How to Jumpstart Book Reviews for Self-Published Books

by | Jan 15, 2018

Book reviews can be incredibly influential for self-publishers. Good reviews take your work seriously, amplify your message by reaching thousands of readers, and give you a credibility you just can’t get any other way.

But how to get reviews? That’s the question that plagues self-publishers, so I was excited to learn that publishing expert David Wogahn had acquired and published a new edition of a resource I’ve known about for years. I asked David to fill us in on how self-publishers can get started with book reviews, and here’s his response.

(And don’t miss the great giveaway David is running: details below.)


By David Wogahn

The challenge for self-publishers, especially new authors who have small or nonexistent networks, is to convince readers to add one more title to their to-be-read pile. Unfortunately, most self-publishers do not (yet) have a reputation that confers credibility upon their books. That’s where book reviews can help; they contribute credibility and raise awareness in four distinct ways:

  1. Customer reviews encourage shoppers to learn more. Reader reviews are a social signal, much like a full parking lot or a line in a store are signals of something worth paying attention to (and paying for). The importance of customer reviews has increased as more books are sold online. Having numerous outstanding customer reviews on a retailer’s website acts as a positive social signal to readers, encouraging them to buy the book.
     
  2. Quotes add gravitas. Editorial reviews—written by those assumed to be professionals—play a different role. These are often used in the book or in sales materials and still matter to certain audiences, especially trade audiences such as book retailers and librarians. Positive editorial reviews can help a book get into the hands of these gatekeepers, but self-publishers need to be careful. Small Press United points out that one of their reasons for declining publishers is that the

    “Quotes used on the front and/or back covers are not from people with impressive credentials.”

    In other words, the source for your quote(s) should be credible to the audience you are marketing to or the review may result in the opposite effect to what is desired—or simply be ignored.
     

  3. Reviews are marketing. It is not uncommon for the media to contact authors after seeing a review posted online or finding it in an online search. David Meerman Scott used his review of a Bob Marley CD to say he had taken photos of Marley’s last concert. The producers of the documentary Marley found that review and contacted Scott, who shared his photos and received a film credit.
     
  4. Reviews provide validation to third parties. It is common for promotional sites such as BookBub to have minimum review requirements before considering a book for promotion—both in number and average stars. Having great reviews in spades will help your book be accepted for promotional opportunities it might not otherwise qualify for.

Bottom line: numerous (positive) reviews help your book

  • sell more copies
  • be seen more favorably
  • get more promotional opportunities

4 Primary Sources of Book Reviews Available to All Self-Publishers

Self-publishers have an expanding range of choices for soliciting book reviews. There are now far more options than self-publishers had just 10 years ago, which is helpful since reviews by traditional media continue to shrink (for traditionally published books as well).

Here’s how I break them down:

  1. Your network. Addressable via email or social media, this is your best option. However, it takes time to build a mailing list of loyal fans which makes it a less viable option for new self-publishers.
     
  2. Readers posting reviews online. Offering your book to people who have reviewed books like yours is one of the best strategies. You can visit Amazon, find similar books, and click the names of the reviewers. This is an arduous process, however, because many don’t include contact information and those who do are often swamped by review requests. Fortunately, there are services that help speed this up.
     
  3. Book bloggers. This source of reviews continues to offer one of the best returns on your time investment. Why? Because you get a two-fer: a review, often posted in multiple places, and promotion when the blogger shares their review on their website and via social media.
     
  4. Review businesses, or businesses offering reviews. There is often a cost associated with pursuing book reviews from businesses such as Kirkus and NetGalley. Others, such as Booklist and Shelf Awareness, do not have fees but have other requirements that are often onerous for self-publishers (such as not accepting print-on-demand books or requiring review copies three or more months prior to publication).

How The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages Helps Authors

As Joel pointed out in his primer on book reviews for self-published authors, soliciting book bloggers offers one of the best returns on an author’s time—when done correctly. And as noted above, there are other sources for book reviews such as review businesses—that can provide editorial reviews—and readers who regularly read and post reviews on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads.

The challenge is to find a wide range of reviewers for a particular book, and to do so in the most expeditious way possible. The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages was designed to do just that.

Published annually since 2009, this directory of book bloggers, blog tour organizers, review business, and resources has helped thousands of authors navigate this important element of book marketing.

The new 9th edition has been completely revamped with the most up-to-date information. In it you will find:

  • 200 book bloggers profiles including contact information, reading preference, and all relevant information needed for a strong pitch. Authors can quickly find bloggers using the index. This saves authors from having to search on the blogger’s site, or having to sift through online databases that contain a fraction of the information they need.
     
  • The directory’s 40 blog tour organizers serve as virtual assistants of sorts by contacting bloggers on behalf of authors, saving them time and perhaps achieving a broader marketing reach than authors can do on their own.
     
  • There are also 32 listings for book review businesses, further broken down into categories for traditional (free) reviews, paid reviews (such as Kirkus), hybrid reviewers (such as Foreword Reviews), and services (such as Goodreads).

The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages contains the time-tested guidance authors need to zero-in on the reviewers who may be interested in their book. Once you have the list of reviewers you want to contact, use the quick start guide, outreach checklists, and sample email template to begin soliciting book reviews.

It is the only comprehensive source of influential book reviewer profiles and book review guidance you can buy today, and I am giving away a book review jumpstart package to celebrate publication of the new edition.

The package includes a copy of the directory in print and eBook formats, a copy of Joel’s The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, and a professionally managed blog tour from one of the directory’s blog tour organizers.

To enter, leave a comment on this post. Yes, that’s it! Here are some ideas for your comment:

  • What are your best tips for contacting book reviewers?
  • Do you have a favorite book blogger?
  • What is your favorite blog tour company?
  • Do you read reviews from book review businesses like Kirkus?

Even if you don’t win the book review jumpstart package, the first 10 people to comment will receive a free eBook edition of the directory. The winner of the book review jumpstart package will be chosen at random from all contributor comments one week from today, January 22.

David Wogahn is the publisher of The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, published annually since 2009, and the president of AuthorImprints.com. He is also the author of Register Your Book, a Lynda.com publishing course, and a past instructor for IBPA’s Publishing University. Learn more at BookReviewerYellowPages.com.

 
Photo: BigStockPhoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

42 Comments

  1. Susan

    Thanks for this article. As a newly published author, I find getting readers to give reviews is difficult, to put it mildly.
    Writing is a delight, the aftermath of marketing is daunting. Anything that makes it easier is a godsend!

    Reply
    • Donald

      Without a doubt https://usabookreviewers.com helped me kick start my titles, which ultimately led to book deals in both the US and the UK.

      Reply
  2. Team Golfwell

    We are a group of retired gentlemen in New Zealand who like to review books and have come across some amazing books by offering a free review of books we chose from which are sent to us by authors needing reviews. If you want your book reviewed, please see our free book review page at > https://www.teamgolfwell.com/free-book-reviews.html
    Team Golfwell

    Reply
  3. Alexis Masters

    I read Kirkus but value the reviews at Amazon and Audible much more, I dislike Goodreads and never read the reviews there. I find Goodreads contributors to be less reliable, more over-the-top and unnecessarily cruel quite often, so I simply pass on their reviews. I’m always interested in sites that offer legitimate and balanced reviews written by mature and literate reviewers.

    Reply
    • Ernie Zelinski

      Interesting that you say that about Goodreads reviewers. I couldn’t agree more. Generally speaking, the reviewers on Goodreads are pathological critics who have not accomplished much in their own lives. These words of wisdom apply:

      “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain … and most fools do.”
      — Dale Carnegie

      “A non-doer is very often a critic — that is, someone who sits back and watches doers, and then waxes philosophically about how the doers are doing. It’s easy to be a critic, but being a doer requires effort, risk, and change.”
      — Dr. Wayne Dyer

      “Criticism is difficult to do well.
      Recently, we’ve made it super easy for unpaid, untrained,
      amateur critics to speak up loudly and often.
      Just because you can hear them doesn’t mean that they know what they’re talking about.
      Criticism is easy to do, but rarely worth listening to, mostly because it’s so easy to do.”
      — Seth Godin

      “Haters don’t really hate you. They hate themselves. You are a reflection of what they would like to be.”
      _ Unknown wise person

      “Many critics are like woodpeckers who, instead of enjoying the fruit and shadow of a tree, hop incessantly around the trunk pecking holes in the bark to discover some little worm or other.”
      — HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW,

      “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambition.
      Small people always do that, but the really great make
      you feel that you, too, can become great.”
      — Mark Twain

      “My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
      — Jane Austin

      Reply
  4. Audrey Kalman

    Ah, the continuing challenge of reviews! My novel came out last May with a small independent publisher. I was able to garner about 15 reviews on Amazon in the first few months with a LOT of effort (including using the services of Bookrazor (https://www.bookrazor.com) to cut down on the time needed to research Amazon reviewers. It has been hard to get more. I contacted a number of bloggers but haven’t found many who specialize in literary fiction and those who did were not accepting new books for review.

    I’ll definitely check out the Yellow Pages!

    Reply
  5. Marquita Herald

    The book looks great and I really like your approach. I would, however, like to offer a brief cautionary note to anyone considering reaching out to reviewers on Amazon.

    I am an avid reader and used to always leave a review, especially for self-published authors, which apparently earned me a spot among top reviewers or some such thing.

    Then someone came up with the brilliant idea to contact reviewers and I began getting a steady stream of requests to read books. That didn’t bother me as much as the fact that few of these people bothered to take notice of types of books I typically read and neither did they seem to feel it necessary to be polite about making their request. A few recommended I review their books on my blog – which has nothing to do with book reviews.

    The result is that I stopped leaving reviews for anyone.

    Reply
  6. William Parker

    Great Post Joel. And thank you David Wogahn. I’ve personally never used any sort of paid service for reviews or bloggers for that matter. Interesting concept for sure. I do have a friend in self-publishing that uses paid ad traffic on Facebook soliciting for reviews in exchange for a free copy of the ebook. He says it works pretty well and is somewhat automated so its minimal effort.

    If I don’t win a copy of this book, I will certainly buy one. Thanks again for this timely post.

    Reply
  7. Brett

    I am on my way to publishing my first works and the discovery of these resources must be a sign that I’m on the right track! Thank you so much for sharing this article!

    Reply
  8. TK

    I’m very curious, are the reviewers listed by what they review? It’s hard to find bona fide reviewers for lgbt books. Made worse, of course, since they’re basically lumped together no matter the content.

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      Good question TK. We have 14 bloggers listed under the LGBTQ heading in the index (which is linked in the ebook). Each of those has their own reading preferences so you can narrow it down quickly before visiting their website to confirm interest, or contacting them. This is also something a tour organizer might be able to help you with.

      Reply
  9. B.K.

    I’m just ticked off that I didn’t know this book previously existed. It would’ve saved me a great deal of time and frustration. Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  10. Denzil

    Hi I think this is an interesting post. I write from the perspective of a book blogger who is increasingly (and happily) receiving, reading and reviewing books from Indie authors. One question I have been asking is whether Indie authors expect to be reviewed to the same standards as a trad published author, who has greater resources behind him/her in terms of editing, design, proof-reading etc. Or should Indie authors be given more “leeway” in terms of a more generous review? You can read a full account of my dilemma here: https://thebookowl.com/how-do-you-review-an-indie-book/ should you be interested. Thank you.
    PS If any of your author-followers are interested, I specialize in non-fiction.

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      Thanks Denzil. You should consider submitting your blog for inclusion in the next directory. See the footer on BookReviewerYellowpages.com for a submissions link to do that. There are many more fiction book reviewers than nonfiction reviewers so your inclusion would be welcomed by many authors.

      Reply
  11. Alison

    Getting reviews can be like getting blood from a stone. I’ve had lots of fantastic reviews, but many have been verbal. I ask the reader to consider leaving reviews online, but I also ask if I can quote them and add them to a reviews page on my website.

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      Asking to quote them is a great idea, Alison. I find that people have varying levels of comfort with expressing their opinions publicly. I take what I can get, and keep moving forward without taking it personally.

      Reply
  12. David Todd

    I haven’t done much, to this point, of seeking reviews, other than requesting reviews from those I give books to and hoping they do so.

    What I’m presently doing is paying it forward, and doing reviews on my blog, hoping some day to see the favor returned. I’m not doing a lot of these, but I do at least one a month, either a book review or an interview of an author with a new book out.

    Reply
  13. Joanie Chevalier

    Do you really read a Kirkus review or is it overrated? Most indie authors know these are “bought” reviews because the author has to pay so much money for one. Do you think it’s money well spent?

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      Like a lot of things in publishing, I’d say it depends on the book, the author and the budget. I also believe in the statement that Small Press United makes in the post.

      Reply
  14. Angelique Conger

    I have never looked into getting reviews from professional sources or bloggers. That is one thing I need more information about. I haven’t found bloggers who blog on ancient historical/biblical fiction. When I do, I’ll ask for a review. Perhaps your new book will help me.

    Reply
  15. Harald Johnson

    Nicely focused guest post! As a reader, I especially look at the 1-star and 3-star reviews (and that goes for anything I buy online); those frequently get to the truth of the matter. Also the overall “curve” of the reviews (5 to 1 stars). And if there are a lot of “trade reviews” (Kirkus, et al.), that can influence me to take a closer look.

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      I know of an author that asked a reviewer to reduce the number of stars they awarded for this very reason.

      Reply
    • Linda Bonney Olin

      Sorry, I cut myself off at the pass. :D
      Also wanted to say that one thing I’ve noticed about organized blog tours is that most of the bloggers just reiterate the canned material given to them by the organizer. Much better if they add a decent amount of original content about their personal reaction to the book.

      Reply
  16. Braxton DeGarmo

    Book bloggers is probably the one area that I’ve not tried to cultivate, although I’ve received reviews from a handful organically and saw positive benefits each time. I look forward to using this book and working with new bloggers who are unaware of my books.

    Reply
  17. Russell Phillips

    Do you think reviews on vendor websites like Amazon help book sales?

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      Amazon put a number of “review mills” out of business a year ago by toughening their policies about free products and review posting. So yes, reviews help sell products.

      Reply
  18. Karen Fredericks

    Ernie Zelinski, I loved your quotes near the end of your comment. My similar “mantra” is “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.” I’ve just put my first books on Createspace and, oh!, now… the great maw of deafening silence! And I thought writing the books would be hard!

    Reply
  19. Connie Lacy

    Getting reviews is a huge challenge. And so time-consuming. I’d love to have a copy of “The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages.” Timely post. Thank you!

    Reply
  20. Andrew

    This is rather timely as one of my goals this year is get my review count up to the ‘next level’ on some of my books. One of the great frustrations I’ve encountered is some of the leading blogs in my genre that I established a relationship with decided to close down in the last couple of years. That reinforced the lesson for me that I shouldn’t concentrate my attention on any one channel, even the ‘top dog’ in the genre.

    This sounds like a great tool to broaden my scope to achieve my goals.

    Thanks for the article!

    Best regards,

    Andrew

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      You’re welcome, Andrew. Hopefully those bloggers also posted on Amazon, Goodreads etc so all is not lost.

      Reply
  21. Elizabeth McKenna

    I write romance books and have found that when I investigate lists of bloggers, most of them are not accepting books for review because their TBR pile is so high already. It is frustrating.

    Reply
    • David Wogahn

      You might seek out a tour organizer in this case since romance is one of the most popular reading categories around and many specialize in this area. A downside, as Linda Bonney Olin points out here in the comments, some bloggers will simply repost the canned material provided to them. Try to discuss this with the tour organizer ahead of time.

      Reply
  22. Michael N. Marcus

    I always carry a box of my recent books in the trunk of my car. As I go through life I often meet people who seem likely to enjoy a particular book. I give them freebies and ask for reviews. It usually works, and the cost is minimal.

    Reply
  23. Ernie Zelinski

    I don’t waste time trying to get reviews on outlets such as Goodreads, Bookpub, Kirkus, NetGalley, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness. The best way to get reviews that count is to write a blockbuster book, one that is “remarkable.”

    My favorite Marketing Guru Seth Godin proclaimed, “MAKE IT REMARKABLE! (Worth making a remark about.) The person who can get an idea to spread wins.” I think that I have made my self-published book “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” quite REMARKABLE (Worth making a remark about), given that it has just surpassed 350,000 copies sold. I can provide a list of at least 20 to 25 links of positive remarks on major American blogs and media such as the AARP Bulletin and USNEWS (most of which I never contacted myself). I just came across this “remark”, one of which I have no idea how it came about. Check out the first 10 or 20 seconds of this PBS video featuring “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” on their “Dinner and a Book” program.

    https://www.pbs.org/video/dinnerandabook-how-to-retire-happy-wild-and-free-wnit/

    Some more important points in getting your book sold: John Kremer (author of “1,001 Ways to Market Your Books”) once said, “The first question you should ask is: ‘Who is going to buy my book?’ And you better have a damn good answer!” This is part of marketing that most writers never contemplate.

    Once I am quite sure that I have a market for my book, I like to do things differently. Contrary to conventional book marketing wisdom, this has alwasy been my motto (Enjoy the typo if you can find it):

    “Do It Badly — But at Least Do It!”

    This approach has helped me get published in 22 languages and 29 countries, a total of 111 book deals with foreign publishers, all without using a North American foreign rights agent. My books have now sold over 975,000 copies worldwide.

    In short, I don’t strive for perfection and never will. These words of wisdom from one of my favorite writers have guided me through the years.

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    Reply
  24. Ellis Shuman

    While waiting for my editor to edit my manuscript, I did my homework. My goal was to make a list of as many potential book reviewers as possible. To make this list, I searched for “book blogs” and “book bloggers.” I contacted people who had reviewed my previous novel. I contacted people who had reviewed similar books. I looked for Twitter profiles of people who listed themselves as book bloggers and reviewers. I looked at the sites participating in book tours.

    When I found a potential reviewer, I vetted them to see if they were compatible to my novel. Were they accepting book review requests at this time? Did they review self-published books? Did they review books in my genre (crime fiction thriller). Did they provide contact details?

    In total, I made a list of over 450 potential reviewers. Three weeks before my book was published I began contacting them. I prepared a standard mail listing the book’s genre and a summary of the novel. I made sure the mail was personal, listing the person’s name and website. And then I mailed it, one by one.

    Out of over 450 mails I sent, I received some 50 positive replies. I sent out digital copies of my novel. And now, three months later, the book is generating reviews. So far, nearly 20 and all of them very positive! (And when I didn’t get a review, I was featured in an author spotlight or was invited to submit a guest post). I never paid for a review!

    All in all, a long, hard process that is starting to bear fruit!

    Reply
    • Linda Bonney Olin

      This is a great plan that could be implemented even for books that already have launched.
      I had no idea how to find book bloggers for the tiny niche of my new book (a book of hymns with original lyrics), but I recently saw a Facebook post about a blog tour for a Christian devotional book. Close enough! I’ll try your idea of contacting those sites for reviews.

      Reply
      • David Todd

        Linda: Check the “Girls In White Dresses” blog, which should show up in a search. I suspect Susan might be interested in your book.

        Reply
      • David Wogahn

        You’ve hit on the correct approach for a narrow niche, Linda. Try looking in related or parent categories, and then craft an appealing pitch. The devotional niche is a good one and we have 9 or 10 bloggers who specify that reading interest.

        Reply
    • David Wogahn

      Anyone that’s sold for a living will tell you that a better than 10% response rate is great. This is also a good way to spend the time waiting for your editor.

      Reply
  25. Karen Braysher

    It’s hard as verbally people will talk about a book, but to get them to write it down is another thing.
    I think reviews are a good marker as to how the book is going down with the public, and this can drive sales.
    Somehow it’s like getting blood from a stone, however, when one comes along and it hits the points written about in the book, it does make it seem all worthwhile.

    Reply

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