Do Read-and-Review Programs Really Work?

Please review my bookBy L.A. Lewandowski, Laurie Boris & Lynne Cantwell

As authors, we all know book reviews are important for many reasons. They are also critical to readers when they visit our book’s page. There are many ways to go about getting reviews, and read-and-review programs are one of them. These programs are technically not the same as getting a paid review. A paid review means a reader (or a publication) is receiving payment specifically to review your book. Yes, an author participating in a read-and-review program might be charged a fee, but that’s generally for the website’s administrative services. A read-and-review program offers readers a free copy of your book in exchange for an honest review, and they require that the reviewer include a statement to that effect in the review they post. In the case of Story Cartel, a little extra incentive is provided, but that’s as a giveaway prize for readers who participate in the program—not direct payment for services.

L.A. Lewandowski
L. A. Lewandowski

I was convinced by romance author Jackie Weger to focus on pumping up the amount of reviews I had. I decided to try some review programs and offer them my most recent murder mystery, A Gourmet Demise: Murder in South Tampa.

The first review site I tried was Read Freely. They contacted me while they were still in beta, and after doing a little research, decided to send them a mobi file. I was promised between three to five reviews, which I received in a timely fashion. I found them to be professional in their follow-up and process, and would recommend Read Freely as a review site you should consider. My only concern was that the profiles of the reviewers were relatively new — I would not want a potential reader to think I paid for the reviews, or that they were sock puppets.

The second site I used was the Choosy Bookworm. I decided to try something different, and sent gift cards to the readers who requested my book. First, I reduced the price of my book to ninety-nine cents and sent personal messages to each reader. I kept a folder in my email so I could track the Amazon notifications as they were received and redeemed.

I’m not sure this is the best process as a variety of things occurred. One reader had no idea how to redeem the gift card for a book. A few gift cards were redeemed yet I saw no review. However, at last count I received over twenty reviews from this resource. Not all were four and five stars and this is a good thing. I believe it adds credibility to a book’s page when a reader expresses an opinion or gives constructive criticism. I have not received lower than a three star rating even with the critical comments, and I am appreciative of that.

Laurie Boris
Laurie Boris

I began my adventures in read-and-review programs with Story Cartel. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and a couple of the IU minions were having some success with it. You give them copies of your eBook in a variety of formats. Then you plunk down your choice of incentive — cash, a gift card, or an inexpensive Kindle were the alternatives at the time — and those who review a free copy of your book by the deadline are entered into a drawing to win. I tried my luck with my contemporary novel Don’t Tell Anyone, because it was newly released and I wanted to get more reviews. Out of the thirteen readers who grabbed a copy, I received one review — after the deadline. I didn’t have to shell out for a giveaway, but I didn’t get the results I wanted, either. I tried The Choosy Bookworm next, again offering up Don’t Tell Anyone, and wow, it was like night and day. I kept getting email after email with new addresses of readers who wanted to review it, and I gifted copies straight from Amazon. It didn’t take long to get the promised thirty readers, and most of those reviews were favorable. Then I tried running another contemporary novel, Playing Charlie Cool, with Choosy Bookworm. It was a little slower to move, but the reviewers were great. These reviews were not passes – they were definitely honest opinions, and I really appreciated that. As Lois mentioned, it can be good for a book to have more than just five- and four-star reviews.

My least-effective attempt was with Reading Deals. Another author mentioned it in a Facebook group, and I like to try new programs if someone else has been successful with them. I gave them a mobi file and paid a $30 “administrative fee” for 10 reviews; if you don’t get readers biting after two or three months, they refund your money. Notice they don’t guarantee any reviews during that time period — they just cover requests. The read-and-review offers are sent out in the website’s newsletter. After no response for two weeks, I received an email that three readers had requested my book, but no reviews ever showed up. I still get that humiliating little email update every Friday that I have no reviews. I’m not sure if these were legitimate requests for my book or requests put in by the site owners to keep me from getting a refund, because my emails to them have gone unanswered. They do keep expectations low, though, and say that it could take months and you might not get any reviews at all. Probably won’t be trying this one again.

Lynne Cantwell
Lynne Cantwell

Read-and-review programs are great – when they work. I’ve tried a couple that have already been mentioned above. Here’s what I found.

I sent Seized to Story Cartel, after reading a starry-eyed post on the blog of an author I don’t know personally. If memory serves, this author said she had received 50 reviews for her book by using their service. That sounded pretty good to me, so I bit. And my effort tanked. I think I only received two or three reviews out of the deal.

One problem I saw with the Story Cartel model was that authors are required to pony up prizes to draw reviewers. I offered $10 Amazon gift cards. Maybe I would have gotten more takers if I’d given away a Kindle. I dunno. Also, Story Cartel really pushed me to promote my book’s availability. I’m skeptical about the effectiveness of that. I think most people have already tapped their own social network for reviews, and broadcasting that your book is available for free on Story Cartel probably does more to promote Story Cartel than it does your book.

In contrast (and in counterpoint to Laurie), I had a terrific experience with Reading Deals. I sent in my fee in late November for ten reviews for Seasons of the Fool. Almost immediately, I began getting bites, and by early February, I had all ten reviews. Three of them were 3 stars, but I don’t personally have a problem with 3-star reviews. I’ve long since gotten over the notion that everybody is going to like my work. And as Lois said, lower-starred reviews seem to give a book listing credibility – like maybe the author didn’t just ask his or her friends and relatives for help.

I guess maybe we could sum up our experiences by saying that with any read-and-review program, your mileage may vary. And don’t expect 50 reviews from any one website, no matter what you’ve read online.

Author: L. A. Lewandowski

Lois Lewandowski graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Political Science and French Literature. A passion for life lived well is reflected in her novels, Born to Die-The Montauk Murders, A Gourmet Demise, and My Gentleman Vampire, giving readers a glimpse into the world of the beau monde. Lois lives in Tampa, Florida. Learn more at her lifestyle blog, and her Amazon author page.

31 thoughts on “Do Read-and-Review Programs Really Work?”

  1. I don’t understand the concept of book reviews. They are the opinions of others, and not my opinion. What is the purpose if opinions clash. She likes the book, she doesn’t, but he does, only he doesn’t. Confusion is all it says to me. You come across a book with six hundred opionated reviews and okay so four hundred are positive, one hundred on the fence, the rest not so convinced. So in order to know what I myself am going to think, I will have to read the book. Why bother with opinions then, if I have to find out for myself? What I believe matters as far as a book is concerned, do YOU the reader like what you’ve read? Yes? Well great, glad to hear it. But just because you liked it doesn’t mean I will. I don’t care how many words you used to describe your love of the book or your dislike of the book. I care what I liked or disliked. Your opinion is just that, YOUR opinion. To discard an authors work because a group of readers didn’t like the works is like saying, I don’t like that family, because I don’t like their dog. To me, it’s silly. Think for yourself. Stop letting others OPINIONS influence your thinking. What are you, robots?

    1. I understand what you are saying, Vicki. How do I know if I will share the opinion of any individual person, unless I know them and know that we share similar tastes? I get that.

      But, to a large percentage of readers, beyond the ratings themselves, reviews provide social proof. If a person becomes aware of a book for the first time, clicks over and sees the 600 reviews in your example, it tells them, on a subconscious level, if nothing more, that many, many people have found this book worthwhile. If you are a “go your own way” kind of person, that might not mean anything, but to many readers, it does.

      1. When I read reviews, I look for issues that are important to me as a reader: are there editing issues? Is the dialog realistic? Granted, not all reviewers will be that specific, but if a review gushes or bashes about the things that matter to me, I take note. Yes, it’s still just one other person’s opinion, but if they sound of like mind, I take that more seriously.

        1. ‘…of like mind…’
          That’s the reason I read reviews as well. It’s not as good as getting a recommendation from someone I know and trust, but it does give me a starting point. After that I’ll read the sample. If it matches the ‘feel’ of the review, then chances are I’ll buy the book …and read it.

          Unfortunately, the social validation of owning a book that lots of others own often ends with the buy button. How many times have we all seen posts about readers with hundreds of unread books on their TBR lists?

          Either way, reviews to have an affect, sometimes positive, sometimes negative.

  2. My experience with Choosy’s R&R programme is, great response from readers asking for the book, but few corresponding reviews.

    I think it’s the fault of the book, The Transition of Johnny Swift, rather than Choosy or the prospective reviewers.

    This particular novel (unlike my crime thrillers) straddles many genres (fantasy, thriller, romance, and sci-fi) and is not an easy sell. I had a couple of responses from readers to say that they didn’t like the book but wouldn’t bad mark it as they received it free. For that, I’m grateful.

    Other reviewers have raved about the book.

    I guess it’s what people in the UK call a ‘Marmite’ book – you either love it, or hate it. No middle ground.


  3. Reports I’ve read on these types of sites have been mixed. One author strikes gold with a specific site while another strikes out. I can only guess that each site attracts differing concentrations of readers, but they rarely indicate which genres they have better success rates with. I’ve been hesitant to try them out for this reason.

    I’ve had reasonable success (so far) with LibraryThing giveaways. Hard to beat, considering it’s free.

    1. Do you get reviews from your LibraryThing winners, Bruce? One of the problems I’ve heard (and experienced) with Goodreads giveaways is that they don’t often translate into reviews for your book.

      1. Yes, I’ve received some solid (well-balanced) reviews from LibraryThing giveaway winners. I’ve also participated in several Goodreads giveaways, too. I agree that not everyone will leave a review, but as the LibraryThing giveaway is for eBooks (no cost to me), I can live with that. Goodreads is a bit more costly to me as I have to purchase and send print books, so I generally give far fewer copies away. With LibraryThing, I can choose to give away up to 100 copies (you generally don’t get than many entries – 50 is my highest) and handle the distribution via a Smashwords coupon.

        1. I’ve gotten about a 60% review rate on Goodreads giveaways. I haven’t tried LibraryThing because (they say) you can’t do it when your book is Amazon exclusive.

          1. True, you can’t post a LibraryThing giveaway if you’re on Amazon Select. The 60% Goodreads review rate is in line with my experiences – until lately. My last GR giveaway went 0 for 3. Maybe it was the time of year? Or sometimes you just get winners who are more interested in reselling the book on eBay for a profit.

  4. Thanks, all, for these reports. I have used only one site–Choosy Bookworm–but have had very good success, three times. Yes, some readers don’t provide the promised reviews, but in my experience most do, and most of them are thoughtful and serious. Not all of them like my books, but that is how it should be. Yet many of them have told me that they have become fans and bought my other books. I believe in the process.

  5. I’ve used Choosybookworm for four books and have had excellent results. All are on Smashwords (as well as Amazon, etc) so I used SW discount codes and sent detailed instructions on how to side-load books. Other authors Gift the book through Amazon, which I may try in the future. I’ve gotten reviews from well over 50% of the R&R participants through Choosy. I’ll continue to use the site as it’s following is growing at a rapid rate.

  6. I’m currently giving Story Cartel a try. It should be noted they have changed their program – now you don’t pick an incentive, you just pay $25 to have the book listed for the three weeks and they do the giveaways themselves. I think they made this change after Amazon pulled reviews because of authors providing the incentives.

    Anyway, so far I’ve had about 7 downloads – will be curious to see if I do get any reviews. 🙂

    Going to check out Reed Freely and Choosy Bookworm too.

    Did any of you try doing giveaways on Goodreads? I’ve seen a lot of mixed responses on the effectiveness of doing them from other indies, making me wonder if it’s worth trying.

    1. Anma, I’ve done several giveaways on Goodreads and end up with a ton of people adding my books to their TBR list, but very few reviews ever come of it. I don’t consider it a waste of time, but it’s not a sure thing by any means.

  7. I signed up to Amazon’s Bookrooster when I started reviewing books. I believe this is a similar scheme to those mentioned above. I don’t get paid (sorry, paid reviews are two dirty words, as far as I’m concerned). I’m just given the book for free, and I’m under no obligation at all to provide a review. However, I always do. A huge number of the books I’ve been sent were very appealing…because when you sign up, you specify your favourite genres. This has resulted in quite a cache of Bookrooster books to review (and I will, all of them) on top of those sent to me via my reviewing website. I find Vicki’s viewpoint a little selfish and just a tad patronising. As far as I’m concerned other people’s reviews…oh no, sorry, opinions…are very valid. The ‘blurb’ doesn’t tell you things you want to know. I have no desire to waste my time on a badly edited book…I read enough of those. And I’m quite sure others will be interested to know that. They may ignore it, but they’re intelligent enough to decide for themselves. I’m personally quite interested to know if the blurb was misleading, if there was too much violence, bad language, graphic sex or not enough of those things. It won’t necessarily put me off the book, but I appreciate the heads-up. More often than not, if I’ve decided to read a book, a quick scan of the reviews (a cross section of good and bad) is like a back-up for my decision. However, if I’m teetering on the ‘do I really need to read this apparently mediocre book on top of all the 675 I have to read’, then the reviews (opinions) are very useful, thank you.
    Just one point of note…it’s taking me a long while to get round to some of the Bookrooster books because I have reviews books higher up in the pecking order. So, to the authors of those books, don’t despair. A review may well be forthcoming, in time.

      1. So have I…
        Cathy, I have the unfortunate habit of looking at the one star reviews first. Many times they are ridiculous and not pertinent to my reading preferences. However, every once in a while one will illuminate an issue which is important, and then I check out the other reviews.
        Thanks for your comment.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this info! Having the three different experiences in one post makes it particularly valuable. I’m going to share this link with some private FB groups where people have had despairing conversations about this very challenge.

  9. So far I have only posted book reviews: whether on amazon, my page on goodreads or my book review blog on The Book Marketing Network. The indie authors that I post reviews tell me “every little bit helps”.

    I am close to completing my own first novel- a YA dark fantasy. As there are so many indie authors out there now, I find this article very helpful in trying to come up with my own plan for launch. So far, my plan had been threefold:
    1) writing under a pen name that would be more familiar to the general population-but different enough not to be the same name.
    2) Offering my book up for 99 cents to encourage people to take a chance on an indie author.
    3) Trying to get as many reviews as I could possibly get. Yes, I will have friends and family and hopefully lots of the indie authors I have posted reviews for. But I was also thinking of running an ad on craigslist to offer the 10 dollar incentive for those willing to buy my book at 99 cents and post an honest review.
    I guess time will tell 🙂

  10. Thanks, Lois, Laurie, & Lynne: I now deem the three of you “Charlie’s Angels for Authors”!

    Having participated in Read & Review programs, I’d say your experiences and results are dead on. Sometimes, the endeavor is successful; other times not. I’m surprised by readers who redeem a book but never post a review or respond to your follow-up emails. I think we should inform the book site, in case these people are “repeat offenders” just looking for free books. That would be one way to improve on these programs.

  11. Terrific post. Thank you for letting us know of your experiences.

    I’ve used Choosy Bookworm and I was pleased with both the number of requests for the book and the number of reviews. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but the reviews came in over time and were well above the 50% mark, probably closer to 75%. I loved that some readers contacted me personally and some even subscribed to my mailing list.

    1. Dale, I had very similar results with Choosy Bookworm. It was gratifying! Yes, a few readers gave me three-star reviews, but that’s to be expected. The majority were four and five stars–more than I hoped for!

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