My review of Online Book Club Promotion Services
Somehow I managed to get on the Online Book Club (https://onlinebookclub.org) email list about a year ago. Afterward, my inbox was inundated with weekly promotional emails, sometimes more than once a week. The initial emails always promoted an offer to review one of my books for a nominal price, explaining how the review could help boost my sales once I'd posted the review in the "Editorial Reviews" section on the Amazon book page.
I wouldn't necessarily label the promotional emails as spam since rarely were two emails exactly alike. It seemed someone was spending a good bit of time crafting the emails so that they didn't appear as just repetitious spam. If anything, I couldn't help but be a little impressed with the sheer energy exhibited by Scott Hughes and his team in their promotional efforts.
Still, I never considered purchasing a review from Online Book Club. The claims made in the promotional emails were obviously so exaggerated that I was confident there was no way the promises could be delivered on.
Months went by. I had recently published Mare's Nest, the first book in my new T. J. O'Sullivan Thriller series. Once the launch was over, and the usual summer slump in book sales had rolled around, sales of Mare's Nest dropped off, especially on Amazon. About that time I received another email from Scott Hughes at Online Book Club.
I happened to have an extra hundred bucks at the time and decided to give Online Book Club a try. I was still just as certain that Scott Hughes was over-promising and would predictably under-deliver, but I figured I'd try it anyway. If it turned out I had been right all along, I could afford to lose the cost of the review, and I could use the experience to post a review here of the services for the benefit of other self-published authors.
The truth about most online book promoters and book review services
You don't have to be involved in self-publishing very long until you discover that the vast majority of paid book promotion and book review services are worthless. They take your money, and then you see either absolutely no results or at best, results that aren't anywhere close in value to what you paid for the services.
These services are in my opinion, quite comparable to all the online diet plans and services that proliferate on the web aimed at people who want to lose weight. Many people who want to lose weight are so desperate for that silver bullet that will actually help them lose weight, they readily part with their money for things they really should have known at the outset couldn't ever have been realistically expected to work. But, desperate people too often ignore reality.
Just like those who are desperate to lose weight, there are now easily hundreds of thousands of aspiring authors desperate to self-publish a successful book. They too are seeking a silver bullet, not one that will help them lose weight, but instead, one that will help them sell books. In response to the ever-rising demand, lots of "entrepreneurs" have thrown up book promotion and "editorial review" sites aimed at cashing in on this latest market group of desperate consumers, self-published authors.
Not all book promotion and book review sites are fraudulent
I certainly don't suggest that all book promotion and book review sites are fraudulent. But, I have come across many of them I believe should be prosecuted for criminal fraud. A good many of them make claims that no reasonable person would believe they could ever come close to delivering on. But, there are a handful of such sites that do return at least some value in exchange for the services they sell to self-publishers.
There is BookBub, and then there is everyone else
BookBub is the gold standard when it comes to book promotion services. Most authors and publishers who purchase a promotion from BookBub do receive fair value for the cost they pay for the services. Unfortunately, because BookBub delivers the site can be and is very choosy when it comes to books they are willing to promote. And BookBub isn't cheap. BookBub promotional services are based on the price and the category of the book. The lowest price an author or publisher can expect to pay is when a book is offered for free. The cost of a BookBub promotion ranges from $30 (for a free eBook in the smallest category) to $1,925 (for a mystery priced at $2.00 or more).
Also, books accepted by BookBub must be free or discounted by at least 50%. Books must be error-free, well-formatted and free of any typos and grammatical errors. Book covers must appear as professional, which generally means a do-it-yourself or possibly even a Fiverr purchased cover will not pass muster with BookBub. While BookBub doesn't publish a "minimum review" requirement as many book promoters do, I know of several authors who have been told that their books were not accepted by the site because there were too few reviews. In some cases, those rejected books had ten or more reviews on Amazon. It is safe to say that at least unofficially, BookBub does have some number of positive reviews required.
Clearly, it is in the interest of BookBub to keep their services in the elite category. If they were to lower the bar for how they select books, BookBub would soon plummet into the "also-rans" category along with most of the other book promotion services that don't provide authors and publishers much if any value. The cost and the requirements eliminate the vast majority of self-published authors from participation at BookBub. So, most self-published authors must content themselves with using one or more of the less effective book promotion services.
Importance of reviews
Given how critical book reviews have become, and how difficult it is to get organic reviews, it is not surprising that services like Online Book Club have come along. Reviews literally make or break a book these days. Books that get many reviews, which I'd define as something like 50 or more, typically climb the rankings and sell well. Books that get few reviews, certainly less than 30, languish in the rankings and sell poorly.
Having received only three organic reviews on Amazon (the gold standard for reviews) for Mare's Nest, I admit I'm quite desperate to get more reviews. While I'd much prefer organic Amazon reviews from verified purchasers, that is something that most other authors and I have little if any control over. I could see how even a positive "editorial review" might spark more interest in my book. So, in spite of all my misgivings, I purchased a "Level 1" review (the cheapest) from Online Book Club for $97.00. The email from Scott Hughes I received also promised to buy a copy of my book for the Online Book Club reviewer, so that should have reduced my out of pocket cost to $94.00.
When I entered my details on the Online Book Club review request, there was a notice that stated on the average, it took 4 months for a Level 1 review request to be completed. I was urged to "buy up" by paying another fee if I needed the review sooner. There wasn't any real rush, so I declined the offer to pay more to get the review sooner.
I also had to send an inter-site message to the Scott Hughes team to let them know the offer I received from them included them buying a copy of my book.
My experiences with Online Book Club
To be frank, I have not been impressed at all with the services from Online Book Club. I can honestly say, that beyond providing me a book review, which I honestly consider of dubious value at best, none of the grandiose promises made by the hundreds of emails I've received from them, were delivered on.
First, despite the promise to buy an electronic book copy of Mare's Nest, Online Book Club did not buy one. Instead, the reviewer was provided the ePub copy I was required to upload to the site to complete the review request. How can I be certain of that? Because sadly, no copies of Mare's Nest had been purchased for several days before I purchased the review, and even sadder, not one single copy of the eBook has been purchased since my review was published. One might justifiably believe that Online Book Club makes the promise to purchase a copy of the book to be reviewed, but never intends to do so. They might expect there are bound to be unrelated sales during the process, so the author would never know they hadn't purchased a copy as promised. Unfortunately, in my case that wasn't true, so I have no doubts whatsoever that Online Book Club earned their first strike by failing to keep the very first promise they made.
A single lost sale might not seem a big deal in the greater scheme of things, beyond the fact that the unwillingness to follow through on a $3.00 promise immediately threw the integrity and honesty of Online Book Club into immediate question. But here is the thing. The ePub I uploaded was an ARC, not the edited version of Mare's Nest that appears for sale on Amazon and other book retail sites. That may have played a role in the review I subsequently received.
My Online Book Club book review
Overall, I have to say I was quite pleased with the review I received from the Online Book Club reviewer. She was very complimentary of the story and seemed to have really enjoyed reading it. It seemed clear that she had actually read the entire book. She gave the book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars, which is quite comparable to a 4 out of 5-star rating on Amazon. But in the final paragraphs of the review, the reviewer decided it was necessary to include comments about English grammar usage. I don't feel she was mean-spirited about it, but whether by intent or not, reading the final paragraphs would definitely leave many readers believing that Mare's Nest is riddled with mistakes and grammatical errors when that just isn't the case.
First, the reviewer received an ARC. So, I won't categorically deny that the copy she read didn't have errors. I'm sure it had some, although I expect they were few and minor. Any errors she found certainly didn't deserve the focus given them in the review. The other thing is this. The review was not written by a native English speaker. Mare's Nest is a book that contains a great many New Zealand slang words and colloquialisms which I'm quite sure the reviewer had absolutely no familiarity with based on where I learned she was from. Also, the fact that the review had several rather egregious grammar errors itself, I'm not very convinced that this reviewer was actually qualified to pass judgment on correct English grammar usage in the first place. Essentially, I was happy to read the nice things she said about the book at the beginning, but the ill-advised grammar critique at the end pretty much rendered the review completely worthless. And lest I forget. It took only about 10 days to receive the completed review, not four months. It seems the demand for reviews is not quite as high as advertised.
I could have the review removed from Online Book Club, which is the only place it is published. But I won't for three reasons. Few people are ever going to see the review there anyway. I have to admit I really don't give much credence to the site's claims that there are 450,000 reader members chomping at the bit to find good books to read listed on Online Book Club. I feel rather certain most of the site members are people who joined to get paid for writing book reviews, and authors who signed up to pay for them. Lastly, I'd have to pay an additional fee to have the review taken down. It seems that once you pay for a review at Online Book Club, that is merely the tip of a proverbial iceberg. Anything and everything else costs more and more money, and the other services offered are ridiculously expensive.
Here are a few examples of what I mean by "ridiculously expensive."
- "Book of the Month" package (Includes a three-month social campaign) for $9,600.00.
- Three-month social campaign for $2,800.00.
- Two-week social campaign for $598.00.
- "Book of the Day" promotion for $698.00 for books priced at $2.99 or less.
- 1,000 additional reviews package for $4,000.00.
Even a post I read by an author who evidently still uses Online Book Club and whose comments were generally very favorable, said this...
"If it wasn't for how hard the team running the site work to promote books, I would say 100% steer clear. However, I will still offer a warning that they are crazy expensive and your results will NOT come close to paying back the cost."
I just wish I'd seen that assessment before I'd foolishly parted with my $97.00.
In conclusion, I've seen absolutely no benefits from the $97.00 contribution I made to Online Book Club, and I won't be foolish enough to ever consider using the site's services again. To be fair, this is only one person's personal experiences with them, but I don't have any problem recommending that other self-published authors look elsewhere for both book promotion help and book reviews. The $97.00 price tag for a Level 1 review is very tempting in comparison to other professional book review services. But in my opinion, it would be much better to pay a little more for a professional review that might actually help.
I won't label Online Book Club a scam. Just purchasing a single book review from the site is not in my opinion sufficient to justify that. I can honestly say this. The site is difficult to navigate. Online Book Club is far from being a transparent business. And, at least in my case, they didn't keep a single promise beyond providing a review, albeit one I consider almost worthless. Save your money until you find a better and more effective promotional effort to throw it at. Online Book Club gets two thumbs down from me.