It was January 2020. My novel had been released for less than two months. I was busy juggling my day job, my master’s degree, running a small business and preparing for an art exhibition. I knew I should have been doing more work to promote my novel, but I really didn’t have the time. And then I got an unsolicited email in my inbox.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Somebody wanted to review my novel. And best of all, I hadn’t had to go grovelling for them to do it.
As any author will tell you, a good review online is priceless. Good reviews make the difference between someone thinking about buying your book, and actually making the plunge. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. More reviews equals more sales, and more sales equals more reviews. The problem is, of course, that the overwhelming majority of people who read your book won’t take the time to leave a review, regardless of whether they liked it, loathed it or considered it to be their new bible.
I’ve gotten many reviews of my novel now, across multiple platforms. A few weeks after my novel came out though, I think I only had one or two. I was overworked (and underpaid) and I had university essays due. I barely had time to walk my dog. I took a quick look at the website of the person who had contacted me, Aimee Ann. And it looked good. Check it out for yourself. The so-called Red Headed Book Lover. Normally I pride myself on my ability to fact check. I have a reputation among my Facebook friends for being ‘that guy’. You know, the one who posts the link to the Snopes article debunking whatever BS post has appeared in his feed. On this day, however, I’m more than a bit embarrassed to say that due to a combination of desperation, fatigue and the on the surface validity of this scammers website, I was drawn in.
What Aimee doesn’t tell you in her initial email, is that she charges $77 for her reviews. That should put up some red flags for anyone. For starters, it’s unethical to pay for reviews. But in my pig-headed state, I tried to tell myself that rule shouldn’t apply to me. I mean, I knew my novel was good. So what if I paid for one review? At the end of the day, I just needed to get the ball rolling. And reading the quality of the reviews on Aimee’s homepage, I thought I’d at least be receiving a decent write up. She even has a disclaimer saying if she doesn’t like your book, she’ll refund your money instead of leaving you a bad review. Upon reading that, those questions of ethics started to fade away entirely. Of course, what I didn’t know at the time was that Aimee never dislikes a book she is paid to review. And the main reason she doesn’t dislike them, is because she never reads them in the first place.
The sad thing is I may not have figured out Aimee is actually running a scam, if she’d just delivered the review I ordered on time. I paid for the review at the end of January, at which point Aimee told me she would get straight into working on it.
A month later there was still no review.
I sent Aimee a polite email asking what was happening, and she sent me a prompt reply telling me she’d post her review after the weekend. The weekend came and went, and then the weekend after that. And still no review. In my frustration, I decided to Google reviews of Aimee’s website to see if anyone else had had a negative experience with her. And that’s about the time I realised I was a sucker.
The first two responses on Google for ‘Red Headed Book Lover’ are links to the website. The next two are posts by author Lee Hall and Victoria Strauss, warning authors not to be sucked in by her scam. Rather than just repeating their astute criticism, just read the links above if you want more details about exactly why Aimee’s services need to be avoided.
Aimee takes payments via PayPal, a company that has pretty strict rules about buyer protection. That fact in itself contributed heavily to my decision to do business with her. So I decided to apply for a refund through PayPal, on the grounds Aimee hadn’t delivered what I’d paid for on time. Of course, I didn’t mention in my complaint that I didn’t want her review at all any more. This was Aimee’s prompt response:
She’s since deleted the review from her website, but I saved an archived snapshot, which you can read here. If you haven’t read my novel, I suppose there’s a chance you might not see anything wrong with this review. As the author, however, it was obvious to me that Aimee never even read my book. All she read was the back cover. Why it took her over a month to fabricate a BS review, I will never understand. Of course, by this stage I’d already made up for the fact I didn’t initially do my homework.
Aimee frequently changes the dates of her book reviews on her homepage to make them look current. Don’t take my word for it, just check screenshots of her website courtesy of the Internet Archive. On August 25, 2018, her website said she had reviewed ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ on August 20, 2018. On January 9, 2020, her website said the review was done on December 8, 2019, and on March 6, 2020, when I confronted Aimee with this information, her website said the review was done on February 2, 2020. If you look at her website today, it says her review was done on July 2nd.
I know for a fact Aimee hadn’t done my review by the 2nd of March like she claimed, as I had been checking her website daily. I confronted Aimee with the screenshots, and threatened to present the evidence to PayPal that she was running a scam if she didn’t refund my money. I didn’t get a response from her by email, but I did get this email from PayPal only minutes later.
Part of me wishes I had sent the evidence to PayPal before sending it to her, as her account may have been banned. But the option to present more evidence disappeared the instant she refunded my money, as that automatically closed the dispute. But hopefully this information will at least help her next unfortunate victim. If you are that victim, make the call yourself as to which option you want to go with. Oh and if you haven’t figured it out yet, just don’t pay for reviews. Even if it isn’t a scam. If you’re looking for free, honest reviews, I’d recommend Booksprout.