My overall thoughts? Mixed.
I’ll go over the pros and cons of my experience after a short summary. My apologies in advance for the mega-post, but I have a lot of thoughts to squeeze into one review. I’ve been writing a lot of reviews lately, so that got me thinking about what I would say if I did a review of pubby.
You probably saw [this] negative review on medium when you googled “pubby co review.” I did too, but I decided to try their service anyway. I can tell you that they’ve definitely improved since then. Their system is not perfect, but they’ve corrected for the issues in that negative review. I had multiple reviews I requested that didn’t manifest on amazon. Pubby put those requests back through their system automatically after the deadline.
I did the ten day free trial first. That’s when I ran into the majority of the issues described below. I was able to recover from some amazon account issues, so I continued with pubby. I’m now partially into my second paid month. (For the sake of simplicity, I’m assuming you know what pubby is. I’ll spare you from having to skim a paragraph or so of me explaining it.)
I’ll do the cons first. In no particular order:
- Sustainability. Pubby is absolutely not sustainable at the levels they advertise. I am not referring to the amount of reading you’d have to do, but that could be a factor for some authors. What I am referring to is actually amazon’s own reviewing policy. Pubby could (in fact, I think should) make this clearer to authors. They limit people to reviewing no more than eight books a week, but that can still get you flagged in amazon’s algorithm. A more realistic limit is probably four.
- Amazon account issues. Yeah, I know this isn’t directly pubby’s fault, but it is still part of the process. Amazon will remove reviews without warning and without explanation. My main account was hit with a total review ban. Yes, this is the account that has my books published through it. Why? I don’t know. It didn’t seem to impact anything else on my account. My books are fine, and I can still run KDP campaigns. Amazon didn’t tell me when they did the ban and they did not offer me an explanation. I found out when I tried to do my next pubby review. In the process, they deleted all of my former reviews. My guess is that I did too many reviews too quickly. I had to set up a separate account to continue with pubby reviews. In the meantime, I borrowed a family member’s account.
This means that I had the spend another fifty dollars through this new account. I already needed printer ink, but it’s still frustrating. I poured through as much online research as I could to figure out what I did wrong. That’s how I arrived at the conclusion that I probably did too many reviews too quickly. With this new account (and with my relative’s account), I’ve noticed that former reviews randomly get deleted without explanation. If you go back and try to redo a deleted review, amazon says that reviews on that product are blocked at that address. Why? I don’t know. The new account was also hit when amazon decided to delete all the former reviews on it. They only left the most recent review I’d done. I just submitted another review through that account, so I’ll see if it actually stays around. However, so many deleted reviews and account issues are a disservice to both me as a reviewer and the authors’ books I have reviewed. I feel like I have to tiptoe around amazon’s review policies to avoid getting hit with another review ban.
(As a side note, I was not able to do the new review on the relative’s account I borrowed. I tried to explain the situation to pubby, but they still sent me what felt like a surprisingly condescending email about it. “We know life sometimes gets in the way” means amazon can be sh*t, right? They revoked the snaps from that review.)
- Pubby’s advertised prices do not give you the full picture. For starters, $20 per month only applies if you pay for a yearlong subscription. They will charge you for the full year in one payment if you do that. Personally, I’m not willing to pay that much while still figuring out their system. That’s why I opted to pay monthly, which is $30 per month. I’ll probably change that someday when my finances look a bit more stable. (Note from the future: there is a cheaper version if you have less than ten books. I didn’t find this out until I went to cancel it. You can get the subscription for only $17.99 monthly. That’s cheaper than the $240 yearly, but they don’t advertise it. You have to check through a bunch of options when you go to cancel your subscription in order to find it. That’s what I ended up switching to.) Also, certain aspects of their services incur extra fees. For example:
(I’m having technical difficulties with the images. Kindle Unlimited Reviews are $9.99 to activate. Verified purchase reviews are $14.99. Activating either option once enables it for all books.)
I did pay for verified purchases, but not kindle unlimited. Purchasing it once unlocks the option for all your books. However, the fact that you’re not made aware of this extra charge until you add your first book really feels dishonest to me.
- Some books are easier to get reviews for than others. So far, I’ve had five reviews that did not manifest, forcing pubby to put my requests back through their system again. One of those was on Into the Unknown, but that might be a numbers game. After I got ~5 reviews on each book, I shifted to boosting ItU with as many reviews as I can since I want to do campaigns on it again. However, four of those instances were on Victim, my weird little sci-fi horror book. Once it even happened twice on the same request. I know it’s a weird book to review, and it’s definitely the one that’s received the most variety in reviewers’ responses. But it is still frustrating to be stuck waiting longer for reviews when this happens. Again, this is not pubby’s fault. I’m glad they’ve made improvements since that medium review. But it’s all part of the experience of using their system.
- Reviews do disappear sometimes after they appear on amazon. Pubby does make clear that they do not guarantee how many reviews will remain on amazon. This ties in with the account issues described above, but it’s worth noting how frequently this seems to happen. I’ve been capturing each review I receive as soon as I receive it for this reason. Currently, I have screenshotted this many amazon reviews from pubby: Victim 6, ItU 8, WtS 5. Here’s how many of those are still on amazon right now: Victim 5, ItU 8, WtS 4. You’ll notice that my books have lost two reviews. I know this isn’t directly under pubby’s control, but they could certainly do more to help authors understand and avoid amazon account issues. (By the way, the fact that I’ve earned 19 reviews in about a month and a half is a good indicator of pubby’s real sustainability.)
- You can’t start reading immediately. At least one book has to be approved first. I think this took longer than the four hours it had listed in the dashboard (admittedly, part of that might have been me submitting it at 3am, in which case I’d rather they be honest about the timing). I know, this is a nitpick.
- After my touchscreen broke, I couldn’t scroll down to the social options under the reader list. This is a minor complaint, but I was liking tweets sometimes to get some snaps. Also, I had the occasional moment when I accidentally clicked something twice in their program. Admittedly, that might be my laptop’s fault. They do have a mobile version of the site, but you’re limited in how much you can do on it.
- Quality. You’ll notice that this is listed under both pros and cons. Aside from a couple of disappointments, I have actually been happy with the quality of reviews I’ve received. What is more frustrating to me is when someone clearly copied and pasted someone else’s review then rearranged some of the words. This has occurred twice, including one of the deleted reviews on WtS. Also, later reviewers seem to loosely follow former reviewers when it comes to star count. I’m arguably a little guilty of this myself (if a book I’m reviewing is averaging more towards four stars, I expect that I’ll probably be giving it four stars), but that makes me wonder how much people actually read the books they’re reviewing. The chart you fill in when setting up the book might be part of it:
(I’m having techncial difficulties with the images. This is a chart of boxes you’re supposed to select. Options include: “full of unexpected twists” “a genuine tear-jerker” “highly imaginative” and “well-researched”)
I’m not going to include the full chart here. Despite popular belief, work is copyrighted on the internet. I don’t want any issues with pubby for it. In all honesty, I don’t know if they would take issue or not. However, I included that screenshot above for the sake of review. The last question in their book set-up process really bothered me, but it’s probably fine for most authors. Personally, I don’t know any other authors like me or books like mine. Now, granted, I’m horrible at trying to look at myself or my work objectively. But that is part of why I write the books that I do. I would have loved to read them as a teenager.
Also, there is another quality issue on amazon’s site. Sometimes verified purchase reviews don’t appear as verified purchase reviews. I can go into my sales dashboard on KDP and see that people have actually bought the book. But I’d guess that only about half show up with the verified purchase marker.
- I did receive emails sometimes saying that pubby couldn’t confirm my review on amazon. When I looked, the review was already present. I would just send them the link and pubby would confirm it for me. This is a minor annoyance, but it happens often enough to make me wonder how well their system actually finds reviews.
- As far as I can tell, there are no non-discrimination policies. This is probably fine for most people. However, as an openly LGBT author, it makes me wonder how pubby would react if I do face any related issues with reviewers from their platform.
- Copyright. Yeah, that monster. They don’t appear to have protections in place for free copies you send freebie readers. Supposedly, they’re aware of this problem. But that feels like a major red flag for me. Also, I reviewed a book that was blatant copyright infringement. It was a cookbook that had clearly copied recipes from websites. Despite popular belief, work is copyrighted on the internet. When I notified pubby of the infringement, they never responded to me. I don’t even know if they took any action. I actually ended up notifying the website, The Minimalist Baker, whose work had been stolen.
Now for the pros:
- By far, this is the best way I have found to get reviews. I’ve been self-published for about three years now, so I’ve tried a variety of different options. It always felt like I was spinning in circles trying to recreate the legend of Hercules by flipping the planet upside down! I know that sounds absurd, but that’s the point. It always felt like I was trying too hard, spinning my wheels, and doing it horribly wrong. Pubby actually works. That is the best praise I can give it: Pubby works! That being said, it works best if you use their system smartly. Mainly, don’t rush in and try to do too many reviews. I’m trying to do three a week, and I’m still dealing with disappearing reviews. (Note from the future: that’s too many. The other account also got flagged. All the reviews I did through it were deleted by amazon. Why? I don’t know. And now I’ve learned that other pubby reviewers are doing more reviews per week without issue. That’s frustrating (and, well, unfair, but neither is the lack of transparency in the review process). I’ve switched to a relative’s account. Now I’m waiting until I get the confirmation email (forwarded from him) before I submit the next one. Fingers crossed?)
- They have more than just read and review options. For example, you can use snaps to promote tweets. Conversely, you can gain snaps by liking and retweeting other tweets people are trying to promote. Personally, I didn’t retweet anything, but I did like several tweets. If you need some extra help, you can also purchase publishing options pertaining to KDP campaigns and other methods of amazon book promotion. I personally did not try any of those services, but I do appreciate that they’re available.
- Their customer service is a bit patchy, but useful. I was still able to get a discount from a code after I’d already started my free trial (whoops). Also, I was successfully able to switch names on their system several times when I was dealing with the amazon account issues. When I ran into inaccurate ebook pricing, they were responsive and actually sent me some extra snaps. I described it as patchy since sometimes messages went unanswered.
- Quality. Yes, this is listed under both. I got some surprisingly thoughtful reviews. For example, one of the free reviews I got on WtS was impressive for how much thought the reviewer put into it. This person gave me real critical feedback and praise:
This isn’t just limited to one review on WtS. I was impressed with several others as well, including one really long review on ItU that gave me some great praise for the book. There is also a wide variety in the types of the reviews I have received. Some reviewers actually write it like they’re giving the reader a sales pitch. Others offer more personal opinions. I was concerned going into this that I’d get a bunch of five-star “good book” reviews, but that has not been my experience. I only received one “I really enjoyed reading this book” on ItU. Aside from a couple of disappointments, I have actually been happy with the quality of reviews I’ve received.
This includes the more critical reviews. In these cases, I am grateful for the reviewer’s honesty. Most of the criticism I’ve received has been included with praise in four star reviews. However, I did receive one three star review on Victim. I’ve had to hold back from reacting too strongly to it. Although I disagree with the reviewer, I can appreciate the fact that they read the book and took the time to write out their thoughts. In essence, I can appreciate their thought and honesty.
(Alright, one response: What clichés? That Rina dyes her hair? Or was it how I tried to take a jab at government control of sensitive information in schools in chapter 3? You didn’t read chapter 13, did you?)
I intend to continue using pubby. Their system is far from perfect, but it works. The reviews I’m receiving now are already helping me salvage my sales after my pen name change. Also, I have so much more promotional material to use. I have a binder I set out at bookfests with screenshots of the past reviews I’ve received (all in plastic sleeves, grouped on pages together in the screenshot format above, and indexed by book). When I can do bookfests again, I will have that binder stuffed with so many more reviews!
By the way, did you appreciate my review? Pubby gives everyone a referral code. You can send me some snaps (and get yourself a discount on your first month) by signing up at https://pubby.co/?invite=6973