The Power of Reviews

During our annual NetGalley Challenge, we’re focusing on our how our members help books succeed by writing and sharing reviews. We thought we’d back up a bit and look at how authors and publishers can first gain the attention of book advocates and then how to earn reviews for their titles.

By now, you’ve heard that book reviews matter. They are one of the linchpins that retail sites use to  create algorithms that can increase a book’s visibility,. “Effective frequency” is the concept that consumers are more likely to complete a purchase after having seen the product a certain 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 title, book cover, and author name are out in the world, the better, and reviews contribute to that saturation.

So, how do publishers and authors break through the noise of the crowded space that is book publishing today? Not every author has a major budget to promote their book, so it becomes important to strategically focus on the most effective outreach possible. By soliciting reviews in a targeted way, an author 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 crowd-source their decision by talking with friends and family, and by reading reviews.

Before you start, it is essential to determine your goals and temper your expectations.

Where would you like your book 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:

Consumer/Retail Reviews
When readers are browsing for new books to purchase online, they will see reviews that other readers, like you, have left. Book retail sites plus 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 genre fiction, 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 is a book that is being talked about, and that they should join that conversation.

Blog Reviews
There are many dedicated book blogs out there, and it’s worth taking the time to research which ones are right for your book. 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 does your book fit among readers who are passionate about the subject of your book? How might your book fit in with a blog that is not focused on book reviews? What community would be interested in your book, even if it is just off-mainstream? These types of communities can be fervent in spreading the word about something new that applies to their interests.

Trade Reviews
These are more traditional print and online resources aimed at publishing-industry professionals. Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, Library Journal, and Booklist, for example. Some of them are targeted to librarians or booksellers, who are among the most influential advocates for books. If you receive 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.

Traditional Reviews
These are media that have a dedicated section to talk about books; traditional outlets like the Wall Street Journal, NPR, or the Washington Post. For an indie author, this 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(s) most likely to be interested and, even so, dwindling space for book reviews, and the sheer number of books being published means that many books are overlooked. A review by media like this will lend an air of legitimacy to your book, but remember that this is not necessarily the be-all-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
Groups like librarians, booksellers, and educators can be strong allies to have behind your book. Don’t overlook these communities when you are considering who you would like to review your book. 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 book, or nominating it for recognition on the Indie Next List or LibraryReads, both of which are monthly lists generated based on recommendation by those influencers.

As you are building your strategy for launching your 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 6-months before publication) to write a review, whereas bloggers and consumer reviewers may be less tied to the on-sale date.

Be sure to give yourself an achievable goal for reviews:

What type of reviewers will you reach out to, and why are they the right people to review this book? 

How many reviewers will you reach out to, and what percentage of response will you consider a success?

No author will get a 100% 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 the 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 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 this book.
  • Make time to research the right outlets, and to follow up. There are a number of services designed to help you boost visibility for your book (such as NetGalley, who I work for, 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 book would succeed,” but the reality is that no matter where your book is being talked about, the fact that people are discussing it is the important thing. The more often someone sees your book cover, or hears the title, or reads a review, the more likely it is that they will themselves go buy the book and talk about it to others, and maybe even write their own review.

*Originally published in IBPA Independent Magazine. Written by Kristina Radke, 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. 

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5 thoughts on “The Power of Reviews

  1. Thank you for this post, Kristina. I’m in the process of creating a blog that reviews picture books through YA for teachers and parents who don’t have the time to read the mountains of books that are being released. I’m signed up for the NetGalley Webcast on August 11, too.

  2. I appreciate the insight and importance of knowing the types and strengths of book reviews. Thank you Kristina! You gave me a clear understanding. Sincerely, Ruby Wicked

  3. I am actively looking for book reviews now. My website is not up yet and I am planning to launch my book in October. However, I will not pay $500.00 for a book review. I prefer free ones or a modest fee. I have been looking around like crazy for reviews.

    1. Hi Idelle,
      Many options listed above are indeed unpaid. With NetGalley you’re not paying for a review, but for access to a variety of tools and reports that are designed to help you reach professional readers and influencers, both from among the NetGalley community and your own lists of important contacts. For more information about the service we provide to authors and publishers please visit: https://netgalley.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/topics/16110-for-publishers-and-authors

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