In a perfect world, each person who bought your book would review it online, building your cachet and sending your title higher in search results. Then, based on that exposure, more people would buy your book and each write reviews of their own.
Of course, it doesn’t happen that way in real life. The majority of people who read your book won’t review it. So how do you get those initial reviews that drive demand and make your book show up earlier in search results? Simple: You give away free copies in exchange for honest reviews—which occasionally means that you’ll give away a copy in exchange for a negative review. Sadly, that’s inescapable, as is the fact that no one who receives a promotional copy is obligated to write a review. Even with professional reviewers, there’s no guarantee.
The easiest way to distribute these free copies is through your blog or Twitter account. Try hosting a simple giveaway. Encourage people to enter by answering a question correctly or simply by sending you their mailing address, and then randomly select one (or several) of them to receive a copy—and don’t forget to sign it before you put it in the mail. The only downsides to this exceedingly easy method are those mentioned above: the recipients are under no obligation to write a review, and you have no control over the tone or content of that review if they do decide to write it.
Many publishers have their own book giveaway sites targeted at bloggers and reviewers. Niche publishers are especially likely to use their sites to develop relationships with reviewers interested in their authors’ work. Ask your publisher whether they have such a program; they may be able to send out promotional review copies with no work on your part. (If your publisher is Greenleaf, I can answer that question for you right now—we do use of a variety of giveaway sites, and we are currently working on a way to offer giveaway copies to consumers through our Facebook page.)
Goodreads is another great forum for giveaways, and it’s especially effective, since you’re putting your book the hands of enthusiastic readers. Amazon offers a great paid promotional review service—Amazon Vine—through which the site’s top reviewers are recruited to review your book. When one of these reviewers writes about your book, it stays at the top of the book’s Amazon page forever, giving your book some extra credibility (assuming the review is good). This is another method that can be greatly simplified by having your publisher do it for you. It does have a few setbacks, though: you are required to give away a minimum of twenty-five books as opposed to sending one out to each potential reviewer, and second, Amazon Vine reviewers choose what they want to review. To some reviewers, getting your $20 book for free may not be as enticing as getting, for example, a $250 vacuum for free.
The Internet is chock full of other means for you to get your books out to interested reviewers—explore some of them and decide which ones best suit your audience and align with your goals. And don’t sweat the occasional bad review. Fifty Shades of Grey has plenty of one-star reviews on Amazon and no love from literary critics, but E. L. James seems to be doing just fine.
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Once you transition from having a manuscript to holding an actual book, your job as an independent author switches from writer to promoter. Even if you or your publisher has hired a professional publicist for your title, making the public aware that your book exists should be your top priority (if you care about sales, that is). One part of a successful publicity campaign is having reviews for your book, and even as an independent author there are many ways to secure some solid, unbiased reviews.
First of all, make sure you have plenty of copies of your book on hand (as well as a nice budget for postage!). Traditional means of getting reviewed, like simply submitting to magazines and newspapers, are dwindling. Therefore, the Internet should definitely be your first resource for finding review outlets. On Dan Poynter’s ParaPublishing.com, for instance, you can find a detailed guide to getting book reviews.
This guide offers invaluable information on where and when to submit for reviews.
When you find an outlet that will review your book, pay close attention to its submission guidelines, as they can vary depending on the reviewer. If you don’t submit in exactly the way their website directs, your submission will likely end up in the trash.
You should also have a simple cover letter that you can tailor to each publication to which you are submitting. Keep in mind that these publications receive thousands of submissions a year and simply cannot review everything that comes to them (although some will offer the option for you to pay to get a guaranteed review), so they will not read a long letter. Pertinent information to include is
- a sentence or two about the content of the book
- the name of your publisher
- the book’s page count
- the book’s publication date
- your email address and phone number
Keep timelines in mind, too. You must submit to larger-scale publications (such as monthly magazines) six months prior to your publication date; to trade publications, newspapers, and weekly magazines three to four months prior to your publication date; and to online outlets and blogs one month prior to your publication date.
Another great source for reviews is Amazon.com. Look up other books that are similar to yours, scroll through the reviews that have been posted, and email the reviewers that have put up competent and complimentary reviews. Clicking on reviewers’ Amazon usernames will direct you to their profiles, where you can often find a way to contact them. Add a line to your form letter stating why you think a particular reviewer would enjoy your book based on their preferences, and clarify that if they do want to look at your book, it will be theirs to keep as a thank you.
While you’re online, don’t forget to look up blogs! They are fantastic outlets that grow daily in both readership and content, and you can find them through keyword searches and writers’ organizations. On Technorati.com you can search millions of blogs by category and see their “authority,” which tells you about a site’s standing and influence in the blogosphere, based on its linking activity and other factors. At Alexa.com, you can see detailed information about each blog’s traffic levels, which helps you easily decide which blogs to prioritize in order to maximize your book’s exposure. Bloggers almost always list their email addresses on their sites, so whip out that cover letter and send it over.
If you have your heart set on having your book reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, look up the publication online and find a contact email. Send a personalized email version of your form letter (again, emphasize why your title is relevant or interesting to them in particular), and ask to whom you can send a free copy of your book. A helpful resource for newspaper and magazine contacts can be found at John Kremer’s website. However, these outlets are becoming harder to break into, so balance your outreach here with the aforementioned online sources.
As you can see, the process of securing reviews can be both daunting and time-consuming. There is no guarantee that reviews will be positive, so don’t spend too much time or resources on submissions unless you have complete faith in your product (of course you do not ever have to use a negative review).
Why go through the whole process of submitting your book to reviewers at all?
Having reviews that you can post on your website and marketing materials adds a level of credibility to your title, and even a negative review is still exposure. Most importantly, reviews are crucial to your distribution efforts; libraries, for instance, rely heavily on reviews when deciding which titles to carry. Reviews can literally make or break a book’s chances of surviving in the market, so if you want your book to have shelf presence, start submitting!
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As you may know, the Big Bad Book Blog was designed to educate and support the publishing community as a whole, without regard for the model behind an author’s work. While it’s simple enough to educate across publishing models, it’s another thing to assist in the almighty quest to have one’s work be seen. As it stands, independently published authors receive little recognition through traditional media. It’s an unfortunate but understandable reality that most promotion channels available to authors are more supportive of books published through traditional publishers—often referred to as the “Six Sisters”. And we’re all too aware that book reviews as a whole are disappearing at an alarming rate.
So, to continue our mission of educating authors and supporting new voices, we are happy to announce the addition of a new recurring feature on the Big Bad Book Blog—Big Bad Book Reviews! To be clear, we (hopefully) will not be reviewing “bad” books—nor do we pledge a series of “bad” book reviews. We do promise to be “bad” in the vein of the 1980s Michael Jackson song and our blog’s masthead by challenging the publishing status quo and giving voice to the independent author through book reviews.
Starting in August, a member of our staff will review an independently published nonfiction work on our blog each week. To be eligible, the book must follow these guidelines:
- Must be an original nonfiction piece
- Must be either published through an independent publisher or self-published (traditionally published work will not be reviewed)
- Cannot be published or distributed by Greenleaf Book Group and/or its affiliated imprints (if we represent the book, it’s a given that we love it)
- Must be published within the last year
- Must include an author bio and contact information, including an email address and links to the author’s online presence
To submit your book for review, please send your book to the following address:
Greenleaf Book Group
Attn: Big Bad Book Review
P.O. Box 91869
Austin, TX 78709
To ensure accurate and timely delivery, label your package with the address exactly as it is posted above. Once your book is received, you will be sent an email confirmation. We will review one book per week and post reviews on Fridays starting in August. If you have any questions about the process, you may contact Shennandoah at email@example.com or at 512-891-6100.
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Face it. Bad reviews happen. Even the most acclaimed writers get bad reviews. Evaluating a book is a subjective process, and personal preferences won’t always match the book. Unfortunately, too many writers take bad reviews personally and even go to the extremes, engaging in negative banter, slander, and threats. Here are a few tips to help you take those bad reviews with grace.
- Remember that it’s not a personal affront. The reviewer just didn’t like your book. Do you like everything you read?
- Take a deep breath. Cool off. Put the review away in a dark place for a few days. Taking time to let the fresh emotions wear off will help you think more rationally and calmly when you look at it again.
- Look at who the reviewer is. Are they known for giving glowing reviews, or is negativity their forte? It may have nothing to do with you.
- Look at the review objectively. Are there constructive comments you can use to improve your next project? It could be a learning opportunity.
- DO NOT under any circumstances send a rebuttal. Just let it go. You may think you are defending yourself, but it only makes you look bad, not the reviewer.
- DO NOT slander or in any way bad-mouth the reviewer on your social media accounts or through other outlets. Not only does this make you look unprofessional, but you can also set yourself up for legal claims.
- DO be gracious and poised. Acting professional, taking bad reviews with a grain of salt, and maintaining a positive working relationship with book reviewers will only help you in the long run.
Remember, as an author you have put yourself out there for public scrutiny. Bad reviews show that people are reading your book and that you have drummed up enough interest to warrant a review. Also, they provide balance. An article from iMedia Connection, shows that too many good reviews can become fluff, and a bit unbelievable. Bad reviews from valid third parties let the reader know that reviews of your book are authentic. Also, the majority of the time, the number of bad reviews are small compared to good reviews. Plus, all reviews, good and bad, help by prequalifying book buyers and weeding out those who may not be a good fit for your topic.
All in all, take bad reviews with a grain of salt. They don’t spell doom, and sometimes can even help. By taking the high road and maintaining your composure in the face of bad reviews, you’ll come out on top in the end.
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Ward Sutton agreed to review T.C. Boyle's new historical drama The Women, on the love life of Frank Lloyd Wright. Being a cartoonist, he naturally reviewed it in pictures. A comic-book lover such as myself could not find this to be anything less than inventive, creative, and certainly uniquely compelling. A strange meld of literary critique and political cartoon, the review certainly adds a new facet to scholarly criticism.
Not the most in-depth review in terms of length, but given the limitations of the form, it is impressive nonetheless for giving us the facts we need to know. The art itself reminds me of a less repellent version of controversial comic book artist R. Crumb, with a touch more realism and fewer panties. (Whether one regards this as a compliment or not, the similarities certainly bode well for Sutton).
The work follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, satirical cartoonist Tony Millionaire, who reviewed the atheist manifesto God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens. I personally don't know how you could not make a sardonic cartoon review for a book with a title that candid.
No telling whether this bizarre new way of reviewing will catch on with the circle of critics at large, but given that we have become increasingly interested in receiving information in a concise, entertaining fashion, this could be the future of reviews. Just in case, you critics better whip out the sketchpads and start doodling.
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Need to find ways to make book review solicitation more affordable and time effective? Check out three tips from the BBBB on how to get more reviews and save time and money:
Don’t waste hours searching the web for book reviewers who may or may not review your book’s genre. BookConnector connects authors and publishers with people and resources likely to promote their books. They match your book’s characteristics with their large database of reviewers, review sites, book clubs, and reading venues, so you get personalized results and more bang for your book. BookConnector offers a free basic service and an affordable advanced service. To learn more go to www.BookConnector.com.
Most book reviewers will not review a book sent to them after publication. You or your publicist should be sending out advance reader’s copies (ARCs)/galleys three to six months in advance of the publication date. Make sure that you do your research to learn the reviewers' individual submission guidelines. Publisher's Weekly, for example, states that it will not review a title after its pub date or if it is self-published (unless it has a print run greater than two thousand or an arrangement with a reputable distributor). For more info on Publisher's Weekly’s submission process go to www.PublishersWeekly.com.
#3: Radio Television Interview Report
RTIR just might be the answer. Radio Television Interview Report is a magazine that producers read to find interesting guests who are available for interviews. Each issue reaches more than 4,000 producers, hosts, and program directors worldwide. RTIR has several different advertising packages, and they will write your copy for free. Log on to www.RTIR.com to see if they are the right fit for you.