) need to revisit our marketing plan and not attempt to market to them. It’s obvious they are not our reading audience and our time and effort, and of course money, certainly is wasted if attempting to convince them to read our books.

But, there is more. Do you know that celebrities or well know people like Tony Robbins and Stephen R. Covey don’t actually read every book that has their endorsement on the cover? No, they sure don’t. In most cases, they don’t even know the authors. The communication that goes on is only between the publicist/agent for the celebrity and the publicist for the author. And, did you know that the publicist for the author sends at least 6 “samples” of blurbs to be chosen from? More so, are you aware there is often a fee for the endorsement? This is known in the publishing industry, yet it’s doubtful that targeted readers know or even care. But, does this mean those that feel paid reviews don’t hold credibility also pass by these books? That would be an interesting survey to take, but, I can only imagine the answer would be something like “well, that’s different…” I would hope I’m wrong and they would say “no, I wouldn’t buy that book because the endorsement was paid for.”

Chicago Sun-Times, and many others (USA Today, Reuters) that publish our reviews several times a week don’t care if they are paid for or not. That’s the last of their concerns! So why should Jane or John Reader? In reality, they don’t. It’s only a stigma that has been imprinted into some in the publishing industry.

To further substantiate what the readers actually know or care about, a response from an author to my last week’s editorial was:

As an author, I can’t tell you how many people assume I have tons of money coming in from book royalties. The vast majority do not know the difference between a published and self-published book. If asked, they will not know who published the book–they will not even bother to look. All they want is a good story or information that will serve them. What goes on behind the scenes most readers are oblivious to.

As an author, I so resonate with this comment. I have never been asked by anyone, at signings or when I facilitate retreats where people buy my book, whether or not the blurbs on the back of the book, or the praises inside, were paid for. Have you? And, if you have been asked, and actually did receive a paid review, did the person refuse to buy your book?

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.


Posted on March 21, 2010, in Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. John L Herman Jr

    Did the PR I received in national magazines count even though I paid an agent to get those articles published? Did the 150 radio interviews count because I paid my PR firm to book them? Did the fact that my books ended up in Libraries because of a paid review cause me concern? And finally, when display space was offered to me in national book chains for a "slotting fee" did that seem out of bounds? Professional fees for professional services are the way the business world works…and I was glad I found Reader Views and your services when I needed them.Herman

  2. Tellingly, your article does not tell us who those rewievers are, and how their services can be purchased. I’d like to buy some of that. Without naming names you are suggesting which side you are on.

  3. John, you are right on!! Thanks for your post. John has an online business university – check it out:, I’m on the side of the paid reviews because, as my article on March 15th stated, I have to pay my staff to process the review. Aside from looking over the list on Reader Views site for additional services: also suggest:

  4. I don’t think readers really care if a review is paid for or not. But if the review is of bad quality (poor writing, poor grammar etc) only then will it have a negative effect. I would just watch who you approach to write your review.Enjoy your editorials and look forward to them!

  5. Stephen V. Masse

    One important issue not yet discussed is the real cost of getting reviews, whether paid or free. When a book is ready for publication, the actual release date must be moved ahead 2 – 4 months to give time for major review sites to consider the book. In my case, I lost 2 full months of possible sales in order for major reviewers to give a review. Of course I knew this was a gamble, with all major review sources overwhelmed by hundreds of new books per week. Bottom line: not a single major reviewfor my book, but thankfully I had the foresight to get some paid review services. The one major review source that offers a paid review, Kirkus Reviews (which may or may not be in business much longer), separates the paid reviews very vigorously, with a warning that any use of the review for publicity has to label it as a "Kirkus Discovery" and NOT a "Kirkus Review," while at the same time assuring the customer that both have the same quality. Those Kirkus Discoveries could be well worth the $500.00 — but if librarians who will make buying decisions don’t know the difference between Kirkus Reviews and Kirkus Discoveries, I’ll be quite surprised. Individual buyers may not know the difference, but try to get a book in Barnes and Noble bookstores, libraries or schools without major reviews. The issue is legitimacy. Many paid review sources are not as professional as they should be. There are often misspellings, grammatical errors, and sometimes errors of fact regarding the contents of the book. I’ve seldom if ever come across these errors in Publishers Weekly. At the end of the day, it is disconcerting to find that the major review sources to whom I sent the requisite dual copies of my book have then put my book back on the and "new and used books" market, competing against my own interests by selling them as "new and unread" at half the price!

  6. I have read your articles with great interest. Yes, it is a thorny subject, and one that is greatly misunderstood. The harsh reality is that with 300,000 new titles released each year even authors with a track record have difficulty in getting reviews published in high traffic areas.Yes I am a paid reviewer, The author is not ‘buying’ a good review. He is paying for my expertise in the area. I guess that in fact he is buying a good review. Good in so far that the book will be read by a qualified person, and the review and interview will be professional and well thought out.A great deal of what floats around under the title of Book Review, is more akin to a grade 6 book report. Book readers on the whole are discerning people, they are not lured in by a book report, they want substance and reason to buy.Constructing a good review is an art form in its own right. Let us say that it is a thriller of some type. How much of the plot do you reveal without spoiling the story? A well crafted review gives very little away but creates a ‘want’ in the reader, the reader wants to go to the next step and read thestory. That is not to say that you can write a review by only reading the first 50 pages! Trust me, you will not get far doing that!What I do know is that the authors I work with are always happy with the result. I have return customers all of the time, a second, third, even fourth time.You talk about the endorsements on the rear cover, I see at least a book a month with my name on it. Generally they are one liners about their previous work. I get quite a personal kick out of it.If I could do my reviews for free, I would. But who is going to pay my rent or bills? the average book represents two while days of effort. One day to read it, and one day to write the review, plan the interview, conduct the interview, and write an article about the interview. When I break that downinto an hourly rate I find that I could earn more working at 7/11 or McDonalds.I look forward to any further articles you might publish on this subject.Simon

  7. It should be noted that even reviewers who are paid for their reviews really are required to be honest about the reviews if they want to keep their readers. A good review for a poor book will only lead to readers not trusting the reviewer–they still won’t care whether the review were paid for or not. Just because a review was paid for does not mean a good review was purchased. A good reviewer deserves to be paid for his work and his honesty as well.

  8. I have nothing but respect for Reader Views. They have helped me get my first press release, my first live interview and several book reviews since. I feel that having a book review from a respected source holds far more weight than having all of your reviews from family members with your same last name. Also, consider having all of the reviews coming from your own hometown. How well will that go over in the book world?My latest book, What’s It Like, Living Green? is self published and has several paid reviews, along with others that have not been paid. This book won three national book awards and is selling well.Hip Hip Hurray for Reader Views!!! I can’t say enough about them!!!

  9. Where small publishers have limited funds, large publishing houses have incredible resources and spend a lot of money before their books hit the shelves. Did you know for example that large publishing houses send a list of books that they think should be on the “best seller” list to a well-known newspaper which I will not name here because I do not want to put their reputation in jeopardy. That newspaper turns around and sends the list to book stores. The bookstore looks at the list and places those books on the “bestseller” rack. Then customers come into the bookstore, go to the “bestseller” rack and buy a book from that particular rack, thinking hmmm… it’s on the best seller list, so it must be good. As the buzz gets around, the book becomes a best seller, not because of the quality of the writing but because of smart marketing. Did you know that large publishing houses pay a lot of money to bookstores for that “important” front space when you walk in and see all the “important books” sitting on the front tables? Same is true for the books on display in the windows. How about this…major publishing houses take out ¼ page, ½ page or one page ads in major Newspapers. As a favor for all the money the Publishing houses spend, newspaper or magazine reviewers review their books. And guess what? They will give a good review because they need the Ad dollars. So before you speak, read a lot of books and learn how the book industry works. It is no different than any other business. With that said, there are many reviewers around with integrity – some charge for their time, some don’t – but they will not give a good review if the author hasn’t done their homework. So, to the authors who whine: stop the whining, get with the program and learn how the industry works before pointing fingers at anyone. Because at the end of the day, if your first book sucks even with a “good review,” people will not read your second book. So, go ahead, work hard, put out a fantastic product and forget about the rest of the nonsense.

  10. Homa, you bring out some very good points which are correct. As well, I’m going to add there are companies that can get your book (even if it is self-published) on the best seller’s list for a fee ($35-45,000) and with a guarantee? So, don’t be fooled, not all books make the best sellers list because a bunch of people bought the book that week, some get on the list because they spent big bucks to get it there.

  11. I really like this age-related question…(that may be what it is)Stigma: The older generations will think: if you paid for it, then where’s the honesty in that.Reality: The younger generations will not think about it at all, it’s the way we do business-hire out what you cannot or will not do for yourself!

  12. Thank you very much for the dose of "reality" in your recent editorial about paid vs. free reviews. Actually, the whole notion of free = valuable, paid = valueless rests on a false assumption that is purely historical and no longer applies. First, the Internet is replacing newspapers, the publishers of which paid reviewers from income realized from advertising (the Internet hasn’t yet learned how to do that well); and second, newspapers themselves are either going out of business or discontinuing book review pages and sections simply because revenues don’t justify "free" and tradition mitigates against "paid." The real value, after all, is in the honesty and sensitivity of the reviewer, and good reviewers are worth their weight in gold, regardless of their eventual evaluation of a literary effort (some books just ain’t good, and the honest reviewer gets paid for telling the truth!). At long last, the concept of "no free lunch" is showing itself as true in this crazy business of ours, and authors, publishers, publicists and marketers need to be willing to pay the tab.

  13. I am an unpaid reviewer and hopeful author. I would like to say that I have never given it a thought about whether the blurbs & reviews on the cover were paid for or not. In fact, other than what the story (without spoilers) is or even the genre from the publisher or sometimes just the bio on the author, I rarely read the one or two line reviews, unless it happens to be an author I like and respect. Occasionally we see a review by a newspaper, a critic probably, and it may even contain some criticism. Normally, I don’t agree with them once I’ve read the book anyway. I often see it in a different way. So the end of my comment would be, all I want to know is something letting me have an idea of the book, and something about the author, and ignore most of the rest of the comments.

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