If you keep up with indie publishing news, you may have come across news of Amazon suing four companies that sell fake, positive reviews. These include sites like buyamazonreviews.com and buyreviewsnow.com.

According to the Reuters report, Amazon claims that “while small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand.”

While this news affects many industries that buy and sell on Amazon, the independent publishing community is taking a particular interest because, if we’re honest here, we all know self-published authors use these services. Given the near-constant refrain of “get reviews for your book!” from marketing types, it’s understandable. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Here’s why:

  • They are often poorly-written, by people who have not read the book and it shows
  • Savvy readers can spot a paid review from a mile away. Not only will you lose that potential sale, you will forfeit the trust of that reader in the long term
  • It violates Amazon’s rules, and you do not want to get on their bad side. They can ban you from their site for life. Just imagine what that would do to your sales.
  • Ultimately, it’s just bad form. Nobody likes a cheater.

So, what’s an author to do? There does seem to be a circular logic to the idea that you need reviews to sell your books, but people have to buy your book if they’re going to review it. Here are a few alternatives to the review mills that will keep you out of hot water with Amazon, and in the good graces of your readers.

Advanced Reader Copies are the trusted warhorse of book publicity. Big publishers may send these out to major reviewers at the LRB or NY Times, but you can give ARCs to bloggers in your genre, members of your writing group, or followers on Twitter. If you send them out pre-book launch it makes the reader feel special, and hopefully gets you some reviews the day your Amazon listing goes live. Many bloggers will accept ebook files, if you aren’t printing your book.

Here’s the thing about a lot of writers needing the same thing – you can work this to your advantage. Put out a call to every writer you know on social media for a review swap. You blurb my book, I’ll blurb yours. The benefits here are two-fold: not only do you get a review that is likely to be well-written, but if that author has any avid readers their name will carry more weight.

Wait, what? Isn’t this whole article about how you should never buy reviews? Well, there is a caveat. Places like Kirkus and Midwest Book Review do offer paid review services, but these are handled by trained, professional reviewers who will objectively weigh the merits of your work. It’s more expensive, and may result in a lukewarm result if the reviewer doesn’t like your book, but it is definitely above board.

Have any tips on generating honest reviews for your book listing? Chime in on social media and help out your fellow authors!