The costs of getting a book review

Why asking for a free book shouldn’t be normal

Writers put their heart and soul in their stories. They work hours on getting the right words, the right sentences and a plot that’s without any plotholes. Most writers are perfectionists and they spent quite a few bucks to give their story the best (professional) care before it gets published. There is no guarantee of the profit they’ll make once it’s out there. The only thing left to do is to try and get your book noticed and one way to do that is by getting book reviews. But that, too, is not always free of charge.  

The writing process can be hard. Tiring even. Lots of people want to write and publish a book, but they give up because of the hard journey. Writing isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes endurance, persistance and a solid determination to get a story written, let alone published. And even then the journey’s not at its end. Then comes the part where the author has to get the book noticed. The word most authors dread: marketing.

Marketing costs

Marketing can be very, very expensive for a writer. There are lots of ways you can market your book, but it all comes down to knowing what works well in order to get your book noticed by the right audience. The first thing most authors tend to lean toward is getting reviews for their book on platforms like Amazon and Goodreads.

Reviews help an author because they tell potential readers if the book’s worth buying. But getting reviews is not free.

For a writer who gets signed by a traditional publisher it might not be a concern if others, particularly reviewers, ask for a free physical copy of their book. After all, the risk of the costs lays with the publisher. But for the Indie Author things are a bit different.

The costs of getting book reviews

If an Indie Author wants their book to get attention in the form of (in depth) reviews, they might have to send out numerous free copies in order to get a certain amount of reviews. Of course there are plenty of reviewers who wouldn’t mind if the free copy was digital. After all, the price of an e-book is fairly low so the author is easily pursuaded to send out the e-book for free. But there are book reviewers who prefer physical books. They like the feel of the book as they read it. Or they just don’t like reading from a screen. I get that, I myself prefer books over screens.

However, when it comes to reviewing books, I have a different view. The author doesn’t get to decide who reviews their book. Sure they can approach reviewers and ask the question, but the reviewer decides whether or not they want to read and review the book. So, if that reviewer wants a paperback in return, instead of an e-book, why should they not pay for it?

You might say this depends on who the reviewer is. If they have a larger than life following, you as a writer surely would benefit from the exposure they give your book. And that would justify giving a free physical copy of your book. I get that and believe me, I wouldn’t even consider the money if that was the case. But those are exceptions to the rule and this isn’t what this blog is about.

Let’s move to Realistic-Ville, shall we? The possibility of a reviewer with a larger than life following actually reviewing a book by a first time indie author is pretty low. That’s why most writers aim for book reviewers who have their own website, and other solid social media like a Goodreads and Amazon account. So what if these book reviewers, the ones that don’t necessarily have a large following, want a physical book?

As an Indie Author myself I’ve hit this wall a few times. I’ve never actually voiced my incomprehension about having to pay for the free copies in order to get a review, because I just thought that’s just the way it is. But, does that mean we should all just accept that as normal? Is it logical for an author to have to pay the costs of a physical book in return for a book review?

My experience

Not too long ago I was approached by someone who offered to have my book be send out to many readers who’d one by one read and review my book. The mandatory reviews would then be posted in a closed Facebook group and those people were also invited, if they wanted, to post their reviews on their own website and social media. Now, you could argue that this is great marketing for my book. Having my book go from one reader to the next and the possibility of several reviews on Facebook and other social media means a lot of visibility. But I had a few problems with this:

  • I didn’t get to choose which people read my book, so I had no idea if those people were actually my targeted audience;
  • The reviews weren’t subjected to any guidelines, so even a “This is a great book!” would suffice;
  • The reviews would be posted in a closed Facebook group so only the members of that group would be able to see the reviews;
  • It would cost me two paperback editions of my book.

When I questioned this person about having to send two copies of my book when only one would actually be send out to readers, they told me that this was their payment for doing this for me. They told me they did this to support the author, to support the book and this, well, it just didn’t sit right with me.

The meaning of being supportive

Getting your book noticed, getting your name out there: marketing your book costs money. I know that. But when it comes to book reviewers asking for physical books, I think a line may be drawn there. Book reviews = physical books = marketing: that’s just too narrowminded. Every book sent out to a person, whether they review the book or not, can be considered as a loss of income for the writer. Add to that the costs of printing and posting that book to the reviewer and you have a scale that’s tipped way too much to one side. Being supportive doesn’t just mean reading and reviewing the book. Although you might consider both in that category. The most solid way of being supportive, in my opinion, is by making sure the author isn’t being disadvantaged. Meaning, they don’t pay for your support.

So, next time you ask for a free physical copy of a book, whether you are a (professional) reviewer or an acquaintance of the author, consider the time and the effort they put into this story. Consider the costs they made to hire a professional editor and a book cover designer. Consider all the money and time they’ve already invested into this book without knowing for sure if the profit of the book sale will be enough to break even and maybe even make them a little money. And then ask yourself if you’d feel good about asking that same author to give you a free copy, knowing very well that they have to pay for that, too. Ask yourself: if this is a book you’d want to read and review and you want to support the author, why wouldn’t you want to pay for the paperback?

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