Should Authors Pay for Reviews?

Buster, the office dog, sits in his chair next to a huge Monstera plant. He stares into the reader’s soul.

The Background Story

Please skip ahead if you’re not interested in why I decided to write this blog post. Although, the preamble does provide useful background information.

Recently, I had an interaction via the old Instagram machine that thrust me down the metaphorical rabbit hole of paid book reviews. If you follow me on Instagram, (@sarahjuleswriting) then you will know that I occasionally post about the books I am writing, as well as the books I am reading. Now, I can only assume that the person who reached out to me follows one of the tags I placed under a post about Book 1, a manuscript that I have written and which I’m currently exploring publishing options for, and this is how they knew to reach out to me.

Now, let me start by saying that I’ve been in the ‘bookstagram’ world for quite a while now, a good few years, and so I’m more than familiar with the practice of authors sending free copies to readers in exchange for an honest review. I’ve had authors send me books before in exchange for an honest review, and I’m also a fan of the website where you are sent advanced review copies (ARCs) in exchange for an honest review. There’ll be more on this later. What I’m trying to say, is that I have experience in the review arena, so I know how the whole thing works.

Let me paint the picture… I’m scrolling through my Insta feed, as you do, and a message pops up. I’ll include screenshots below, but the gist of it is that this person says that they review books across various social media platforms and they would like to review my upcoming book. I reply saying that would be fantastic, and that I’d be more than happy to send a copy their way when I get to that point. The person then responds with pricing information, and I’m floored. I was more than happy to send over a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, but would not pay for the privilege. That’s not to say that paying for a review is always, always a bad thing, as we’ll discuss after this preamble. I immediately wrote back and said, ‘No, thank you,’ and then decided to take a look at this person’s page, to see what qualified them to review my book as anything other than a ‘reader’. Essentially,  were they a professional within the industry, and what forms did their reviews typically take?

Three things stood out to me:

  1. None of the reviews on their page seemed to disclose whether they were paid reviews or otherwise.  All the reviews I read were positive. And, in my own opinion, nobody likes every book they read. Red flag.
  2. They didn’t have any professional qualifications in their bio. Red flag.
  3. They had 12k followers. Which is a bloody huge amount in bookstagram terms. Yet, many of them had no comments and only a few hundred likes, suggesting that many of their followers don’t interact with the profile. Red flag. Red flag. Red flag.

So, what’s the problem?

  1. If you are being paid to review a product, whether a book or otherwise, you need to disclose that.[i]  If not, there is a significant chance that you are in direct opposition to the terms and conditions of whatever site you are using, as well as being in violation of trading standards.[ii] A paid book review is an advertisement, especially if it is falsely positive due to the exchange of money. (More on this later).
  2. Paid reviews should come from a person of authority within the field. For example, you will see quotes from famous authors on the covers of books. This is an advertising strategy, but one that draws on a person whose opinion is respected within the world of writing. Paying a random influencer to say your book is fab, is a false review, even worse if they don’t disclose they’ve been paid to do it. It’s worth noting here that many prominent figures within the industry don’t charge for reviews either. The books are gifted to them via a publishing house or the like and they write a review of the book if they liked it. If not, no review, essentially.
  3. A couple of things on the follower comment. First, why should I pay for a review from somebody whose audience doesn’t interact with their content? Second, do they legitimately have 12k followers? One more time… Paying an influencer for a review is paying for an advertisement. Would you pay for an advertisement from somebody who doesn’t have an audience?

As you can tell, this exchange rubbed me the wrong way. Here it is, if you wanted to read it first hand.

If you skipped ahead, start reading here!

I knew that false reviews were a significant problem for companies like Amazon, who appear to be cracking down on the practice. However, I didn’t know that many influencers on Instagram, and the like, are giving dishonest reviews for payment. Not only does that violate so many rules of advertising, it makes a mockery of the review system. Authors NEED reviews to sell their books and many readers presume that the reviews they are reading are genuine. Paid reviews detract from the honest reviews many authors receive. Their honest, good, reviews don’t mean as much because other (arguably shady) authors are paying for people to say their book is good. Even if it isn’t. Every person isn’t going to like every book. This is part of what makes reading so special and personal. Negative reviews are to be expected.

As I’m not yet published, I don’t know how I’ll handle negative reviews, but I know that I’ll get some. I know that not every person who reads my book will love it. But do you know what I’m not going to do? Hire people to say my book is awesome and attempt to wash the bad reviews away because that is dishonest, morally and ethically questionable, and a very shady business practice. So, now that I’ve spilled the tea, as the youth of today say, let’s get to the heart of this blog post.

Should Authors Pay for Book Reviews?

In order to answer this question, the question that I postulated a thousand words ago before my little rant, we first need to outline the two key types of review, something that I alluded to earlier.

There are two main types of book reviews.

  1. Trade Reviews.
  2. Reader Reviews.

Now, there are some blurred lines between the two. But for me, it’s simple.

Trade reviewers are professionals within the publishing industry.

Reader reviewers are your consumers, the reader.

The blurred lines come from the definition of ‘professional’. You’ll find a good few people attempting to monetize their reviews, claiming to be professional book reviewers, or freelance book reviewers. So, what criteria makes one person capable of giving professional book reviews, while for another it would be a misnomer?

Essentially, in order to professionally review a book, you should be a person of influence and respect in publishing circles. Other, successful, authors, publishing houses, newspapers, or influential people within a field associated with your book are likely candidates for trade reviews. There’s an air of separation between the author and a trade reviewer, somebody who is genuinely professional, and therefore there is no coercion to provide a ‘good’ review.

A reader review is somebody with no professional qualifications or experience within publishing. They are, essentially, a reader. A consumer. Somebody who reads books and may write reviews or post about them on their social media. This, in no way, makes them a professional within this industry.

As a quick disclaimer here, before we move on, there are some legitimate trade companies who may charge publishing houses or indie authors for an honest trade review. They are able to do so because their opinion is respected and honest. They will provide a review for your book that is accurate and justified. They are well-known and trusted. However, it may not be flattering, but that is what makes these services legitimate. While I won’t post links to them here, as I am by no means an expert on these companies, I simply wanted to acknowledge that they exist and are a different thing entirely to a randomer on the internet, with a few thousand followers, who claim to professionally review your book despite no industry experience or professional qualifications.

More on Reader Reviews

Reader reviews are a great way to get your book out there, especially if you are a self-published author. Essentially, they are a way of reaching a wider audience with your book. There are two different types of reader reviews in my experience: ones where the author has approached the reader in some capacity to ask for a review, and ones where the reader has picked up a book of their own accord and has written the review off their own back. The latter is completely, one hundred percent, legitimate and unproblematic. The former, however, is where issues can arise.

Often, the reader may be given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Hopefully, there is some clarification in the exchange between either the outside company that disseminates the copy of the book, or the author themselves, that the review should be honest and that there is no pressure for the review to be exaggerated or ‘good’ simply because they have received a copy of the book. Self-published authors will often trawl through social media and find users that seem to have a similar taste in books to the one they’ve written and ask for the book to be reviewed in exchange for them being sent a free copy, either electronically or physically.

However, websites such as Readers First, which I mentioned earlier, and Net Galley ( are essentially a middle-man. They push the books out to prospective readers in exchange for reviews. By removing the author interaction, not only does it save time, but it can also be considered to be more valid, as a further element of bias (a perceived relationship of sorts with the author) is alleviated. However, it should be acknowledged that companies such as these are not always accessible for authors. If you want a blog post on this, please do let me know as that is a whole can of worms just waiting to be opened.

By providing a free copy of a book (whether physically or electronically) it is therefore expected that a review will be provided. This doesn’t always happen, and nothing can be done if the review doesn’t take place, but the general consensus is that if you’re given a free copy of a book, you are then expected to review it.

If payment is exchanged, you’re paying for an advert, not a review.

Marketing, especially for self-published authors, is a bloody tricky business. One way to get your book out there, is to place adverts on social media and approach different (sometimes prominent) figures within these platforms to advertise your book. I have no problem with authors paying for advertisements. Let me repeat that, I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH AUTHORS PAYING FOR ADVERTISEMENTS. Not only is it completely necessary to market your book, but it is also a valid thing to do. What I have a problem is, is so-called ‘professional book reviewers’ preying on both authors who are scared that their book will fail, and the readers that deserve honest reviews when choosing whether to spend their hard-earned money on a book. Not only does this cheapen and degrade the industry, it is false, and misleading, advertising. If a consumer doesn’t know that they are seeing an advert, this is underhand and unethical. At the very, very least, a ‘professional book reviewer’ should disclose that they have been paid to write their review and that it is an advert for the book.

As I said, I’ve been on Instagram for a few years now, and some people I’m fairly close to and respect on the platform review books that have been sent to them for free, in exchange for an honest review, and do you know what they do? THEY DISCLOSE THIS IN THEIR POST. And their review is honest. No money exchanges hands, only a copy of the book, and yet they write something along the lines of ‘this book has been sent to me by [insert author, publishing house etc] in exchange for my honest review’. How easy is that? Nowhere do they claim to be a professional reviewer, because they’re not. They review books from a reader’s perspective, and share their reviews, usually with an aesthetically pleasing photograph of the book.

People Can Smell a Rat

If you notice that an instagrammer you follow, or a Tik-Tokker, is consistently sharing fantastic reviews of new releases, this is a concern.

If you see ‘professional book reviewer’ in somebody’s bio, but no professional qualifications or industry experience, this is a concern.

Most book review platforms have very stringent rules in place for both authors who pay for reviews, and readers who write paid-for reviews. Most social networking platforms have mechanisms in place to spot false or misleading advertising, and so it’s only a matter of time before the author or the reviewer are bitten in the arse if they engage in these practices. By doing this, you risk alienating your audience. They lose trust in you, they distance themselves from you, and they stop engaging with you.

People are not stupid. Your readers and followers deserve to be treated with respect and integrity. Structure your advertising and marketing in a way that is not deceptive, and if your book is good, hopefully it will reach your intended audience. Rather than lying, look into marketing practices that can help push your book out there in an honest way.

I did a poll on LinkedIn last week to see whether the views of others in the industry matched my own. Here’s a screenshot of how that went…

To answer my original question – Should you pay for reviews?


Should you pay for honest marketing?


The only exception is if you are going to one of the legitimate trade companies out there, that have gained traction and respect by writing honest reviews. While there’s loads more I can say on this topic, I think it’s time for me to shut up. I’ve already waffled on for nearly 2.5k (hopefully useful) words, and so I’ll leave you with this thought…

If you knew that a company was paying for false reviews on their new product, would you buy it?

I know that I’m going to have to do more blog posts around this subject so stay tuned for those.  This is one of those topics that people are sure to land on either side of the dichotomy, so I’d love to hear your views. Please do comment or reach out to me via chat or email if you’d like to discuss this further.

As always, wishing you love and books that make your heart skip a beat,

Sarah Jules

Some sources I used:



3 thoughts on “Should Authors Pay for Reviews?

  1. I do occasional reader reviews on my blog for two reasons… I’ve absolutely loved the characters, plot development and writing style; and secondly, I like to support others, especially indie authors. Your synopsis was spot on and honest. Happy reading. 🌺

    Liked by 2 people

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