How Story Cartel Gave Me 50+ Honest Book Reviews

How Story Cartel Gave Me 50+ Honest Reviews

How can authors encourage readers to review their books online? That’s a question all published authors face sooner or later. The answers are myriad, some positive (such as, just asking—something I’ve done with success with a short note in the back of my books), some negative (such as the not-so-distant brouhaha about well-known authors purchasing scads of positive reviews).

A relatively recent approach is that offered by the site Story Cartel. Since many of you have asked me about my recent experience with using it to garner reviews for my fantasy Dreamlander, I thought I’d use today’s post to share my thoughts.

What Is Story Cartel?

In a nutshell, Story Cartel offers readers free e-books in exchange for honest book reviews. Readers are given thirty days to read the book. If, by the end of that time, they’re able to send a link to their posted review back to Story Cartel, they will be entered in a drawing for either five print copies of the book, three $10 Amazon gift cards, or a Kindle (as supplied by the book’s author).

How Does Story Cartel Work?

The set-up is easy as pie.

1. Sign-up for an account on the site.

2. Enter your book’s info.

3. Upload mobi, epub, and pdf files (all three are required).

After that, the book will appear on the site itself. I believe all books are mentioned on Story Cartel’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and, if you’d like added exposure, you can purchase an ad in their e-letter.

Story Cartel will email readers at intervals to remind them to the review the book. The free book may attract readers to the download, but it’s the drawing (for which they will be eligible only if they submit their book reviews) that encourages them to actually post their thoughts.

Story Cartel keeps track of the number of downloads and gives authors access to a spreadsheet of the downloaders’ names and email addresses

How Did Story Cartel Work for Me?

In the course of the month in which Dreamlander was available for downloading from Story Cartel, the book received 50+ reviews, almost all of which were demonstrably from people who had downloaded the book off Story Cartel.

The vast majority were positive, but I did receive about nine three-star reviews. I’ve seen other authors who received a much larger share of negative reviews. So just because you may be getting a load of new reviews doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will be positive—which is kinda the point of the whole honest review thing.

I promoted the book’s run via my mailing list, blog, and social sites. The book was also given advertising space in Story Cartel’s e-letter. By the end of the month, the book had been downloaded just under 600 times. This isn’t a huge number compared to, say, a KDP Select run. But as Story Cartel gains momentum and a larger following, I expect these numbers will only grow.

What I Liked About Story Cartel

  • Hard not to like 50+ new reviews in less than a month, especially since most of them were positive. The fact that this bumped Dreamlander to over 100 reviews total was even more icing.
  • The site was easy to use and navigate.
  • Support, via Joe Bunting (one of the site’s founders), was incredibly fast and super helpful.
  • I liked that I could offer the book for free without having to join Amazon’s KDP Select exclusivity clause (in which, I would have to remove the book from every site but Amazon). Obviously, Story Cartel didn’t help me move up Amazon’s rankings, as would a KDP Select run, but the benefits in guaranteed reviews were just as powerful.
  • It was super cheap. I opted to give away three $10 Amazon gift cards, so the whole thing cost me a bare $30. I’ve looked into other review services, all of which cost way more with far fewer demonstrable results. (By the way: I chose the gift cards option, since it was the most inexpensive. Because Dreamlander is a large book, it would have cost more than $30 for me to purchase and mail five paperbacks. But if I use the service again with a smaller book, I will probably opt to give away the books, instead of the gift cards, since this option easily offers more benefits to me, namely the fact that my book on someone’s shelf=free advertising.)
  • The site is gorgeous, so I have no professional qualms in sending potential readers there.

What I Didn’t Like About Story Cartel

Honestly, this list is very short.

  • I had a bit of trouble uploading all my e-book files in the beginning, due to server space restrictions on Story Cartel’s end. Support helped with a workaround, but this was a bit of a headache. I think they’ll be getting this fixed soon.
  • My biggest concern with the service’s long-term effectiveness in promoting my book is the fact that the vast majority of the reviews reference the fact that the reviewer had been given a free book. Story Cartel stresses the importance of reviewers including this clause in their review (as per federal regulations), and I don’t blame them at all. But I worry that future potential customers, in browsing the reviews, may be led to question the validity of the book, since so many of its reviews weren’t based on purchases.

Would I Use Story Cartel Again?

Short answer: yes. Despite the fact that I don’t like so many of reviews referencing a free download, the overwhelming number of reviews grants the book a ton of extra credibility.

From a purely personal perspective, I found it enlightening to have so many reviews come pouring it at once. Too often, I have a tendency to take the most recent review as gospel on my book (particularly if it’s negative). But with so many disparate opinions appearing at once, I was able to gain perspective on how subjective the reading experience really is (something I preach all the time, but have a bit more trouble practicing).Once my schedule calms down a bit after Structuring Your Novel launches in September, I plan to use Story Cartel again, probably for one of my digital short stories—and then probably for all of my books, in turn, after that.

To sum up, my experience with Story Cartel was excellent. The site is a brilliant idea that has been well executed and continues to be well run. If you have a published book, need reviews, and are willing to stand up under a barrage of honesty, then I highly recommend it.

Tell me your opinion: What do you think is the best method for encouraging readers to post reviews?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.


  1. Thank you so much, K.M, sounds like an excellent idea.

  2. Yes, it’s brilliant. Joe and Jeff Goins have done a great job with it.

  3. This seems a much more efficient way to get reviews. I’d never heard of Story Cartel before, so this has been amazingly helpful. Thank you so much.

  4. It’s a relatively new site. I think it’s only been around for a few months as yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to really take off soon.

  5. Thanks for sharing that, Katie. I will try it, and anything Joe is involved with is good with me! I posted on my author page on Facebook asking if any of my fans or followers would like to read and review my YA sci-fi Time Sniffers and I got at least a dozen saying they would be glad to! I gave them a free Kindle copy or pdf or whatever they needed. This was nice because some were fans of my suspense novels but hadn’t read my YA or fantasy. it not only brought me honest reviews but opened the door for current fans to read another novel I’d written. Posting on Twitter, likewise, brought eager reviewers. If you use hash tags for book reviewers on Twitter as well as the genre, like #YAlit, and ask for reviewers, you can get some that way too. Hope this helps!

  6. Have you read the book Free? It offers a lot of fascinating insights into our current economic culture and particularly into the tremendous advantage of giving things away. Getting reviews is just gravy compared to some of the benefits!

  7. Good info, Katie.
    Marketing to me is the least desirable aspect to authoring these days. And any clues and info on experiences with ways and means are appreciated.

  8. I would highly recommend starting with the following books:

    The Frugal Book Promoter

    Make a Killing on Kindle

    Let’s Get Visible

    How to Market a Book

  9. Love it K. M.!!! 😮 D

  10. Love it! Very beautiful.

  11. Sounds like a great service for all parties involved.

  12. It sounds like a cool service. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to go check it out now.

  13. Thanks for reading, all!

  14. Great recap of the experience, I have shared.

    Q – It seems that you consider a three-star review a negative one, rather than a neutral one, or am I reading that wrong? I had an author acquaintance who asked me to bump up the review I planned from 3 stars (which was generous, IMO the book was problematic and deserved 2.5 stars tops) because she ONLY wanted 4 & 5 star ratings. (I ended up declining to review or rate.) Other authors have stated they actually like a few lower star ratings on their books as this creates controversy and more interest than all rave reviews. Your thoughts?

  15. Technically, of course, a three-star review is neutral. I counted these particular three-star reviews as negative primarily because the reviews themselves had mostly negative things to say. However, from a purely intuitive perspective, I have to say I do tend to view three-star reviews as more negative than neutral, simply because if I saw a book that had an overall rating of three stars, I would probably pass it by, as a reader. To reach optimum sales potential online, a book is going to need to garner at least a 3.5 overall rating.

    I will say that, although I totally get where your author acquaintance is coming from (since I basically stand in her shoes), I feel such a request is not only unprofessional but wrong. An author puts the work out there and has to take whatever reviews she gets. It’s completely unfair to readers to ask them to edit or remove unfavorable reviews. If the reader’s negative (or neutral) feelings about the book are strong enough that they feel led to write a review, that’s entirely their prerogative. At least they read the book and thought about it enough to want to write a review!

    Although I can’t say I ever enjoy receiving a negative review, I do agree with the idea that few negative reviews grants the book more credibility. If a book is getting all positive reviews, you gotta wonder if anybody but the author’s friends and family are reading it.

  16. Never heard of them before. Thanks for the lowdown. I’ll spread the word!

  17. It’s a great place to get free books, even for authors who aren’t for their own books to be reviewed.

  18. I used Story Cartel myself when I released The Wild of God. I found it to be a huge boost, accessing a market of readers I wouldn’t otherwise have. Part of why their site works so well is that it truly benefits both sides. Authors are getting honest reviews and more readers. Readers are getting to try new authors at no cost or risk. I highly recommend them!

  19. Exactly. It’s a win-win for everyone.

  20. Thanks for the info. I uploaded my book and it’s live now. Only 2 downloads so far, but this is only day 2. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    How often did you promote on social media? The Story Cartel guidelines say 1-2 times per day; do you think that’s too much? I do have a link going out in my newsletter (as small as my distribution list is).

  21. Yes, personally, I do feel that’s too much. After the initial push, in which I promoted the free download on my blog, e-letter, and all social sites, I then mentioned it only on FB and Twitter once a week for the remainder of the month.

  22. That was my thought. This is my first week, so I am mentioning it a few times, but was planning to drop back for the rest of the month.

  23. And then I’d give it another hefty little push on the last couple days.

  24. Thank you for sharing this super resource. Quick Question – are you able to list the genre of your book and target specific readers? There is a similar company which does this, but their primary readership is womens lit and weren’t as favorable to any other genre.

  25. Cheaper than Net Galley 🙂
    Sounds interesting, will give it a try.

  26. @Killion: You can list genre. Story Cartel accepts all genres (except, perhaps, erotica). If you’ll visit their site, you’ll see how the books are divided into and searchable by category.

    @Marie: Yes, it’s hard to beat the price.

  27. Well, my own experiment is finished. It did not quite yield what I hoped for – on 14 downloads and only 1 review (a five-star one, but only one). Perhaps children’s fiction (middle grade) works differently than adult fiction.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      I’m sorry you weren’t able to get better results. I would bet that your genre probably had a lot to do with it. Story Cartel is still an emerging site and doesn’t yet have broad audiences for all genres. At this point, I would bet its readers are more interested in adult fare, rather than children’s fiction. But, hey, even one five-star review is pretty great!

  28. KM, you mentioned that since you used story cartel, it wasn’t worth it to you to be exclusive to Amazon through KDP Select. I’m using an independent small publisher to help me publish by ebook (romantic suspense) and they are really pushing KDP Select even though I have no intention of doing the free thing. I will discount the book for the 5 selected days, but am not going to offer it for free. Do you think the select program is even worth my time if I do story cartel?

    Thank you for your post and all your feedback on the comments. This has been a really helpful blog!!

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      First of all, I don’t discount KDP Select at all. I definitely intend to give it a try one of these days. What I meant was that Story Cartel is comparable in some aspects – without demanding KDP Select’s exclusivity. But, yes, I do feel both options are worth exploring.

  29. Thank you for writing about this site. I was considering using it, but was on the fence. I read your article and decided to give it a try.
    I really find your posts helpful, by the way.
    Thanks again.

  30. Hello again!

    Just wanted to add that Dreamlander has helped me get into the Story Cartel. I’m excited to announce that after applying for a scholarship for the writing course it offers, I’ve been selected! Keep an eye out for my books on there, too!

  31. Just stumbled on this article in your newsletter–thanks so much for the heads up on this site! What a great idea to get the word out and drum up some interested for a book.

  32. I have had beginning success with two short stories accepted by online magazines. I saw this about Story Cartel and believe I will give it a shot for one of my 10k word stories. These are difficult to find a magazine to look at them due to length.

    $30? Ask my spouse, I can blow through that in no time. This would be worth it to me.

    Thanks for sharing!

  33. Thank you for this post. I’ve been wondering if I should use story cartel’s services but I think your post convinced me! 🙂 Thank you.

  34. B K Alley says:

    They say free a lot, but it’s not free. (Notice he’s careful to say “the cost to SIGN UP is free”). Their site is deliberately misleading, which gave me a bad feeling, so I contacted them. The problem is, my exchanges with them just made me even more uneasy about who they are. Skin crawling uneasy, in fact. I don’t mind paying for services, but they need to be open and honest about the costs up front, not lure you in with “free” and then say “Oh, by the way, you have to pay.” (What do they have to hide?)
    That aside, paying for good reviews isn’t particularly ethical. A writer needs to get good reviews by writing well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Paying for reviews is definitely *not* the way to go. But StoryCartel’s design of offering a small incentive, via a prize drawing (which only three reviewers can win), isn’t the same as paying reviewers.

      I know Joe Bunting, who runs the site, and can vouch that there’s nothing to feel uneasy about. He’s a great guy. Very upfront. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to personally address any concerns you may have.

  35. I would love to be a part of this program but not sure how to get the different versions of a download beside a PDF. Any suggestions on how I’d find this out? I’d appreciate any and all help. Thank you. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If you mean how do get mobi and epub files of your own book, you’ll either have to secure them from your publisher or, if you’re self-published, create or pay to have them created.

  36. I am looking at using Story Cartel as a way to do a soft launch of my story and get some reviews out there before I do a hard launch with bloggers and such.

    Q: Did you use it for Dreamlander in a similar way or just as a way receive more reviews after its initial launch?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I don’t generally use Story Cartel for launches. I send the book out to fifty or so hand-chosen ARC readers to get the initial review traction. Then a few months later, I’ll use the Story Cartel campaign to boost the review numbers. Story Cartel downloads won’t help your launch numbers at all, since the downloads are from the Story Cartel site and not from Amazon.

      • Right. At Story Cartel they download your book free and in exchange write a review. I would use it mostly as one way to get reviews, not necessarily sales, before I really do an actual book launch, since I’m just starting out.

  37. MN Bode says:

    How do aspiring authors protect their intellectual property when uploading to a site like this? Has this ever been a concern of yours, and–if so–how did you get around it? Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      In this instance, I personally know the guy who runs the site, and I totally trust him.


  1. […] Story Cartel (this was K.M. Weiland though and she’s a well known author. Read her review here), while others say they only got 2-5. Now whether this has to do with paying for the extra […]

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