Getting Your Indie Book Reviewed
Nas Hedron, IndieBookLauncher.com—Updated 18 July 2013
- Why Do Reviews Matter?
- Paying for Reviews
- Getting Reviewed in Newspapers and Magazines
- Getting Reviewed on Literary Web Pages
- Getting Reader Reviews on Book Vendor Sites
- The Future of Indie Book Reviews
Why Do Reviews Matter?
It might sound simplistic to ask whether reviews really matter, but just about every author who goes through the process of seeking out reviews ends up asking themself this question.
Depending on your approach, getting reviews can take a significant amount of time and effort, cost you some money, or both. You’re bound to ask yourself at some point whether it’s all worth it.
It is, and here’s one reason why. The biggest hurdle any indie book faces is going unnoticed—even a well-written, well-edited, beautifully crafted book will sell very few copies if no one notices it amongst the many titles available.
Just how many titles are there?
Bowker LLC, which is one of the main issuers of International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) in the world, released figures in 2012 indicating that self-publishing in the U.S. had grown almost 300% from 2006 to 2012, having reached about 235,000 titles in that country alone. And Bowker reached that astronomical figure despite the fact that it only counts books that have been assigned an ISBN. Not all indie authors purchase ISBNs for their books, so the actual figure may be higher.
Whatever the real number, it’s a lot of books. If yours is going to get noticed, you want reviews. You want something you can quote in promotional materials, and you want online shoppers who land on your book’s page to see reviews from readers.
Paying for Reviews
There are a variety of companies that will review your book for a fee. These should not be confused with disreputable operations that guarantee you a good review regardless of the quality of your book. What you pay for when you deal with a reputable company is an honest, well-written review delivered to you for a set price and on a set schedule. In most cases they will publish it on their web site and they will often also distribute it through other channels. You can also use their review (or an excerpt from it) in promotional materials.
These companies differ in the fees they charge, in the experience or credentials they require of their reviewers, in how broadly they’re able to distribute their reviews, and other factors. Before deciding to use any particular company, make sure you understand exactly what they offer and, very importantly, read some of their reviews so you have some idea of what to expect. If you can, look for reviews of books that resemble yours in some way. We also strongly recommend looking at more than one company before you buy, preferably several.
Kirkus Reviews has long been considered the gold standard in book reviewing companies. If you walk into a book store and check book covers at random for excerpts from reviews, Kirkus is likely the name you’ll see most often.
Recently Kirkus began offering its reviewing service for indie books in addition to those released by traditional publishers. Kirkus Indie Reviews charges US$425.00 for standard service (7-9 weeks) or US$575.00 for express (4-6 weeks). You send in your book by mail, or by uploading a PDF or Word document. You will receive a review of 250-350 words.
You then have a choice: keep it private or publish it (without charge) on the Kirkus web site. If you choose to publish it, you can then use it in promotional materials and Kirkus will distribute it to Google, Barnes & Noble, Baker & Taylor, and other venues. It could also appear in the Kirkus magazine or email newsletter.
Blue Ink Review
Blue Ink Review works much like Kirkus, but was founded more recently and deals exclusively with indie books. Their fees are and timelines are in the same general range as Kirkus: US$395.00 (7-9 weeks) or US$495.00 (4-5 weeks). If you choose to upload your book as a PDF (rather than sending a printed copy), Blue Ink charges an extra US$19.95 to cover the cost of printing a paper copy for their reviewer. Like Kirkus, Blue Ink’s reviews run 250-350 words.
Once you receive your review you have ten days to choose whether to keep it private or allow it to be published on the Blue Ink site (note that by default it will be published—to keep it private you must notify the company by email). Blue Ink also distributes their reviews through Ingram, Publishing Perspectives, and Self-Publishing Review.
IndieReader.com is a popular web site devoted specifically to indie books and issues related to indie publishing. Their review fee is US$250.00. Their reviews are guaranteed to be at least 300 words long, with a rating from one to five stars, delivered within 8-10 weeks. Their reviews are posted on their own site, on Amazon, and on iDreamBooks.com (similar to Rotten Tomatoes, but for books instead of movies).
The Self Publishing Review
The Self Publishing Review is another specialist web site devoted to indie publishing. They offer reviews for US$75.00, with a minimum of 500 words delivered within one month. Their reviews are posted on their site, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and, in some cases, the personal blog of the reviewer. Like Kirkus and Blue Ink, SPR offers the option of not having the review posted if it isn’t favorable.
Publishers Weekly—which is widely read by publishers, editors, librarians, and agents—also offers an indie book promotion package that at least offers the possibility of a review. PW Select is a supplement to Publisher’s Weekly that comes out six times a year. For US$149.00 you can purchase a promotional announcement in PW Select that will include basic information about your book. About 25% of the books that appear in PW Select will be reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, but there’s no guarantee that your book will be one of them. Included in the price of your fee you also get a six-month digital subscription to Publishers Weekly.
Getting Reviewed in Newspapers and Magazines
In traditional publishing, newspapers and magazines were a core source for reviews, so it’s natural to look to them for reviews of indie books as well.
Thus far, these traditional media have not shown much inclination to review books by indie authors. There are a number of possible reasons for this, any or all of which may play a role:
- a bias against independent books
- inertia in an established system that’s designed for traditionally-published books (with no equivalent system for indie books), and
- independent authors who are still learning how to pitch to these reviewers.
As traditional media adjusts to the presence of indie authors, new mechanisms for pitching or getting noticed will likely emerge. In the meantime, the following are some good tips when approaching traditional media for reviews:
- Approach a reviewer who has previously reviewed books that share something with your book (e.g., genre, style of writing, or subject matter).
- Have at least one compelling reason why your book will appeal to the publication’s audience—remember, they publish reviews as a way of satisfying their readership and you’re pitching your book as something that can help them meet that goal.
- Have a professional book cover and a well-edited book description—remember, you may be fighting against a conscious or unconscious bias against indie books.
- Make sure your pitch is professional and business-like, providing key information in a compact form, including a book description, a note about the book’s genre or topic, and purchasing details. If you have any special qualifications to write a book of this particular kind—if you’re a lawyer with a legal thriller or a professional gambler with a book on card games—include these too.
You should also consider when the best time would be to approach traditional media for reviews. If you’ve already secured positive reviews through other channels, this may help you overcome any apprehension on the part of the publication or reviewer.
Getting Reviewed on Literary Web Pages
If you don’t purchase a review, or if you want to supplement one you’ve paid for, the next obvious choice is blogs and other web pages that don’t charge a fee.
There are numerous web pages that focus on indie books, some of which include or specialize in reviews. As with anything, they have advantages and disadvantages.
- Some produce high quality reviews, at or near the level of the fee-based services.
- They are read by people who are specifically interested in indie books, which is your target audience.
- Some are oriented to particular genres, which allows an author to target a review toward an appropriate segment of the indie-reading public.
- They don’t charge for reviews.
- They frequently post their review on commercial sites in addition to their own, such as Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing.
- The quality of the reviews varies, so some will not be at the level you want.
- They pick and choose from the books they’re offered, so they might not review your book.
- They can be slow responding to you.
- Blogs are sometimes ephemeral—you may put in work writing a query email, wait for weeks for a response, and even have your book accepted for review, only to have the blog fold before the review appears.
- If they decide to review your book, they generally don’t offer the option of not having the review published (which many fee-based services do).
Finding Literary Web Pages
Because blogs are easy to start but don’t always last long, the roster of pages available for reviewing indie books is constantly in flux. The best way to choose the blogs that you want to approach is to use one of several lists or directories, either online or in book form.
- TheIndieView.com maintains an extensive list of blogs that review indie books. Each entry includes the reviewer’s name, the site name, the genre(s) they review, a link to submission guidelines, and a list of sites to which reviews will be submitted.
- IndieBookReviewer also lists blogs that review indie books, broken down by category. Each entry includes the blog name, the genre(s) they review, genre(s) they won’t consider, acceptable formats, and a link to the page itself.
- The Reedsy List of Book Review Blogs can be filtered by genre and sorted by monthly traffic or Google ranking. It includes some blogs that don’t review indie books, so make sure you check the option to filter for indie reviewers.
- The Book Blogger Directory has links to blogs organized by the type of book they review. Note that this page is not solely for blogs that review indie books—you must check to be sure that a blog they list will accept your book.
- There are also books available that give details about sites that review indie books, for instance Christine Pinheiro’s The Indie Book Reviewer Yellow Pages.
The key to using any list, whether online or in a book, is to treat it solely as a starting point. Use the list, but also make your own enquiries. For instance:
- Visit the site before submitting so you can ensure that the information on the list is up to date. Reviewers sometimes change their email, add or delete genres they’ll consider, or even move their entire page.
- Use Google or another search engine to look for additional sites that review books in your genre or style. No list is exhaustive and they’re rarely completely up to date.
- Depending on the nature of your book, consider contacting web sites that don’t usually review books but whose subject matter might make them appropriate for your book. This is particularly helpful for non-fiction. If you have a book on poker strategies there might be very few book review sites that will consider it, but there might be a number of poker or game sites that don’t usually review books that would be willing to give it some attention.
- Read the entry for each reviewer carefully and then look at their site in some detail to make sure it’s a good fit. Some reviewers might have quirks that aren’t discussed on the list that make them inappropriate (or appropriate) for your book. For instance, there are fans of science fiction who nonetheless hate post-apocalyptic writing, or who dislike stories with a romantic sub-plot, or who insist on scientific plausibility, in which case your novel about budding love between two stowaways who escape a ravaged Earth on a faster-than-light spaceship might not be well received.
- Pay attention to the reviewer’s turnaround time. If you want to use the review when you release your book, you need to give the reviewer time to produce it. If you’re querying more than one reviewer, be sure to submit each query in such a way that all the reviews will be ready when you need them.
Getting Reader Reviews on Book Vendor Sites
It can be very satisfying to have an extensive list of glowing reviews for your book on vendor sites like Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. In fact it’s so tempting that some authors have resorted to underhanded tactics to get there.
There are services that promise to post five-star reviews for any book, no matter how terrible, in return for a fee. Some authors have also used “sock puppets”—false identities that they create themselves—to post good reviews they wrote for their own books.
Not only is this dishonest, but vendors and readers are getting wise. Vendors dislike the bad publicity that comes their way when frauds are revealed. Amazon recently purged many reviews that it suspected of having been obtained dishonestly. And readers are using lists of “red flags” that signal a fake review.
There are honest ways to increase the number of reviews your book gets. They take time and effort, but they work. The basic steps are:
- find potential reviewers,
- offer them free copies of your book, letting them know that you would appreciate it if they would consider posting a review of your book once they’re done reading it.
There are several places to find potential reviewers, including social networking sites, social news sites, and vendor sites. The examples below are far from exhaustive, but they cover some of the main options and you can expand on these with research that’s tailored to your book or your own preferences.
Social Networking Sites
- Goodreads. This is a very popular social networking site for book lovers. You should become a member anyway (and join the free author program) since it acts as a book-finding tool for many readers. The promotional giveaway program on Goodreads is only for print books and can’t be used for ebooks. Nonetheless, you can organize informal giveaways by setting up a Goodreads “event”. You can also join reader and author groups that suit your book or genre, and meet people who are willing to read and review your book.
- Shelfari. This site is owned by Amazon. It doesn’t have a formal giveaway program, but it does have a free ebooks group that you can join and then put up a post publicizing your promotional giveaway.
- LibraryThing. You can use the LibraryThing Members Giveaway to give away free copies of ebooks or paper books. There are some terms and conditions, but they’re not onerous and the submission form makes much of the process very easy. The main thing to watch for is that you can’t give away a book in this system that’s available for free elsewhere (for instance as a free download on your personal site).
Discussion Boards and Forums
- NookBoards. The NookBoards are associated with Barnes & Noble, but also include wider discussion. They have a specific board for promotions and contests.
- KBoards. This set of boards is associated with the Kindle and is mostly for readers, not authors, but it does include a Book Bazaar page that’s appropriate for announcements of free or discounted books and that’s intended to allow authors to interact with readers.
- The MobileRead Forums aren’t associated with any one device or vendor and are more broadly international than the NookBoards and KBoards. They have a specific Self-Promotion Forum—read the Promotion Posting Guidelines before posting.
Vendor Site Giveaways
Using vendor sites, like Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes, for free giveaways can be effective, but you must check the terms and conditions of each site. Here are two examples to illustrate the types of differences you will encounter.
- Amazon. When you publish a book on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon offers you the choice of registering that book in the KDP Select Program (you can register some books while not registering others if you want). KDP Select has various potential benefits, but to register a book you must offer that title exclusively on Amazon. You can only list an indie book for free on Amazon if it’s registered in KDP Select, in which case you can offer your book free for five days out of every ninety. So with Amazon you must choose between being able to offer free promotions and publishing your book with multiple vendors.
- Kobo. Unlike Amazon, Kobo allows you to price any book at $0.00 without special conditions. Since you can alter the book’s price and its description at any time, you can price it at zero during your promotional period and insert wording into the description giving the dates and details of the promotion, then change everything back when the promotion is over.
The Future of Indie Book Reviews
As indie authors grow in numbers, the landscape of indie book reviews is changing. A few years ago Kirkus still ignored indie books and Blue Ink didn’t exist—who knows how things will stand a few years from now, or how much might change even in the next few months?
We'll be adding information as new developments occur. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have a question.
Do you have a question about getting reviews for your indie book?
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you find the answer.