Are Preview Readers’ E-Book Reviews a Fraud?

Carol Tice

Is it cheating to give out free ebook copies and get reviews from your readers?

There are many ways to market a book or e-book, but one thing I’ve figured out: Early reviews are critical for attracting readers and making sales.

Recently, on a Goodreads thread, I discovered one book-marketing strategy I’ve used with great success is considered scammy by some authors.

It’s recruiting readers prior to the book’s release who get a free draft copy of your book or e-book in exchange for a promise to leave a review on publication day.

Do your peeps leave false raves?

Complaints about authors who ballot-stuff their reviews with gushy raves from their personal friends abound on the GoodReads author forums. “It’s not fair!” one writer groused.

There is an ongoing scandal about authors (and business owners, too) who simply create fake identities to post fake raves.

The whole flameup reminds me of another book-marketing tip I gave recently, about how I got great marketing help for my new print business book on shoestring startups by mass-mailing my LinkedIn connections.

Worked great for me, but some writers thought I was just being a spammer on LinkedIn. Even though none of my connections were bothered by it.

It had never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with asking a group of early readers to review your book. I still don’t see what’s wrong with it. But apparently that’s not a universal opinion.

How to do early reviews right

My take on the early-reader review controversy: I think it’s fine if:

  • You don’t tell reviewers what to say or how to rate your book
  • They’re free to say whatever they want, including something negative
  • Early readers aren’t your personal best friends
  • Don’t post any fake reviews by pretend people, or encourage anyone to do that for you

In other words, put out a general call for signups for free copies, and take who you get. Don’t email the family with suggested language for their five-star reviews.

It’s vitally important to have a lot of reviews the day your book or e-book goes on sale, and I don’t see any other way to get those. Every author I know who has sold well has opened with a ton of rave reviews.

How else can you have reviews on Day One and make sales besides asking your fans to read it and review it before it comes out?

Some authors may think it’s a form of cheating, but this marketing technique is here to stay, until there’s a better way to make more sales on opening week and get your book ranked well on Amazon for your category.

How to do early reviews better

If the idea of handing out free copies in exchange for reviews makes you queasy, you might resolve it this way — simply ask that your free readers disclose in their review that they were given a promotional copy.

In checking out my recent biz book’s Amazon reviews and GoodReads reviews, I discovered more than one of my reviewers had done this on their own:

Goodreads review

I loved that. This way, it’s totally transparent how the reader came to be leaving a day-one review.

I think most readers probably won’t even notice, but you’re hiding nothing if you encourage reviewers to come clean about how they got your book.

Are free “early reader” reviews ethical? Leave a comment and share your view.

38 Comments

  1. Chip

    As much as I disagreed with your linkedin strategy, I think this is a normal and smart practice. If all of the free reviews are glowing, it will cast a bit of doubt on their veracity, of course. Maybe writers could send copies to both fans and detractors? As several other posters mentioned, the reviewer should disclose their free copy in exchange for their words much like affiliate marketers are supposed to disclose their relationships with the organizations they link too.

    In this conversation between Tim Ferris and Neil Strauss, the two authors discuss their different approaches to talking about their work while creating it – and the value of that in building an audience, and the overall importance of having a ready built platform to release a book or land an agent or legitimate publisher. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dTQWQXhSJU) having honest advance reviews would certainly fall under the guise of platform building.

    I wonder if it would be possible to contact credible reviewers (those with five or more well written reviews, not all positive) on sites you want to gain traction with and ask them for an honest review in exchange for a free copy. The reviewer gets rewarded for being a frequent contributor to the site, you get a credible review, and with the disclosure, no one’s hands appear dirty.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Chip — you know, I gather that IS a marketing strategy, to find the top Amazon reviewers for your type of book and reach out. Something I’d still like to do with my books but haven’t tried out yet!

      That at least gives someone who does a lot of reviews and often is NOT part of your personal tribe…but don’t know how much people pay attention to who the review is from. If most people are like me, you can and skim and look at the star ratings and pull quotes and make a decision.

  2. Joseph Rathjen

    Authors have been doing this for years. When one of my books was first published I noticed a bad review of my book (on Amazon) from a work colleague of one of my competitors books. I don’t bother reading the reviews anymore. I believe the fact that it has been selling for 18-years is proof enough that it deserves to still be out there.

  3. Corinna

    The problem is when your “supporters” write reviews that clearly demonstrate that they haven’t read the book and are simply rehashing the table of contents and/or press release.

    It’s not that you’ve asked them to rate the book highly. And they think they’re being helpful. But it’s not useful information.

    • Carol Tice

      Fortunately, I did NOT get that feel from any of my reviews, that they didn’t really read it. Agree that’s not cool.

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