Paid Book ReviewsA few years ago, book blogging was a fun and innocent affair and a good way for an avid reader to get books for free and make a little money on the side from advertising or affiliate book links. There are still some great book bloggers out there, and a few I still work with, so I exempt these few before I continue.

Recently however, a new income source for book bloggers has changed the way many operate their book blogs. Virtual Book Tour operators are now big business, and big money.

Let me explain. Recently, I was looking through my list of book bloggers with the intention of contacting a few to help with promoting one of my books. Something I have done from time to time over the years. When I lchecked the review policies on a number of these sites, I noticed that quite a number stated that they did not take submissions from individual authors. Odd I thought. I checked through more and found very similar review policies. So why don’t all these book bloggers want submissions from authors anymore?

A little more investigation and I discovered why. For between $300 and $2,000, or even more in some cases, Virtual Book Tour operators promise to promote a book on different book blogs every day for a month. Yes, 30 or 31 separate posts on individual book blogs. Some offer 60 and 90 day tours. Not only that, but many of these Virtual Book Tour operators promise up to 6 reviews. I know there is a lot of fuss about paid reviews on Amazon at the moment, so is this just another way of buying positive reviews?

When I checked a number of these Virtual Tours sites, the other interesting observation was that most had booking calendars and it was clear to see that they were booked out months in advance. So it’s obviously a very lucrative business that is locking up book bloggers, and worse in my mind, creating concerns about issues of independence and objectivity. If you’re a book blogger being paid to post every day by a Virtual Book Tour operator, would you threaten your income stream by posting anything but glowing reviews?

Judging by the huge number of these virtual book tour operators I found on the web, it would seem that it’s a real money spinner, but each one requires a long list of contracted book bloggers. So how many independent book bloggers are there left out there?

Everywhere I look now, money is being made from self published authors and it is starting to appear to me that quality writing is just not going to be enough to have any reasonable chance of success. Only money will bring a book and an author any success. So what’s changed really? Marketing, advertising and advertorial have aways cost money.

So is the age of independence in self publishing over? And have book bloggers’ opinions, reviews and independence been bought off by the marketeers?

Virtual Book Tours And Book Bloggers – Just More Paid Reviews?
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23 thoughts on “Virtual Book Tours And Book Bloggers – Just More Paid Reviews?

  • 31/08/2012 at 2:23 pm
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    And then people wonder why I refuse to pay for a review!!! We as the writers did all the hard work, while these leeches want money for nothing. I think not…

  • 31/08/2012 at 7:41 pm
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    Interesting perspective, however, I have to disagree on a couple of points. Book Bloggers who are hosts for these tour sites are not risking any revenue stream because there isn’t a revenue stream. We don’t get paid for our reviews from tour sites. We receive a free novel and in return are expected to provide a review. Positive or negative. Most book bloggers I know wouldn’t risk their integrity by writing a review that was not honest.

    I have a small blog and I’m the only reviewer so due to time constraints I’m only signed up to be a host for one tour site. So, here’s what happens with that site…when they are scheduling a tour, they send out a notice to bloggers/hosts with a blurb about the novel and we are asked to reply and sign up if we are interested in participating in the tour. If its a novel in my favourite genre and it looks interesting, then I sign up. If its a novel that doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy, then I don’t.

    I think this is a good way for the tour sites to find a good match for an authors novel. This alignment is essential to the success of the tour, yes. However, I don’t think the tour site is ensuring only positive reviews by doing this. As a reader, if I’m going to take the time to buy, read and review a novel, I wouldn’t choose a sci-fi novel say if i didn’t enjoy that genre. If I did, my review wouldn’t be fair to the author’s work or myself because I wouldn’t enjoy it. I think when tour sites spends time matching this way, they are attempting to ensure a fair and valuable review for the author. That’s it. They aren’t making any promises for a positive review. In fact, some actually state on their site clearly that they don’t guarantee a positive review from the tour hosts. They can’t since there’s no remuneration involved and there isn’t that kind of relationship between a tour site and blogger.

    Now, as for the tour site and what they do when they get a negative review after engaging the blogger…I can’t speak to how they handle that situation as it hasn’t happened to me so far. One site states they will not include the review in the tour (I think this makes sense) but they may ask the blogger to include something like a guest post or something else during the tour instead of the review. Would I agree to including a post on my blog and by default promoting the novel anyway? I’m not sure but most likely I doubt that I would. And I doubt most tour sites would want me to. Say for argument sake I did agree, my review would still be posted on my blog, Amazon, Facebook page and Goodreads which is where i normally do post. So followers would easily see how I rated it anyway. Again, I doubt I would be comfortable with endorsing the novel at that point.

    There is one tour site that offers incentives to bloggers who sign up to host often (e.g. discounts on graphic design services or gift certificates from Amazon). I don’t think this is appropriate. I can see how this type of thing might tempt a host to review more favourably. However, like I said above, most bloggers I know wouldn’t take the risk of losing their credibility for a few free books.

    There are several reasons why bloggers aren’t accepting review requests from authors directly. It could be they’ve had a bad experience with providing a negative review to an author so they prefer to deal with the tour sites where they don’t have to experience that again. Its very hard to write a negative review and most bloggers dread it. We understand an author puts their heart and soul into their work and no-one wants the confrontation that may or may not result. Perhaps a blogger prefers to deal directly with publishers exclusively for some reason. There could be many reasons why bloggers have this preference so I don’t think you can just assume they don’t accept requests from authors (self or traditionally pubbed) because they get incentives from tour sites.

    One last point…overall, I’m in favour of Virtual Blog Tours and don’t believe its the same as paying for reviews. If handled properly, they can be very beneficial to authors. Some are very affordable. I’ve seen prices range from $25 to a few hundred. For authors who have no relationship with bloggers/reviewers or are uncomfortable with marketing, its worth it. If I were an author, I would definitely give it a try. Its near impossible to measure Return on Investment; however, for $25 I’d give it a go.

    • 31/08/2012 at 8:40 pm
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      Thank you for your comment Kat. It’s very much appreciated because it gives a blogger’s perspective on this issue. I suppose my first reaction is, why aren’t you paid to post? During my research for this post I visited probably 40 to 50 Virtual Book Tour sites and the cheapest I found was $190 for 20 blog posts. Just by the way, this same site offered to post only five star reviews. The most expensive sites offered blogs that syndicate with major US newspapers, along with regular book blogs, and charged in the thousands of dollars.

      Also during my research, I contacted more then 25 book bloggers, who didn’t say in their review policy that they weren’t currently accepting submissions, nor refusing submissions by individual authors and I also checked to make sure the genre of my book was suited to their preferences. The book I was submitting is probably my best and most popular book, and has received very high praise. After a week, my return on a whole day’s work was absolutely zero apart from two polite emails saying thanks, but no thanks with no reason given.

      In your comment you mention about bloggers having a bad experience with a negative review or two as a reason why they now prefer to deal with publishers and tour operators. Is that really a valid reason? As a writer I have to take the good with the bad and can’t run and hide behind a protective wall when my work is criticised. So why are book bloggers immune? Why is it, as you say, necessary for these tour operators to hide negative reviews? That clearly says to me that it’s paid promotion and only favourable reviews will be accepted.

      I think it proves my point in fact. Book bloggers are now afraid to write a bad review. So what’s the point? Without objectivity and freedom to choose and say what they think, book bloggers are falling into the hands of marketeers and by default, are just paid (or worse, unpaid) reviewers.

      • 31/08/2012 at 11:24 pm
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        Thousands of dollars and only 5 star reviews? WOW! I’m shocked by this. I haven’t looked at nearly as many as you have. I only researched about 15 and those were not syndicated with any major newspapers. The ones I looked at were smaller and do not charge anywhere near that amount.

        I’m glad you posted this and I can see why you are questioning the tours for those particular sites. I’m not sure who they use as reviewers to say they will only include 5 star reviews. If they are large enough, perhaps they have a staff?? I don’t know what else it could be. They say they use book bloggers, however, most bloggers like me will not guarantee a 5 star review. In fact, some bloggers I know rarely, if ever, give 5 stars. Their rating scheme says a novel has to be earth shattering or change their lives as they know it in order to be rated at 5 stars.

        I really can’t speak to why some tour sites decide not to use negative reviews other than to guess its the obvious business impact it would have. Most of us will write our review (good or bad), forward it to the tour company and get ready to post it on the day scheduled. I will absolutely follow up with the company I’m signed up with to find out what happens if I dislike the book and write a negative review. It hasn’t happened to me yet so I’m not sure what they would do in that case. But I’m now curious. I know what I will do and that’s not change my review if asked.

        Since we’re talking about the negative review issue, I would like to mention a few things. And this is just my opinion. For me, when i started my blog, I had to make that decision. Do I post negative reviews or not? I struggled with the decision. Ultimately, I decided that my policy would be to not post a review that is 1 or 2 stars. I can see you shaking your head now a a few of my friends did as well. But let me explain…

        My policy:
        ~When I read a novel without a review request from an author, I may or may not write a review. It really depends on the time I have available. On the other hand, when an author requests a review from me and I find its less than 3 stars, then my policy is to write the review, provide it to the author and let them decide if they want me to post it or not. Either way they get my feedback but I don’t automatically post it. I can see lots of pros and cons with this policy. But at the end of the day, I have to do what I’m comfortable with.

        To explain the why behind my policy:
        ~ My intent when I started my blog as a hobby was threefold – I wanted to share my thoughts on novels and interact with other readers who love the same genre as I do which I was doing on a few GoodReads discussion groups anyway, learn how to read more critically to understand how novels are structured (I’m an aspiring author) and have a forum to hone my writing skills. I didn’t do any training to become a reviewer aside from read a book or two on how to review. What I post is just my opinion. And like I mentioned above, I don’t get any remuneration for writing the review. For these reasons, I don’t consider myself a professional reviewer. This is why I decided to not publicly post negative reviews. But this is just my choice. You’ll see other book bloggers have different policies. Everyone is different and as smaller bloggers, we have that choice.

        Sorry I just went off on a bit of a tangent there but I just wanted to explain that I’m not afraid to post a negative review, I’d just rather not since I’m not doing this professionally. Again, this is just my preference and I’ll own any negative feedback from my choice. Also, the book bloggers I know are not afraid to write a negative review either. I maintain that the majority of bloggers i know hold onto their objectivity and if the tour site decides not to use what’s provided to them, well there’s really nothing we can do about that.

        Thanks for replying Derek. You’ve given me a lot of information to think about when I get to a point that I consider engaging the services of a tour site. It certainly something authors should be aware of if/when choosing a tour company to go with.

  • 31/08/2012 at 7:52 pm
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    I see a sense of hyprocrisy in the fact people are so adamantly against paid reviews but have no problem getting glowing reviews from their friends. Both a paid review and a review from a friend is fully biased in favor of the author. So why the big fuss over paid reviews and nothing said about reviews from friends?

    It always astounds me that people think that a reviewer should be the only professional on the planet that should not be paid and work only for books.

    • 31/08/2012 at 8:48 pm
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      I agree. The one point that has been missed though Rick, in this paid reviews saga of the last week since John Locke’s admission came to light, is that Amazon have been accepting and posting paid reviews for their whole range of products for, well, almost ever. Electrical equipment, clothing, music, you name it. So are books any different?

      Paid reviews on Amazon have been big business for a very long time. http://www.sponsoredreviews.com would be broke if it weren’t for paid reviews on Amazon.

      I think it’s really a case of literary naivety.

      • 02/09/2012 at 3:05 pm
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        Excellent point about product reviews on Amazon. Amazon also sells paid book reviews through their companies Kirkus and Clarion. So basically if you go to fiverr.com and pay someone $5 to read your book and give an honest review that violates the Amazon guidelines but if you pay Amazon $379-$549 for a review then it’s sanctioned.

        • 02/09/2012 at 7:35 pm
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          One rule for the big guy and another for the little guy Rick. If it weren’t for paid reviews, Amazon would have died in the 90’s. They have many review systems in place, and even their Amazon Vine gives freebies to members in exchange for reviews. Hardly a big deal for a free book, but hey, what if you review cameras?

          As was the case with a friend of mine, who I ran into at wedding a while back. He had a brand new Nikon SLR digital camera complete with telephoto lens etc. When I asked him how much it cost, he told me, ‘Nothing. I just have to say something nice about it.’

          As for your mention of fiverr.com, I actually contacted a few reviewers on there during my research for my posts on book reviews. They were quite candid in saying that they would only review books if ‘a’, they could buy the book and ‘b’, if they read the book. This is because of Amazon’s recent purge on fake reviews. The reviewers I contacted on Fiverr all said that they wanted two payments. One to buy the book so it would show as a ‘verified purchase’, and the second to complete the review. But for a total of $10, it’s not a bad deal.

          It’s up to each individual to decide if it’s right for them though. But then again, wouldn’t we all like to have a fraction of John Locke’s success?

    • 31/08/2012 at 10:55 pm
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      Rick, you’re right. I only review what I really want to read in the first place. I follow the dictum, “If you can’t say something nice, be silent.” If I find a book I’ve read to be poor. I’ll not write a review.

      I have written reviews for books I got as ARCs. Most of them are worthy of a fine review.

      I like your last line.

      James

  • 31/08/2012 at 11:30 pm
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    On the rare occasions when I do write a review, the book is either a Kindle freebie or one I bought and paid for. Like James, if it isn’t worth recommending, I’ll rarely bother to review it. Once in a while, I do review a book unfavorably, to balance out the uncritical reviewers who’ve fallen all over themselves to praise it to the skies for qualities it doesn’t have. Most of the time, though, I’m reviewing to bring excellent but not well-known writers to the attention of readers.

  • 31/08/2012 at 11:43 pm
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    In many cases the bloggers do not get any money for being part of the tour. What they get is traffic. Sometimes the reviews are negative (some ugly author behavior on this). What is promised is a review not a good review. In some cases an author will ask that the review not be posted. I’m in the process of setting up a tour company myself. It will be made clear to reviewers and authors that only honest reviews are to be done. Frankly I make more decisions to buy a book based on bad reviews than I do good reviews.

  • 01/09/2012 at 4:24 am
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    I commented on Derek’s last blog post (“Self Publishing — It’s About Breaking The Rules”) that I believe the increased accessibility of self-publishing over the past decade or so has created a situation where many writers are spending time marketing and promoting their own books. Virtual book tours, whether they pay reviewers in books or money, appear to be feeding off of the self-published writer’s need for promotion. Someone is making money, and it’s not the writer.

    Be aware of Yog’s Law , which states, “Money Flows Toward the Writer.”

    I mentioned “gatekeepers” in my comments on Derek’s previous post, and that I believe that writers (and readers) need them. In today’s market, it’s easy enough to bypass the gatekeepers and do it all yourself. In a lot of scenarios, I’m big on D.I.Y., and I published a collection of short stories this way. I won’t do that again, because I am not interested in marketing. I am not a promoter, and I don’t want to spend my time marketing and promoting. I would rather spend my time writing and rewriting.

    Know your markets. Know your PAYING markets. There are tools out there that will help you get paid to write. WRITER’S MARKET is one. You can pay for it or you can go to your library and check out the latest edition. The tool I use is DUOTROPE , which is free and powerful. If you use this service and find it helpful, you can donate money to help keep it running. Last I checked, the suggested donation is $5. ralan.com/ is another site specifically for speculative fiction and humor.

    Tools like this help you find paying markets for what you write. You will need to submit your work and handle rejection frequently, but if you produce good work and are persistent, you will eventually make sales. Not only will you then get paid for your work, but your work will be published in a format that has an audience. No need for marketing, for self-promotion.

    I think readers are more likely to gravitate towards established publishers, whether large houses or small presses, than sift through self-published books bolstered by reader reviews and virtual book tours.

  • 01/09/2012 at 6:42 pm
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    I’m an independent blogger on wordpress and I have not been paid to do any reviews. I’ve just been offered a free copy of the book. I have only reviewed 2 books for a publishing company. The first books was frankly not very good and I reviewed it honestly. They kept my review on the blog tour page. They even asked me to put it on Amazon. That sort of surprised me. I’ve been blogging now since January 2012 and love it a lot. I’m increasing my subscriber base regularly and my all time views are at 3,000. That’s not a lot but it’s a good start. Books are a real passion and I would eventually love to earn money for reviewing books but I4ve never been offered that possibility. I gather that most blog tours operate in this manner. Nevertheless, the reviews aren’t always honest, nor are they thorough.

  • 02/09/2012 at 4:32 pm
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    Virtual Tour sites aren’t on par with book blogs. Sometimes they emerge from the sites of people who have dabbled in book blogging, but they are essentially marketing businesses. Their fees aren’t used to pay for reviews, and the bloggers whose reviews they solicit for a tour do not see any of the money. The money exchanged between an author and a tour organizer covers the organizer’s time and effort to produce press releases, send out dozens, sometimes hundreds of queries to potential tour hosts, and produce other promotional materials like banners and buttons. It’s a time-consuming business to organize tours, and like anything else the author can’t/doesn’t want to do himself, it’s worth paying for.

    If a tour organizer promises nothing but 5-star reviews, however, it’s a sure sign of a scam.

    An individual blogger’s decision not to post reviews of low-rated books is an individual one, usually brought on by negative feedback from authors. Follow a few bloggers on twitter and you’ll see instances of bullying and harassment toward hobby bloggers on a regular basis — and some of these authors are published by large New York houses, with their agents and publicists chiming in against a blogger’s one-star review. Bloggers do it for fun, and if they don’t want to “play” with certain spoilsports or protect themselves from potential bullying, that’s their decision. They can’t vet every author who sends them a query, so some rely on tour organizers to deflect the weirdos. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.

  • 02/09/2012 at 5:47 pm
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    After reading all of this, I must be doing something wrong. I blog about books to share my passion for tween and YA reads with others who share that passion. I have not ever received a single penny for a single review. 90% of what I review on my blog comes from novels I have purchased myself.

    My review policy is that I will not take submissions from self-published authors. The reason is simple: quality. I teach and do not have a lot of “down” reading time. I want that time spent reading quality writing, but I have agreed to read and review several novels for authors where I found the writing to be almost unbearable to survive; thus my policy.

    Many of the bloggers I follow have a similar policy, and they too have not received a single penny for a book they have reviewed.

    Is there a certain genre of reading we are discussing here?

    • 02/09/2012 at 7:46 pm
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      Thanks for your comment Crys. During this debate about Virtual Book Tours and Book Bloggers, the one thing that is becoming clear is that book bloggers are getting ripped off. While these tour operators make very big bucks, they are seemingly tight fisted when it comes to sharing their earnings. I had assumed when I wrote this post that bloggers would be paid at least something for agreeing to work with these tour operators.

      How wrong I was.

  • 02/09/2012 at 6:27 pm
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    Crys, many of the books I review are self-published. But they’re the ones I’ve chosen to read for my own pleasure. If I got more serious about reviewing, I wouldn’t accept submissions because it’s true that so many self-published books aren’t well done. And I’m speaking as a self-published author. As I said above, the point of my reviews is mostly to share good reading, not to function as a critic.

  • 03/09/2012 at 4:31 pm
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    My modest blog was set up for my own pleasure and for me it is a thrill for it to have grown enough that I do now get lots of requests for reviews, but never ever for money! I love reading and will never ever accept payment unless you consider the free book I am getting as such. I don’t as it does not guarantee a good review, just my humble and honest thoughts which I hope will let others decide if it is a book they want to read. I will be publishing a review of one of your books in the not too distant future Derek. :)

    • 03/09/2012 at 6:27 pm
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      It’s been an eye opening thread on this post LindyLou. It would seem from what other book bloggers have said that while many like you do it out of a passion for reading, there is still a lot of money moving between publishers, authors and Virtual Book Tour operators. My initial thoughts when I wrote this piece have changed, but as has been widely reported lately, there are so many scams, tricks and dishonest practices going on with regard to Amazon book reviews that it’s hard to know what is going on any more.

      And I do look forward to the not too distant future! :)

  • 03/09/2012 at 8:13 pm
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    Derek, you have such a great blog! Great topic! You’re always filling me in on new topical trends/issues. Will miss you while you’re off grid! :)

    • 03/09/2012 at 8:22 pm
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      Thank you Dina! But I’ll try not to be ‘off grid’ for too long. Far too many things yet to investigate. lol

  • 05/09/2012 at 11:45 am
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    I was doing on a few GoodReads discussion groups anyway, learn how to read more critically to understand how novels are structured (I’m an aspiring author) and have a forum to hone my writing skills. I didn’t do any training to become a reviewer aside from read a book or two on how to review. What I post is just my opinion. And like I mentioned above, I don’t get any remuneration for writing the review.

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