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Would You Pay for Positive Reviews? [Discussion]

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that getting attention as an indie author is incresingly difficult. The number of self-published books grows every year and, with it, your chances of hitting John Locke-type success shrink.

Any author knows that favorable reviews are extremely effective in making your book stand out. Heck, we’ve written about it in the past.

But, to what length would you go in hopes of securing those 5-star reviews? 

Many authors (including the aforementioned Mr. Locke) have gone so far as to pay for positive reviews, and it happens to be a growing trend.

This topic is begging for a lively discussion, so check out “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” and jump in!  We want to know:

  • How are your purchasing decisions influenced by reviews? Does this information make you doubt those 5-star reviews?
  • Would you ever consider paying for reviews? Have you offered a perk or gift in exchange for one in the past?
  • Is the current system of reviewing books too easy to manipulate? How would you change it?
  • Regardless of those working to game the system, will the real 5-star books still rise to the top?

We can’t wait to hear your responses! To join the discussion, please leave a comment below addressing any (or all) of the above questions. Also, mention the discussion to your indie author friends — we’d love to hear from everyone!

  • Nope. Not worth it.

    • Agreed, Kelly. I have to believe that somehow the system will course-correct for fake reviews over the long-term.

  • This is just sad to me. I depend on reviews from readers to give me a sense of whether I’m going to like the book or not. Tricking me into buying a book that I’m going to hate does not serve the author well!

    • I agree, Ruth — the article made me sad, too. For some reason, I certainly didn’t think review fraud was that prevalent. I’ll be side-eyeing those overly-effusive reviews in the future!

  • Janice Lane Palko

    This all just points back to the most tried and true method of selecting books–word-of-mouth. If you can’t trust the reviews to be valid, more people will rely on the people they trust to find books.

    • Absolutely, Janice. Another reason why building a fanbase of readers who truly think you’re awesome is so important — they’re the perfect people to spread the awesomeness of your work.

    • Just one more thing to add: I’d encourage my readers to not always leave me amazing, 5-star reviews. Most of us can find at least one point of contention with every book we read (even if we love it overall), and I put more stock in reviews that can articulate the negatives as well as the positives. That shows me that the person has actually read the book they’re reviewing!

    • Yes and I depend a lot on a few book bloggers that I know have similar taste to mine. I go to them to find books I want to read!

  • Zoe Brooks

    I find this development very sad. But then I was always suspicious about books with nothing but 5* reviews. You can usually tell if they are not real (or I hope so). I don’t necessarily find a bad review a problem, it can help me decide to buy a book in fact. Sometimes I read it and think that what is being criticised is something I like in a book.

    • I was saddened by it too, Zoe. Brilliant point about critical reviews actually being helpful — I totally agree. I’ve often decided to pick up a book because, like you said, what someone else sees as bad I actually see as good. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  • I was so disappointed to hear that! Bummer. I wouldn’t pay for reviews because that automatically taints the review. It’s no longer honest. Instead, I like what some others do. Offer an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review. And I, as an author, would reiterate the honest part. No hard feelings for a 1 star review.

    • Exactly, Yesenia. I take more stock in honest reviews, anyway — someone that can present both what they liked and disliked shows me they’ve actually read (and paid attention to) the book they’re reviewing!

  • My novel, “The Wizard and the Warlord” has sold nearly 5k copies and only has 7 reviews at Amazon. My most reviewed book, “The Sword and the Dragon” has been out over two years and only has 82 reviews. Indie authors need to quit worrying so much about reviews. Both titles have been in the bestsellers list for their genre since they were released. Get free content out there and let your writing speak for itself. Search “MRMathias” at Wattpad and you will see what I mean by free content.

    • You’re right on track here, Michael. Thanks so much for sharing your story! Authors try to look for shortcuts and they’re just not effective. Put in the hard work and, like you said, let your writing speak for itself!

  • I absolutely would not buy reviews. I feel much better knowing that the reviews I received for my book are honest because no one got paid to write ’em. Paying for good reviews gives you a false sense of accomplishment because it’s hard to gauge whether the book is actually ‘good,’ which isn’t helpful to ones self-esteem. I think I’m more shocked that people actually do this.

    Author of IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU ~book of short stories.
    @phetteogburn
    http://www.phetteogburn.com

    • I was totally shocked too, Phette. I’d rather have mediocre (but honest) reviews than fake awesome ones. After all, constructive criticism is how we improve!

  • I hate it.

    I’ve emailed dozens (and have many more to contact) reviewers in the last few weeks. Part of being a self published author is grafting. It involves staring at the computer and doing the hard work.

    It’s part of the journey. If you don’t want the journey, don’t do it. But don’t cheat your way to something better. It just cons your readers, devalues other writers, and sticks a strong finger up to anyone who comes across you.

    Rant over :)

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • It gives me warm fuzzies to hear this, Matt. Just “amen” to this entire comment! I wish I had something more eloquent to add, but you said it all. :-)

    • haha love it

      And yes, such a shame stuff like this happens. I hope Mr Locke is hanging his head right now

      Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  • Never. I have great faith in my stories and I hope people like them. But I want honest reviews. If you loved it, tell me so I can replicate that in future stories. If there’s something you don’t like, tell me so I can maybe avoid that in the future.

    I think authors have become too obsessed with reviews, especially five-star ones. To me, five stars means there is *nothing* that could have been improved – and that’s a rarity.

    • High-five, Mary! You have the perfect outlook on reviews. They (should) serve an important purpose — helping you improve. For them to be helpful, they must be genuine and honest!

  • Nina Brewton

    I keep hearing about this, along with people paying for “followers” in their social media outlets.

    As others have mentioned, part of the beauty of receiving reviews is to take the feedback and GROW as a writer. One of my greatest fears prior to self-publishing was that I would receive AMAZING feedback from people who love me as a PERSON, failing to truly take the time to get to know me as a writer.

    We’ve all seen it both in the literary world and the music world: People who are less than talented continuously being puffed up to believe they have the next big hit or that they’re the world’s next great “it girl” when truth be told, their charisma may be the only thing keeping them afloat.

    I’m looking for people who will genuinely take the time to provide feedback on my work which will in turn help me grow, not just as a writer, but as a better person overall. I can’t pay enough for THAT type of love!

    • If I could reach through the screen and hug you, Nina, I totally would (in a non-creepy way). Amen to all of this! It’s wonderful to hear from an author who seeks constructive criticism in hopes of bettering her work. It’s difficult for all of us to hear those less-than-stellar opinions of our writing, of course, but that criticism helps you improve, isn’t it worth the brief moment of pain? You rock — wonderful comment :-)

    • Nina Brewton

      *hugs* (in a non-creepy way* Lol Thank you so much Toni! Looking forward to more from you and your team!

  • The only way good reviews or ratings on Amazon (which is where I usually look) influence my decision is the overall rating of the book. To read actual reviews (which I always look at if the back cover copy doesn’t make my mind up for me), I go to the worst/poorest/most critical reviews I can find. A lot of times they end up telling me “yes, you’ll like the book, because of the reason this person didn’t.”

    • I do that same thing, Emily! Checking out the harshest criticisms levied against a book is the best way to figure out whether or not it’s truly up your alley. Thanks for the comment!

  • I hope it never comes to it. I just finished “How to Make a Killing on Kindle” and the author recommends making sure you have five or six reviews if you have to recruit a friend or write it yourself.

    Honestly if you have to pay for a review, you might as well just write it.

    I’d say this is immoral, but I bump into plenty of books with reviews clearly written by friends, I don’t know if it’s that different if the author writes it— either way, it’s not an objective review.

    Since I’m a book reviewer, I hope when the time comes other people will return the favor. I work for free and try to be as objective as possible. But I can understand an author trying to spur sales if they are don’t have a base to give their book a chance. It’s a business. Regardless, an author will still have to wait for true fans who love their books!

    • Thank you so much for sharing this, Wren. It’s hard to start out with no reviews, but that makes a great case for building a base of “true fans” (you said it perfectly) before releasing your book. Even though those reviews will likely be skewed in your favor, at least they’d be from real fans!

    • Yeah, I mean writing is too hard to just go for the money. Isn’t getting respect or being appreciated part of the motivation in the first place?

  • Great post! Personally, I wouldn’t pay for a review, but I can see why somebody might. It’s a ‘shortcut’ to sales, and handy for the impatient writer. However, it comes with its risks – not only is it morally dubious, in my opinion, but it has the potential to be rather damaging if people are figured out.

    My view? Save your cash and put it towards a good cover and top editing instead. That way, you’ll receive genuinely positive reviews over time.

    Ryan

  • It’s so hard because I haven’t yet been in the position of watching my pride and joy sink into the obscurity of Amazon, never to be recognized. Right now I’d say no, never, simply because it feels like cheating and I hate cheating. But a few months after I’ve published my book? When it’s languishing with one mediocre review when I believe deep down it deserves more? Well, to be brutally honest with myself, and with everyone here, I don’t know the answer to that.

    I know every writer believes their story deserves more. I just don’t know if I’m resilient enough to stick by my morals when it comes down to crunch time. I like to think I am, but I can’t answer that without having been in the situation first-hand.

    Hopefully I don’t get tarred and feathered for this comment! 😛

  • I really appreciate your honesty, Dimitri. You’re so right — resilience is key. Do everything that you can before your book launches to make sure it’s a success, then hopefully you won’t need to think about using those paid services!

  • I am horrified that people actually pay for good reviews. I can (kind of) understand paying for an editorial review like Kirkus or whatever. But, there are no guarantees that it will be favorable.
    I have recommended both John Locke’s non fiction book and the Make a killing on Kindle in the past because of the reviews I read– how naive of me. I am embarrassed to not have seen through them.

  • Tracy_R_Atkins

    “Everybody is busy and no one wants to read a free copy your book!”

    Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about options. It seems that getting a “no” is the most common response to an inquiry of a fellow author, media outlet or review site to take a look at your book and comment. I can understand the “desperation” that goes into the decision to buy exposure, even if it is “fake”. I can’t condone it, but I can’t call authors that do it “evil” either.

    So what does an author do?
    Stay persistent and keep plugging away with queries? Bare the sometimes heavy expense for legitimate reviews from editorial review sources? Rework the message? Double down on social media?

    How does one cope with being ignored, and rise up to conquer literary solitude and invisibility?

  • Sharada Ganesh

    When I see a book with a 5-star review, the skeptic in me sends out a red alert. I would then go to blogs by people, review sites and check out the “real” reviews. Also another lesson I have learnt is never trust the testimonials published on the product’s website (applies to any product, not just limited to books). Of course, eventually, the decision factor has to be (i) does the subject appeal to me? (ii) Do the excerpts provided strike a chord?

    Whether I’d pay for positive reviews for my book? I don’t think so. I would count on my writing, my fan base (built painstakingly using the tips provided here) and positive propaganda. Honestly, I don’t feel it is money well spent.