Home » Reviews » Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews

Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews

18 May 2015

From author Anne R. Allen:

Last month the Seattle Times reported that Amazon is suing a bunch of paid review mills.

Unfortunately, many paid review sites don’t feel they’re doing anything wrong. A spokesman for one of the companies Amazon is suing said:

“We are not selling fake reviews. However we do provide Unbiased and Honest reviews on all the products…and this is not illegal at all.”

. . . .

[B]uying customer reviews is definitely against the Terms of Service of most retailers and can get you kicked off Amazon for life.

It can also draw the ire of the vigilantes who hang out in the Amazon fora, Goodreads, and BookLikes, who are some of the nastiest cyberbullies on the ‘Net. To them, an accusation equals guilt and you are never allowed to prove your innocence. These are people who learned their ethics from the Salem witch trials.

So you really want to stay under their radar.

I understand why they are annoyed. It seems as if every day I get followed by another paid review mill on Twitter. And their sites are slick. They make it seem as if paying for reviews is a part of the process of self-publishing.

. . . .

It’s OK to pay for a professional review from established magazines like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, or Midwest Book Review. I don’t know if they’re worth the price, but they’re not in the same category as paid “customer” reviews.

The reviewers at those journals are trained and vetted professionals writing for well known magazines that have a reputation to uphold—not a bunch of guys in a cafe in Sri Lanka stringing together a few words for five bucks.

Professional reviews can’t be posted on retail sites in the review section. You can paste a small quote from one of them into the “editorial reviews” section, but not in the review thread.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Anne R. Allen’s books

For PG, reviews from Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly are a bad sign.


80 Comments to “Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews”

  1. Well, of course not! You don’t pay for reviews! I also would include the paid versions of PW and Kirkus in that. And Amazon Vine, which is really not much better, except that apparently Amazon “pays” them with gifts.

    Equally embarrassing are review exchanges between authors: “You do mine and I’ll do yours.” Amazon may have nipped that in the bud by prohibiting authors from posting reviews.

    • The only “gifts” Vine reviewers get are the items to be reviewed. It’s no different than getting an advanced reader copy, or Net Galley, or free book from an author or publisher in exchange (or hope) for a review.

  2. They don’t prohibit authors from doing reviews. Reports come in of reviews being deleted, yes, but they do so only sporadically and there’s little pattern visible in it. I’ve reviewed for years, been on Amazon for years, and not one of my reviews has ever been taken down.


    • Every review I write recently is deleted within 24 hrs. I gave up. Seems silly that as a writer I can’t have an honest opinion about a book.

      • I wonder how they decide which ones to keep and which ones to delete. I’ve been reviewing there for years, so maybe I’m grandfathered in.

      • Never had a problem leaving reviews, but then I tend to only review books I’ve really enjoyed. I know I don’t love when my books get negative reviews, so I tend mostly not to leave them.

        The only reviews I’ve seen disappeared have been negative from books in direct competition or peddling some product. I remember once seeing someone who had set up freelance editing services pitch said services to authors. Authors who expressed no interest were subsequently dinged with negative reviews about editing. It was very underhanded, and Amazon dealt with it accordingly.

        • Will, I was recently looking at some books on Smashwords, and saw the same sort of thing: someone leaving a review, four or five stars, but always commenting at the end about mistakes and their editing services being available. I don’t know if the authors have seen these, or if SW has the same policy as Amazon, but I wondered what would happen if the offer of editing wasn’t taken up.

          • I have been contacted by editorial services that I ignored only to have a review posted in the next day or two about the fact that one of my books was great but it needed better editing. I know my books aren’t perfect, but this has happened a couple of times, and in both cases, the timing was suspicious. These happened quite recently. It’s hard to say how prevalent this is or how Amazon is/will be handling it. I haven’t bothered to complain to them.

    • Patricia Sierra

      I asked KDP folks if an author is allowed to review books and was told yes. If I recall correctly, they said it was okay as long as the review was truthful and the reviewer had no financial interest in the book (which I suppose could also mean so long as the reviewer doesn’t have a competitive book for sale — say, a biography of John Doe pitted against another such biography.

  3. People wouldn’t be so desperate to get reviews if so many of the advertising sites didn’t use review thresholds as a means to decide whether to advertise your book or not. It’s a vicious circle that needs a better answer.

  4. “It’s OK to pay for a professional review from established magazines like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, or Midwest Book Review. I don’t know if they’re worth the price, but they’re not in the same category as paid “customer” reviews.It’s OK to pay for a professional review from established magazines like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, or Midwest Book Review. I don’t know if they’re worth the price, but they’re not in the same category as paid “customer” reviews.”

    Whether paid reviews with professional magazines are worth it or not. They’re NOT!!
    When I wanted to try self-publishing after two dozen MG and YA books with traditional publishers some pros recommended hiring Kirkus. This prestigious magazine doesn’t promise stars, which is good because I never want it said that I paid for praise. My historical thriller, “Stalked: Danger and Fury, Ellis Island 1912” had already rec’d some gracious comments on Amazon, so I felt hopeful. Kirkus took nine weeks then the review appeared on their website’s labyrinth. No stars, and it wasn’t a rave, but I was able to extract a few words for “marketing.” I wish I could say my $425 was a wise investment, but it wasn’t. It resulted in no sales. Not one.

  5. On CreateSpace they basically offer to hook you up with Kirkus for a review, which is expensive.

    That being said, why are Kirkus reviews a bad sign? I ask sincerely, as that I’ve heard from a few authors that they pay off (when they’re positive, of course)…

    So what’s the scoop on their rep?

  6. “These are people who learned their ethics from the Salem witch trials.”

    My favorite sentence for today, I think. 🙂

  7. Is Choosy Bookworm considered one such pay-for-review site?

    • I don’t think so. I placed two books to be reviewed on ChoosyBookworm, and I paid for that service. One book “The Pregnant Pope” received the first review on Amazon from one of the readers, and so far it is there. The reviewer stated that he received the book for free to review it. (Full disclosure) Although I paid ChoosyBookworm, Choosy did not pay anything to the reader. Their service is to post the books readers can get for free and review these books. I think this is a fair arrangement, because reviews are tough to get.

      • This sounds like the same arrangement Bookrooster and Bookplex have, where the fee they charge is a fee for distributing the book to reviewers who promise an honest review. This doesn’t seem terribly different from traditional arrangements, like the one used by the Vine program or pretty much every major reviewer. I’d say it’s definitely different than paying for shill 5-star reviews, or in the case of Kirkus and others, paying directly for reviews. The question is, does Amazon feel there’s a difference?

  8. Is anyone else getting chased on Twitter by bots for review sites?

  9. Patricia Sierra

    “It’s OK to pay for a professional review from established magazines like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, or Midwest Book Review.”

    I knew Kirkus was supplying paid-for reviews, but didn’t know the other two did likewise.

    • Actually, PW has dropped their paid review service (and kudos to them for doing so!). They offer other paid promotional opportunities to indies, which may or may not be of use.

      If you go to the PW Booklife website and click around, you can find how to submit your indie title for free for consideration. Then it’s a multi-step process, but if your title meets their criteria, you’ll get a review in PW. My most recent historical romance picked up a starred review that way. 😉

    • I thought Midwest Book Review was for free. It was when I submitted my first series book to them. I think (at least at that time – 2013) they encouraged a donation but didn’t require it.

      • Same here. I submitted to MBR some years ago and it didn’t cost anything but the shipping on a couple of paperbacks (they didn’t accept ebooks at the time, though they might now). As I recall the book got a short review with a five star rating, but honestly I was pretty unimpressed with the review. They got the protagonist’s name wrong and from the review, I seriously doubt the reviewer had done more than skim the book. It was almost like a it had been written by filling in the forms on a template. I haven’t bothered since.

        • I think it’s a luck of the draw thing with them. My review wasn’t spectacular either but it read genuine to me and I got a really good pull quote out of it. But they don’t have any kind of consistency with series (i.e., same reviewer, second book), so I didn’t bother with them after that either.

          I had better results with a paid review from San Francisco Book Reviews – similar to PW and Kirkus but way less expensive. They were willing to work with me to ensure reviewing consistency (i.e., the same reviewer) on the first two books, and their online magazine – where they feature the reviews – is very nice. But I didn’t have confidence in the return (or exposure) so didn’t use them for the next two books in the series.

          Series are hard to get consistent reviews for on the later books if they’re not standalone.

  10. I know it’s frustrating to wait for legitimate readers’ responses, and, yes, the paid promotion sites like BookBub care about nothing but the number of reviews before allowing you to pay then many hundreds of dollars to give away your books. But really, isn’t any success that comes via paid reviews and BookBub really worth it in dollars paid for other books and for future success down the line?

    Well, maybe it is, but I don’t want it, not at the price of my integrity.

    • Bookbub accepted one of my titles with only 7 reviews, another with 10. They are one part of a larger set of criteria.

    • Yeah, I think like Jason mentioned, BookBub isn’t interested solely in number of reviews; they’re trying to present to their readership the best possible deals their readers would be interested in. I think paid reviews as mentioned in the article are problematic, but paid promotion (like BookBub) has its place, and I don’t think it really dings anyone’s integrity to use them.

      But hey, could be just me.

      • I don’t believe it. They rejected a new release of mine because it didn’t have enough reviews, and I have won a national award with one of the books in my series. What other criteria are they looking for???

        • What other criteria are they looking for???

          Besides the number of reviews, they are looking for the star scores from those reviews.

        • Take heart. BookBub works in mysterious ways. My SWAG is that they keep track of how successful their mailers are. If a certain genre or even subject sells well, they select similar books.

        • They are looking for many things. Does your novel fit squarely into one of their categories? (I’ve actually read many of your books and though they are mystery I think they would be a hard sell to their audience). Do you have a lot of other books for sell through? (They use Amazon affiliate codes to make more money). Etc. Professional catchy covers, enticing blurbs, relatable genres. They take a lot into consideration.

          • Oh, thanks, S.J. I’m becoming philosophical about not fitting some expectations.

            • I can’t get a Bookbub for many of the same reasons! I also write Japan-inspired fiction (mine are scifi romances) and they don’t fit into BB’s genre criteria either so I continually get rejected. I keep trying though! It’s like a badge of honor at this point. Lol.

      • You’re not alone, Will.

  11. The reviewers at those journals are trained and vetted professionals writing for well known magazines that have a reputation to uphold—not a bunch of guys in a cafe in Sri Lanka stringing together a few words for five bucks.

    You know, I agree with the overall argument, but this seems like a strange way to position this sentiment. How are reviewers trained and vetted? If training and vetting is important, shouldn’t writers be both, as well? I’m guessing the Sri Lanka thing is a reference to websites like Fiverr et al., but it seems a little overly dismissive.

    • In my experience, professional reviewers (the ones that used to post their reviews in major newspapers) are men and women who have built their reputation on reviewing a specific genre and bring a wealth of experience about the genre to the job. In other words, they have read most of the important books in their area.
      And yes, their views matter more than a reader review does, though reader reviews tend to give a very special personal pleasure.

      • And yes, their views matter more than a reader review does, though reader reviews tend to give a very special personal pleasure.

        Matter more to whom?

        • Well, I think to both readers and author. Readers can be snobs when it comes to the books they want.

          • I agree we are blessed by an abundance of snobs. But I question what percentage of readers are snobs and can name a single professional reviewer in a major newspaper.

            I also question how many consumers even read a newspaper that has a book reviewer.

            Truth in posting. I can’t name a single reviewer in a major newspaper. I suspect I have lots of company.

            So, those reviewers may matter to some, but I doubt they have a material effect on the market.

  12. This idiot wonders the problems one could cause other writers by paying for reviews for their books … (one of those, “I have no idea how/where that came from.” moments …)

  13. Let’s get over the fallacy that Kirkus is in anyway different from the guy on Fiverr. You pay both of them, both of them give you a review.

  14. First, paying Kirkus for a review is no different than paying Joe Blow for a review. If money exchanges hands, you have a problem. I don’t care how “unbiased” they claim to be or how seasoned or experienced. To my mind, if they’re getting paid by the author or publisher to do reviews, the reviews are tainted.

    Secondly, there is absolutely NO reason for an indie author to pay for a review from an industry company like Kirkus. Kirkus reviews are meant to impress sales staffs at publishing houses (and make them work harder at promoting the book) and hopefully help convince distributors and bookstores take a bigger order.

    This has no value whatsoever to the indie author, because his or her audience is the reader, not the middleman, and most readers don’t give a damn about Kirkus. The more effective use of your time would be to find other authors, with large followings, to read and hopefully blurb your book. Even those aren’t all THAT powerful, but many readers trust their favorite author a lot more than they do some anonymous reviewer from an entity they’ve never heard of.

    Industry reviews are a sales tool for industry books to sell to industry representatives.

    • Not to disenchant you about blurbs (reviewlets) provided by famous authors, but a number of them are rumored to be extremely generous to new authors, just asking, “Tell me what you want me to say!” Those guys don’t have the time to read all the books sent to them by hopeful new authors. Of course, some of them will provide a flattering comment if their publisher wants them to push another author.

      Sorry, but you get cynical if you’re in this business for a while.

  15. If Amazon changed the title “Customer Reviews” to “Reviews,” would it be OK to pay for them?

  16. I paid for a review from Kirkus, and in my opinion it was a waste of money. It was not a review, but a synopsis of my book. And where do you post it? On my Website? I can do that myself.

  17. For reviews other thing to consider is to give free books or eBooks on GoodReads and LibraryThing. Reviews are not obligatory, but I got a few reviews for those freebies.

  18. Thank you everyone for all the opinion, advice and insight into paid reviews, particularly Kirkus. You saved me $500!

  19. Thanks for picking up this post and spreading the word, PG. I’m getting so much Twitter spam from these review sites! Some even claim to be affiliated with Amazon. They dupe a lot of naive authors who think it’s “the way things are done.” The lawsuits should help.

  20. I have over 100 first cousins. No need to buy anything!

  21. please dont pay kirkus or whomever else, including PW, past or future, for ‘reviews.’ Just dont.

    PW and Kirkus and Library Journal all struggle for money. They are in direct competition covering the pub scene, including slices taken away by Publisher’s Lunch, online, etc. Each has a hierarchy that has struggled over the decades to give pre-press on books, mainly to indie bookstores and libraries, to cover firings and moves and deaths in the pub /certain authors industry. The libraries are not even close to what they once were with the influx now of indie and trad ebooks and media. The indie bookstores are also not what they once were in the late 80s to mid 90s when Kirkus and PW and LIb J. had far more reach.

    I’d suggest something far more radical/old fashioned. Assuming many who review your book on amz, for instance, are not your 100 first cousins [man, Joseph B, you are SO lucky to have so many kin– I hope you all enjoy the heck out of each other] but peeps you do not know.

    Amz doesnt allow you their email addys. Yet THAT is where immense gold is hidden. It has been a business truism since forever, to increase reach and sales, go mine your list of previous and current customers FIRST. Easy. And Right before your eyes.

    So, suggest you make your author’s page at anz with prominent website url on it, [and dont know if Amz allows it, but if so, then subtle/strong mention that there is a giveaway on your website [of say, two page story] or whatever you like.

    At your website, set up that short story to be sent on autoresponder when people give you their email addy. Build your email list, and mail them at least two items… news on what you are working on along with your thanks to them for reading your book[s], and also a giveaway of a not yet pub’d book raffle, say, for those readers who submit at least 2 emails of those they think might be interested in your genre/books- in order to qualify for raffle.

    Reassure that emails are held confidentially and never sold or rented, and that there is also always an unsubscribe button on each email. Then proceed with your contest. This could coincide with release of your new book to amz and elsewhere, too

    The thing is that reviews, even and especially hundreds, cannot be read by all buyers. But the number of decent-good reviews can call attention to the items. I tend to already know what book I want when I shop, so dont read reviews. However, when I buy appliances or art supplies or household necessities, I will read top and most recent best and worst reviews to see what’s what, and also I will click on reviewer’s name to see if they are a one-time reviewer, a negative reviewer for kicks across the board, a reviewer who didnt buy the product there, or a balanced/sincere seeming reviewer of many items, many kinds of items.

    the most aggravating reviews are those that dis a book or a product because it didnt please their personal idea of what it ought to have been, according to them, not with regard to what it is and how the inventor/author intended it. The reviews I like best on appliances, small household items, esp are pros and cons that are honest and have an analysis with them. The one’s I like best on books are ones that actually read significant or all of book, that in their own words give a synopsis that may sometimes be better understood than flap copy the author or pub wrote. Those are valuable re books I know nothing about coming in.

  22. forgot to mention, you can through amz contact a reviewer of your book there, and ask if ok to quote fro,m their review for your newsletter. you have to go through amazon to contact the person. Not sure who the reviews at amz ‘belong to’… the person who wrote them? amz?

    • I can’t find it, but fairly sure something somewhere (not on the guidelines I’m looking at now) gives Amazon a non-exclusive right to use your review, but by virtue of writing it the copyright belongs to the author of the review, just like with a book.

      Edit to add: Also, I suspect that quoting a small portion of the review comes under fair use. But you can be sure by asking permission to quote a portion. I’ve had that happen a lot and can’t imagine a situation where I wouldn’t say “go ahead.”

    • Yes, the reviewer maintains copyright.

      If you do quote from an Amazon review, and can’t locate the reviewer to ask permission, it’s probably best to quote only a few words then link back to the original review.

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