Time for some cold, hard truth: Self-published authors are still at a disadvantage in the book industry. Even though readers have discovered how awesome many self-published books are, the book industry is an insular place. These are professionals who have devoted their lives to an industry that’s rapidly shifting around them, and it’s small wonder that many look skeptically at the wave of indie authors that are causing that shift.
But to make the most of your career as an indie author, you have to know how to work within the industry, where to push the envelope, and when to throw all the rules out the window. Creating a sustainable author career is a balancing act, and knowing how the traditional book industry works can give you an advantage in finding that balance.
Book reviews are one of those places where the traditional book industry has it down pat. They have access to a network of professional reviewers, including at respected trade publications, and these reviews carry weight—both with booksellers and other institutional buyers and with readers.
Pro book reviews give people confidence that your book is well-produced, that the plot holds up, the characters are engaging, and that the book is worth spending their time and money on. They show up prominently at the top of your book’s page on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and they also draw the attention of bookstore buyers who might be more willing to stock your book if it’s had a professional review.
But many professional markets don’t review self-published books. We’ve discussed how to get reviews as a small press author, but what’s the talented, dedicated self-published author to do?
Get creative, that’s what!
Review Options for Indie Authors
Professional review options for self-published authors vary—many are paid services, while a few will check out and potentially review your book for free.
All of them have a few things in common: your book has to be just as high-quality as anything coming out of the Big Five in order to have a good chance of success (which is solid policy even if you’re not seeking pro reviews) and you have to allow time for the review to happen…and to work its social-proof magic after it’s issued.
Professional reviews aren’t strictly necessary to sell books, but they can help you build your exposure and marketing platform. As you’re building your marketing plan and budgeting for your marketing expenses, consider some of these options:
In addition to the tens of thousands of traditionally published reviews that come out from Publishers Weekly every year, it also reviews self-published books!
However, the process is a little different. While small press books go into the main magazine alongside Big Five books, self-published books are typically reviewed in PW’s companion publication, PW Select.
In the past, you had to pay for a PW Select review for your self-published book. Thankfully, those days are over! PW reviews for indie authors are now free, just like reviews in the main magazine.
Unlike the main magazine, PW reviews for indie authors do not require that the book be submitted before it’s available for sale. In fact, your book has to be on sale and available in the US market! So once you’ve hit “publish” on KDP or your other site of choice, it’s time to submit your book for review.
All you have to do is go to Booklife, PW’s website for self-published authors, and register your book. Then you submit for a review and wait to see if you’re selected!
Just like with traditionally published books, not every book makes the cut—there are simply too many submitted for every book to get a review. But it’s definitely worth trying, to get the social proof power of an independent professional review. That’s because PW reviews through Booklife are also syndicated to all the major sales venues, including Amazon, iBooks, Google, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. They appear right at the top of your book’s listing and give a lot of professional credibility to your work.
San Francisco Book Review
The San Francisco Book Review is part of a family of book review publications that’s been around since 2008 and includes the Seattle Book Review, Manhattan Book Review, and more.
It’s pretty well-respected in the industry, because it adheres to the standards of impartiality and anonymous reviews that the major players like PW set up over the decades.
So that means that a review from them can definitely influence buyers and help establish your credibility as a self-published author who’s competing with the traditional presses.
Better still, it’s free to submit a book for review if you do so at least 90 days before its publication! Keep in mind that they review less than a third of the books they receive, so you’re not guaranteed a review. Still, it’s worth sending in your work.
It’s very easy to submit—just fill out the form on their submissions page, upload your eBook file, and hit submit. That’s it!
If your book has already been published and you’d like to get some more press for it, you can use San Francisco Book Review’s “sponsored” service, which lets you pay for a guaranteed review. You can also add a podcast interview for more marketing potential, or pay to cross-post the review on the Manhattan Book Review or Seattle Book Review.
A review that takes 8–10 weeks to appear starts at $199; a review that takes 3–5 weeks starts at $349. Cross-posted reviews add $99.
Midwest Book Review
Another highly respected publication, Midwest Book Review welcomes small presses and self-published authors.
If you submit a print book for consideration, it’s free!
Once your book is published, just send two print copies to MBR, along with a cover sheet detailing information on your book like title, description, ISBN, price, and any other pertinent information. You should also send a press kit or publicity letter detailing information on the author (you!) and giving contact information.
If you’re selected, you’ll be notified about the review in four to six weeks.
Mail your package to:
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575
If you don’t have a print edition of your book, you can pay $50 to get your eBook considered for review. To get set up for that program, you just have to email [email protected] or [email protected] with the subject line “Reader Fee Request” and discuss the details of your book. They’ll get you set up with a reviewer who’ll accept your eBook for possible review.
RT Book Reviews
RT Book Reviews covers more than just romance and erotica: they also review science fiction, fantasy, inspirational, mystery, and young adult titles. They don’t explicitly draw a line between large publishers, small presses, and self-published books, so if you have a professional-quality book, it’s worth submitting for a review.
If your book is already published and you’re trying to get more professional coverage or bump up interest, or if you don’t have time to submit four months before publication, you can take advantage of RT’s paid service, RT Review Source.
For $425 for books up to 450 pages and $500 for books longer than that, you’ll get a professional review from RT’s squad of reviewers within about 4 to 6 weeks. You can then choose whether you want the review published on RT’s website, where RT Review Source items are searchable by genre and can sometimes be spotlighted in a special section of the site.
Once again, it’s a very personal choice whether to spend money on a professional review, but if you think you could benefit from marketing to avid genre readers, this might be a good choice for you.
Self-published books are treated differently by Kirkus than traditionally published books. These are eligible for review through Kirkus Indie, a paid review platform.
The reviews are similar to those in the main Kirkus publication in that they’re anonymous, independent, and can be positive, neutral, or even negative. But because this is a paid service, you’re guaranteed to get a review…just not necessarily the review you dreamed of.
Depending on the turnaround time you want, a Kirkus Indie review costs either $425 (7–9 weeks) or $575 (4-6 weeks). You choose your plan, upload a PDF of your book (or mail in two print copies), and wait. When your review is complete, you’ll get a link to view it. Then you can decide whether to keep it private or publish it to Kirkus.com’s Indie section, where booksellers and others can see it and where it can be funneled to Amazon and other distribution sites.
If you really want a professional review from a major trade player, Kirkus Indie can be a good choice, but it’s definitely expensive.
Another paid service for independent professional reviews is BlueInk Reviews. This company works with Booklist; while Booklist won’t accept self-published books, BlueInk will, and a monthly list of their top reviews appears in Booklist. So if you want access to the library market, BlueInk might be for you!
BlueInk reviews can also appear on your B&N and Amazon book pages, and are aggregated as part of the Ingram distribution system and a few others. That means that a BlueInk review can be seen by many, many potential readers and bookstore buyers.
Reviews cost $395 for a 7–9-week turnaround time or $495 for a 4–7-week turnaround time. If you choose to send in a PDF instead of sending print copies, there’s an additional $19.95 charge. Believe it or not, many reviewers still prefer print copies, so this is a way of dealing with that.
If the review turns out to not be a really positive one, you can opt out of having it published and distributed. So there’s not a lot of risk there, and potentially some good reward for getting visibility and professional credibility with a positive review.
For more than 15 years, Foreword Magazine has been publishing independent book reviews, including reviews of self-published authors.
Foreword only runs 150 reviews per issue, and puts out four issues per year. So your odds of getting selected are fairly low—make sure your book stands up to the best of the best in terms of writing, editing, and design!
Submit your book at least four months before publication and be sure to include a cover letter that lists the category, title, author, ISBN, price, page count, format, publication date, description, and any publicity information like author bio, etc.
Foreword only accepts books that have a print edition, although they do take digital review copies so you don’t have to send print copies in.
Send two print copies to:
Book Review Editor / Foreword Reviews
425 Boardman Avenue
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
Or email your digital copy and cover sheet to [email protected].
If you want to ensure that you get a review, you can pay for a Clarion Review. Run by the same editors and reviewers as Foreword Magazine, Clarion offers reviews for a fee—$499 per review—within 4–6 weeks. Reviews are 450 words long and include a “money quote” that you can use to promote your book, highlighting key aspects that could attract readers. Books are also given a star rating on a 1-5 scale.
Clarion reviews are sent to Ingram and Baker & Taylor distributors, as well as to other professional book sellers that work with the library and academic trades, so it can really help for getting institutional sales for nonfiction books, especially business and specialty books.
Is it worth paying to get your self-published book reviewed? Maybe. What else could you spend that money on? Would it be more effective to take out Goodreads ads or run a giveaway to build your email list?
Possibly. That’s a choice you’ll have to make.
The best route is probably submitting your book to pro reviewers well in advance of the publication date to try to get those pro reviews for free. At the same time, try to drum up Amazon reviews and others by doing free giveaways and offering review incentives like free short stories or other bonuses.
If you don’t get selected for review and you really, really want a pro review, then look into the paid services. They do add visibility and bolster your quality credentials as an indie author, so they might still be worth adding to your marketing arsenal.
There are a variety of ways to get your self-published book professionally reviewed, both free and for a fee. Which is right for you depends on your marketing priorities and budget.
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