by Vinnie Kinsella, Collaborative Designer & Publications Consultant
When it comes time to promote your book, reviews can really boost your efforts. Favorable reviews let potential readers of your book know it’s not just you who thinks your writing is great. Both traditionally published authors and independently published authors benefit from having others share their assessments of their work. Let’s take a look at the two main types of reviews (editorial reviews and reader reviews) and talk about the pros and cons of each.
Broadly defined, these are reviews that come from independent, impartial sources, such as newspapers, trade publications, and book review sites. Excerpts from these reviews are often used on book covers and in marketing materials. A favorable editorial review from a reputable source can go a long way toward boosting your book’s visibility to both readers and booksellers.
Editorial reviews show up in lots of places: trade publications such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal; major newspapers such as the New York Times; your neighborhood newspaper; dedicated book review sites such as Foreword, Kirkus, and Booklist; book review blogs; literary journals; and websites for literary organizations such as Lambda Literary. In other words, you have plenty of chances to get your book reviewed!
The typical way to get an editorial review is to submit your book to reviewers in a manner similar to submitting your book to agents and publishers. First you have to nail down a list of publications and websites you’d like to submit to, then you need to read and follow their guidelines for submitting books for review.
National publications and larger review organizations tend to have strict guidelines that require you to submit your book months in advance of its release, and many have highly restrictive rules for independently published books. However, regional publications and smaller organizations are typically less restrictive. If your book doesn’t fit a big target’s guideline, don’t be afraid to aim for a smaller one. A great review is a great review, no matter where it comes from.
Another approach to getting editorial reviews is to use a service like NetGalley. Such services allow publishers to upload books to a marketplace of sorts where reviewers can find books to review. These services can be costly, but many publishers, authors, and publicists think they are worth the cost.
Once you’ve sent out your book for review, you have to do the hard part: wait. It can take weeks or months before you get a nibble. One thing you can do in this time is work on getting reader reviews. (More on that in a moment.)
The one con to submitting your book for a traditional review is that there is no guarantee anyone will actually review it. When that happens, the other way to get an editorial review is to pay for one. Book review organizations like Foreword and Kirkus offer options for paid reviews when books aren’t picked up for a standard review. This might sound like a conflict of interest, but reputable services address this concern by refusing to guarantee a positive review. If you pay for a review and you don’t find anything in it you want to use in your marketing, you can just walk away. The review will never see the light of day. But if you find something you’d like to use in your marketing materials, you must consent to let these services post the full review online, criticism and all. In general, I don’t recommend starting with a paid review, but I don’t discourage authors from getting them so long as they are coming from reputable sources.
These are the reviews you see on a book’s product page in your favorite online bookstore and on social sites like Goodreads. For the most part, they don’t come from professional book reviewers but from everyday readers. A lot of positive reader reviews can help in two ways. First, the more positive reviews you have, the more visible your book will be online. Online bookstores look for heavily reviewed books to promote to customers, which only increases your chance of new readers discovering your work. Second, good reader reviews can sway readers unfamiliar with your work to give it a chance. An interested but unsure buyer is more likely to buy a book with several positive reviews than one with no reviews at all.
The best way to get these reviews is to engage with your readers and ask for them. Use your mailing list, Twitter account, Facebook page, podcast, or whatever you use to connect with your readers to ask for reviews. Ideally, before the book comes out, you can develop an entire launch team who will commit to writing you reviews the moment the book is released.
If you don’t use any of those services, ask in person. When someone says, “I liked your book,” you follow up with, “Great! I’d love it if you would write a review of it on Amazon or Goodreads.”
The biggest con to reader reviews is that bias can easily come into play. This can result in negative reviews you wouldn’t get from a professional reviewer. (Case in point, an author friend of mine who writes gay fiction got negative reader reviews from people upset his book had gay characters in it. Clearly, their reviews had nothing to do with the quality of the story.) My advice when this happens is to just ignore the naysayers. Your fans will come to your defense!
Soliciting reviews takes work, but the work is worth it when the good reviews come in. When it comes to which type of reviews to go after, I suggest you work on getting both editorial reviews and reader reviews. In general, you should focus on editorial reviews months before your book comes out, and then shift your focus to reader reviews as the launch date approaches. Oh, and if you ever read a copy of my book A Little Bit of Advice for Self-Publishers, please consider leaving a review for it online. (See how easy it is to ask for a review?)
Vinnie Kinsella‘s love for book creation began in the second grade, when he and his fellow students wrote and illustrated a story about the adventures of an ice-cream-loving giraffe. As an adult, he has assisted in publishing over 200 books. He is the author of A Little Bit of Advice for Self-Publishers.