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More than a few indie authors use paid reviews as a promotion tool.
The big dogs in this business are Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.
PG understands that both PW and Kirkus use a lot of freelancers for their reviews. PG is not aware that either company publicizes the amount it pays freelancers for a review, but people who claim to be doing this work now or claiming to have done this work in the past few years report a range of fees earned. PG has not seen/heard of any number above $100 as the amount the freelancer receives. Other numbers bandied about include $50 or $25 per review.
Of course, PW and Kirkus charge indie authors much more for a paid review.
According to its website, Kirkus charges $425 for a “Traditional Review”.
Publishers Weekly says “BookLife Reviews will be written by Publishers Weekly reviewers.” On the Booklife.com website, one learns that the cost is “$399 for a complete review with takeaway, comp titles, and design and production grades, written by an expert Publishers Weekly reviewer, with a six-week turnaround time.” Four-week turnaround costs $100 more.
Seems like a reasonable deal. Including reviews in promotions, advertisements, KDP descriptions, etc., seems to help sell books for indie authors. Basically, the calculation goes something like this: “If I spend $425 on Kirkus, will placing an excerpt from a “Kirkus Reviews” reviewer in my book description sell enough additional books to earn back $425 in increased royalties?
Since both companies are continuing to offer this paid review service, PG concludes that a lot of indie authors are happy with the results they see from their investments.
So, beyond the blurb-quote, what does a PW or Kirkus individual (likely freelance) reviewer deliver for the $50 or so she/he receives?
PG understands that some reviews that indie authors have received have included factually-inaccurate statements about the book’s content. Something the reviewer said was in the book was not, in fact, in the book or other errors of a similar nature.
In other cases, some indie authors have wondered whether the reviewer read the book at all.
Perhaps most troubling, some indie authors have reported that the reviewer included some nasty criticisms about the book that have not seemed justified. The blurb was OK, but the remainder of the review was extremely disrespectful toward the author and his/her book.
According to what people in a position to know have told PG, even indie authors who have sold and continue to sell a great many books and earn very respectable royalties have received this treatment.
On a few occasions, the indie author has suspected that the only one-star review a book received on Amazon (accompanied by a nasty, sometimes factually incorrect description of the book) had been written by the same person hired by PW or Kirkus to write the paid review.
If these sorts of activities are taking place, a few questions arise in PG’s mind:
- Does anyone who is employed by Kirkus or PW on a full-time basis actually read the reviews that authors pay for to determine if they have any basis in fact?
- Is there any quality control built into the indie author review program?
- Is the difference between the $400+ the author pays PW or Kirkus and the $50 or so that the freelancer receives pure profit for PW or Kirkus?
- Does PW really use an “an expert Publishers Weekly reviewer” for its paid reviews?
- Do Kirkus and PW use the same reviewers for the paid indie reviews that they use for the reviews of traditionally-published authors that appear in the Kirkus (“Trusted since 1933”) and PW printed reviews and reviews that appear on the kirkusreviews.com and https://www.publishersweekly.com websites?
- Do Kirkus and PW have any written contracts with the freelance reviewers who write paid reviews of books by indie authors?
- If there are written contracts, is there any agreement by the freelance reviewer that she/he will write an accurate review after reading the entire book and not take any actions elsewhere that may reasonably be expected to diminish sales of the indie author’s book?
- Are any Kirkus or PW reviewers would-be traditionally-published authors who have drunk the NYC Kool-Aid that says all indie authors are trash?
A couple of additional questions arise in PG’s mind. He suspects he knows the answer, but he’ll ask them anyway.
- Do traditional publishers directly or indirectly pay for reviews of their books in PW and/or Kirkus?
- If so, how much do such Kirkus and/or PW reviews cost traditional publishers?
- Are reviews created for traditional publishers written by the same “expert Publishers Weekly reviewers” that write paid reviews for indie authors or is there a much different group of reviewers that write the TradPub reviews?
End of rhetorical questions.
PG doesn’t know if the descriptions of poor behavior he has heard about are isolated slipups in an otherwise honorable, fair, valuable and well-functioning service operated by PW and Kirkus or not.
He would be happy to hear about good or bad results from these programs from indie authors.
PG will note that some indie authors who are upset by one or more of the questionable activities described above say they will continue to use the Kirkus and PW services because they believe the blurbs still help sell enough books to more than justify the costs.
Feel free to share experiences, reactions, criticisms of PG or anyone else, etc., in the comments.
If you would prefer that such matters not show up in the Comments section of TPV, feel free to send a private message to PG via the Contact link towards the top of the blog. He not post any of the contents of those private messages without the express consent of the person who sent them.
While PG was obviously disturbed by what he heard about the Kirkus and PW programs, he hopes to hear that these are rare aberrations in a couple of publicity services that help indie authors sell more books.
Depending upon the response he receives from this post, PG may make further posts to correct, clarify or confirm what he’s described above.