Vanity reviews

Le sigh. I just received an email congratulating me on the fact one of our titles was “approved for review.” Grand! methinks. And then I read on.

Oh. Buzzkill.

It seems that our title wasn’t “good  enough” for their magazine, but I can pay for the “honor” of having our title reviewed. $99 to be exact.

To justify this fee, I’m told about the limited space in the magazine [like I don’t know this is the same situation that afflicts all review magazines?] vs. unlimited room online and how mahvelous this online review site is, but…they need the money to cover the cost of writing and posting the review. Oh, they assure me that they still maintain their high standards and that only “the best books” are chosen for review, and this is just the cost of doing business.

But wait, if I pay the fee and the reviewer declines to review the book – they’ll return my money. If that’s  the case, I have to wonder what determinates they employ for reviewing a book.

Mind you, I’m not angry the magazine didn’t feel our book warranted print space because I’m a big girl and know mags have limited space. My Vickie Secrets are in a twist because I question whether a paid-for review is an honest review and whether this is just a new profit center.

After all, it was about a year ago-ish when we were included in a mass email from the editor of this magazeine that angrily took us all to task for not taking out ad space with them. The fuzzy logic was that we owe it to them because they review our books.

Hmm. And here I thought they reviewed books because of their love of good literature. Yes, of course magazines make their money from advertising, and many mags are facing extinction because advertising is way down. Publishers know that ads don’t sell books, so they’re putting their money where they get better bang for their buck.

My heart goes out to magazines – and anyone – who help with  the advancement of reviewing books. However, I was appalled at being called on the collective carpet. Since this magazine caters to indie presses, including those which may not know a lot  about the industry, this is a line you just don’t cross.

Now they’re inviting me to pay a hundred bucks to have our book reviewed. I think not.

Cheap is as cheap does

This request for money – what I call Vanity Reviews – cheapens the idea of reviews in general and creates an air of suspicion of all reviews.  Just like vanity publishing, people now look at reviews and wonder if it was paid for or a real, honest review. How long before no one cares about reviews?

This magazine is far from the first to implement vanity reviews. I’ve been sickened to see other very big names in the  review world stooping to the pay-to-review as well. Even though those other entities make it very clear they are  paid reviews,  it still smacks of being a new revenue source that preys on the unwitting. And our industry is rife with them.


If one pays for a review, the expectation is that the review will be favorable. I mean, who wants to shell out money and have the added insult to having their book trashed. The magazine realizes this and presents the “out” clause by offering to return the money.

Now really – if a cash-strapped  magazine stands to gain $100 for a review, it goes to reason that the magazine/reviewer will be motivated to find something nice to say – no matter how small. Publishers or authors starving for reviews will be sucked in – just like the vanity published author.

Why pay the vanity fee?

Ah, the rub. Bookstores lurve book reviews because they believe it will sell books. Personally, I’m ambivalent. We’ve had many fabulous reviews, and we didn’t see the giant sales. On the other hand, we’ve had authors whose promo plans were off the charts, and there were huge sales even though they had no reviews. So, yes, the silly realities are that reviews don’t,  by and large, sell books.

That said, when we get a good review, we slap that puppy right on the front cover. It’s all a part of the hoop-jumping game.

So welcome to the brave new world of pay-to-play reviews. I don’t care how prettily they try to tie this particular bow, let’s admit what it really is: a profit center where the veracity of those reviews is questionable.

I’ve taken this magazine off my review list.

10 Responses to Vanity reviews

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Meh. Just, meh. (Personally, I always thought reviewers did it for the free books :P)

  2. Time was, that was the case, Ninja. But things are a-changing, and not always for the best – at least not in my view.

  3. As ninjafingers says, meh.

    Mind you, reviewers can be paid if that’s what their job is, but they shouldn’t be paid by publisher or author – they should be paid by their employer. Which is why blogging reviewers have to do it for free and that’s how it has to be. A paid-for review stinks.

    The only way it wouldn’t stink is if it clearly stated for the benefit of the reader: this review was paid-for by the publisher. Like, that would so work.

  4. Nicola, I checked their site. They make distinctions in their “Get Reviewed” section for authors or publishers. They have three ways to go – the usual freebie review, which gets into their magazine. Next comes the $99 fee for the online review.

    Even more outrageous is their offer to provide a “quality review” for $305, which will appear in their magazine. The sales pitch consists of things like, “this is great for authors or publishers who are having a hard time getting reviews.”

    I don’t buy their mag, so I don’t know if they state which reviews were paid for. It wouldn’t exactly be a public relations coup if they did. But my suspicion is that a $305 review may very well sit side by side with reviews that were deemed review worthy.

    $305 is a nice chunk, so how many paid-for reviews does anyone believe are honest reviews? Well, I checked. Many of these books are vanity pubbed books, and I was heartened to see that they weren’t afraid to hand out one star out of five. I feel sorry for the authors who shelled out the money because they got screwed three times – vanity pubbed, $300 poorer for a crap review, and no way to get that book to market. But I digress.

    Now, none of this matters to a reader, who doesn’t realize there are different grades of reviews. The $305 reviews are listed under another name, so readers would have to know this and click on that link. Most, of course, don’t, so those paid for reviews are being shelved in obscurity.

    The $99 fee reviews section doesn’t list that these are paid-for reviews. It must also be quite new, since I couldn’t find any reviews after hitting the Fiction and Memoir categories.

    Lastly, they have a link for “All Reviews” which combines all their reviews. The $305 reviews are mixed in there, and no distinction is made that these are paid-for reviews. To me, this cheapens the whole review process.

    And this is why, after many reviews from them over the years (free), I’ve crossed them off my list.

  5. markmanning says:

    Well done!

  6. Some genre review magazines won’t review a book unless the publisher or the author buys an ad. In some ways, that doesn’t seem fair. In other ways, it is, particularly when you consider the sheer amount of volume of books these review mags receive from the majors and the epublishers.

    RTBOOKCLUB is healthy and reviewing with this policy with a large subscription base.

    LOCUS reviews a certain kind of book, but all their ads are for another kind of book. Last I heard, LOCUS is barely surviving because why buy an ad when they will review you anyway, and why buy an ad when they will never review you, and their readership isn’t yours?

  7. Mmm…not sure that I agree. I’ll grant that genre magazines are a different animal and don’t come under the same scrutiny/standards as a national magazine who has been trying for years to be PW’s equal.

    Either a book is worthy of review or it isn’t. I know there is a lot of silliness that goes on with respect to who gets reviewed, but I bristle at the idea that someone can fork over $99 or $300 and jump to the head of the class. It becomes no longer about quality, but about money.

    Magazines make their money from selling ad space, but those ads aren’t all from publishers hocking their latest books. There are cover artists, printers, indie editors, graphic designers, web designers, who also make up those ads. Why must it fall to the publishers to bear the responsibility of keeping a magazine afloat when we’re all working overtime to make sure we stay afloat?

    The editor of the magazine actually emailed me back and suggested that we in all our years of being opened, that we’d never “enhanced their profit center” by taking out ad space. I invited her to check her records, that we’ve spent nearly 6 grand on ad space over the years, which yielded roughly 6 reviews. Averaging that out to nearly a grand per review, I let her know that I felt we’d “enhanced” their profit center quite enough.

    Publishers who charge authors to be published are seen as smarmy, and this is exactly the way I see magazines who employ the same practices.

  8. Lauren says:

    That line between advertising and editorial is really tricky. Where do you draw it? And what happens when you can no longer see the line. Frankly, I think “K” would have been much better off if it had stayed dead. It wasn’t happy news when it died, but re-inventing itself with these $305 bought reviews alongside the regular ones smacks of the worst sort of ethic-less practice.

  9. Psst…Lauren…it wasn’t Kirkus. They make a very clear distinction on their website as to what is paid for and what isn’t. The two never cross.

  10. Lauren says:


    *feeling really, REALLY dumb*

    Please pass me the Clue-by-Four. Methinks I need to do some head slapping.

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