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Paying for a professional book review? Here’s how to avoid getting ripped off

professional book review

While Amazon doesn’t let you pay for reader reviews, you are allowed to pay for and share a professional book review. To help you avoid getting ripped off, I asked my friends at BlueInk Review for advice on how to identify a legit review service. BlueInk Review offers objective reviews of independently and traditionally published books. Its reviewers are writers largely drawn from major mainstream publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and notable blogs, as well as editors from respected publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine, a highly respected review publication that reaches 60,000 librarians. Our guest blogger is Patti Thorn, a managing partner at BlueInk. 

Paying for a professional book review? Here’s how to avoid getting ripped off

By Patti Thorn

You’ve written your book and now – deep breath! – it’s time to get it reviewed. This can seem a daunting process: Who do you trust with a book you’ve been working on for months and even years?

Fortunately, there are many legitimate review sources who can provide carefully considered, professional reviews, including review companies that charge a fee and guarantee a review for most types of books. This makes it as easy as sliding your book in a mailing envelope or uploading your PDF.

But, as in every field, there are also scammers willing to take your money and provide a substandard product that will do you little good in convincing readers to buy your book, let alone persuading bookstore owners and librarians to stock it.

Legitimate review source…or not?

professional book review

7 questions to ask

So, how can you tell the difference between legitimate paid review sources and fakes?

Ask yourself these seven questions.

1. Is the review source respected and well-known in the publishing world?

Sure, you can get a review from Joe Blogger who has a following of five people, but if readers don’t know the name, they aren’t likely to put much trust the review. Spending your money with a company or blogger that has name recognition and a proven track record is a better investment.

2. Does the professional book review company tell you who their reviewers are and what qualifications they have?

Some companies recruit the neighbor next door, the friend at a book club, the sometime-blogger who wants a little extra cash.

But reviewing is a difficult job that requires real expertise.

The neighbor may love to read, but does she have enough background in a specific genre to know when the author has met the requirements of the genre or cleverly broken the mold? Can she articulate what is right and what is wrong with a book in a way that readers and the author will clearly understand? Can she be objective with a book that she might not normally read, seeing its value for others?

Professional book reviewing is a difficult job that requires real expertise.Click to tweet

This is not a hobby. It’s a profession.

Be sure that the reviewers can live up to these standards. Look for reviewers that have written for mainstream publications or reputable websites, edited for publishing houses, published books of their own, or have expertise in a specific subject matter.

3. Is the company offering customer reviews that they promise to post on Amazon?

Everyone is looking to get reviews on Amazon. But buying customer reviews is against the site’s policy and a sure way to ruin your reputation and get you and your books kicked off that important retail site.

4. Are the reviews accepted by Amazon and Barnes & Noble in their editorial review slots (vs. the consumer review section)?

Professional reviews are eligible for placement in the editorial review sections on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s site. This indicates a higher level of trustworthiness than reviews that run in the customer section.

5. How much does the company charge for a professional book review?

Of course, it’s great to get a review for $50, but that’s barely enough to keep a company running, let alone pay reviewers a fair sum. While no one is going to get rich writing reviews, legit companies pay reviewers and themselves, which will be reflected in the cost of the review.

6. Who are the people behind the company?

Do they have experience in the publishing world? Running a professional review service requires background knowledge of the industry and experience in matching books to the right reviewers.

You also want a service that can edit reviews for fairness and balance.

7. What is the quality of the reviews the company has provided in the past?

Are they well-written: articulate, concise, well-organized, and clear? Do they offer coherent, easy-to-follow summaries of the book? Do they support their criticisms with examples from the book?

Check the website for previously written reviews.

Beware of reviews where the critic makes broad statements that seem highly personal, rather than well-considered. For example: “I didn’t like the characters,” is a far different from “The characters seem stereotypical and flat, displaying either all-positive characteristics or all negative.”

“Beware of reviews where the critic makes broad statements that seem highly personal, rather than well-considered.”

Additionally, if all the reviews are positive, this isn’t a review company, it’s a flattery factory.

Legit companies offer as many reviews that are mixed and negative as they do positive ones. That’s because it’s hard to write a great book – and most books falter in one area or another.

What’s on their website?

Click around the professional book review company’s website with these questions in mind:

  • Are reviewers and their qualifications listed?
  • Can you see other reviews?
  • Is the price clearly designated?
  • Does the site display detailed testimonials?
  • Does the site explain where the reviews will be seen?

Remember, when it comes to your book, not only are you looking for a review that will help you market your book, you are also looking for constructive feedback that you can trust.

When it comes to your book, not only are you looking for a professional review that will help you market your book, you are also looking for constructive feedback that you can trust.Click to tweet

While everyone dreams of a rave review, one that offers honest constructive criticism can be a godsend in the long run.

For that, you need the real thing.

Have you paid for a professional book review? Tell us about the experience in a comment. 

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  1. Kirkus Indie, which is a paid review service, offers a much different level of quality than its traditional review service (at least according to my experience). A book I co-wrote was called “humdrum” and trashed by the reviewer. We circled back with pointed notes that they clearly missed the point of the book and overlooked key details but the review wasn’t changed (the review was never published). This, after a separate traditionally published book I ghostwrote was called “a gem” by Kirkus. It was very disappointing to see such a gap in quality with Kirkus Indie, which is propped up by an established and respected name.

    1. Great feedback, Dan. Thanks. You expect this in a reader review (I’ve had it happen), but not in a professional review that you paid for. The only positive in this is that if you don’t like a Kirkus Indie review, it won’t be published, right? I wonder if your situation was a fluke. Hmmm….


      1. I was also ripped off by Kirkus. They charge hundreds of dollars, and I expected a professional review. Instead, the review was done by someone who was either incompetent or had no affinity for the type of book I submitted. I’m a former librarian and have written many book reviews myself, so I believe I know the earmarks of a competent one. I’ve also won several awards for my writing. Kirkus failed my book and didn’t respond when I sent an objection to the review. I recommend avoiding Kirkus.

        1. Ahhhh, Michael, I’m sorry this happened to you. But I love this feedback. I’m thinking that I should contact Kirkus to see what they have to say. I interviewed an editor there several years ago for a blog post; it might be time to revisit that. Thank you!


  2. About ten years ago I purchased a Kirkus Review. (The Indie category was not available at that time.) The weeks went by with no review. I had to write to ask when it would be forthcoming. I got the impression it was then put together very quickly, as they used exact wording from my own description and, as Ms. Thorn said in her article, it did feel a bit like a “flattery factory”. Were they trying to placate me because the review was late? This spring I purchased a set of three reviews from Readers’ Favorite. They were delivered on time, two were helpful but sounded a bit unprofessional, the third, by good chance, was extremely helpful, to the point of notating typos by page number. Without her input, I would have said the experience was good but not great. I agree with Ms. Thorn: check out the credentials of the reviewers.

    1. Thanks, Karen! What do you mean by “unprofessional?” Did they read more like reader reviews?


  3. I had a bad experience with Kirkus as well. I sincerely doubt the person even read the book since their criticism didn’t make sense and it read like something a high school student (and not a very bright one) would write. The fact they “protect” their reviewers by not revealing their name is not a good sign, either. I suspect they deliberately trash indie books and toss them out to anyone looking to make a few bucks. That same book got a very nice, professional review and 5-stars from Readers’ Favorite that included the reviewer’s name. Furthermore, the book eventually went on to win four awards. I think Kirkus is the worst of the worst, especially considering what they charge.

    1. Wow, Marcha! I hope you complained to Kirkus Indie with a request that they stop using that reviewer. People like that give the program a bad name, and you can’t sell authors on services when people who have gone before you have a legitimate complaint about what they paid for. Your experience is with the reviewer, not the company, and that reviewer should have been ousted.


  4. These comments just make me think it’s probably better all around if I go with reader reviews from a reviewing service. I’m just as likely to get good as bad feedback, and if I can get more eyes on my work, Amazon won’t care since the reviewers aren’t paid, unless you consider providing an ARC as payment. I volunteer with a reviewing agency that charges a fee to authors for providing readers who will write reviews. Authors pay for the service, and in exchange readers who receive free digital copies of their books leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as in blogs and other places online. I’d rather spend my money that way…it’s probably cheaper and at least some of the reviews will be fair and honest.

    1. Thanks, Karen. I see your logic. One of the takeaways for me from this discussion goes to Patti’s second point — who are the professional reviewers? That seems to make a big difference. A reader review service is a whole different animal.


  5. BlueInk Review started off great with terrific reviewers. I appreciated the feedback on five reviews they did for me whether the reviews were positive or negative. Then, they started giving me reviews which were poorly done. For example, I had to write to them to have them acknowledge a book they reviewed was about the pandemic. How does that fly under the radar? They then added a sentence to the review to try to make up for their error. Then, more recently, they reviewed my last book without focusing in on the topic of religion (what the book was about) and making an opinion that a character was unlikable. Subjective? Yes. Accurate? Not so sure. I guess the message I am trying to get across is that I felt ripped off by BlueInk when they didn’t originally mention what my two recent books were mainly about (the pandemic and religion). It has steered me away from writing and publishing books as frequently as I was. Though I am sure I will publish again, I will have to avoid most paid reviews. Just not working for me. $400 a review and not many sales to show for it! BlueInk could improve by focusing on the topic the book is about before submitting a negative review to the writer. And yes I’ve been scammed by non professional book reviewers who took money and put something positive up that wasn’t so thought-provoking and probably bogus. I expect less from a $50 review than a $400 one, though. But, you shouldn’t have to tell a book reviewer company that the main premise of the book should be in the review. I don’t know. These last two reviews have been bugging me for two years. BlueInk at one point set the standard for me. Now I wonder how thoroughly they read the last two books I sent them. The pandemic book definitely raised an eyebrow when they didn’t mention the pandemic. The other book they could have read, but if BlueInk wants to provide me specific examples (at least three) of how my character was unlikable outside of the review, I’d be curious to see it.

    1. I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed with their reviews, Thomas. Regarding this point — “$400 a review and not many sales to show for it!” — I’m not sure why you’re linking low sales to the review.


  6. I have so much to say and I feel I’ve said enough to BlueInk. I’m sure some people have had lovely experiences with BlueInk who write less frequently than I do. It was my belief that reviews drove sales initially especially if they were positive but regardless of the outcome of the reviews I’ve received (from any source), I’ve never seen sales go up. The only time I seem to sell books is when I interact with people in person. Again-my experience, probably not everyone else’s. I saw people saying bad things about Kirkus here which prompted me to post. I’ve always felt Kirkus was thorough in their analyses–again positive or negative. I re-read BlueInk’s review of my last book and felt it was rather harsh. I asked for a review and I got a review. Hopefully we get some positive posts here to lighten things up. Thanks for the reply.
    PS Authors would probably like to hope the $400 they spend on a review would lead to sales. As you pointed out, not the case.

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