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The Value of Book Reviews

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by Seth Dellon, Director of Strategic Development, Publishers Weekly

Seth Dellon

How a quality book review can enhance your book’s marketing technique.

The term “independent publishing” has seen as much evolution as the actual industry that spawned it. What once included books by non-corporate-but-otherwise-traditional publishers that accounted for a small number of books in bookstores and libraries now is an umbrella term responsible for nearly a million ISBNs worth of books each year—from small, medium, and large non-corporate presses; hybrid publishers; author-publishers; and more—that still miraculously only account for a small number of books in bookstores and libraries.

The “rise of indie publishing,” as it is often referred to, has resulted in an exponential scaling of the number of books being published in a given year, but as publishers, we know firsthand that an equal scaling in the other components of the industry that makes those books available—from shelf space to distributors—has not scaled in kind. That has resulted in an industry that values those limited resources even more and makes them even harder to attain.

Book reviews are no different: As more books are published each year, the value of a reputable review outlet saying “this is a great book” can’t be overstated. And though new review outlets are popping up all the time and traditional review outlets continue to explore new ways to cover more books, quality book reviews remain an often-elusive, highly valuable tool in a book’s marketing and publicity tool kit.

First thing’s first:

Like the term “indie publishing,” “book reviews” encompasses a lot. To make sense of all the book review possibilities available to indie publishers, consider the type of book review most valuable to you:

  1. Trade reviews (examples: Publishers Weekly, Foreword Reviews, Kirkus Reviews): book reviews from publications that cater to the book trade (e.g., booksellers, librarians, agents, other publishers, etc.). Trade reviews typically require books to be submitted no less than three months before publication date and are published before the book. Most trade review outlets have paths to submit books closer to or after your on-sale date, which in some cases requires payment.
  2. Critical reviews (examples: The New York Times, AV Club, The North County News): from local papers to national publications, anywhere there’s a book critic, there’s an opportunity for a critical review. Critical reviews are consumer-facing and usually publish in their publication around the book’s on-sale date.
  3. Other professional reviews (examples: Blue Ink, IndieReader): a lot of review sources have launched along with the rise of indie publishing to help give feedback to the millions of new books published each year. Most of these outlets require payment.
  4. Reader reviews (example: IL0veCats, B00xrule1984): these reviews include those that readers post on Amazon, GoodReads, and other consumer-facing and consumer-friendly platforms.

Where should you put your resources?

Sourcing book reviews should be part of your regular marketing and publicity strategy—and as with any part of that strategy, how you approach getting book reviews will be determined in part by your available time, budget, and resources. Some things to consider:

  • When is my book’s on-sale date? The vast majority of traditional book reviews—those made by trade or other media—require the book be submitted for review far ahead of the on-sale date so that the review itself can be published at a time of maximum impact, usually around the time the trade is likely to place orders, or around the time the book itself publishes.
  • What audience am I trying to reach? Obviously, we want to reach the largest possible audience and sell the most books we can, but if librarians and booksellers aren’t an important part of your strategy, then you can leave out trade reviews as part of your workflow. Likewise, if you’re pursuing—or paying for—trade reviews, then the review should be only a small part of your overall trade marketing strategy.
  • How does the review itself help me? Pursuing any review takes time and resources, plus payment in some cases. Before spending any of that, consider the review source itself: How reputable is it? How many people read the publication? Who is the publication’s audience? Where does the publication post their reviews?
  • Have I followed the submission guidelines? To a publication that receives thousands of submissions, the only way to stay sane and organized is to work within a proven workflow. If you submit your book outside of that publication’s regular workflow, your book might as well not exist. Make sure you triple check the review source’s submission guidelines, and follow them to the T.

What do you do with your book review?

Book reviews—particularly favorable ones—provide credentialed marketing copy. So use it—everywhere:

  • On the book itself: Figure out how you can tastefully add a quote from the review to your front or back cover.
  • In metadata: Your metadata includes all of the important components of your book so that when the book is sold, the correct information for the book is visible. Adding your reviews to your metadata will make sure they’re always part of your book’s retail (and e-tail) presence.
  • In marketing and publicity collateral: This is the material that is going to get people to pay attention to your book, so let your reviews do some of the heavy lifting by including them in your marketing collateral. A great review from a great reviewer might be worthy of its own marketing and publicity campaign at any time during the book’s life cycle.

Like even the best-designed book covers, a book review itself isn’t going to sell books for you. But, as part of a larger campaign, book reviews can be a hugely important component of grabbing attention from readers and the people and mechanisms that reach them.

Seth Dellon is director of strategic development at Publishers Weekly. Prior to PW, Seth was the associate publisher of Foreword Reviews. Seth has worked in book publishing since 2006 and is in his second year as a member of the IBPA Board of Directors.

For more tips on book reviews, check out this IBPA Independent article, “How to Use Book Bloggers for Promotion and Book Reviews.”

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