Saturday, June 25, 2011

Interview with Catherine MacDonald from BookRooster.com

Reviews are important. Customers often look at the average star rating, and the number of reviews a book has, before buying. But getting reviews isn't easy. For my last several ebook releases, I gave away free copies to fans in exchange for reviews, but this is time-consuming and labor intensive.

Now there's an easier, quicker solution to getting reviews that doesn't require having thousands of fans or begging friends and family.

BookRooster.com is a community of over 2,200 passionate readers/reviewers drawn from BookLending.com and other Kindle reader communities. They organize the distribution of review copies of your novel (in MOBI format for Kindle) to reviewers in exchange for their objective Amazon customer review.

I became aware of them about two weeks ago, and gave the service a try for my ebook Flee. (Disclosure: Catherine let me try their service for free.) So far Flee has accrued over twenty new reviews in the last few days, and has climbed considerably in the Top Rated rankings for Police Procedurals and Romantic Suspense.

The service costs $49, making it an affordable solution for authors who would like to have more reviews. If you read some of the reviews of Flee, you'll see they're honest and mostly well-written, and many of the reviewers hadn't ever read my work before, and have said they'll go on to read more of it. So BookRooster doesn't just offer reviews, it also can potentially widen an author's fanbase.

I asked the founder, Catherine MacDonald, a few questions about BookRooster, and she graciously responded.

Joe: Where did you come up with the idea for BookRooster?

Catherine: As the founder of Kindle lending community BookLending.com, I have had the chance to talk to authors and readers and to learn about the Kindle publishing ecosystem. Some informative blogs and articles (your blog, of course, is at the top of my list) brought me up-to-date with the upheaval is happening in publishing.

Then, as a reader starting to read books by indie authors for the first time, I began to realize how many fantastic books are not getting the readers they deserve. It seems that customer reviews are key to ensuring that books get discovered by other readers.

While authors sometimes struggle to find readers, there are huge numbers of passionate readers looking to discover new books -- over 26,000 of them on BookLending.com alone! I had seen authors use various approaches to find reader-reviewers and it just made sense to draw on the enthusiastic community of readers we have to create an easier way for authors to get their books to prospective Amazon customer reviewers.

Joe: Do you believe reviews help sell books?

Catherine: I think good books sell books, but sometimes good books don't get the attention they should, and that's where reviews come in. As a book buyer, I rely on reader reviews, and so I think that it's important for a book to have enough objective reviews so that readers are able to decide whether or not they are likely to enjoy it.

Joe: Can anyone join and review books?

Catherine: Any reader with an Amazon account can submit her name, email address and preferred genres. Depending on demand, she'll begin receiving invitations to review books within a few weeks.

Joe: How long is the wait for authors who would like to use this service?

Catherine: Right now, we're booking review copy distribution beginning the third week in July. Many authors book their spots in advance; we can be flexible about dates as the release date approaches and authors can forward specifics about the book, as well as the file itself, as they become available.

Joe: Is there any policy for dealing with reviewers who reveal spoilers, or are flat-out abusive?

Catherine: Our reviewer guidelines mirror Amazon's customer review guidelines. We read all the reviews written by BookRooster.com reviewers and it's safe to say that if a reviewer breaches Amazon's guidelines by revealing spoilers without warning or posting a dishonest review, he or she would not receive review copies through BookRooster.com in the future.

Joe: Besides Amazon, do you encourage reviewers to post elsewhere, such as Goodreaders, Smashwords, or B&N?

Catherine: Not at this time, but it's a definite possibility in the future.

Joe: As you accrue more reviewers, do you anticipate BookRooster raising its prices?

Catherine: We launched with an introductory price of $49 because we appreciate that this is a new and untested service and we wanted to give our "early adopter" authors an extra good deal to thank them for jumping in with us. Given the amount of work that goes into administering the service, we will likely be raising the price by $10 to $20 sometime soon so that we have some breathing room to develop new features and hire administrative help.

Joe sez: Considering how obsessive some authors are about reviews, and how essential it has become to have reviews, this is $49 well spent. But keep in mind that neither BookRooster nor its reviewers promise to leave glowing praise. If they don't like your book, they'll say so.

Also, I believe this service is different than something like Kirkus Reviews of the new PW Select, where gullible authors pay lots of money for a single review in those journals. As I stated earlier, I always give out free copies in exchange for reviews. That's the same thing legacy publishers do, giving away galley copies. BookRooster just makes it easier.

110 comments:

Rob Cornell said...

I thought about doing this when I first heard about it, but changed my mind when I saw that every review pretty much starts, "I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review."

After seeing that opening for five reviews in a row, it looks a little tacky. I also think it degrades from the authenticity of the review. I understand it's policy that Amazon reviewers state if they received a free copy for review, but when BookRooster reviewers open their reviews with the exact same line, well...

As a reader, it's sort of a turn off.

Rob Cornell
Author of Darker Things
Let the world you know meet the world you don't.

Joe Konrath said...

I think the disclosure is necessary. And as far as reviews go, I much prefer those with a disclaimer over obvious shills and those who haven't even read the book.

E.C. Belikov said...

Interesting idea for a service.

I'm curious though, obviously there's no way to guarantee an author will get a high star rating or a positive review (I wouldn't want a service that offered that because there would be no credibility) but my question would be: Is there any guarantee that it will get a certain number of reviews? or any at all for that matter?

Rob Cornell said...

E.C. They keep your book in circulation until you get 10 reviews.

Melissa F. Miller said...

E.C.,
They will keep sending out the book until it receives at least ten reviews.

When we released IRREPARABLE HARM, I gave away twenty copies to readers who agreed to review it. Two of them actually wrote reviews.

I was informed that 10% follow through was not unusually low. To me, fifty bucks is worth it to have someone else send out the copies and to ensure that the book actually gets reviewed.

I signed up after hearing about Book Rooster through kindle nation but my book will go out next month.

(As far as the disclaimer goes, I believe that's an FTC requirement.)

E.C. Belikov said...

Ah, thanks Rob and Melissa. 10 reviews is a fair number and I have been having some difficulty gaining traction so maybe it would be a worthwhile investment.

Rob how did you know you were seeing a BookRooster review? I haven't run across any of them.

Bob Mayer said...

Just send our first two original ebook titles to Bookrooster for review-- thanks for the tip.
As far as swapping excerpts I'll get you an email shortly. Thanks.

Cathryn Grant said...

I'm with Melissa, especially compared with the time and $$ I spent sending POD copies to the pre-ereading crowd.

I also like the third party aspect of BookRooster -- it removes the subtle sense of obligation that's there when an author asks directly.

Rob Cornell said...

If you go to the reviewer side of the site, there is an example you can click on toward the bottom of the page. Here's a link:

http://www.bookrooster.com/for-reviewers/

Donald Wells said...

This seems like it could be very useful.
I think my books would have a lot more reviews if it wasn't for the Facebook LIKE button. I believe that people find it much easier to click on that button rather than taking the time to write a review.
I am not a fan of the button.

Anonymous said...

What about the issue of pirated copies? I don't know how it works,but it seems like you're supposed to give a reviewer a .mobi file? Doesn't this invite piracy?

I also agree with the above poster that having a string of reviews that all begin with the exact same disclaimer is a turn-off, and I would rather have a lesser number of genuine reviews than a spate of legalse laden pay-for-service reviews on my book's page.

Donald Wells said...

If I thought it would lead to the piracy of my books I would sign them all up as soon as possible.
As far as I can determine, piracy leads to more sales.

Rob Cornell said...

Okay. You talked me into it, Joe. I submitted my crime thriller, RED RUN, for review. It's my bestselling book at this time, so we'll see what some reviews do to help. It's also going to be featured by Kindle Nation Daily in October, so I'm hoping more reviews in place will help sell it then.

I have to say--this is way more fun than legacy publishing.

Karen Woodward said...

I've bookmared BookRooster.com for when I publish my first book. :) Thanks! Good interview, and great idea.

Peter L. Winkler said...

"We organize the distribution of review copies of your novel (in MOBI format for Kindle) to reviewers in exchange for their objective Amazon customer review."

All reviews are inherently subjective.

fantasydreamer12 said...

Sounds awesome. I'll probably do that when I publish a book..

Christopher John Chater said...

Why pay $49 when you can giveaway and request reviewers on LIbrarything for free?

Estevan Vega said...

This is awesome. Thanks for posting it, Joe!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more ino on reviews=sales.
It seems that the new wave of writers has spawned some interesting marketing ideas, though. You guys might have heard about the writer who challenged Joe to a sales duel for Kickstarter.

Looks like it didn't go through, though. Guess Joe didn't want to beat up on a newer writer.

Paul said...

One possible approach to the 'canned intro' is for BookRooster to provide five slightly different intro sentences(same meaning) for reviewers to choose from. They don't need to sound so formal.

This would provide some relief, especially if one got 10 consecutive BR reviews!

I.J.Parker said...

Sounds helpful. Thanks, Joe.

Moses Siregar III said...

I'm involved with a private author list and we've been debating this service since it was announced at KND. From the beginning, I thought it was a brilliant idea as long as the reviews are honest and thoughtful.

Looking at the reviews for Flee, they seem to fit that description. I looked over the reviewing history of all of the reviewers who said they got a complimentary copy, and the ones who had a reviewing history seemed perfectly legit.

This is a needed service. It should help readers who need sincere reviews to help them wade through the slush--I mean self-published books. As long as BookRooster maintains the quality of the reviews, this looks like a good thing for authors looking for more reviews.

Mary Anne Graham said...

I may have to give this service a try. I've never done any work to get reviews. I just try not to lose my cool when I get a bad one - unless the work is pablum, not everyone will love it. But we all want to be loved!

Hopefully it's not exclusive to pre-release. I have one I just put out a few weeks ago - perhaps it's new enough!

I may just give this service a shot. If Joe says it's a go then it must be so!

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Joe Konrath said...

I think the disclosure is necessary. And as far as reviews go, I much prefer those with a disclaimer over obvious shills and those who haven't even read the book.


Why is it necessary? Traditional reviewers never mention it. Of course, everyone assumes correctly that they don't pay for review copies, while someone on Amazon may or may not have paid for the copy. Still, given the likely $0.99 to $2.99 price of most of the indie books being reviewed by this service, how likely is it that a free copy of the book would have any effect on what the reviewer says about it? After all, there are all kinds of free books on Amazon. If I review one of them, do I have to say that I didn't pay for it?

Kate Madison, YA author said...

I think I will definitely be partaking of this service. The convenience factor alone is worth the price.

But... I do have to agree- seeing the same (or slight variation) of a disclaimer right up top just looks bad. I understand the reasoning for the policy. But maybe put the sentence at the bottom of the review.

It feels kind of like the copyright page discussed in the previous post-- it doesn't much matter to me as a reader so why do I need to see it first?

And booklending.com is very cool. I haven't yet actually borrowed any books but I have lent out quite a few.

Thanks for pointing us to this service, Joe. Much appreciated.

Kate
WriterKMadison.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

I don't see any problem with soliciting reviews by sending out free copies of a book. It's no different than a critic at an established newspaper receiving a review copy. So long as the reviewer is not placed under pressure to skew the review in any particular direction, I don't see any ethical problem.

What I do have a problem with, however, is the growing trend of review spamming on Amazon. It takes different forms, but a common one is authors trading five star reviews with their friends. This seems to be a popular tactic among self-publishers in particular.

Another tactic I've noticed is a user posting dozens of reviews for other books, usually five star, but slipping their own book in, often with a link to its Amazon page.

An argument often made here is that potential customers will be able to tell the shit from the shinola by a book's star rating. But if authors are deliberately trying to manipulate those ratings, then the only remaining measure of quality can't be trusted.

I followed an interesting Twitter exchange between some established authors this evening that discussed another trend - that of authors posting one star reviews of their rivals' books. Now that is a real problem...

Marie Simas said...

I think the disclosure is necessary.

It's been an FTC disclosure requirement since 2010. There was a big hubub about it on Book Blogs that lasted for months.

Lynda Hilburn said...

Thanks for this information, Joe. Catherine: are there any UK reviewers?
Lynda

Jon Olson said...

Yet more good ideas. And another way to spend money. I don't know, I think I'll pass.

jon olson
The Petoskey Stone

W. Dean said...

Rob Cornell says: “I also think it degrades from the authenticity of the review.”

Going without disclosures on reviews is a very bad idea. Everyone expects that Amazon reviews are written by other readers, and without inducements. When someone blows the whistle—and someone will—everyone who uses friends and paid hacks to pad his reviews will be buried under an avalanche of shit. And, in my view, anyone who does this deserves it for trying to game the system.

Robert Bruce Thompson says: “Why is it necessary? Traditional reviewers never mention it.”

Traditional reviewers don’t have to when they’re writing in a magazine, because they’re writing in a magazine, not a public forum. Besides, the difference between a magazine review and a paid review should be obvious: the subscriber (who is the reader) pays the magazine for the service, while the writer pays the review service. No matter how you slice it, there’s an incentive for the agency providing the reviews to give positive reviews. An no matter how ethical you are, you cannot escape the appearance of bias.

Peter L. Winkler says: “All reviews are inherently subjective.”

The context should have suggested (as it did to everyone else) that she meant “impartial” or “disinterested,” as in uninfluenced by the interested party.

Rob Cornell said...

Just to be clear. I don't have a problem with a disclaimer. It just looks kind of funny when five reviews in a row all start with the exact same sentence. Would be nice if they could mix it up a bit.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Ah, I see. We're talking about 16 CFR 255. The relevant example is:

Example 8: A consumer who regularly purchases a particular brand of dog food decides one day to purchase a new, more expensive brand made by the same manufacturer. She writes in her personal blog that the change in diet has made her dog’s fur noticeably softer and shinier, and that in her opinion, the new food definitely is worth the extra money. This posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.

Assume that rather than purchase the dog food with her own money, the consumer gets it for free because the store routinely tracks her purchases and its computer has generated a coupon for a free trial bag of this new brand. Again, her posting would not be deemed an endorsement under the Guides.

Assume now that the consumer joins a network marketing program under which she periodically receives various products about which she can write reviews if she wants to do so. If she receives a free bag of the new dog food through this program, her positive review would be considered an endorsement under the Guides.


So I'm perfectly entitled to review books that have been given to me without disclosing that I didn't pay for the book, but reviewers for BookRooster.com are not.

Kannan said...

Very interesting. I am interested in soliciting their services. However do they review nonfiction books? Mine is a nonfiction book of "Personal Growth/ Spirituality" Genre. Do they only review novels?

Jamie Sedgwick said...

I've been looking at doing this as well. I hadn't researched it very deeply and I have to say the disclosure thing seems a little awkward. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I tend to agree with the line of thinking that most reviewers get a book for free and don't have to announce it... but this situation is slightly different. The standard first sentence disclosure seems like it might counteract any effect a good review might have.

Either way, it sounds like a great service. I tried to get reviews by giving away about 15 copies of my first book and got two. I learned the hard way that people don't place any value on something that's free. At least with this service, they've made a commitment and they are somewhat committed to following through.

W. Dean said...

Robert Bruce Thompson,

Surely you can see the difference between writing a review of a free product on your personal website, where there’s no expectation of impartiality, and positing that same review on a consumer’s website, as if you were just an ordinary consumer?

C. Pinheiro said...

I tried to get reviews by giving away about 15 copies of my first book and got two.

Actually, this sounds about right. I regularly provide review copies of my books to reviewers and this is about the rate of reviews that I receive, and I'm happy for it.

Reviews really help sales. Free review copies are really the cheapest form of advertising there is.

Jamie Sedgwick said...

I neglected to mention the novella I gave away free for over a month, which was downloaded over a thousand times and didn't net one single review. However, a few paying customers have since left kind words for me. Lesson learned.

Also forgot, thanks Joe for highlighting this service!

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi Joe!

Love the blog! Yes, I found Bookrooster too and it is a good service.

What is really weird is that I blogged about authors needing a service like this right when Catherine started the site:
http://melissadouthit.com/2011/06/13/online-book-bloggers-are-booked-literally/

After I blogged about it, Moses Siregar sent me the link to Catherine's Bookrooster. So I signed up.

I sent the link to my post to Catherine and she thought it was funny we were having the same idea at the same time. =o)

Walter Knight said...

Honest reviews are very important. My books' sales rankings have fluctuated thousands of points after being trashed.

If there is even a hint of politics in a book, people who have not read the book pile on, or file multiple reviews under different names. Amazon should require proof of purchase before allowing a review.

James said...

As Christopher John Chater said, you can do roughly the same thing for free on LibraryThing.

James said...

>Doesn't this invite piracy?

Ebook piracy can't be stopped. Neither can music or movie piracy. The various industries can continue to try to sue it out of existence, but that has never made any significant impact on piracy, and probably never will.

It is far more realistic for writers to simply accept that it is going to happen, and focus on drawing positive attention to themselves and their books. You can issue DCMA takedown notices in the most egregious cases, but once ANYTHING is put into electronic format and posted ANYWHERE on Internet, it is "in the wild," and will eventually be pirated by someone, somewhere.

Pirated copies do not necessarily equate to lost sales. Many people who download pirated things would not have purchased the product, anyway - it's the "free" part that got their attention. Some people use it as a way to sample books (or music, or movies), and end up eventually making purchases.

The dynamics of online piracy are very complex, and bear little relation to the dynamics of physical piracy.

Overall, there has never been any evidence the online piracy has a direct causal link to real loss of sales in the entertainment industry.

Russell Brooks said...

Hi, Catherine. I just signed up for this service yesterday to give it a shot. I still don't understand why my MOBI copy is over 2000 kb while the others (ePUB, PDF) are well under. lol. I can't wait for the results.

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

Anonymous said...

BookRooster appears to be the direction that is needed in the myriad of e-stributor services that will evolve.

It serves new author's marketing need in particular - but helps established authors too - for a very reasonable price.

Couldn't the disclaimer be reworded in such a way as to become a badge of honour and trust? A disclaimer that people read and then say to themselves 'ah.. this is a Bookrooster reviewer - no BS here.'

Another service I'd like to see arise, is a book advert estributor. So that, for instance, if I had a novel to advertise I could pay X bucks and the Estributor contacts a good selling Eauthor in a similar genre and arranges for approx 500 copies of his next batch of sales amended to include an intro to my novel at the back.

This is the sort of thing that Joe and others are doing on a casual 'swap' basis. Why not commercialize it, and give a new win-win marketing methodology to those that can sell space - and those that want to get their novels noticed?

Mike
realgoodbookstoread@gmail.com

Ana said...

Joe says:
As I stated earlier, I always give out free copies in exchange for reviews

What is the procedure to do this?

Thanks

RobynBradley said...

My book went out for review through Book Rooster on 6/17, and I'm thrilled with the results so far. I kinda see Book Rooster as a publicist of sorts. They send out the book for review, some of the folks will review it, others won't, and the reviews aren't guaranteed to be glowing. (I'm not from Legacy Land, but isn't that kinda what publicists do?) I'll happily pay someone $49 (or even $79) to do this.

As for the issue with the line "I received a complimentary copy" ... isn't that an FCC regulation now? (I know all bloggers must reveal when they received stuff to review.) I agree that I'd prefer that line to be at the end of the review, but the reveal itself doesn't bother me at all...and I imagine it won't bother *most* readers (I think 99 percent of us here are writers, right? So we're hyper sensitive to these things).

RobynBradley said...

Oops -- I meant FTC regulations (reminder to self: don't post without having had coffee first). :)

Catherine MacDonald said...

So good to read the discussion here! I'd like to thank everyone who made suggestions and comments about the BookRooster.com service.

On the topic of disclosure, a few clarifications: first of all, the disclosure is a requirement from Amazon whenever someone receives a free book for review purposes. "If you received a free product in exchange for your review, please clearly and conspicuously disclose that that you received the product free of charge."

It's interesting that many of the disclosure statements reviewers write are so similar, because we do not dictate any particular disclosure sentence or way of expressing this disclosure. Each reviewer has come up with it on his or her own or, perhaps, from previous reviews on the book. We've reluctant to do anything that could be construed as influencing the review itself, but switched the order of our review guidelines to, hopefully, result in having more disclosure statements placed at the end of the review instead of the beginning.

We are beginning to handle reviews for nonfiction on a case-by-case basis (you can contact us through our contact form). At this time, we do not know exactly how many UK reviewers we have, but we have a few, although not enough to facilitate a UK-only distribution.

kathleen shoop said...

I signed up for the service when I saw it in Kindle Nation Daily. I'm excited to see the results--good and bad. I think it's a fabulous opportunity and the disclaimer at the beginning doesn't bother me a bit. I read Joe's Flee reviews and maybe I'm easy, but it didn't distract me at all.

In regard to comments about friends of writers leaving reviews? I say tough beans, people. As if traditionally published authors don't have friends blurbing (and friends of their agents and editors, etc.), reviewing and supporting them?

I would never ask a friend to review my book positively if he/she didn't love/like/whatever it, but to say a writer's friend who did think the book was strong can't say it, is sillyness.

This isn't a life or death situation. We're not reviewing blood pressure meds...if someone reads a book because he or she was "mislead," by positive reviews, then, well, I say, what's so different than what happens in any word of mouth product situation?

Great idea for a service--holding my breath for reviews as I've had them all over the map so far!!! Good stuff, lots of fun, as I've said before, I'm in the game. That's what counts to me.

David said...

My book went out for review on BookRooster.com this week and I've been very happy with the results.

Although it's been selling consistently, it wasn't getting many reviews. Now I have four new ones from BookRooster.com reviewers.

I didn't want to beg for reviews from friends/family and not know if they were being honest, so BookRooster was the perfect (affordable) solution.

David
Interpreter for the Dead

Moses Siregar III said...

David, thanks for saying that. Your reviews look reasonable to me too. Strangely, it's encouraging to see that you got a long 3-star review (and two 4s and a 5), because again that shows the reviews are honest.

If anyone else has used this service, I'd love to see what kind of reviews you've been getting from BR. Feel free to contact me at mosesmerlin *at* hotmail.com.

Sean McCartney said...

I am a little confused. (It's not the first time) You pay $49 for one book to be reviewed by 10 people? or $49 for each book to one reviewer? It seems like it might get expensive. Unless I am of base here which is entirely possible.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club

Moses Siregar III said...

Sean, it's $49 for 10 reviews.

Edward M. Grant said...

What I do have a problem with, however, is the growing trend of review spamming on Amazon. It takes different forms, but a common one is authors trading five star reviews with their friends.

If I see a self-published book which only has a few reviews and they're all five stars I generally assume they're family and friends and ignore them. Ultimately you can usually tell whether a book is more likely to be worth a one-star review than a five-star review from the first three pages of story in the book sample.

But to some extent I agree, I think the review ratings are seriously skewed on many self-published books because people who would rate it low probably don't buy it after reading the sample, or if they do they don't go back and put up a bad review after they complete it. I've read several self-published ebooks that I'd have rated around three stars and then found they mostly had five-star reviews on their Amazon pages which didn't mention any of the flaws that prevented me from really enjoying the book.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

W. Dean said...

Robert Bruce Thompson,

Surely you can see the difference between writing a review of a free product on your personal website, where there’s no expectation of impartiality, and positing that same review on a consumer’s website, as if you were just an ordinary consumer?


Uh, you expect reviews on Amazon.com to be impartial? I sure don't. Many favorable reviews are posted by the authors' friends, if indeed not by the authors themselves. Similarly, many unfavorable reviews are posted by authors and their friends for their competitors' book.

I remember years ago when Amazon had a glitch and for a short time revealed the actual identities of anonymous reviews. Many authors had posted glowing reviews of their own books, and quite a few of these authors had also posted one-star reviews of competing books.

So, no, I don't think there's any reasonable assumption of impartiality in Amazon.com reader reviews.

Mark Asher said...

"Also, I believe this service is different than something like Kirkus Reviews of the new PW Select, where gullible authors pay lots of money for a single review in those journals."

What's different besides the cost and the number of reviews that result? I'm not trying to be snarky. It seems fundamentally the same to me -- a writer is paying for a review. One might be a bad deal and one might be a good deal, but it's still money in exchange for a review.

Question also for Catherine. What if you pay the $49 and you don't receive any reviews in the first 60 days? Is there a money back option?

fatcaster said...

@Edward M. Grant --

It's not only a problem with SP books. I just looked at a debut thriller from a small-time (and careless) legacy publisher. Nineteen sofball reviews - all five stars, all from "reviewers" who never met a book they didn't like. Today on Amazon the book, which has been out for two months, sits north of 410,000; the author frequently bemoans the absence of sales and income. I used the Look Inside feature; the book is unreadable. I'd guess that the "reviews" mean nothing and that other reader-gatekeepers share my conclusion.

Jude Hardin said...

It's not only a problem with SP books. I just looked at a debut thriller from a small-time (and careless) legacy publisher. Nineteen sofball reviews - all five stars, all from "reviewers" who never met a book they didn't like. Today on Amazon the book, which has been out for two months, sits north of 410,000

What a coincidence! My debut thriller Pocket-47 is from a small press, has nineteen customer reviews on Amazon, has been out for almost two months, and right now sits north of 410,000 in the rankings!

Anyone who thinks the book is "unreadable," or that the customer reviews were all from friends and family, is free to visit my website and read the pro reviews from several newspapers and trades, including a Starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

And since Joe was kind enough to read the book and say it was, "The best PI debut I've read in years, fit to share shelf space with the best of Ross Macdonald, Sue Grafton, and Robert B. Parker. Pocket 47 is so hot you may burn your hands reading. Highly recommended," fatcaster (i.e. anonymous coward), you've not only insulted me and my publisher, you've insulted him as well.

Jude Hardin said...

Nineteen sofball reviews - all five stars, all from "reviewers" who never met a book they didn't like.

Actually, three of them are 4-star, so it's obvious you didn't even read the reviews. Since you lied about that, you probably lied about using the Look Inside feature as well.

Joe Konrath said...

What's different besides the cost and the number of reviews that result? I'm not trying to be snarky. It seems fundamentally the same to me

If I paid you to review my book, I'd be paying for your works, like I would be if I used Kirkus or PW.

If I paid someone to deliver a free copy of my book to you, I'm not paying for your words.

Publishers give away free copies of books all the time in exchange for reviews, but they don't pay for reviews. They do pay lots of $$$ to FedEx to have the books delivered. In this case, the money goes to BookRooster, not FedEx, as the delivery service.

It is a subtle, but profound, difference.

Joe Konrath said...

you've insulted him as well.

I don't get insulted.

Once you're a public figure, you become a target. Dunno why, but the world is filled with wannabes who get their kicks trying to knock public figures down.

Ignoring them is the best way to deal with them, though I'm okay with bitch slapping them if they show up on my blog.

I'm also okay with kicking off anonymous pinheads. Everyone be nice. Attack the argument, not the person. The mighty Oz has spoken.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Jude Hardin said...

fatcaster (i.e. anonymous coward), you've not only insulted me and my publisher, you've insulted him as well.


Only the wicked flee where no man pursueth.

Why on earth would you assume that post was referring to your book? I would imagine that there have been many thousands of books published in the last couple of months, many of which probably have 19 reviews posted on Amazon, and many of which are probably above 410,000 in the rankings. The fact that you assume that post referred to your book makes me wonder what you actually think of your own book.

Jude Hardin said...

Why on earth would you assume that post was referring to your book? I would imagine that there have been many thousands of books published in the last couple of months, many of which probably have 19 reviews posted on Amazon, and many of which are probably above 410,000 in the rankings.

Find me another one that has all the things he mentioned in common, plus from an author who "frequently bemoans the absence of sales and income." (I think I've "bemoaned" twice, which to fatcaster must add up to frequently).

It's obvious he was talking about me. It's just a shame he doesn't have the guts to show his face.

Or maybe he has...

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

If your last remark implies that I was that poster, you obviously don't know much about me. I've never posted anything anonymously in my life. If I say or write something, I put my name to it. Even here, when I wasn't allowed to use the Name/URL method, I posted my name and URL at the bottom of my post.

As to meeting all of the criteria, your book doesn't. That poster mentioned 19 reviews, all five-star. Your book has 19 reviews, not all of which are five-star. On that basis alone, I thought the original poster was talking about some other book, as I'm sure most people would, at least those who can count.

I haven't kept track, but I'm pretty sure you've complained about lack of sales more than twice.

Jude Hardin said...

I've never posted anything anonymously in my life. If I say or write something, I put my name to it.

Me too, but I generally don't go around defending anonymous asswipes.

That poster mentioned 19 reviews, all five-star. Your book has 19 reviews, not all of which are five-star.

He just looked at the average rating, which is five stars, and assumed all nineteen were five stars.

Come on, fatcaster. Give us a link to the book you were talking about. Prove me wrong. You won't, because you can't.

Anonymous said...

Come on, fatcaster. Give us a link to the book you were talking about. Prove me wrong. You won't, because you can't.

Jude, I suggest that you drop this issue. I also don't think that the anon was talking about your book.

The book "Time's Edge" also has 19 reviews, mostly positive. And the paperback is ranked low. Sales rank changes every hour, so the sales rank can vary a lot just in a single day.

The books "Dust," and "The Rose Killer" also have 19 reviews, mostly positive.

It only took 2 minutes for me to find those. You need to chill out.

W. Dean said...

R. B. Thompson,

I find it difficult to believe that you have trouble understanding the legal and moral concept of creating an expectation. When a retailer sets up a website and invites reviews from customers and calls them “customer reviews,” then no one, including the retailer, should post a review. It’s just plain sleazy to do otherwise without identifying yourself.

I do share your frustration with the deceit that goes on, but the fact that some people cheat is hardly an argument for doing the same.

Kathleen Shoop says:

“In regard to comments about friends of writers leaving reviews? I say tough beans, people.”

I think you have things backwards. In the long run, it won’t be readers who are hurt by these phony reviews; it will be writers when readers no longer pay attention to them. So the “tough beans” are really for you and your fellow indies.

W. Dean said...

Jude,

Seriously, who (but you apparently) would have made that connection out of the millions of books on Amazon?

Anonymous said...

New anon here,

quite frankly, reviews don't mean that much. Snarks and trolls post 1-star, people angry about $ do the same, the author his family and friends post glowing 5-stars, and authors band together and all tag each other with gold stars in the forms of reviews, blurbs, and whatnot.

At this point in the game, the readers know that the system is being gamed from all angles. Reviews are getting to be like all the "comments" on blogs, news articles, etc. Most of them are just plain stupid and anyone reading them knows it.

Patterson is probably the worst rated author and the best selling. there's no correlation because readers are too smart to be fooled either way. What they're looking for is a brand (ie name author with lots of backlog) or a product description that really excites them.

jtplayer said...

"the author frequently bemoans the absence of sales and income"

That's the key right there. Yeah, I think that dude was talking about Jude. And that makes him an a-hole.

One of those 19 reviews is mine, and it's far from a softball. Jude's book is very good, and well deserving of the praise he's received.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, JT. I know what a discerning reader you are, so I was thrilled when I saw your 5-star review. :)

Anonymous said...

the author frequently bemoans the absence of sales and income

Maybe Jude should stop bemoaning so much and work on writing more.

David said...

Of the reviewers from BookRooster.com that have currently reviewed my book, several of them have actually given other books low ratings (even one star reviews), which made me feel better about mine.

I was seriously worried they'd just be handing out good reviews because they got a free copy via BookRooster, but so far I don't think that's the case. Some have loved it, some have been lukewarm about it.

I just wanted impartial readers to tell me what they loved and hated, so I could use that feedback to make my next book even better.

David
Interpreter for the Dead

Christina Garner said...

This seems like a great idea. I'll definitely be booking time as I get closer to publishing the sequel to Gateway in a few months.

I do, however, agree about the "I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review," thing. I'm fine with it being there, but I'd prefer it to be at the end of the review. My thinking is that only the first few (voted most helpful) reviews are shown in full on the primary book page of Amazon. The rest are condensed into the first 2 sentences and stacked vertically. Imagine ten reviews in a row all saying they got a free copy. That would be a big turn off for me as a potential buyer. I don't think it would be in any way misleading or shady to have it at the end of the review.

David said...

@Christina Garner - I agree, I'd prefer BookRooster reviewers place the disclosure at the end of the review. That way it's still disclosed, but not the first thing people read over and over again.

Moses Siregar III said...

"What's different besides the cost and the number of reviews that result? I'm not trying to be snarky. It seems fundamentally the same to me -- a writer is paying for a review. One might be a bad deal and one might be a good deal, but it's still money in exchange for a review."

First of all, I agree with Joe's response. You're paying someone who provides the service of finding people who want free books in exchange for a review. She's also created BookLending.com, so that puts her in a perfect position to do that.

It's not totally unlike hiring a publicist who will find people to review your books for free. The reviewers aren't getting paid to write reviews, but you pay someone to find reviewers for you.

Kathleenshoop said...

W.Dean
I guess I just don't view readers as being hurt by a book with "unreliable" reviews. And, I don't think it's just self-publishers who are fault. I do trust the reader. Many people are only swayed to read the sample by reviews.

They can stop reading after that if it doesn't meet expectations. But I do think it's tough luck if at the end of a book you find it was not what you wanted it to be. I would LOVE for everyone who reads my book to find it was a perfect literary match.

I wish that happened to me everytime I read. But I don't walk around bemoaning the rest of the world for loving a book I didn't.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the reviews posted by this Amazon user:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A1I3EELIESDEP0

Recognize a trend there?

Sad to say, that's how useful Amazon reviews are for finding a good read these days.

Rob Cornell said...

I don't get the crew with their panties bunched about friends and fellow authors giving reviews. Sure, maybe some authors doctor their reviews and solicit 5-stars. But I have many, many writer friends. To say I can't give them 5-star reviews when I think they've written a 5-star book is stupid. And I also only give 4 or 5-star reviews because I see no point in wasting energy dwelling on something I didn't like. I'd rather move onto another book I WILL like.

Are friends completely impartial? Probably not. Are they shills? Maybe some. But doubtful all.

The truth is, Amazon reviews have a huge influence on readers. And just because someone gave a 5-star to something you think sucks, doesn't negate their positive review. This stuff is all too subjective. It takes a certain kind of hubris to assume your opinion of a work is the only "legitimate" one.

Rob Cornell
Author of Darker Things
Let the world you know meet the world you don't.

Anonymous said...

Something that bothers me is the constant statement that if an indie book doesn't have many reviews and the reviews are all five star they must be shills.

I do get that some authors "game" the system in what they consider to be an effort to level the playing field.

But I don't engage in tagging or review swaps, have not reviewed my own book nor asked my friends and family to do so.

Of my reviews, one was from a book blogger who also posts to amazon, two were from people wh know *of* me but don't know me, one was an unsolicited review from a friend, and the rest were all written by total strangers.

I get frustrated when I hear that those reviews should be disregarded because I happen to be published throough an indie publisher.

I think the gaming of the system may be less prevalent than you all think. At least I hope so.

Going anon for this one for the same reason I would never post a negative review: risk of retaliation. How sad is that?

Russell Brooks said...

I don't rely on reviews alone. Some books that I've read that I couldn't finish got great reviews. And although the number of reviews won't get me to purchase a book, they'll at least make me curious enough to check out the sample chapters that are provided. If a friend recommended me either the book or its author, then I'll be more willing to check out the book.

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

Rob Cornell said...

Anon said: I think the gaming of the system may be less prevalent than you all think. At least I hope so.

I think you're right. There is a lot of what I'd call paranoia on Amazon's reviews from people who suspect everyone is a shill. They seem to make it their mission to give one-star reviews to anything with a number of positive reviews and label them all shills. It's ridiculous. If you think all positive reviews are shills, get a freakin' life and don't read them.

Christopher Hudson said...

I don't know ... sending out free copies of your book for reviews is one thing, but a service that makes money off starving writers in exchange for reviews is another ... it just doesn't smell right to me.

Terrance Foxxe said...

I'll pass on this, too. I finally got my first review for one of my four books, and it was worth the four stars, spelling by the reviewer excluded. I would rather spend my cash elsewhere, and my time searching for real fans.

Edward M. Grant said...

Are friends completely impartial? Probably not. Are they shills? Maybe some. But doubtful all.

My grandmother is not going to post a review for my novel saying 'This book sucks donkey dick. My grandson gave it to me for free, but I still want to get back the hour I spent trying to read it.'

Ask a friend or relative to review your book and unless it truly is one of the best books ever written human nature alone is going to ensure that you get a higher rating than you really deserve. No-one wants to lose a friend over a book just because it sucks and they post a bad review, and plenty will post a five-star review to make them happy.

There's nothing corrupt or evil about that behaviour, it's just what people do.

Something that bothers me is the constant statement that if an indie book doesn't have many reviews and the reviews are all five star they must be shills.

I don't think anyone's saying they must be shills, just that as a reader you don't have to look at many self-published books with a few five-star reviews and no bad ones before you start to assume that they are all overhyped. Maybe that's also common in the trade published world these days, but I've only been reading self-published books for the last while so I can't say.

As an example, at the weekend I saw a post on a web forum where someone linked to their self-published novel. It had a good cover, the Amazon page had a good blurb, the book had a handful of five-star reviews (uh-oh) and maybe a four-star. I opened the sample and got through about six pages of stilted 'as you well know, Jimmy' exposition before I gave up.

Now, for all I know the beginning sucks but it improves later and ultimately the story is great, but not one of those reviews said that. Even if that was the case, rating something that starts so poorly as a five-star book would make the entire rating system meaningless because there would be no room for books that truly are great all around.

And overhyping doesn't even help the author. I probably judged that book more harshly because of the glowing reviews than I would have without them, and there's little point getting good reviews for your book unless the actual sample pages are good enough to convince people to buy it. Now I'll never look at another of that author's books unless it gets good reviews somewhere that I trust, whereas if it didn't have the glowing reviews on Amazon I'd just have ignored it and perhaps looked at their next one if it was better.

As such, while I have concerns about paying for reviews, if such a service could build a reputation for honesty and accuracy I'd probably find them useful as a reader. If that was the case, I would probably even use them as a writer.

W. Dean said...

Kathleen Shoop,

Since all the various forms of misrepresentation don’t “hurt” anyone, I guess indie writers do have a right to manipulate reviews to get readers to read their books. Of course, it’s easy to say this when it’s someone else’s time being wasted.

But what happens when readers get wise? Edward M. Grant (above) gives what I think is the typical answer to this question.

Rob Cornell,

No one said friends, family and fellow writers can’t review your books. I, for one, think it’s a good idea to have someone who knows something review your book even if he happens to know you (but don’t forget disclosure).

It’s when friends, family and paid shills (or the author himself!) fail to mention their connection to the author that people get their dander up. I don’t blame them either, because it is sleazy.

nwrann said...

Does Bookrooster try to get the book to reviewers that prefer the genre? My YA Vampire book Dark Matter Heart probably wouldn't do too well if reviewed by someone who prefers U.S. Civil War era Historical Fiction.

Also, do the reviewers hit the "tags" on the amazon page too? That helps guide buyers to books.

Melissa F. Miller said...

@nwrann:

From their website: "When you request distribution of review copies of your novel, we extend invitations to a select group of reviewers drawn from hundreds who have indicated a desire to review books in your genre. The invitations describe your book and provide a link for reviewers to request your book if they’d like to read and review it."

Joe Konrath said...

and my time searching for real fans.

Read the reviews of Flee, and count the number who say they'd never heard of me, but plan on reading more of my books.

If just one of them buys my backlist, I made more $$$ than I spent on the service.

Russell Brooks said...

sending out free copies of your book for reviews is one thing, but a service that makes money off starving writers in exchange for reviews is another ... it just doesn't smell right to me

Searching for reviewers and bloggers on our own is doable but it is very very time consuming. I'd rather spend the $50 and give them the chance to do all the legwork so that I can concentrate on doing other things. And as Joe said, if they really enjoyed your book then for sure they'll talk about you to other people and may purchase your backlist and/or future books. When you're self-employed there's always a sacrifice. There's money well spent and money poorly spent. Sometimes you just have to experiment.

Russell Brooks
author of Pandora's Succession

Kathleenshoop said...

W.Dean
I don't think I'm encouraging manipulation--just noting that the idea friends and family who enjoyed a book should be allowed to say so. And, I don't view reading a book I end up not loving as a waste of my time. Just my perspective.

M.J. Van Wyhe said...

Very cool, seems like a great tool for a truly newbie writer.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

How Aunt Ammy Gets Her Free Lunch (Aunt Ammy being Amazon's top reviewers.)

http://www.freelunch.me/filecabinet

James said...

>You're paying someone
>who provides the service
>of finding people who
>want free books in
>exchange for a review

Since you could do the same thing for free on LibraryThing and other places, $49 seems excessive to me.

When it comes to ebooks, I base my purchase decisions on the sample chapter. No sample chapter, no purchase - period. The reviews are secondary to me. That approach has served me well so far.

SandyT said...

I get a "hinky" feeling when I read "I received a free copy ....." and don't understand why it is required. It would sound just as "hinky" if it started with "I received $49 for giving the following review..."

W. Dean said...

Robert Bruce Thompson,

Thanks for the link. I’ll read it with interest.

Kiana Davenport said...

I've read all of these comments re BookRooster, and here is my take. I'm a cross-over author from print publishing, so I'm not super-hip about promoting my ebooks online (one uploaded so far, one imminent). I spend most of my time writing the books, and have not yet learned how to plan ahead so that the book already has a potential readership as soon as its available.

My argument for a service like BookRooster is that it gives your book instant VISIBILITY to readers (whether they like the book or not) who might not otherwise know about the book. From that will hopefully come word of mouth recommendations which equals MORE VISIBILITY. Think of the time you spend online trying to get attention for your books! Now compare that to $49, and the valuable time you will save for your writing. Its a no-brainer.

To those of you who think such a service is 'tacky' or 'low rent,' may I remind you of the MILLIONS OF DOLLARS the big NY publishers ANNUALLY pour into Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, New York Times Book Review, etc. so that they will review their books! (One hand washes the other: its as old as the Gutenberg.)

To those of us who are indie ebook authors, its time to stop thinking like amateurs. We're each the head of our own small corporation now. We have to start thinking and marketing and strategizing like Professionals.

Bookrooster sounds excellent. I'm in! And thank you, Joe, for yet another invaluable tip. Alohas.

Rob Cornell said...

Well said, Kiana.

Rob Cornell
Author of Red Run
What would you do to prove your son's innocence? Would you sacrifice your own?

Russell Brooks said...

I agree with you 100%, Kiana.

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

W. Dean said...

No one said the service was “tacky” or “low rent.” Some early comments seemed to be in favor of getting rid of the disclosures. Like some others (Joe included), I suggested it was a bad idea (for writers more than anyone else) for paid reviewers to forgo disclosure.

I called intentionally not disclosing the receipt of a copy in return for a review “sleazy,” because it is. And when it is found out (as it will when someone inevitably squeals) it is writers who’ll pay the price, not readers, because reviews will have even less credibility than they do now.

I can’t tell from your comment whether you’re condoning paid reviews without disclosure or not, so I’ll only this: it might turn out to be a profitable tactic in the short run, and many people might engage in it, but it certainly isn’t professional.

Anonymous said...

I'd love it if Amazon also showed a little graph or something indicating the spread of reviews by each author.

It might make picking out shills and haters a bit easier.

Rob Cornell said...

I want to clarify something here that seems to be coming up in some comments. These are not "paid" reviews. You pay a service to distribute review copies of your books, but the reviewers themselves are not compensated in any way beyond the free book.

I would never pay for a review. That's just lame.

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

I've had a not good experience with Book Rooster. I got a subjective and unfair one-star review--they agreed it was unfair--but they refused to contact the reviewer.

Heads up: They have NO RATING SYSTEM and they DON'T PREVIEW REVIEWS.

indium ingot said...

If I thought it would lead to the piracy of my books I would sign them all up as soon as possible.
As far as I can determine, piracy leads to more sales

Anonymous said...

Just be prepared to wait. It's now two months since the purchase and a full month since they said I should start seeing reviews. Nothing yet. Not one.

It's a service that requires patience.

Anonymous said...

Do NOT use Book Rooster. They will take your money and never fulfill their commitment. They'll claim they're sending your book to new, potential reviewers each time you complain...that's if they answer your emails at all.

I've gotten about 25 reviews so far--almost none of those is from Book Rooster, despite three months of promises. Yet, when I again asked for a refund, Book Rooster claimed that one reviewer, who was a verified purchaser (meaning, she didn't get the book from them), had heard of the book via their service, and so that should count as one of theirs. What nonsense. It's a rip-off. Steer clear.

Anonymous said...

Bookrooster is not worthwhile. If they cannot get 10 reviews, or if you complain abiut quality, they refuse to communicate or provide a refund. They're either a failure as a business or an outright fraud. And, as others have noted, the disclaimer taints the review's credibility.
Don't waste time, money or energy dealing with Bookrooster.

This rooster's a turkey.

Anonymous said...

Bookrooster is not worthwhile. If they cannot get 10 reviews, or if you complain abiut quality, they refuse to communicate or provide a refund. They're either a failure as a business or an outright fraud. And, as others have noted, the disclaimer taints the review's credibility.
Don't waste time, money or energy dealing with Bookrooster.

This rooster's a turkey.

MJ Ware said...

I just wanted to say, that BR was a good site when Joe reviewed it, but now it's crap. I was promised a minimum number of reviews when I signed up, but received none.

Zip, Zilch, ZERO.

BR's response? We'll the they stopped responding to me.

Christina Bell said...

I used BookRooster and received a lot of reviews. Most of them were outstanding. However, the two that were bad were so venomous and personal that I feel as if I undermined my own writing career by using the service. My reviews are tainted. My faith in myself is shaken by these hideous people. Okay, so there were 2 of them out of the may glowing reviews, but these are the reviews that weight heavily upon me when I sit down to write.

Seriously, no matter how many good reviews you get, remember that BookRooster has guidelines for their reviewers, but they are not enforced. They will never ask a reviewer who goes too far to pull a review. If BookRooster results in a horrid review, it's on your site forwever.

It's a enormous risk.

BriWheeler said...

Warning! Book Rooster is a SCAM! I purchased reviews through Book Rooster for two books. Six months later, I have received none of the promised reviews, nor any of the promised updates regarding the status of my review requests from "Martin" or anyone at Book Rooster. Simply put, Book Rooster is a scam. Please save yourself the cost of this service.