Showing posts with label paid-for reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label paid-for reviews. Show all posts

Fraught with Dangers, Writing Reviews Can Also Be Great Marketing Tools

What Writers Should Know Before They Take on

Reviewing as a Marketing Tool or an Income Stream

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career

Reputable reviewers have been writing (and being paid for) their reviews for decades—at least back to the 1920s.  The ones that get paid collect their checks from literary journals and other media industry including journalists who have steady jobs or freelance for newspapers. They do not get paid by authors or publishers. This model works well primarily because 1. The reviewer gets paid and 2. The reviewer will not feel obligated to be positive about a book when they otherwise would choose to be more critical.

This is an ideal setup because the reviewer does not “owe” the author of publisher anything but an honest and fair review and, in return, readers and audiences of this kind of media can trust the reviews they read. The model has worked for a long time, but the Internet has changed things. Yelp. Rotten Tomatoes. How do we know which reviewers can be trusted, which have an agenda other than telling it like it is. Which have the kind of knowledge to judge a work of art including books beyond, “I just liked it,”  or “I just hate…” You get the idea.

As authors or other writing professionals, our reputations are at stake when we write reviews, even when we weigh in on what Amazon calls “reader reviews.” The readers of our reviews should feel confident that we are abiding by journalistic and publishing standards. We should feel completely free to get paid by a third party or to review at no charge, but we need to be cautious about writing fair and honest reviews. That means we should avoid trolling (or accepting) writers and publishers as our clients. Reputable review sites exist and we should protect our reputations by reviewing only for those that have ethical guidelines and was should maintain those same standards when we review free or as unprofessional readers online.

There is a debate going on right now about how college athletes have been denied access to honest opportunities to earn money by endorsing products while they are still in college. People are finally seeing that this is a different thing—that by denying them their right to use their talents when they are in their prime, they are also denying them lessons learned in a capitalist society where entrepreneurship is encouraged and sometimes denying them a lucrative adult life because of it.  I see quite a few parallels here for new reviewers, too.  Would we want to deny a child one of the pleasures of reading—and or learning early on that writing is a worthy talent.

Most fourth-grade teachers use writing reviews as a valid learning tool.  I’m sure a standards board would say it is fine line. Here are the advantages of writing reviews and using them as a teaching tool.  

1.    Reviews encourage young people to read.

2.    Instructors can use reviews to teach analytical skills.

3.    Instructors can use reviews to teach ethics.

4.    Reviews can give writers a sense that their skills are valued in monetary ways, even by the culture at large.

When choosing a media to write reviews for a writer should check to be sure . . .

1.    That there is a third party who stands between the publisher and the author. That keeps the professional reviewer (anyone who get paid for a review is a professional) ethical just as there is an editor at fine Literary Journals or reputable newsletters who acts as a “dividers” or “protectors.” They see to it that their magazine’s style choices are adhered to and enforce that the reviewer is doing a professional / ethical job.

2.    That the medium they have choses—online or print—has a reputation. Perhaps by doing a Google church or asking other professionals about their reputation.

Parents have also been known to use reviews as a teaching tool. I had a friend who, ahem!...bribed . . . her kids to read books. It was a pay-per-book book approach to encourage reading. I was not crazy about this kind of child rearing, but I became more accepting when I discovered that the paid-activity often encourages children to go on to become writers or editors. Obviously, such a plan works as an opportunity for teaching ethics and for carefully selecting suitable reading material. This kind of bribe isn’t very different from the idea that kids have earn their grades by reading books for eons, right?

All reviewers—the ones who write for ethics-minded entities either for-pay or on Amazon or other entities for free, often receive a free review copy of the book. There is a new ethical standard that asks them to add a disclaimer in their reviews to that effect. All reviews have a commercial aspect about them (remember the grades the fourth-grader is earning), but they are also about encouraging reading, building an informative Amazon buy page, networking, sharing.  In other words, they are great marketing tools when used appropriately. They should influence the sales statistics only in ways that true professional reviews have for years. No agendas. No slash and burn. Did I say, honest and fair? Throw “balanced” into that equation!

Artists of all kinds may use the magic of “free” to boost their careers.  It is a way to get exposure.  It is a feel-good activity.  Those of us who do it make it easier to eventually get paid for what we do, but we may also make it harder for professionals to charge for similar work.

Look at accomplished writers and speakers who are often expected to offer those services free to writers’ conferences, podcasts, TV, radio, etc.  Those media could pay, but they don’t because they don’t have to.  That makes it harder for people in the arts to make a decent living. So when I do it, I am aware that I am depriving my fellow writers an opportunity to use these services as an income source.  But I also know that my refusal alone wouldn’t help them one iota. It is a hard decision to make.  After careful consideration, we must always decide for ourselves.  

If you are considering writing reviews, learn more about the plusses, the dangers, and the how-tos from my very fat volume on the subject, the third in my HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers
How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career .

Whether you are writing reviews or trying to find reviewers to assess your book—fairly and ethically—you may be surprised at how much more there is to know about reviews, including dozens of ways to let reviews make your book a classic or boost its sales.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning #HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. The flagship book, #TheFrugalBookPromoter, was recently released by Modern History Press in its third edition. calls it “a classic.” Tweet with her @frugalbookpromo.

Authors Can Get Reviews Without Paying for Them!

Are you going to plunk down your $ for something tainted?  Carolyn Berates the Skunk-Like Odor Emanating from Paid-For Reviews

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, award-winning author of The Frugal Book Promoter, now in its third edition
from Modern History Press

There is an old saying: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I’m revising the adage to: “An old dog can go terribly awry when it tries a new trick.”

Furthermore, by the time a dog is old, he should know better than to take on something that smacks of the word ‘trick’ and he should sure as heck know when to turn up his nose at something that smells like skunk!

No, I’m not losing my mind. And, you may have guessed, I’m not talking about dogs here. I’m talking about the venerable Kirkus Reviews that has been respected by authors and librarians everywhere since 1933 and dozens or others with respectable names among publishers and authors. It is published in print 24 times a year, and has an online branch as well. It critiques some 5,000 titles--books of all kinds--in that period of time. It wields enormous power. A Kirkus review (or lack of one) can make or break a book by influencing the major book buyers in the country--both bookstores and libraries.

Back when I started writing, I wrote to their editors taking them to task for not attaching the names of the reviewer to each of their reviews. Kirkus’ own site says “The reviews are reliable and authoritative, written by specialists selected for their knowledge and expertise in a particular field.” It doesn’t say that these reviews are often (always?) unsigned. It seems to me that anyone with the kind of influence these critics wield over the welfare of a book should be willing--nay, required-- to attach her name to whatever praise or vitriol she dishes out and I told them so. It was my journalism ethics class that made me do it.

That was nearly two decades ago and and it wasn’t long before they upped their game. They violated my sense of ethics by taking paid-for reviews.

Here is what has ticked me off: Kirkus still offers a service to self-publishers and POD authors (and, it has come to light more recently) big publishers who feel their books were passed over unjustly. This isn’t a new ploy.  Fly-by-night reviewers have been preying on desperate authors in this way for some time but Kirkus should know better.

Such Pay-for-Review works against authors two ways. First an entity like Kirkus knows that books it chooses not to review will be their most likely paying customers; this is not a situation that encourages a just, even-handed selection process. Not that the method has ever been something that assured all worthy authors of consideration, but at least there was no reason for this journal--or any other-- not to attempt to choose the crème de la crème of submitted books, or at least the books that best fit their editorial needs.

Second: There is no way that a reviewer who is being paid by the author or publisher of the same work under consideration can offer a fair review to her readers. After all, if the journal bashed 9 of 10 of these books, pretty soon no one would be paying them for a reviewing service! Further, no matter how fair the critique, it cannot be trusted any more than one trusts the press secretaries and spin doctors who work for this or any other president’s administration; when one is in the employ of another, one’s attitude is forever changed, for better or worse.

One of our industry’s promotion gurus recently informed his newsletter subscribers of this new “perk” offered by Kirkus. It would naturally appeal to his readers, many of whom are independent or small publishers or emerging authors. He said, “Do I think this is a good deal? No, probably not.” He feels that because of Kirkus’ fine reputation, it might be worth the fee (several hundred dollars!) for the value of being able to quote something positive from Kirkus.

He isn’t exactly wrong. He’s looking at this like the great promoter he is--something I, with a book out like The Frugal Book Promoter am in total sympathy with. But he isn’t exactly right either. The “assets”  that a publisher or author might reap from plunking down their hard-earned cash is going to be tainted--if not right now then later when people figure out that something here, truly stinks.

I’m dating myself with this story, but in the old days, journalism schools had ethics classes and they still do. We were told not to take out-and-out bribes or to accept gifts and to be very careful to write careful, clean, unbiased copy. TV reared its inexperienced head and producers hadn’t any training in journalism--or, obviously, ethics. The payola scandals emerged from the lush, rich land of TVland and everyone got squeaky clean because now (gasp!) the public had their number.

Well, I’m here to tell you that this is akin to the payola scandals. We have here another cycle. This kind of thing undermines the public trust and that public includes book buyers and the wholesale level and book readers at the retail level.  Thanks to a higher power who loves books we still have Library Journal and a few good newspapers but I worry. So far, Kirkus leads, makes a lot of money and others follow. And if so, our only hope will be to quit using their d--- products so they’ll die a well-deserved death! Let’s hear it from the public.  “Do not foul our free press! Leave our opinion pages and criticism unpolluted.”

If you think I am over-reacting, consider: Our Democratic system is based on free speech and our free press is its watchdog. Speaking of dogs again, they tend to have good noses. Mine is lots less astute and even I can smell something rotten in the publishing world.

More About Today’s Guest:

Carolyn, author of the multi award-winning #HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers, has given up trying to convince periodicals who suffer from a very thin profit margin from backtracking and has instead turned to a book telling authors and publishers hoe to avoid the pay-for review scam and do it effectively. Find her  How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career at

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson Tells Truth About Why You Need to Get Reviews for Your Book Yourself

I thought I'd share an excerpt from my newly released How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically with you Writers on the Move subscribers and visitors. It's all part of its launch celebration. Learn more about it at 

Why Getting Great Reviews Is Your Job
In spite of a contract or even an advance your publisher may not be a true publisher. True publishing includes the marketing of a book. Think big names like HarperCollins and Knopf. They assign a marketing budget to your book and an actual marketing department complete with actual human-type marketers who are trained in the specialized field of not just marketing, but marketing books. Except for those who write only for pleasure, there is no reason to publish a book that doesn’t get read. 
And here’s more: Big publishers are relying on bloggers for their review process as print journals and newspaper book sections shrink or disappear and as they begin to understand that grassroots publicity—reviews or otherwise—can produce a very green crop. Bloggers, you say? Well, that’s a resource pool you can easily plumb yourself
Some publishers—even traditional publishers—may not respect tradition, be uncooperative or goof. One of my writing critique partners was published with a fine press. When she learned they had not sent advance review copies of her literary novel to the most prestigious review journals before their strict sixteen-week deadline, she was naturally upset. They explained it was a snafu that could not be fixed. That was no comfort at all. It did help her to know that because thousands of galleys sent to the important review publications lie fallow in slush piles, the chances of having a book reviewed by a major journal—even one published traditionally let alone getting a glowing review—is remote. Because she had me to nag her, she moved on to alternative marketing and review-getting strategies found in Chapter Six of this book. Using those methods, she was still able to schedule several major bookstore appearances that tend to favor established names and rely on big-journal reviews in their decision-making process. Nevertheless, it’s not the kind of loss any author wants to face.
These days most small publishers have no marketing department—or marketing plan. In fact, many admit that when it comes to marketing, you are on your own. No offense, publishers. I know many of you do a terrific job considering the profit margin in publishing these days. Let’s face it, you can use help, and you don’t need to deal with disappointed (irate?) authors. And, authors! We are ultimately responsible for our own careers. Sometimes when we wait to take responsibility, it is too late in the publishing game.
Some publishers charge the author an additional or separate fee for marketing. Many who offer marketing packages do not offer a review-getting package. If they do, the review their authors get is a paid-for review, which is definitely not the route you want to go. More on that later in this chapter.
Many publishers do not even have lists of people to contact who might help your marketing with endorsements or reviews. Further, many big publishers are relying on bloggers for their review process more and more as print journals and newspaper book sections shrink or disappear and as they begin to understand that grassroots publicity—reviews or otherwise—can produce a very green crop. And bloggers? Well, that’s a resource pool you can easily plumb yourself. 
My first publisher supplied review copies only upon written request from individual reviewers. They did not honor requests generated by their authors’ initiatives. This meant that I could not count on them to supply books to reviewers I had successfully queried for a review. Unless the reviewer accepted e-copies (and many reviewers don’t!), I had to order copiesdirectly from the publisher and then reship them to my reviewers. This method is slow, cumbersome, unnecessarily expensive, unprofessional, and discourages authors from trying to get reviews on their own. 
Publishers should offer review copies to a list of reviewers—even unestablished grassroots bloggers—who have been responsive to their authors in the past. And they certainly should not charge an author for review copies. Publishers have a profit margin and publicity obtained by their authors (including reviews) affects their bottom line, too. They should send their author a thank you (or a red rose!) along with encouragement to keep up the good work
Publishers should also market their books. That means that even if they are too small or underfunded to have a marketing department, they should have a list of reviewers to query for reviews, a list of influential people to provide blurbs for your cover, access to book cover designers (not just great graphic designers) who know what sells books, and a whole lot more. Ask potential publishers about their marketing process before you sign, but—even if you feel assured after having that conversation—it’s best to assume you may be on your own. 
So, the marketing part of your book that includes finding the right reviewers to read and comment on your book will—in most cases—be up to you and well within your skill set after reading this book. And even when you have the luxury of a marketing department behind you, those authors who know how to get reviews on their own can keep a book alive for an infinite amount of time after their publishers relegate their books to a backlist or their contract expires.
Note: If it is too late to apply this information to the process you use in choosing a publisher, tactfully take hold and guide the publisher you have through the review process. There are lots of ways to do that in this book. I love Nike’s advice to “Just do it!” only I add “yourself” to the motto. Many publishers are in your employ. You may be paying them for services. At the very least, when your book sells, it makes money for the publisher. You don’t have to ask for permission (though it never hurts to listen to their reasoning before you make a decision).
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her next book in the HowToDoItFrugally series for writers will be How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. 
The author loves to travel. She has visited eighty-nine countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her Web site is

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