Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Benefits of Book Reviews

I never thought much about book reviews until I wrote my first children’s book and was desperate for reviews. Suddenly I began seeing book review pages everywhere—in magazines, in newspapers, online … everywhere! Why wasn’t my book there? I began reading other people’s reviews, appraising other people’s opinions, and wondering how I could get my book reviewed. Although my publishers did send out review copies, I came to the conclusion that it was up to me to drive my own marketing machine.


Are Book Reviews Vital?
Book reviews, in my opinion, are very necessary. Perhaps they aren’t vital, but how many people rush to see a movie without first watching a trailer? That’s why movie makers have trailers—to entice viewers. Book reviews are written book trailers, to entice readers. People don’t want to spend money on something they might not enjoy. They read a book review, hoping to extract some idea of whether the author will appeal.

In her article How to Submit Your Books for Review, marketing guru Dana Lynn Smith has this to say about the value of book reviews: “Book reviews can be a powerful marketing tool for books of all types. Potential customers learn about books by reading reviews in newspapers, consumer magazines, professional journals, newsletters, e-zines, book review Web sites, online bookstores, and other blogs and Web sites. In addition to bringing books to their attention, well-crafted book reviews also help the reader determine if a book is a good fit for them.”
Dana’s excellent article also includes lists of online sites, people, and organizations that do book reviews.

How to Get Your Book Reviewed
How do you get book reviews? You ask for them. Your options are: dedicated book reviewers, bloggers, an organization, library, journal, or company.

Rule Number One: don’t just send a book in the post with a hastily scribbled note begging for someone to review it. All sites, magazines, journals, and libraries will have submission requirements that may include: a cover letter, power testimonials, book excerpts, a marketing plan, and ARC’s or book copies. They may also prefer only pre- or post-publication material. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully, especially if you are a self-published author. Some people won’t accept a self-published book. However, don’t panic, there are many sites and organizations that do. For step-by-step guidelines, read this excellent article on 1st Turning Point: Getting Your Book Reviewed—Preparing the Book Kit by Lillian Cauldwell.

Is Your Book Right For The Reviewer?
Another consideration is whether your material fits the reviewer’s criteria and target market. Don’t send a children’s book to a romance book site or general interest publication. Don’t waste your and other people’s time sending to a tiny niche market outlet if you are an author with a general appeal book. Spend some time reading reviews on various sites or publications to get a feel for the tone and style of the reviews. Get an idea of what kind of readership the publication or site has, or if it’s an individual, what kind of following that person has. School and public librarians are great for children’s books because the reviewer will have a captive, interested audience on hand.

Dead Ends?
Yes, you can send 100 books out for review and not get much back in the way of reviews. So, before you do the ‘spray and pray’ method, really refine and hone your targets carefully. If individuals have agreed to review your book, always keep in mind that this is not their job, and they may not have time to fit you in for a while, if at all. Some people (alas) promise to review but spend more time enjoying the free books they get than actually doing a review. Big sites, journals, or newspapers may not even get back to you. There are many other smaller sites that can still, through sheer volume and hard work on your part, give you enough of a response. Big sites and publications also may not be able to give your book the personal attention you feel it deserves.

Are You a Book Review Snob?
If so, don’t be. Perhaps you think that a big important review site is going to give you more sales than Fred Bloggs from Baltimore or Shirley Jones from Florida? Maybe … but then again, maybe not. Fred Bloggs may just tell twenty or thirty friends about the fantastic book he read, and put a review on Amazon to express his admiration. Shirley Jones may be a very active member of a book club and her praise could result in other book clubs picking up on your novel. While professional reviews are both hard to come by and great to have, it’s the average person out there who is buying your book and their opinion does count. Amazon has some excellent advice to offer authors looking for Amazon reviewers, and explains how these reviews can benefit sales.

What About Bad Book Reviews?
This brings me to the next point. What to do about a ‘bad’ book review? The old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity. No publicity is bad publicity” should hold true. Most people realize that a book review is an opinion, that’s all. Top authors like Dan Brown and James Patterson have also been criticized for a variety of perceived writing defects. It’s important to remember that if a reviewer criticizes an author’s writing techniques (style, grammar, plot construction, dialogue), then there is a problem with the book. One always hopes the person reviewing a book will go for the genre he or she enjoys. However, the mark of a good reviewer is someone who is able to judge a book on how it will appeal to a general or (in some cases) a niche market. That’s why authors on specialist subjects should really aim for niche market review outlets to get the best results.

A book reviewer’s job is to tell the potential reader about the book, not about themselves. At the end of the review, the reader should have a very clear vision of the book and its contents and a very fuzzy picture of the person contributing the review. A book review is not about self or personal views, but about the book and how it can benefit others.

I recently began reviewing books and deliberately offered my services in other genres, books I would not go for as my first choice. I have reviewed women’s fiction, romantic suspense, and am about to tackle a collection of horror short stories. That’s a challenge for me and I am enjoying it, keeping in mind my advice above.

Should You Pay For Book Reviews?
The jury is still out on this one because there is an opinion that paid-for reviews are generally more favorable because the author has paid for it. Professional sites and publications usually have too much integrity to risk their reputation on this score and most times advise the author that honesty is their policy. Paying for a review also means that there is a motivation to get it done. Free reviews end up with the site or publication being inundated with demands. You may have to wait a while to get reviewed.

Good old Google is a wealth of information on book reviews sites. Some other leads to pursue are: the Virtual Book Review Network; The Midwest Book Review; ReaderViews. Check out Anastasia Suen’s Literacy Blog for children’s books as well as the list of 100 Best Book Reviewers on Twitter. John Kremer offers a list of magazines that review books.

Book reviews are just one part of the wide scope of marketing possibilities available to authors. Don’t say no to review requests because you never know where your book will end up. It could just arrive on the desk of someone very important to your book’s future.

Are you a book reviewer? Share your opinions with us!
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