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Reviewers: You Don’t Have to Charge for Book Reviews to Make Money

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on March 14, 2013 in Publishing Business
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In a recent post I talked about why indie authors should never pay for book reviews. In the comments, the topic of book review websites came up -- more specifically the fact that there are other ways for these sites to make money without directly charging the authors whose books they review. (And if you're looking for reasons why you shouldn't charge for book reviews, read that post. The same penalties that can affect review buyers can also affect sellers.)

Today I'd like to talk to those book reviewers about their side of the issue. I understand that they want to make money from their websites. I know how much time and money it can take to run a successful website or blog. I've spent nearly a decade in Web publishing, running dozens of websites and blogs over the years (and doing so successfully and profitably). And I don't begrudge any Web publisher or blogger the right to earn for the work they do.

I even tested paid reviews as a revenue source myself quite a few years ago before they led to penalties. That was on a business blog where I was paid to review and analyze company websites, giving the owners tips for improvement. I've also run review-heavy websites tailored to independent artists, where I knew better than to charge (I ran a PR firm, and was well aware of the reputation hit my sites could take in that kind of niche).

So believe me. I understand the temptation of taking that easy way out. I also understand that there are better options out there from years of testing in a wide variety of niches -- some directly related to the writers you target for reviews.

Here I'll provide tips from my years of experience in Web publishing and testing revenue streams to hopefully give you some new website income ideas that won't put your site's rankings and reputation at risk.

How to Make Money Without Paid Reviews

Here are eleven examples of revenue streams you can use to make money from your website without charging for book reviews. I've personally used all but three of these on the blogs I've run over the years. And of those other three, two are being incorporated into a major rebranding and site merger in coming months (which will include All Indie Publishing), and the third is being tested for possible inclusion on that site.


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Here are the revenue streams you might want to try:

  1. PPC Advertisements -- These are ads, usually run through a third party network like Google Adsense, where you're paid every time someone clicks. How much you earn can vary greatly depending on your niche. For example, I have sites in niches where it's common to be paid one to several dollars for every click. And I've run sites in niches that are lucky to see $.05 per click on the high end. This is probably a better option for nonfiction book reviewers where you're more likely to talk about high earning niche topics.
  2. PPM Advertisements -- These ads are similar in that you'll generally work with a third party ad network. But instead of being paid per click, you're paid based on impressions (similar to pageviews). In other words, you're paid based on your traffic numbers and the eyes you can put in front of the ads. This could be the best option for book review sites that already see significant traffic.
  3. Private Ad Sales -- These can be either traditional banner ads or text link ads (although you'll want to use the nofollow attribute for text links if you don't want to be penalized by Google). You'll often make more money per ad with private ad sales, but they also take the most time to manage.
  4. Affiliate Promotions -- Affiliate ads can look similar to private ads in that they're often text links or banners. The difference is that you join an affiliate program first -- you go to the advertisers instead of the advertisers coming to buy space from you as the publisher. You promote a product or service as an affiliate, clicks and purchases are tracked from your affiliate links, and you're paid per sale (or other action, like a service lead). For example, if you're an Amazon affiliate, you might use those third party ads in your reviews for books you feature, which eliminates direct bias that's assumed when an author pays you personally. Or you could feature other products and services your readers are interested in that don't directly involve the book reviews. For example, you might post affiliate ads for an e-reader or audiobook subscription services.
  5. Run a Classifieds-Style Ad System -- I don't think it's any secret that many authors (especially self-published ones) are huge self-promoters. Sometimes they actually get more of a "spammer" reputation for the way they like to plaster their links everywhere. So why not give them somewhere where they're welcome to promote their new books aggressively? Find a classifieds plugin for your blog platform or other content management system and run a separate area for author ads. You make money. Authors get to reach your audience. And you don't have to sacrifice the credibility of your book reviews in the process.
  6. Add a Paid Niche Directory to Your Website -- If you focus on book reviews for a narrow niche or genre, you might be able to make money by adding a paid directory for your site. For example, if I were to do this on my horror writing blog (which I wouldn't because it's more of an author site), I'd create a directory of independent horror writers. You could make all listings fee-based. But I can tell you in the Web directory world this generally doesn't work. You'll want to add plenty of listings yourself first to make the directory valuable to visitors. Only then will people think it's worth paying for inclusion. Another option is to offer free submissions but then charge a fee for featured placement at the top of each category.
  7. Sell Information Products -- One of the best ways to earn revenue from your own website or blog is to sell your own information products -- like short reports or e-books (generally the short, non-fiction, how-to .pdf variety). You can whip these up in days to a few weeks, and they can actually sell for more than your full-length books in newer e-book formats. That's because they're designed to be more like mini-classes than traditional books. My first was put together and released over two days and it brought in thousands of dollars both in direct sales and new business. As a book reviewer, you have insight authors want. You read a lot of their competitors' books. You know what rocks. You know what sucks. And you know what authors need to do if they want to improve their own book reviews. So write a short information product up as a guide on getting better book reviews. Sell it. Win-win.
  8. Sell Tools -- If you don't want to publish reports or e-books, consider selling other tools like worksheets, templates, or "kits" of some kind. You can also sell apps and online services if you know a programmer or can contract one (like a book review submission app). As for more traditional tools, why not offer a tracking spreadsheet template, pitch letter templates to accompany review requests, or worksheets to help authors pinpoint common story issues you see as a reviewer?
  9. Offer Online Courses or Webinars -- You could even turn those information products or tools into events like online classes or live webinars. You can often charge more for these, although you might reach fewer buyers. A webinar would be a great way to line up live call-in interviews with authors in your specialty area and charge for access.
  10. Provide a Premium Members-Only Area -- Instead of offering downloadable products or events, you could simply put your best content behind a paywall in a members-only area. For example, if you don't happen to focus on indie authors, you might have a premium writer's market directory featuring traditional publishers. Again, look for blog or CMS plugins to manage paid member areas (I'm currently testing one called Premise for WordPress).
  11. Offer Related Services -- Other than offering your own products through your book review website, offering services is your next best bet. For some of you, it might even be your biggest money-maker. For example, you'd have your public book reviews where no payments change hands. They're completely unbiased for the benefit of your readers. As your opinions become more respected, you could start charging authors for private evaluations (which of course they couldn't publish as reviews). You'd basically offer consulting services that go a step or two beyond your typical unpaid book reviews. The book reviews themselves become a part of your writer platform and help build demand for the services.

Those are just the primary revenue streams that I've played with over the years (or am currently preparing to test). If you get creative, I'm sure you can come up with other ideas. And they don't have to put your reputation at risk the way paid book reviews can.

Have other ideas for book reviewers about how they can make money to support their sites? Share them in the comments.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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2 Comments

  1. Vada K. Belle March 15, 2013 Reply

    Jenn, no one has any excuse to fail if they just take your advice. Do you ever just wanna pull your hair out after helping everyone that would do something ill-advised in excruciating detail only to hear their excuses? I hope you helped some people who might have strayed otherwise!

    • Jennifer Mattern March 15, 2013 Reply

      Believe me. I hear my fair share of excuses. And I don’t have much patience for them. In addition to indie publishing, I’ve spent years helping freelance writers kick off and improve their careers. Excuses are the norm there. It’s amazing how many people and circumstances writers manage to blame for their lack of success — except themselves of course. But those who do succeed are the ones know learn to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and they hold themselves accountable. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing for clients, publishing your own websites and blogs, or publishing books. Until you hold yourself fully accountable for your success, it’s going to be lacking.

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