Book Review 101

According to Jane Friedman the most essential first step for authors is book reviews, not sales.  A good review generates symbolic capital, which helps sell books.  New and self-published authors have no symbolic capital, meaning they are an unknown in the book market.  The key to a successful book launch is acquiring reviews before investing in public promotions.

Many self-published authors and authors published by small presses don’t think about reviews until it’s too late.  The time to start thinking about reviews is about one year prior to publication.  This is because a list of potential reviews must be created before proofs are ordered.  The proofs are sent to selected reviewers as advance reader copies and it can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months before the publisher has a review in hand and is ready to proceed with publication.

But where do these reviews come from?  Many first-time authors turn to paid review sites like YourNewBooks.com, Reading Deals, and Enas Review.  While some paid review sites, like Kirkus, are accepted and trusted sources by many in the industry, most are not worth the trouble (or the money).  The draw for many of these sites is that if the review is negative the author can chose not to have it published.  However, American Heart initially received a glowing review and was awarded a Kirkus star, only to have the star removed–Kirkus forced the reviewer to change their review post-publication.  So, if you are going to end up with a publicly available negative review anyway, there are plenty of places to acquire those for free.  Below are the five areas to tap pre-publication to get reviews.

Loyal Fans

If an author began building their audience and platform three years ahead of publication, as recommended, then they already have people that know, like, and trust them.  These are also the people most likely to leave a review.  Do not ask friends or family for reviews, no matter how much they love the book.  Amazon is good at spotting and rejecting reviews from friends and family, especially if that person’s sole review gushes over how great the author is, but doesn’t include any meaningful feedback regarding the book.

Start with Your Readers.  If you’ve made it this stage, there is a good chance several people have already read your book.  Ask them if they would be willing to write an objective, honest review and post it to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and GoodReads as soon as the book is published.

If you have a blog, post about your upcoming book release.  Offer a couple review copies and solicit volunteers to read and review the book.  Many fans will jump at that chance to grab a free copy of a book in exchange for an objective assessment of the work.  Be sure to ask if they will also publish their review on their own websites, blogs, and social media, in addition to Amazon and GoodReads.

Utilize Social Media.  If you have social media accounts, you have followers.  It helps if some of those followers are fellow authors who appreciate the significance of reviews.  Generate Buzz by holding a drawing for a review copy and ask the winner to give an honest review of the book.  Be sure to emphasize that the review must be objective; no positive reviews just because they get a free copy.  Incentivize them by mentioning that some reviews may be posted on your blog or website, with the reviewer’s name mentioned as well.  When reading social media comments, if someone is frequently supportive or post glowing comments, ask if they’d be willing to provide an honest review of the book.

Community Contacts

These are people who have given you permission to contact them regarding your writing.   It isn’t enough that someone gave you their email address, liked your page/profile, or follows you.   The purpose of these contacts is so you can notify them when you do something that will interest them, which is the whole reason they gave you their contact information.

Ask other Authors.  Ask other authors you’re acquainted with who reviewed their book and if they know anyone you should get in touch with.  Most authors are willing to share their experiences with book reviewers and offer recommendations.  Some authors might even be willing to let you write a guest post for their blog, where you can appeal to their readers directly by offering an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Look Close to Home & Offline.  Contact local daily and weekly newspapers and offer the arts and entertainment writer an advance ready copy.  Make the same offer to local magazines and offer to run a giveaway.  Also consider school/university newspapers as well as company and organization newsletters, too.  They might be willing to review a local author who has some connection them.  Ask your local indie bookstores if they know of any local reviewers.

Dedicated Review Sites

You don’t need to be a publisher to submit a book for review, it’s completely acceptable for authors to do that themselves.  In fact, many small presses leave acquiring reviews entirely up to the author.  However, not all reviews are created equal.  A review from Publishers Weekly carries more weight than anonymous reviews on Amazon, which might have been written by the author’s best friend or favorite cousin.  Below is a list of places to get a high quality review:

  • Booklist receives over 60,000 submissions per year, so those lucky enough to land a review are among the best books in the industry.  They will consider self-published titles that meet their reviewing criteria.
  • Library Journal provides reviews that are both positive and negative, and make recommendations both for and against purchase.  Books published by small or indie presses are welcome.
  • Publishers Weekly no longer requires books to be published by a major press to be eligible for review, however, they only review a fraction of books submitted.  “Booklife” is a section of Publishers Weekly dedicated to self-published authors.  As an added bonus, PW reviews automatically flow over to Amazon and Barnes & Noble to be displayed prominently on your book’s page.
  • VOYA Voice of Youth Advocates, or (VOYA), reviews books for and about teenagers, aged 12 through 18 and new adults.
  • City Book Review is the managing company for the following brands, which are geared towards helping avid readers find their next favorite book:  San Francisco Book Review, Manhattan Book Review, Seattle Book Review, Tulsa Book Review, and Kids’ BookBuzz.  They welcome submissions by authors and publicists looking to get books reviewed.  Last year, they received more than 4,600 books for consideration and managed to review 40% of them.
  • Barnes & Noble Review
  • BookPage is a monthly book review publication distributed to 400,000 avid readers through subscribing bookstores and public libraries. They serves as a broad-based selection guide to the best new books published every month.
  • American Book Review is an award-winning, internationally distributed publication that appears six times a year. It specializes in reviews of frequently neglected published works of fiction, poetry, and literary and cultural criticism from small, regional, university, ethnic, avant-garde, and women’s presses.
  • Los Angeles Review of Books is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and disseminating rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts.
  • Midwest Book Review is an organization committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.  The Midwest Book Review gives priority consideration to small publishers, self-published authors, academic presses, and specialty publishers whenever possible.
  • The Rumpus champions the work of unknown authors or those overlooked by the mainstream media.

LitPick Student Book Reviews(This is a paid site, but I found the concept of student reviews interesting.)  LitPick is a review site whose main concept is getting students involved with the literary world while improving their reading and writing skills.  As part of a mentoring program, students receive free copies of the books (middle grade, teen, and young adult) and write book reviews that are published on the website.  Their work is evaluated by a staff of underwriters.  They offer packages ranging from $15-150, some of which include social media promotion.  This is an excellent way for YA and Children’s authors to get their books reviewed by their target audience, who is generally the least likely group to review the book.  Teachers and librarians also partake in the programs they offer.

Cold Calls

Amazon.  Amazon ranks its reviewers and publishes the list. Search the list to find book reviewers for your genre. Reviewers who include an email address or website in their profile are usually open to being contacted.  Before emailing, read their reviews of books in your genre and pay close attention to any review guidelines included in the reviewer’s profile.  If you are a previously published author, another strategy for finding reviewers on Amazon is through your personal author page.Locate the “Customers Also Bought Items By” section.  This section provides a list of authors whose topic or genre is similar to your own.  Peruse the reviews of other authors, then follow the links to the reviewer’s profile.

GoodReads.  Goodreads has reader groups organized by genre where authors can ask for reviews. Giveaways are a paid service were books are exchanged for reviews.  However, only a small percentage of people who win the giveaway go on to write a review.

Social Media.  Use the Twitter search toolbar and enter the hashtags #bookreview or #bookreviewer. Click on “people” and choose someone who reads your genre.  You can also find reviewers on Instagram, try following #bookstagram.

Bloggers and vloggers.  Book bloggers and video loggers are an excellent source of potential reviews.  It takes research to find bloggers who are accepting books for review.  If you are accepted, the blogger will often review on their own site, plus Amazon and GoodReads.

Key items to consider when choosing a book blogger:

  • Traffic. Blogs that only get a couple hundred views per month aren’t likely to generate many sales, no matter how glowing the potential review might be.
  • Posting frequency. Make sure the site is active. Dose the blogger post daily, weekly, monthly, or has it been years since the last post? Look for a blog that post about once a week.  If they post too often, your book will get lost in the shuffle.  Besides, no decent reviewer can turn out reviews faster than weekly anyway!
  • Pick the right reviewer. Search for bloggers who enjoy books similar to yours.  Become engage with them (and their community) on their blog, ask and respond to questions on topics of import to your genre before approaching them for a review.  After familiarizing yourself with the blog, query them to see if they are interested in your book.  Make sure they read books in your format, some only want ebooks, others may insist on a print copy.  Include all relevant information in your query:  who you are, the title, publisher, release date, and genre.
  • Follow up. Don’t harass the blogger. Wait at least a week before following-up on your query.  If you haven’t received a response after your second follow-up communication, assume silence means no.
  • Thank the reviewer. Let them know you appreciated the time and effort they spent reading and reviewing your book.

Query Book Review Sites. It is possible to find list of blogs that specialize in book reviews.  Blog Rank provides a list of highly ranked sites that consistently attract a large number of potential book readers.  For example, The Book Smugglers is a high-ranking review site, specializing in both Young Adult and Science Fiction novels. They not only post reviews, but also feature book-related giveaways.  Other lists of book blogs include:

The Public

Unfortunately, this is where many authors begin, by paying for ads or just hoping (praying) someone will buy, read, and review the book.  Ironically, if a book already has reviews, the public is more likely to post a review, which is why it’s important to prioritize reviews before promotions.

End of Book Request.  Put a simple call to action in the back of your book asking readers to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.  Remind readers that their views and opinions matters to you.  This is also a great opportunity to promote future books and send readers to website.

Promotions.  This includes marketing, advertisements, social media campaigns, and listing your book with discount sites like Bookbub and Book Gorilla with the hopes that someone will buy it, read it, and love (or hate) it enough to write a review.

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