Should You Pay for Reviews?

Holy hell


The fact that this is even a consideration reminds me that the business side of publishing can be a convoluted world of traps. I must remind everyone that I am no expert, but I have been doing this for a while. The freedom of being an indie author and working with smaller publishing companies always comes at a price and  each author has to find their own balance.

Now that I got that, side note-addendum-disclaimer, bullshit out of the way, here it is. Writing has become a rich man’s market. Some days I fear it always was. The writers themselves may not have much, but there is always someone out there working to capitalize off your work. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The moment a writer decides they want to take a crack at getting paid for their words, they enter the conundrum of “Do you do it for the love or the money?”.


I run skip around singing about balance, and it sounds good, but it takes a lot of mistakes to really learn what the hell you have to do to achieve it.

In the realm of marketing, it means knowing when to put up money and when not to. DON’T ANY OF YOU EVER PAY TO HAVE A BOOK PUBLISHED! Do you hear me? Vanity presses are a joke. They want your money and that is all they care about. If you self-publish that is a different story, but I always advise writers who are sick of being rejected by agents to try small/independent presses before self-publishing. (Unless you are super business savvy, like a small minority of successful self-publishers that I know)

Don’t pay to publish, save your money for promoting. A good small press will help fund promos, but they may not have the funds to do it all. And yes, sometimes you will need to add your own funds. BUT, the only time I believe this is necessary is when gathering materials for book events, ordering books to sell at said book events, traveling on a book tour,  and for select book award and reviews.


Here’s where we get to the meat of the issue:

Book reviews and book awards.


Paying for that shit really hurts. I hear myself constantly saying, “I just want the work to speak for itself.”


Unfortunately the market is so flooded that readers don’t know about all of the great stories out there. A lot have grown complacent and/or picky due to the incessant ads and promos being shoved down their throats online.

Ads helps a little SOMETIMES. But what really drives books sales is the simple good old fashioned word-of-mouth tactic.

How do you get people talking about your book?


You win awards, gain praise through reviews and other authors. Book events are the best way to expand your audience, but readers trust you more when you have those gold stars, those medals and book stickers for awards.

But not all awards are created equal, and book reviewers are drowning in submissions. It’s not enough to contact book bloggers. It generally takes anywhere from 6 weeks – 18 months for a book blogger to get to your material IF they accept it.

Paid reviews seem like a cop-out to me, but you have to think of it like this: authors get upset when people expect their books, their WORK to be free of discounted, well, reviewers get tired. They have to read numerous books and some of those novels aren’t good. Can you imagine having to finish a book you hate because you agreed to review it? For FREE? Reviewing books is a job too. Having worked as a slush reader before, I can attest to the brain damage that occurs after having read too many shitty stories. haha


The issue here is, you can’t trust every reviewer. Review companies are more solid. Especially if they have been around for a while. I’m not saying pay Bob’s blog through a shady paypal account.

I trust bigger review companies that also run book awards, like Reader’s Favorite.

They offer free reviews, but only if the employed reviews wish to accept your book. They also offer packages where you can pay for multiple reviews and have them in within 2-3 weeks from the date you pay for service. (That is GOOD) And they run an annual book award showcase which authors can submit for a fee.

This is the business of the indie market. You should NEVER pay to publish, but some of your royalties may have to go back into promos and funding author event. It’s tough starting out. Once you get into it, though, your royalties will fund you and you can really make a living even with the funds you shell out to help fuel you further.

The question of buying a Kirkus review keeps coming up in conversation. I have never paid the gouging prices they charge for any kind of marketing, but their partnerships with amazon and barns & Noble make me curious. If you have the money, I’d say give it a shot. The Big 5 have every advantage here because they have bigger budgets and spend months marketing their releases long before they hit the press.

Sometimes you have to pay to play. But creating a realistic/fair budget is a balance that doesn’t come easy. The scales will tip. The odds are never in favor of the writer.


My rules right now are:

Always utilize EVERY free resource you can

Enter as many indie book awards with fees $100 or less as possible

Never pay more than $50 per book review, and when paying for a review, it must be with an established company that will press the review in their publication that promotes their reviews. And THIS is rough.

In St. Louis, the county library system only stocks books with professional reviews, and most pro reviews require a fee. It’s a stacked deck, but you can hold your own if you learn the tells.

Trust your gut. Be careful with your money, and your name. Integrity matters most. The business side of writing can be brutal. Be tough and do what you gotta do.

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