Should you pay an influencer to recommend your book? Here’s how to decide

Answer these questions before you pay an influencer to recommend your book. Both your budget and reputation might be at stake.
Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains Bookshop.org links, which means if you click on them and make a purchase, I will receive a couple of pennies (at no extra charge to you) while you support independent bookstores. 

My friend Jenny recently asked what I thought about paying to have her new book recommended by influencers in her book’s category, parenting.

Jenny had two opportunities to pay an influencer to recommend her book. Each offered a variety of packages at different price points.

At the core of each package was a collection of recommended books.

Influencers create recommended reading lists

One of the influencers referred to their book recommendation list as a “book club.” Club members aren’t readers, though. They’re authors paying to get their books included on that list.

The other opportunity is a website its two owners refer to as an online magazine. They describe the site’s book collection as “a new platform on the site where we will be curating and showcasing the best books for parents and parents-to-be.”

In both cases, Jenny would pay an influencer to recommend her book. When influencers charge authors a fee to do this, it’s influencer marketing.

What is influencer marketing?

You have probably seen influencer marketing in action on Instagram, TikTok, and other social networks. An individual with a large following mentions a product by name. The product might be apparel, cookware, or a recipe ingredient, for example.

SproutSocial defines influencer marketing as “a type of social media marketing that uses endorsements and product mentions from influencers – individuals who have a dedicated social following and are viewed as experts within their niche.”

The FTC requires that influencers receiving anything of value to mention a product disclose that information when referencing the brand in a post, story, and so on. “Anything of value” includes products (“We’ll give you this jewelry to wear if you’ll photograph yourself wearing it and post the images”) and money.

This applies to you, me, and Kim Kardashian. That’s the Kim Kardashian who had to pay investors $1.26 million when she didn’t disclose that she was paid to promote a specific crypto security on Instagram.

The law requires transparency

Why is disclosure required? It’s about transparency.

If I’m recommending a product to you, you need to know that I’m being paid to recommend it. That information could influence how seriously you take my recommendation, right?

These rules apply to affiliate marketing, too. The FTC not only mandates disclosure, it requires that affiliates must state that it’s an affiliate link before the link, not after it.

This means that influencers charging authors a fee to recommend their books must disclose that paid relationship. This applies to any:

  • Collection (club, list, whatever) of recommended books
  • Newsletter mention
  • Online magazine article the author writes and pays for so they can include their book title in the writer bio

Neither of the influencers Jenny heard from include these disclosures in their sponsored content.

Both say they’re selective about what they recommend – they wouldn’t recommend just any book, for example – but is that enough?

Influencers charging authors a fee to recommend their books must disclose that paid relationship.Click to tweet

How important is transparency for you?

I’m a big fan of transparency. That means I wouldn’t pay an influencer to recommend my book without disclosure.

It’s about more than playing by the rules (and avoiding fines). I wouldn’t pay even if there were no FTC rules.

For me, it comes down to your connection with your reader.

How would you feel if you paid Influencer A to be on their recommended books list, then received a message from a reader expressing disappointment when they learned you paid for, rather than earned, your way onto that list?

Or, would you feel OK about doing the humble brag on social media about what an honor it is to be selected for that influencer’s “best books” list?


Ask yourself: How might my readers react if they learn I paid an influencer to recommend my book?

There’s no right or wrong answer to that question. It’s about what works for you.

Questions to ask when considering influencer opportunities

My response to Jenny about the opportunity for her popular new parenting book, “Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World that Misunderstands Males,” went beyond my discomfort with the lack of transparency, though.

(Jenny knew the offers “felt icky,” but hadn’t realized that it was because the influencers weren’t revealing they were paid until I mentioned that to her.)

The promotional materials used to pitch Jenny on a pay-for-placement package were heavy on what she was paying for, but light on why that was a good idea.

With that in mind, ask these six questions when weighing whether you want to pay an influencer to recommend your book. It will help you make an informed decision.

(The influencers didn’t include any of this in their pitches to Jenny.)

  • What’s the website’s traffic?

You want to make sure people will see what you’re paying for online. Because what’s considered “good traffic” varies according to niche, I can’t offer guidelines. Ask the influencer to compare their traffic to the most popular sites.

  • How are they promoting this to readers?

One of the influencers Jenny was talking to uses her Instagram account to promote her book club to authors, not readers. That’s going to help the influencer earn money, but it’s not going to help Jenny reach readers.

I wouldn’t pay for an opportunity the influencer wasn’t actively promoting to readers.

  • How many newsletter subscribers does the influencer or site have, and what’s the newsletter open rate?

This question is specifically for opportunities to have your book recommended in a newsletter, but it can apply to other situations as well. It gives you a sense of platform and reach.

Typically, the fee is linked to the number of subscribers. PracticalEcommerce notes that a parenting tips newsletter might charge $15 to $25 per thousand subscribers. This is a higher rate than general interest newsletters because the audience is more targeted. That makes it more valuable to advertisers.

(And no matter what they call it, when you’re paying to have your book recommended in a newsletter, even when the recommendation doesn’t look like an ad, it’s an ad.)

MailChimp reports that the average email open rate across all industries is 21%.

  • Do they accept all books, or do they screen for quality?

This is important because presenting your book alongside low-quality options won’t help your brand. And it could hurt it.

  • How do they meet FTC requirements for disclosing payment?

You can answer this question by reviewing examples provided. (No examples provided? Ask for them.) If transparency isn’t important to you, or the opportunity is so good that you don’t care about disclosures, skip this step.

  • What are authors saying about the program?

You want to see testimonials. If the program is so new that there aren’t any, the influencer should be charging a reduced rate until there’s traction – and should say so.

Other factors to consider before you pay

In addition to answering these questions, take into account how long your book has been available. With a pub date of April 4, 2023, “Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World that Misunderstands Males” is so new that Jenny and her publisher don’t need to pay these types of placements now.

Also consider how well it’s selling. Jenny’s book is doing great. It doesn’t need an advertising boost yet.

Once Jenny and her publisher have completed launch plan activities in coming weeks and months, they should solicit reader reviews. They will need them in place on sales pages before doing any type of paid promotion because reviews are the social proof readers need to see before buying.

(If you’re struggling to get reader reviews, use my Reader Book Review Forms — there’s one for fiction, another for nonfiction. They make it easy for your fans to write a meaningful review in just minutes.)

An alternative influencer approach

pay an influencer for book recommendation
Recommended parenting books lists

It’s important to understand that many influencers use a different approach to these “best of” product lists and newsletter recommendations.

Instead of charging authors and publishers to screen (or not screen) and then recommend (or not recommend) a book, they use a more authentic approach.

These influencers earn money from their recommendations by using an Amazon Associates or Bookshop.org affiliate link that gives them a small commission on each book sold through the link. They make less money with this approach, but they retain their followers’ trust.

What’s right for you and your book?

Nobody can answer that question for you, but asking the right questions will help you make informed decisions about the opportunities available to you.

How do you decide where and when to spend your marketing dollars? Please tell us in a comment.

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  1. Interesting article. I’d be hesitant to pay an influencer to peddle my book. I prefer the idea of customer (reader) evangelists who really LOVED my book and want to share how it helped them. I think readers can discern when enthusiasm for a book is genuine.

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