Dilemmas of the Small Press Author: Paying for Reviews

Does your book stand out in a crowd?
Does your book stand out in a crowd?

Another day, another way I realize I don’t know what I’m doing…

One of the (many, I’m sure) perks of signing with a big publishing house is that they have go-to people to write reviews of your novel before it is even released. These reviews can appear on your book jacket and in promotional material months before the first copy is in your hot little hands. It is an aspect of the publishing industry that I completely took for granted as a reader. I often browse the high-sung praises of a book by review agencies, other well-respected authors, magazine/newspaper editors, etc. before I purchase a book. There is no doubt that these reviewers are paid for their time in reading and reviewing the work, and soliciting professional reviews is one of the many jobs that a publisher takes on when they sign an author.

So what is one to do when one chooses to publish through small or independent presses? I knew that signing with a small press publisher would mean that I would be doing a lot of the marketing legwork on my own. But to be honest, I didn’t have a clear plan for what that might actually look like in practice. I was so focused on finding a publisher that I didn’t look too far into the murky future beyond. Now that I’m popping up on the other side I’m beginning to realize that this whole marketing thing is going to be an uphill battle!

One of the concepts that is new to me, but which has been around for decades, is the paid-review. There are companies out there who offer professional review services (here is a good link with some examples), similar to what the big publishing houses have access to, but which are geared towards small press and independent press authors. Now, I’m not talking about the shady business of paying for fake 5 star reviews on amazon.com or Goodreads, though there are certainly those kinds of ethically questionable companies out there. I’m talking about paying for a real objective, balanced review by a professional. Services range from about $150-$500 for a review and various marketing packages.

In theory, it seems like a sound investment, particularly as I am not footing the bill for any publication costs. If I’m going to spend money on my book, it might as well be in advertising, right? But the feedback I’ve come across is inconsistent. Some authors swear by these and similar marketing strategies, and some swear they’re nothing but a waste of money. The advice from my publisher is to avoid the higher priced ones as, in his experience, review services are more expensive than they are effective.

But there is a part of me that wants to believe that, if my book is good enough, a quality professional review or two may make the difference. Is this line of thinking over-simplified and naive? I don’t know. Do any of you have opinions or experiences to share? Please comment! Also, if there are any book bloggers out there who would like to take a stab at The Timekeepers’ War, please email me at sc.jensen[at]outlook[dot]com with a link to your blog. I can’t pay you, but I can promise a free review copy!

See here for a sneak peek of The Timekeepers’ War by S.C. Jensen, coming Summer 2014.

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10 thoughts on “Dilemmas of the Small Press Author: Paying for Reviews

  1. This topic comes up periodically on some of the Facebook author sites I subscribe to. As you say – opinions are back and forth but I would say the majority of authors I’ve seen express their thoughts say never pay for a review. No matter how legitimate it may seem – it is what it is. On the other hand, again as you’ve pointed out, no one can imagine that the Big 5 don’t pay to get their top list books in front of and reviewed by the best. The playing field is very, very uneven. Don’t suppose that is of much help.

    1. Therein lies the dilemma!

      I’ve heard similar sentiments regarding paid reviews. Even if they are unbiased, some feel it goes against the nature of the reader/writer relationship to have paid reviews mixed into other online testimonials. However, as much as we idealize the experience of reading, and author is selling a product. It seems a little strange that we would expect them not to advertise when every other product in our lives is “sold” to us via print ads in magazines, television commercials, radio ads, etc. Why do we hold writers to a different standard?

      I think it is absolutely wrong to pay someone to put up batch reviews, fake reader testimonials, and that ilk. But is a review from Clarion or Kirkus the same? You have to say the review is by them, it’s not being masqueraded as something it’s not…

      I’ll have to look into it a little more. It just seems unfair that we don’t have the same access to reviewers as Big 5 authors!

  2. As an avid reader I publish book reviews on my blog. Lately I was contacted by authors to do reviews for them. They send me an electronic version (ePub or Kindle format), I read and review.
    I guess that it is an option to scan blogs and check if you like someone’s style of reviewing, then contact her/him.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Karen 🙂 I have been doing a bit of blog surfing in search of reviewers. I’ve found a good number of them, but many reviewers don’t accept review requests. I have a few months yet before my review copies are available, so I will be compiling a list of bloggers to query!

      My publisher will provide either eBook or paperback, depending on the reviewer’s preference. If you are interested in science fiction at all, you can check out the “Sneak Peek” page of _The Timekeepers’ War_. I will happily add you to my list of reviewers 🙂

      1. Just name the time frame for getting your review. As I read a lot of books, I have to plan my reading and reviewing a little. Please do not hesitate to add me to your list of reviewers. An eBook is always welcome. 🙂

        1. Fabulous! Right now, we’re expecting a June/July release date, so the eBook should be ready by the end of June. I will keep you posted, though. Thanks 😀

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