The Story Cartel Experience

Story Cartel has been around for less than a year, so it’s not surprising that many people may not have heard of it. It’s developed a unique symbiotic system of exchanging free books for book reviews prompted by several stages of giveaways. According to their website:

“Story Cartel is full of books that are read and discovered by people like you. Since October 2012, over 10,000 readers have downloaded and read over 100 books, generating more than 1,700 reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and blogs. Thousands of readers are connecting with new authors right now.”

It works like this. An author uploads an e-book with all the usual accoutrements: title, book cover, blurb, sales link. Story Cartel offers the e-book for free downloads for a limited time, usually 20 days. Anyone willing to review the book posts their reviews and registers with Story Cartel and becomes eligible for one of three gifts from the author (author’s pick): three $10 Amazon gift certificates (1 per winner), five physical books mailed out to winners, or an e-reader.

The readers have 20 days after they download the book to read it and write their reviews. Seven days after the book expires, Story Cartel randomly chooses the winners and notifies the author. It is then the author’s responsibility to send out the prizes.

Although, looking at the self-reported numbers above (10,000 readers and 1,700 reviews), it doesn’t appear that very many readers actually write reviews, I decided to give it a go. I uploaded my non-fiction biography, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan. Over the 20 days of the free download period, I had 26 downloads. After comparing notes with others who tried it, this seems to be a decent number of downloads.

I chose the three $10 Amazon gift cards as my prizes. At the time, I was being frugal and figured that would be cheaper than mailing out 5 copies of my book.

When I was notified by Story Cartel that the winners had been chosen, I found that I only had two, so apparently out of the 26 downloads, they were the only ones who wrote reviews. I checked and the reviews were duly posted on Amazon and one posted on Goodreads; one was a 5-star, one a 2-star. While the 2-star review was disappointing, I’ve been around long enough to know that no book appeals to 100% of the people who read it. It was an honest review and you just can’t argue with that.

I sent off the two Amazon gift cards (Story Cartel provides a spreadsheet of names and e-mail addresses) and realized at that point that it would have been cheaper to mail paperbacks instead, but of course I had no idea that I would not have 5 reviewers/winners. Then again, mailing a paperback to the one who gave it 2 stars would have been pretty pointless.

However, upon checking my stats for this post, I noticed that I had two more new reviews on Amazon, another 5-star and one 3-star. The 5-star reviewer mentioned getting a free copy of the book to review while the 3-star reviewer did not, but both showed up in the spreadsheet Story Cartel provided me. I don’t know why Story Cartel did not choose three winners when there were four reviewers, but it may be that two of the reviewers did not post their reviews or register with Story Cartel in the designated time frame. In any event, I was so pleased with the 5-star review that I went ahead and sent the last of my three $10 gift certificates to that reviewer. Reading and reviewing takes time and energy that I appreciate, so I was happy to provide a little positive incentive for that.

So … was it worth it? All in all, I’d say yes. My book now has 13 reviews (averaging 4 stars), which I believe lends some weight to it. Had I only ended up with two reviews as I originally thought, I probably would not use Story Cartel again, but with four new reviews, I’d say it’s worthwhile, at least in this instance. I will consider doing this with some of my other books in the future.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

12 thoughts on “The Story Cartel Experience”

  1. I think it’s a scam myself. I reviewed two books for it. One got two reviews after mine and mine was the only one identified as being for Story Cartel. No gift card. Second book, same thing. Two reviews, three gift cards. No gift card. And from your experience, something is obviously screwed up.

    I won’t be using them again myself as a reader, and certainly won’t bother with them as an author.

    1. Rich, sounds like the authors of the books you reviewed didn’t live up to their part of the bargain, which makes it tough on everyone involved. I saw no mechanism for Story Cartel to either make sure I sent my cards or to censure me if I didn’t. It’s unfortunate when people can’t take the time to be respectful. I felt it was worth it to take the extra time and trouble to at least respond to all reviewers, even if they didn’t win.

  2. My experience was similar to yours, Melissa. “Seized” got 14 downloads and only one review that I know of. I don’t know that I would say it’s a scam. It’s the author who’s responsible for sending out the prizes, and some may fall down on the job a little. Also, Story Cartel may deliberately limit the number of prizes awarded based on the number of downloads. If that’s the case, though, they ought to say that on the site.

    1. Lynne, like you, I did not see anything about prizes correlating with number of downloads. It might be interesting to ping Story Cartel and ask about that. Maybe in my spare time …

  3. Hmmm…. interesting. I’m inclined to agree with Rich to an extent. That’s pretty pricey reviews. Another problem I’d see is that it looks like it would violate the exclusivity contract with KDP Select. So that would take some working out. I think I’d pass on this one

  4. I admittedly have no experience with Story Cartel and only a small experience with self-publishining. But I can’t help asking myself, how is all this different from making my book free on The Gorilla (Amazon) for one day and hoping for reviews. And hyping the book on social media, and giveaways of the paperback (expensive if you mail them) and gifting the eBook to more interested readers who guarantee a review. In this way I accumulated 9 reviews on Amazon (average 4.6, none <4) and a few on Goodreads (one 3 without comment and the rest 4-5). And demonstrating the phenomenon discussed elsewhere in IU, the sales plummet immediately when the freebies and hype stop. I'm not even convinced the hyping has a huge effect as it seems to be marketing (as does Story Cartel, I suspect) to fellow writers/readers rather than to readers.

    1. Timothy, that’s the real question, isn’t it? What works? What combination, when? Seems like anytime someone thinks they’ve figured it out, the algorithms change and it’s a new ball game. I felt like this was a decent experiment, but obviously not a primary marketing tool. I’ve had more success with price-pulsing and, of course, actively asking readers to leave reviews. But it’s all a crap shoot, isn’t it?

  5. Interesting article, Melissa. Thank you for your report. Without writers like you posting about their experiences, we’d all be stumbling in the dark.

  6. UPDATE: Well, when I’m wrong, I’m wrong. Got two gift cards in my email. Story Cartel is apparently NOT A SCAM! I apologize to them for the insinuation.

    But I’m still watchin’ them! Don’t get complacent, Story Cartel! 🙂

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