PUBLISHED JULY 2016
by Kristina Radke, International Account Director, NetGalley
You know that book reviews matter. They are one of the linchpins that retail sites use to create algorithms that can boost a book’s visibility and help to generate word-of-mouth buzz out in the wider world. “Effective frequency” is the concept that consumers are more likely to complete a purchase after having seen the product a number of times. There is no magic answer about what that number might be, but the point is that name and visual recognition is powerful. The more your titles, book covers, and authors’ name are out in the world, the better—and reviews contribute to that saturation.
How do you break through the noise of the crowded space that is book publishing today? Not every publisher or author has a major budget to promote their books, so it becomes important to strategically focus on the most effective outreach possible. By soliciting reviews in a targeted way, you will begin to see buzz increase—the more reviews out there, the more likely it is that the book will continue to be reviewed as new readers discover the title. As with any product, when readers are looking for a new book or author to discover, they will crowdsource their decision by talking with friends and family and reading reviews.
Before you start, it is essential to determine your goals and temper your expectations. Where would you like this particular book to be reviewed and why? Where is your target audience going for book recommendations? What is your budget for offering review copies (whether print or digital)? There are a few different types of reviews you may look for, all of which offer a different type of visibility.
When readers are browsing for new books to purchase online, they will see reviews from other readers. Book retail sites and social sites like Goodreads are where you’re likely to see the bulk of your reviews. There are simply more consumer reviewers out there than there are “professional” reviewers. For most books, especially for the fiction genre, consumer reviews can be very powerful. The point of sale, or a book-dedicated social site where readers are going specifically to discover new books, is precisely where you want reviews to appear. A bevy of reviews in this space is a convincing argument that yours are books that are being talked about, and they should join that conversation.
There are many dedicated book blogs out there and it’s worth taking the time to research which ones are right for your books. While doing this research, be sure to look at the blog’s submission guidelines and read previous reviews the blogger has written. Make sure that the blog’s audience is also your target audience. Book bloggers with many followers and high traffic are great, but don’t underestimate the clout that a niche blog may hold. Where do your books fit among readers who are passionate about the subject of your books? How might your books fit in with a blog that is not focused on book reviews? What community would be interested in your books, even if they are just off mainstream? These types of communities can be fervent in spreading the word about something new that appeals to their interests.
These are more traditional print and online resources aimed at publishing industry professionals, such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and Booklist. Some of them are targeted to librarians or booksellers, who are among the most influential advocates for books. If your book receives a starred review from one of these outlets, be sure to use that to leverage other reviews. Reviews from these outlets are widely trusted and respected throughout the book-buying world.
These are the media outlets that have a dedicated section to books: the Wall Street Journal, NPR, or the Washington Post. For indie publishers, these may be the most difficult to break into. Book publicists work tirelessly to build relationships with editors and producers in these media channels. They craft personal pitches to the editor most likely to be interested and, even so, with dwindling space for book reviews and the sheer number of books being published, many books are overlooked. A review by media outlets such as these will lend an air of legitimacy to your book, but remember that this is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of book reviews. Sometimes one great placement can launch a book, but it’s not the only way to do so.
Early Influencers and List Recognition
Librarians, booksellers, and educators can be strong allies to have behind your books. Don’t overlook these communities when you are considering who you would like to review your books. Many libraries and independent bookstores have their own blogs where they share details about their location and events, in addition to writing book reviews. Reach out to your local branch of the public library and talk to your neighborhood bookseller (or communities where your story takes place) about reviewing your books or nominating them for recognition on the American Booksellers Association’s Indie Next List or LibraryReads, both of which are monthly lists generated based on recommendation by those influencers.
Timing and Persistency
As you are building a strategy for launching a book and promoting it beyond the on-sale date, remember to consider timing. Traditional and trade publications will require a longer lead time (sometimes as long as six months before publication) to write a review, whereas bloggers and consumer reviewers may be less tied to the on-sale date.
Be sure to set an achievable goal for reviews. What type of reviewers will you reach out to and why are they the right people to review these books? How many reviewers will you reach out to and what percentage of responses will you consider a success? No publisher will get a 100 percent return on review requests. It’s worth noting that while positive reviews are the goal, critical feedback can be beneficial as well. When you receive critical reviews prior to publication, be flexible enough to consider that feedback as it may help your book’s position in the market. It can’t be ignored that there is power in “love-it-or-hate-it” reviews, too. So don’t be too afraid of criticism.
Keep effective frequency in mind, and don’t underestimate the influence of consumer reviews. Use positive blurbs from other reviews, stats like the number of five-star reviews received in a particular outlet, and even impressions on your website to convince reviewers why their audience will appreciate their input about these books. Make time to research the right outlets and follow up. There are a number of services designed to help you boost visibility for your books (such as NetGalley, where I work and which helps connect authors with early influencers), so do your research about those services as well.
It’s easy to slip into a mindset of, “If only I had a review there, my books would succeed,” but the reality is that no matter where your books are being talked about, the fact that people are discussing them is the important thing. The more often people see your book covers, hear the titles, or read reviews, the more likely it is that they will go buy the books and talk about them to others—maybe even write their own review.
Kristina Radke is the international account director at NetGalley, a service that helps books succeed thanks to a powerful and growing community of book advocates. Over 300 publishers and hundreds of indie authors worldwide are using NetGalley to generate early buzz about their books. Learn more here, or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.