Personal recommendations account for 95% of all book sales. That’s a powerful statement, and it really speaks to the fact that people like what other people like. So, when authors ask me if book reviews are still a great way to sell a book, I always say 'yes' because great book reviews really tap into the power of the personal recommendation. Which brings us to the inevitable—how to get book reviews?
The challenge that authors seeking to get book reviews face is two-fold. First, with more than 4,500 books published on a daily basis, getting those reviews is increasingly competitive. And second, pursuing book reviews can be time-consuming. With this in mind, I'm going to break down the strategy behind choosing the kinds of reviews you should go after, and those you should maybe not put much effort into.
Should Authors Pay to Get Book Reviews?
Everybody wonders about this. And, in fact, at one time, paid reviews were a red flag. However, since the market is so saturated, there’s more of a place for them now, and in general, they aren’t a bad way to go. With that said, I recommend that authors minimize how many of them they go after because costs add up quickly.
You’ll need to vet paid reviews carefully to be sure that the company is reputable and the fee worth the investment. Some of the paid reviewers that offer a quality review are places like IndieReader, BlueInk Review, and Kirkus Reviews, to name a few. There are others, too, and Publishers Weekly now has an entire arm of their publication dedicated to indies.
Frankly, a lot of paid reviews came about because there were so many authors needing a professional book review that it was difficult for places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly to keep up. Authors show their serious dedication to their work when they’re willing to invest some money in getting a review.
Bottom line, if the organization is reputable and the review will have some reach, there’s nothing wrong with paying to get book reviews.
By that same token, each paid review service offers varying levels of exposure. For example, IndieReader posts reviews on their site and they are also shared/syndicated by Ingram. Books receiving a 4-5-star rating are IndieReader Approved and are included in a monthly “Best Of” round-up on their site (as well as to their email list of approximately 5,000 readers and the Association of Independent Author’s (AIA) Facebook page).
Not All Paid Reviews are Created Equal
Amazon has invested in taking down sites that offered “10 reviews for $5.” And with good reason. Despite being only $5, it’s neither a good investment of your time nor money, because this variety of paid reviews (as opposed to the professional reviews mentioned in the last section) is against Amazon’s terms of service.
The key difference is that many of these reviews aren’t well-written, or thoughtful, and plenty of them are only one sentence long. A short, non-specific review that says something to the effect of, “Great book by this author!” often indicates to Amazon that there is a problem. And as a result, it’s not uncommon for reviews like this to get pulled. In some cases, authors who do this a lot will be banned from their site.
Professional Review Publications
Most authors I speak to would love to get a review in the New York Times, or the New York Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, etc. However, for all these publications, the book needs to be sent to them early. The lead time is different for each publication but often ranges between three to six months. This is one of the many reasons that trade publishers work so far ahead of publication dates. They know they must start early if they want to get a coveted review in the New York Times.
Much like professional reviews, if you want to get pre-publication reviews, you need to go after them early. You can read more about what you should expect for timing here.
Publications like the Midwest Book Review, Portland Book Review, and the Seattle Review of Books all welcome your book after it publishes. Some of them will even accept titles that are 3-6 months old, which means you have plenty of time to target them.
How to Time and Plan for Paid Reviewers
The takeaway here is that paid reviewers like IndieReader, Kirkus, etc. can all be pitched after your book publishes. Timelines for submitting your book and getting reviews back vary from publication to publication, but candidly it’s better to pitch them earlier in the game. When I asked Amy Edelman of IndieReader about their review process and timing, her response was, “IndieReader has two types of Pro Reviews. The regular has a turnaround time of 7-9 weeks; the RUSH is 4-6 weeks, so it’s up to the author how quickly they’d like to get it back.”
You can get reviews by Amazon reviewers (and in some cases, top reviewers) at any time. With that said, as with most marketing strategies, it’s good to go after these folks relatively early in the life of your book. I wrote a blog post on Amazon reviewers, which you can see here.
Pitching books to bloggers is something I’ve done for most of my 18+ years in business. However, it’s important to understand that blogger pitching has changed considerably over the years. Blogs these days have consolidated topics. For example, you used to be able to find a lot of blogs for cozy mysteries, but now most bloggers list it all under the “mystery” umbrella. Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes, and to reach the top bloggers, you probably have to start pitching them early because their TBR (To Be Read) lists are generally pretty extensive.
We’ll talk more about guidelines in a minute, but you’ll really want to pay close attention to those listed for each blogger. It will help you be sure that you’re pitching the right blogger, at the right time, and that you’re following their rules. The other piece of this is the timing. Pitch bloggers on the early end of your campaign. If you wait until the book is six months or older, like other reviews, getting blogger reviews becomes tougher. Here are some of my best practices for getting bloggers interested in reviewing your book.
Reader Book Reviews
Every reader review is worth its weight in gold. And the more reader reviews you get, the better your book will do. This comes back to the power of personal recommendation. As I mentioned earlier, 95% of books are sold by word of mouth, and reviews (especially reader reviews) go a long way toward hitting that mark. I have quite a few blog posts on reader reviews, how to get more of them, and how to build your fan base. You can read more here.
Trade Book Reviews
Trade reviews are a very niche and somewhat off-the-radar opportunity that can be very powerful if, your book feeds into a supported industry. Trade reviewers are often very specific. For example, there are publications out there that serve everything from HR markets to sewing and quilting. And while they may not do traditional reviews, they offer the potential for some great exposure.
What’s more, you can target trade publications any time after you publish. They are often so hungry for content, they won’t care if your book is a tad older. Whether trade publications are print or online-only, they are certainly worth a shot!
How Should You Invest Your Time?
Now is the time to refine your list. Every author wants to get book reviews, but it’s important to be sure you are pitching the right places. For example, if you’re an indie author and a publication that doesn’t take indie-published books, don’t waste your time or theirs by contacting them. By the same token, if you know that you don’t have a shot at a pre-publication reviewer, you’ll want to focus your time and energy elsewhere. Even if the New York Times isn’t a great option for you, there are still plenty of opportunities out there that I’ve explored here. I’d also caution you to remember to define your audience before going after reviews. While it may seem glamorous to go after the “tough to get” reviews, if the publication doesn’t reach your exact audience, why would you bother?
What’s more, if the readership of a publication or blog is not really going to be interested in your book then you probably don't want to pitch them. Although realistically you will not get a review from every outlet you pitch, you still have to invest your time researching, pitching, and in many cases, sending them a book.
Submitting Books and Book Review Guidelines
Finally, let’s talk about the importance of book review guidelines. Surprisingly, many authors completely overlook them. Reviewing pitching guidelines can take up a lion’s share of your time, which is why I mentioned that you may want to be selective about who you pitch.
My firm does this work—meaning vetting and pitching bloggers—and I can tell you that we spend a good deal of our time reviewing each blog and their guidelines. Before you start, make sure the investment is going to be worth your time.
The Timing of Going After Book Reviews
If I’m working with an author to get book reviews, I’ll often look at this as a tiered effort. Getting reader reviews, for example, is something that should be an ongoing effort. However, as I’ve mentioned, blogger pitching should start pretty early on in the life of your book. You can go after post-publication reviews anytime between the street date of your book and 4-6 months later. And, if the campaign includes trade publications, I’ll generally slot that in after completing the blogger pitching. The bottom line here is that the right kind of book reviews can really help boost your book’s exposure. The key lies in understanding the difference between each type of review, when and how you should target them, and how they, in turn, can connect with your target audience. Each review you get can give your exposure a huge boost, and what’s more, as these reviews start to populate on Amazon, they will trigger Amazon’s algorithm and help you gain more traction there. And that’s ultimately what you want, since exposure is what gets those book sales!
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