The Not-So-Secret Secret to Good Reviews
November 12, 2012
After extensive research (thirty seconds on Google), I discovered that nobody knows exactly how many people are writing book reviews on the ‘net. The number is anywhere between five and fifty million, although I suspect that the figure may be in the thousands. Reviewers for on-line magazines and bloggers comprise the majority of review writers, but anyone who wants to express an opinion (and doesn’t expect to get paid for it) can write a book review.
Some reviewers delight in trashing an author’s work, others share their very personal feelings about a title, many are objective, and then there are those who never write a “bad” (negative) review. Each reviewer has a personal policy applied to reviewing and a set of standards that is the basis of opinions.
For example, I do not review everything (no one could), and am relatively picky about genre, but will review self-published books and works from small publishing houses. I do not review e-books, preferring to have in my hands exactly what prospective buyers will have (although I often read unedited proofs). Some reviewers will only review books from large publishing houses and others will only review books aimed at specific audiences (young adult, children, Christian) or of a specific genre (cookbooks, sci-fi, romance, thrillers, sports).
Since authors often make some investment (the cost of the book, postage), it is in their best interest to shop for reviewers. One place to shop for reviews is Amazon—read reviews of similar books and contact the reviewers that interest you, inviting them to review your title. The advantages are that millions of people shop on Amazon and people do read the user reviews, often commenting on them.
The disadvantages are the review will only be read by people looking for that particular book or browsing through Amazon, and there may be hundreds of reviews of a particular title, some of which are barely literate. There is no guarantee that a shopper will read the review you want read when they are wading through so many opinions.
There are so many sites that publish book reviews (e.g., Technorati.com, Examiner.com); it shouldn’t be difficult to find a reviewer whose work appears in an e-zine rather than a catalog (Amazon, Barnes and Noble). The advantage of the e-zine format is that people who aren’t looking for a book are exposed to the review and it may pique their interest. Readers have advised me that they bought books because of my reviews and others have thanked me for reviews (although I don’t know if I convinced them to buy or avoid the books).
Some bloggers have compiled lists of people who accept self-published books (actually, author-published—the books don’t publish themselves), and some websites for writers include lists of reviewers (and their preferences). If you’re shopping for reviews, you might start by asking Google, “How do I get my book reviewed” or “who will review my book?”
There are two not-so-secret secrets that guarantee positive reviews. Neither is recommended. The first is the simplest, cash. There are entrepreneurs who will review your book for a price and the review is going to be “good.” Why shouldn’t you pay for a review? Because reviews for hire are worthless, and those who write them are often exposed; that means that the authors that pay them are also exposed. Do you want to be labeled as a writer who has to pay for reviews? Paying for reviews is like buying term papers—sure, the job is done, but it’s dishonest.
Talking to other reviewers, I was surprised to learn that some will not write negative reviews. Finding one of these reviewers nearly guarantees “good” reviews, but there is a credibility problem—would you trust the opinion of someone who likes everything? One reviewer told me that she will write negative comments if she feels they are relevant, but she always balances them with something positive, even when it’s a long, hard stretch to find something “nice” to say. Others said that if they don’t like a book, they don’t review it.
This is an honest policy but the result is the same as having a reviewer who seems to like everything. However, if you’re desperate for a good review, select reviewers wearing rose colored glasses rather than those with dollar signs in their eyes.