Do Paid-For Reviews Hurt Authors?

The answer to that question, it appears, depends on what side of the aisle you fall — author or reader. 

So I was following an author for a spell, keeping an eye on the release of their first novel. Within a week they were pushing 20 reviews. All five-star. And all, notoriously, brief. This hinted at the possibility that these reviews were actually paid for, part of the marketing strategy to boost early sales of the book. I surmised this because:

  1. The bulk of the reviews were one paragraph and very generic. A punchy caption followed by stuff like, “This book was a page-turner!” “Couldn’t put it down!” and “Can’t wait for the next!” With minimal specifics about the actual story. 
  2. The reviewers had very few, if any, others reviews. The idea being, they didn’t do book reviews very often. This was a short-term gig. 

After concluding that the author was paying for reviews, it turned me off. I never purchased the book as a result. 

Was I being unreasonable? 

There is significant debate among indie authors about the possible benefits and/or ethics behind purchasing reviews. On the “pro” side are those who argue that indie authors are already at a disadvantage against trade-pubbed authors who have trade pubbed books reviewed by trade media via ad dollars. Besides, many businesses, not just authors but restaurants, travel agencies, etc., already purchase positive reviews as a matter of course. On the “con” side are those who argue that impartial reviews are ethically sound, that authors should not stoop to the level of crass business, and that a good book should be able to sell itself apart from artificial hype. 

In an increasingly competitive market, I can understand why an author would pay for bulk reviews. No. This isn’t something I’m planning on doing any time soon. Nevertheless, from my vantage point, “fake” reviews don’t seem to hurt many book’s sales… unless it’s to fellow authors like myself

I could be wrong, but basic readers — as opposed to writers who are paying attention to books in their genre, publishing practices, and market specifics — don’t seem to pay too much attention to other reviews. At least, they don’t seem to be asking, “Is this review fake?” If the average reader is looking at reviews at all, it is generically – “How many five-star reviews does this book have?” Meaning that paid-for reviews could be the perfect advertising tool. Why should the author wait for a glowing, detailed, five-star review to arrive — IF it arrives at all — when she can pay for a dozen splashy five-star snippets on release day? 

Either way, I never bought the aforementioned book. Apparently, that hasn’t hurt its sales. Or stopped the brief, generic, five-star reviews from rolling in. Which brings me back to my initial question: Do paid-for reviews hurt authors? Unless you’re one of those nit-picky, attempting-to-be-ethical, non-businessy, novelists like me, the answer seems to be “no.”

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the
rockin’ Rachelle
Gardner
of Books & Such
Literary
. Mike’s novels include The Ghost Box, The TellingThe
Resurrection
, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly
released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com, or follow
him on Facebook and Twitter.