If you spend any length of time in a writers forum, or a discussion group it won’t take long before you come across a writer asking for reviews of their work. In fact, many writers put as much effort into their solicitation of reviews as they do the writing of their books in the first place. But why is it that we consider reviews to be so important?
When consumers buy a product, they naturally wish to do so with confidence. They want to determine that their decision will represent value for money, and therefore often seek out the collective consumer opinion to see what it has to say about the product before they commit to buying it. It makes them feel like they have done their homework. This is also true when it comes to books. Readers want to know what somebody else has to say about it before they consider reading it themselves. In 2009, a Nielson Survey found that out of 25,000 respondents from over 50 different countries, 90% would trust the review of somebody that they know, and up to 70% of respondents would trust a consumer opinion posted online. Consumers believe peer reviews to be credible and therefore use this information when taking a decision to purchase a product.
But it is not just the consumer that uses reviews to gauge the value of a book. Reviews also nurture online credibility and help to improve sales figures, which in turn improves rankings and product visibility with an online retailer. I myself have noticed this sort of positive feedback. When I receive a new review, it is often followed by a sharp sales bump and I consider this positive effect likely to be secondary to a more favourable position in search algorithms, with my book being shown to a greater number of online shoppers. Therefore it doesn’t take much imagination to see why numerous positive reviews seem like an attractive option for an aspiring writer.
But it is also true, that should the credibility of these reviews be called into question, this can result in an entirely different perspective on the work. This fact was detailed extensively last year in The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy in the New York Times, August 2012. It discussed the case of John Locke, a self published writer who had clearly understood the benefits of having many reviews. In 2010 he solicited the services of the now defunct firm GettingBookReviews.com. This company offered a paid service for writers to gather a set of reviews for a onetime fee, and Mr. Locke initially paid $1000 in return for 50 reviews. Whilst he remained entirely confident in his work, clearly stating that all reviewers should feel free to express an honest opinion, and ‘freely admit if they did not enjoy his book’, readers would receive a lower payment should they not write a positive review. One reviewer even admitted that she often read no more than a fifteen minute sample, such was the demand on her time, and desire to produce an adequate number of reviews to ensure her payment. There was much criticism of this approach to reviews, not only from Amazon as demonstrated by their removal of many of these false reviews, but also from other writers who work honestly to carve out their own niche. False reviews have the effect of diminishing the achievement of every self published author, those very authors that already fight against a predetermined industry belief that their work is of substandard quality, if readers cannot be certain of the genuine nature of the reviewer’s comments.
So as writers in a community where we crave reviews, and where it seems they might be the difference between our work remaining on the Amazon servers or arriving on consumer's kindles, what exactly are our options?
There are paid services that writers can employ, but which function entirely differently from the aforementioned paid services. These are real reviews from well respected publications. Kirkus was established in 1933, and has long since established itself as a dependable voice in the world of publishing. It is not a cheap service, and by no means guarantees you a glowing report. From $425 you can acquire yourself an editorial review which you can use in marketing, in letters to agents and publicists, and additionally have your work considered for inclusion in their own magazine, which is distributed to 40,000 industry professionals and consumers. Another revered example of a paid review service would be Foreward.com, and their ‘Clarion Review’ service comes with a price tag of $335. For this you will receive a 400-500 word review with a turnaround time of around 6-8 weeks. Also worthy of note for all authors who have an impending release, is their prepublication review service which is free of charge and offers writers a chance to appear in the pages of ForeWord Reviews. All submissions must be sent to them three months prior to publication. This can be a useful service if you are hoping to generate some prepublication buzz about your work. Inclusion however is not a guarantee.
Whilst these services are highly regarded, the price may render them inaccessible for many writers. There is also no promise of a positive review, so it could be that after paying for the review you are left with an honest, but less than favourable evaluation of your work. However there are other review channels that you can investigate that cost you little more than a copy of your book.
Reviewthebook.com will list your book for a fee of $25. This fee will ensure that your book is available to their reviewers, a group made up of avid readers, and up to five of these reviewers has the chance to request your work. The review is then listed in over ten different locations online, which could mean up to fifty reviews. They accept either paperback or eBooks, and each time the book is requested you must send another copy of the book.
Readerviews.com offers a free review service, but numbers are limited and your book will only be reviewed if it is chosen by one of their reviewers. They also offer publicity packages which start from $119, which guarantees you an honest review. Remember, I didn’t say positive. They will not post the review to Amazon, but you can use an excerpt yourself to post as an editorial review.
The Midwestern Book Review will consider your work for review. You must furnish them with two copies of the finished book, a cover letter and press release. If your work is chosen it will be reviewed and available in their online publications.
The San Francisco Book Review/Sacramento Book Review accepts a similar submission. They will review books that have been released in the last ninety days, and you have to send them two copies. This is not a guaranteed serviced either, but they also offer a sponsored programme starting at $125, which gives authors a chance to be professionally reviewed and subsequently promoted to a wide audience of potential readers.
Other than paid services you also have the option to approach people individually. Through the channels of Facebook, twitter, and personal book blogs you can develop individual relationships with readers and potential reviewers, and whilst time consuming this stepwise approach may help to form excellent personal relationships with other writers and readers. Book blogs are created by avid readers, and they are keen to receive complimentary copies for review, and will often post their review to the site of your choosing. This individual approach works very well when contacting book bloggers, especially if you take the time to write to them personally and state why it is you have chosen them, rather than sending out mass emails. Be sure to include a press release and contact details, so that should you get lucky and find somebody willing to review your work, they can blog about you and your book easily without having to come back to you first. The validity of such reviews is on occasion questioned, as the provision of a free book is considered as a payment and therefore less likely to result in an impartial evaluation as the blogger may not want to appear negative or rude about a book that was provided to them for free. However, many book bloggers take their blogging as seriously as a writer takes their writing, and want their own readers to value the content they choose to display. Without offering an impartial and honest opinion, their readers would likely find somewhere else to read about books.
A final and very important note would also be to consider the use of giveaways. Both www.goodreads.com and www.librarything.com offer the chance to set up pre-release giveaways. Readers will request your book (eBook or paperback for Librarything, but paperback only for Goodreads) and after sending it to them they have the chance to review your book. Not everybody who receives a copy is likely to review it, but you are likely to pick up some reviews from this process and generate a buzz prior to release day.
There are clearly many options available, and the options outlined here are just the tip of the iceberg, and it is important to remember that reviews are not the only piece of the jigsaw. Even searching for J.K. Rowling’s latest offering The Casual Vacancy on Amazon.co.uk reveals a listing with 188 one star reviews. Books sell with bad reviews, and other books which have nothing but praise from critics still fail to hit the mark for the reading public. Ultimately, if you don’t enjoy what you write, you cannot expect to be convincing enough for others to enjoy it. But, no matter how many reviews you seek out, there is one other type of review that will mean more even the most expensive review from the most hardened of critics; a glowing review that you didn’t chase and that you didn’t expect. It will come, and when it does, it will hold a personal value greater than any number of solicited reviews because it will be from somebody that chose your book just because they wanted to. These sorts of reviews, we might say, are priceless.UPDATE 15.10.2013 I have come across another website that is a great resource for writers seeking reviews. This is not a review site, but a listing of book bloggers who you can approach for reviews in exchange for a book. The Indie View has a very comprehensive list and is worth a look.
Michelle Muckley has no affiliation to any of the organisations mentioned, and the comments stated are the opinion of the writer and not supposed to reflect the opinion of the organisations listed.