Reviews sell books. That much is a fact. And they’re even more important to indie authors, who don’t have the marketing muscle of a huge multi-billion-dollar corporation behind them.
In order to take a chance on a new book, people require what’s called “social proof.” After all, even if a book is cheap, it takes a lot of time to read—time that could be spent doing other things. You don’t want to blow time and money on a book that you wind up hating and not finishing, right?
That’s where social proof and reviews come in. People tend to read what others they like and trust have read and enjoyed. That’s why we have sites like Goodreads, where we can see what our friends are reading, and why Amazon reviews are so incredibly powerful—we can see what others have thought about a book and determine whether we want to read it.
The most trusted reviewers of all tend to be the pros. It makes sense…these are people who get paid to read and review books, and they read thousands of books a year. So if they fall head-over-heels in love with a book, it’s got to have something going for it, right?
Plus, professional reviews are seen as more objective. A review from Publishers Weekly carries more weight than an anonymous 5-star review on Amazon simply because you don’t know whether that 5-star Amazon review was left by the author’s cousin.
So in the hierarchy of social proof, the most valuable reviews are probably from your actual friends, people you know and who know your taste in books (whether they’re online friends or in person). After that, pro reviews carry a lot of weight. Next come reviews from bloggers whose taste you like. At the bottom of the list are random reviews from Amazon customers you don’t know.
Playing Hard to Get
But professional reviews are hard to get, right? Reserved only for industry insiders and books produced by the Big Five. It’s a no-writers-land for indie authors.
Don’t be so sure of that.
The professional review venues have opened up a lot in the last few years, owing to the unstoppable tide of indie publishing and how popular many self- and indie-published books have been with the reading public.
The Small Press Advantage
If you’re working with a traditional press, even a very small one, you can get your book professionally reviewed for free. That’s right, no fees, no strings attached.
The only conditions are:
- Multi-author: Your publisher has to produce books by more than one author. It can’t be a press that you set up just to publish your own work.
- No fees: Your publisher can’t charge any fees for publishing your work. That includes setup fees, marketing fees, and any other charges. It’s okay to pay fees for value-added services like setting up an author website, but the editing, cover design, production, distribution, and basic marketing have to all be done for you at no charge, in exchange for you receiving royalty payments.
Are you looking for a small, responsive traditional publisher for your next book? Check out TCK Publishing’s submissions guidelines and consider submitting your manuscript today!
Your publisher doesn’t have to be the one submitting your book for review—it’s totally okay to do that yourself. And, in fact, you should—if your small press doesn’t do pro review submissions, take matters into your own hands.
As we’ve discussed before, the biggest name in professional book reviews is Publishers Weekly. This magazine reviews more than 10,000 books per year, and a good review here can help you sell an awful lot of books—especially because PW reviews automatically flow over to Amazon and Barnes & Noble to be displayed prominently on your book’s page.
PW no longer requires books to be published by a major press to be eligible for review. So your small press book is good to go here!
The submission process is pretty easy. For most genre fiction, PW now accepts digital review copies in epub or PDF, which you can upload through their GalleyTracker system along with a JPG of the cover, a synopsis of the book, important author information, and information on publicity plans like book tours or marketing campaigns.
Most nonfiction has to be sent in print form. You send two copies to the review desk, along with a printed cover letter with the description of your book, important author information, and publicity information, as well as the contact information for your small press.
The address is:
71 West 23 St. #1608
New York, NY 10010
You must send in your book at least three months before it’s scheduled to publish. PW only reviews books before they’re published, to give the industry readers of the magazine (like booksellers and film agents) time to plan their orders. It also takes time to read, review, edit, and publish these reviews…so be polite and make sure that you give PW plenty of time to consider your book.
You can still have pre-orders for your book open on Amazon and elsewhere while you’re waiting for a review. You just can’t have it available for direct sale until after the time window you told the magazine (again, three months or more is recommended).
Be aware that only a fraction of books submitted to PW are chosen for review—maybe 10% in popular genres like fantasy or romance. But a review can play a huge part in building momentum for your book, so it’s worth trying!
Much like PW, Kirkus reviews tens of thousands of books each year, produced by a combination of Big Five and small or indie presses. As usual, the definition of being a small press revolves around publishing more than one author and not charging fees. If you meet those conditions, congratulations! You can submit your book to the main Kirkus publication for possible review!
Books must be submitted at least four months before the scheduled publication date, preferably five. Again, this is because of the time it takes to go through the review process and to give booksellers a month or two to order the book before its on-sale date.
If you submit a proof copy of your work and it’s selected for review, you must send two finished copies to Kirkus after it’s been finalized.
You have to send two print copies of your book to the appropriate Kirkus editor, along with a cover letter that includes a description of your book, the publication date, the ISBN, the price, and any other pertinent information.
Fiction books should be sent to:
65 West 36th St., Suite 700
New York, NY 10018
Nonfiction books go to:
479 Old Carolina Court
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
RT Book Reviews
Formerly known as Romantic Times, RT Book Reviews now covers quite a few genres, from romance and erotica to science fiction, fantasy, inspirational, mystery, and young adult titles.
Much like the other professional outlets we’ve discussed here, RT is open to submissions from small presses and doesn’t charge to consider your book for review!
You’ll just need to send a digital copy (hooray, no print costs!) to [email protected] a full four months before the book’s publication.
Your subject line should read For Review Consideration: [your book title] – [your publication date] and the body of the email should include relevant information about your book, like the title, your author name or pen name, the book’s genre, the publication date, the ISBN, the price, and the page count.
RT doesn’t guarantee reviews and, like the other professional review outlets, they receive thousands of submissions every month—so even though they review a lot of books, yours might not make the cut. It’s nothing personal, just a numbers game and a matter of what book sparks a reviewer’s fancy at that instant!
Both Booklist and Library Journal focus on librarians as their audience, not booksellers and industry insiders like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus do. Now, you might think that librarians won’t matter much for the sales of your book, but you’d be wrong! Librarians have a lot of buying power, and a positive review from one of these magazines can have a huge impact on both your sales and your social proof power.
Neither magazine charges for reviews, and both are open to books from indie or small presses.
Booklist wants to have as long as possible to review books before publication, so it’s best to send them review copies at least four months before publication.
Print review copies are preferred, as Booklist only accepts digital copies if they’ll be available to libraries through Overdrive or other sources. Many indie publishers and self-published authors don’t have plans for this kind of distribution, so it’s best to stick with print copies for Booklist.
Send in one print copy of your book along with a cover page that includes the title, publication date, ISBN, list price, and publisher and/or distributor. It’s smart to also include a description of the book.
Send your package to:
c/o Donna Seaman, Adult Books Editor
American Library Association
50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, IL 60611
Library Journal follows guidelines quite similar to those of Booklist. Books published by small or indie presses are very welcome, as long as you submit your review copies at least three to four months before publication.
You have to send two print copies of your book to the magazine, along with a cover letter that includes the title, ISBN, publication date, price, page count, and information on the book like description, author bio, and intended audience (such as “adult fiction,” “adult nonfiction,” “adult fantasy,” or “YA”).
Send your package to:
Book Review Editor
123 William St., Suite 802
New York, NY 10038
Only romance novels are considered for digital review, and only if you can supply an advance copy through NetGalley.
Professional reviews are a great way to get more attention and exposure for your book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. It adds a sense that an independent expert has read through your work and given it a stamp of approval.
Is it necessary? No! There are plenty of other ways to get reviews and to sell more books.
Does it help? Sure! And for free, what do you have to lose by trying?
Professional reviews are within reach for any small press—all you have to do is submit and put your best book forward!
For more insights into the professional book industry, check out these articles:
- What Every Fiction Author Should Know About Writing and Publishing
- Get Paid to Write Short Stories: 22 Places That Will Buy Your Fiction
- How to Become a Professional Writer or Author: 6 Things Pros Do That Separate Them from the Pack
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!