Does Paying For Praise Pay?

a17b2-hip-replacement-recall-briberyAs the self-publishing industry grows ever more competitive and crowded, it’s getting increasingly difficult for authors to receive the attention and validation they need in order to struggle on. This seems to be increasingly true even if you’re willing to swallow your pride a little and try to buy some love. The practice of paying for reviews has always been controversial. Some authors insist it’s a form of bribery, and declare they’ll never do it. While I admire their integrity, I wonder what you’re supposed to do if you can’t get more than a handful of reviews the “right” way. Several sites that reviewed my previous books for free have not responded to my latest requests. They’re more inundated than ever before, they say. Even giving away loads of e-book versions of Handmaidens of Rock hasn’t generated much attention.

Nor does paying for praise guarantee positive publicity as readily as it once did. It seems that with so many authors clamoring to be noticed, some paid review sites have new license to be almost as mean and dismissive as everyone else. That’s not always true, by any means. Many paid sites find a way to combine encouragement with constructive criticism, to avoid inflated or false praise, and to provide some exposure. But there are others that use their new-found power somewhat arrogantly.

I won’t call out anyone by name. But I was somewhat mortified that I paid to have my book listed on a site which presents a monthly list of reviewed titles, on which some were labeled “recommended” and the rest, including mine, were not. For my money, they might as well have tagged it “not recommended.” This was accompanied by a polite review that seemed to have been written with gritted teeth, and made a show of discussing what I “attempted” to do in the book, insinuating that I didn’t quite do it. I laughed when I received an offer to keep this listing up for another month if I paid again. Maybe I should’ve paid to have it taken down.

Then there are the paid contests that send out alerts to all their entrants the day before announcing the winners, with a big “good luck.” It almost looks like a taunt. They send you the list of winners, expecting everyone, even the losers, to celebrate the wonderfulness of indie books! All I can say is, are you kidding? I sincerely wish my fellow authors all the good fortune in the world, but I’m not a saint. I don’t have the time or energy to peruse, much less celebrate, a list of winners that doesn’t include my book.

I know the main objective is to get our stories right in our own eyes, and to get them read, whether the reviewers are sympathetic or not. So I’m posing the question: how do other authors feel about paid reviews these days? Has their degree of respectability changed over the years?

7 thoughts on “Does Paying For Praise Pay?

  1. This is a tricky question. I think it’s safest to get your reviews organically. The people who buy or download your book wanted it. You never know if your book is going to be some paid reviewer’s cup of tea. They may give you a negative review, not because your book was bad, but because they don’t enjoy your type of book.

  2. I agree on so many counts. Respectability? Sometimes I wonder if the only people to whom this matters are writers themselves. There is also the important question (so far unanswered to me, no matter how hard I search for relevant evidence) of whether or not any marketing strategies actually make any difference at all. Good luck with your writing (which I do enjoy) and best wishes from the UK.

    1. And best wishes right back at you from the U.S.! I’m hoping for a sequel to “The Bomb Makers” one of these days. I guess all we can do is keep plugging away, even if the response is limited to folks like ourselves.

  3. Excellent and perennially-interesting question!

    2016 was my first year of marketing, and I’ve felt the temptation, even as I hand-sold Pride’s Children and accumulated a decent number of reviews (and one each of a 1*, 2*, and 3* review).

    And resisted with a feeling akin to horror at the quality of said reviews and the ease which with they are detected by a reader who makes even a tiny effort.

    I’m edging into the category of buying a review ONLY if it comes as part of the award package for a competition I might actually like to win (the payment is the entry fee). That legitimizes it somewhat.

    I write what I’ve had to classify as literary fiction; few paid reviewers available to indies (possibly Kirkus?) have the competence to review literary fiction, and ‘literary’ encompasses such a wide range now (according to the authors who claim it), that it is becoming a crapshoot – and I’m skittish. Even a Kirkus review can be money very badly spent, and I’m not sure I trust them. But I DO recognize their name. Sigh.

    I’m trying to write the next two books in a mainstream love story trilogy (NOT Romance – I don’t write with their conventions), while also trying to find a way to market the first. I haven’t figured it out yet, but even if paying worked for genre stories, I have a stron feeling it wouldn’t work for me.

    1. I understand all the admonitions against paying for reviews, but sometimes it’s just so difficult to get reviews that I also understand why many authors succumb to the temptation.

      1. It’s not a black-and-white line, though paying for reviews on fiverr (and getting their reviews) is way over the line for me, only partly because I think Amazon is smart enough to make that risky, as well as ethically wrong.

        Can’t say I haven’t been tempted, but so far the attempts to gain my business were so amateurish I was more scared they would do something negative if I even talked back to them, so I deleted the emails that came.

        From something more subtle, it all comes down to whether the review you pay for is unbiased, and the reviewer competent. Which is presumably how NetGalley and Kirkus essentially let authors pay for reviews. And you will have no recourse for some of those if they happen not to like your book!

        I’m doing it the hard way, hoping to build up enough momentum one of these days: offer review copies to people I meet (mostly online, like you), whose other writing leads me to respect their intelligence and fairness – and hope for the best.

        My Goodreads giveaways – to random people who signed up – netted me a 1* and a 3* (except he liked my cover, so that was fine, and 3* on GR is actually positive, whereas on Amazon 3* is critical).

        The problem there is simple math: if your ratings average is over 4*, only a 5* review can raise the average; 4* reviews will bring the average down close to 4*; and any negative reviews require MANY 5* reviews to keep your average above 4*. Math is unforgiving, and with so many promotion sites requiring a high rating, I fear the lower ones more than I should.

        And it doesn’t help at all to exchange books with other writers (except that you can use their words in your Editorial Reveiws if you wish), because Amazon deletes ‘friend’ reviews, and has a negative opinion of the practice.

        So I can review some other author’s book – but then I don’t ask for a review in return because, even if completely unbiased, such a review has a strong APPEARANCE of impropriety. Which bothers readers.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s