Getting Reviews for Your Book
One of the most important early steps in marketing a self-published book is approaching reviewers so that when your book does become available, there is already a bit of a buzz on the street and online, letting readers know that it’s worth checking out.
For years, indie authors were unable to get reviews from the more respected book review venues like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal. Those publications were inundated by requests and ultimately saw the potential to create new revenue streams by offering to review indie books for a fee. In doing that, they had to ensure that their own labour costs were covered, reviewers could be paid, and there was a bit of a profit to be made at the end of the day.
All in all, these have been positive developments, creating a more cohesive (if ever-evolving) sense of community in the literary world. They had to hire more reviewers and since most reviewers are also writers. The increased opportunity to write reviews for such established and respected institutions is more than welcome. And the existence and availability of the reviews provides yet another path to legitimacy for many writers who have been working outside the margins.
The downside is that, for many writers, it may well be a bad investment.
1) Good reviews are not guaranteed. They do give you the option to withhold publication of a less than flattering review, but you may end up paying $399 or $425 for a review that will never see the light of day. That’s a huge gamble for a writer working on a shoestring. It is better than the alternative. If good reviews were guaranteed, then they would be meaningless – so it’s a good news/bad news kinda thing.
2) Even if the book is brilliant, your odds of getting a coveted starred review is low because Indie reviews are segregated. Book Life is the indie section at PW, while Kirkus Indie reviews are not physically segregated but are still marked as “Indie” reviews. This essentially plays into the pre-existing perception that self-published books and books requiring payment for reviews are inferior by nature.
Less expensive paid reviews are available from other venues. OnlineBookClub.org and US Review of Books both offer capsule reviews for under $100 and the new Reedsy Discovery comes in at $50. I’m sure there are places that offer them for even less, but they probably have little cache – and I simply haven’t come across them yet.
The net result is that writers must scramble to get reviews wherever they can. Free review sites are usually inundated with requests – so you need to be brave, creative, and persistent in approaching potential reviewers. I got some great reviews for Psychedelia Gothique by looking at the lists of top Amazon reviewers then e-mailing them individually and offering to send free hardcopies in exchange for unbiased reviews. It took lots of time, lots of research and actually cost quite a bit, sending hardcopies overseas in some cases – for a net result of two reviews from Amazon top 10 reviewers. Can’t say whether it had any effect on sales whatsoever. Friends and followers are easier to find and approach, but you can’t just get reviews from your sister and your grandma and run with that. You need to approach friends and acquaintances – and it’s necessary to come right out with the full request. Tell everyone exactly what you need from them, ie: “Can you please go to my website at dalel.sproule.com and sign up for my newsletter.” or “Could you please read the book and post an honest review on Amazon or on the Chapters Indigo site.” Even this can be a bit tricky, since Amazon now requires people to have made a minimum of $30 in purchases in the preceding month in order to post a review. I suppose clever workarounds are possible, even if I haven’t figured out what they are yet. Then there’s the conundrum of what your friends should do if they didn’t actually like the book. I don’t want anyone to lie for me, even if they are willing. So ultimately, I would probably say, “If the review is three stars or better, please post it. But if it’s less than that, please refrain from posting rather than pretending you liked it.”
So there it is. Getting reviews will be expensive, time consuming, and will require me to ask things of people that I’m uncomfortable asking for. Ah well, nobody said that doing my own book publicity was going to be easy. And the alternative of not doing any is just as onerous. I just tell myself that this process is just to give the book a bit of a push start and count on word of mouth the do the ongoing publicity. In a perfect world…
And then there are the dream world scenario’s where the book catches fire.
I think it’s important to an author’s mental health to keep expectations reasonable, so we’re not crushed when we don’t find ourselves “Launching a bestseller.” Book guru Tim Grahl cautions writers to not expect too much in the first week…and instead, to do a mental reset aimed at building an audience over the first year. In other words – it’s important not to give up if you don’t have an immediate breakout. Just keep grinding and look to succeed on a longer term. Brilliant advice.
If the book doesn’t immediately find its audience, we need to remember that publicity is cumulative! The success of one book can help boost future books as well as your backlist. And if you don’t have a backlist, then maybe what you're really doing right now is building one.
Persistence may not bring the degree of success we want, but it’s essential to keep moving in the right direction. And who knows when an actual breakout is about to happen?
Get the scoop on my new novel, The Human Template at https://dalelsproule.com.