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How to Get Book Reviews (and Why They Matter)

POSTED BY doug ON May 4, 2015

by Guest Blogger Amy Edelman, Founder & President of IndieReader, @IndieReader

Marketing a book is a bit like making great cookies.  There are certain ingredients that are important to include— all-purpose flour, for instance—and others that might seem optional (chopped beef jerky?).  However, it’s the beef jerky—or in this case, the review—that make the rest of the marketing efforts possible.

The fact is, when you are promoting anything (and I say this as a publicist with 25+ years experience), you need to be able to illustrate a point of difference between you and the thousands of other authors who also have a book about, say, a girl in love with a guy who likes to tie her up.  Explaining how your book is different is not enough.  You need to have proof—and book reviews are a great place to start—to back it up.

As you probably know, there are two kinds of book reviews: reader and third party.  Reader reviews are ostensibly done by people who read the book and honestly report on what they’ve read.  Ideally, they have no stake in how they respond.  Third party reviews are written by professional reviewers who also have no stake in what they’re reading.

How to Get Reader Reviews

Let’s tackle reader reviews first as they’re usually easier to come by.

The absolutely first thing you should do when your book is ready is reach out to everyone you know who is likely to read and review it (not necessarily read, review and LOVE it).  Why is this important?  Because a crowded Amazon page is a compelling Amazon page.

Amazon Book Reviews

Plus, some blog tour services won’t work with authors whose books have less than a specified number of reviews, so aim for receiving as many reader reviews as possible.

However, even if you have a ton of reader reviews, they are not as weighty as a third party reviews.

The Importance of Third Party Reviews

Why are third party book reviews so important? While Amazon and GoodReads are filled with reader reviews, the recent spate of sock puppetry—fake reviews posted by people paid or otherwise motivated to do so and designed to mess with the ratings of self- and traditionally-published (trad pubbed) books—make them less than reliable.

If indie authors have one clear disadvantage over their trad pubbed brethren it is not being able to get reviewed in mainstream outlets.

This leaves you three choices:

1). You position your book as being published by a small press, which in reality, it is, and send it to Kirkus or Publishers Weekly the way traditional publishers do.

In other words, instead of publishing your book(s) under your own name, you create an imprint.  That way you can legitimately sail under the radar of Kirkus and PW, who will then review your book for no fee (NOTE: You will need to send them your title 3-4 months in advance of your expected pub date).  Also, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that either outlet will review your book or that they will give it a positive review. Both outlets will post it to their sites/publications either way because you’re submitting it as a publisher.

2). You pay for a review from a reputable source. 

IndieReader, Kirkus, and BlueInk come to mind.  (NOTE: IR is offering a limited time, 15% discount on its review services).

Now, I can hear some of you ask indignantly, “Why should I have to pay for a book review when traditionally published authors don’t?” You can read  my full answer, but the highlights of it here:

“Professional reviews for all published books—whether trad or indie—are, directly or indirectly, paid for.  Traditional publishers not inclined to paying outright for services find other, more socially acceptable ways of racking up positive reviews. On an author’s behalf, publishers, editors, agents and PR people may attempt to develop relationships with reviewers before a book has been critiqued. There are fancy lunches and plenty of swag. If a book has been reviewed favorably by a critic in the past, you can bet that the publisher will send new manuscripts in their direction in the hopes of receiving another good review. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “We’ve already established what kind of woman you are, madam.  Now we’re just haggling about the price.””

The reality of the situation remains that the world is not a fair place, and if you want something bad enough you may have to pay for it.  An upside to paying for book reviews is that if they’re not positive, most outlets will give you the option not to post it.  However, a great review from IndieReader, Kirkus, or BlueInk can be totally worth its weight in PR gold and used everywhere—Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to separate your book from the rest of the pack.

3). Seek out top Amazon and/or GoodReads reviewers who will do it for free. 

Many great reviewers/bloggers have stepped in to fill the void left by mainstream reviewers who refuse to read an indie.  Trouble is there aren’t enough of them to read all the books that are sent their way to review.  My suggestion is do some research and make a list of the top Amazon and GoodReads reviewers.

Be professional when reaching out.  Write a cover letter, include the book’s title and genre. and–most importantly—include your contact info (especially an email address) so that they can get back to you.  Be patient.

In the end there is no substitute for writing a great book. In order to get attention for that book, however, book reviews can definitely make a difference.

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