Book reviews are essential recommendations to get readers to buy your books. But not all reviewers do a professional job when reviewing; some don’t even read the books they supposedly review. Here are some guidelines to help authors determine which reviewers are legitimate and a good choice for reviewing their books.
Back in the twentieth century, book reviews were in print publications and books were generally reviewed for free (while advertisers paid for the reviews). Today, the majority of book reviewers are online and many authors find they need to pay at least a small fee to get their books reviewed. Because the Internet makes it possible for anyone to set up a website or blog and offer book reviews, authors should be a bit wary about whom they submit their books to for review, whether or not they are paying for a review. Below are a few guidelines for determining whether a reviewer is really qualified to review your book. Remember that these are only guidelines and while one reviewer may be a good fit for one book, the reviewer or review service may not work so well for another.
1. Find out who are the review service’s individual reviewers. In some cases, the reviewer may just be one person. In other cases, you might be contracting with a review service that has a team of reviewers. Check the reviewer’s “About Us” web page to see whether there actually is a team that reviews the books and whether the names are disclosed. If names are not disclosed, be leery. You’re better off having John Smith from Book Review Service review your book than just Book Review Service, and chances are that if names are not revealed, no one is actually reading the books.
2. Check to see where the reviews are posted. Look on the reviewer’s own website to see whether the reviews are posted there. Also check other websites where the reviewer says the reviews will be posted. If the reviewer doesn’t disclose the sites, chances are the reviews are not being posted. If the reviewer promises to send the review to 100 sites, ask for a list of the sites so you can double check that some old reviews are posted on those sites. Sending the reviews to another site and actually having them posted are two different things. In addition, the reviewer’s own website should include links to examples of reviews it has posted to other sites.
3. Check the reviewer’s past reviews. Be sure to look at multiple reviews, and preferably ones for books you may have read, to determine whether it looks like the book has been read or whether the review is merely a regurgitation of the back cover’s text—you can look at the book’s back cover yourself at online book stores to compare the back covers against the reviews. Even if there is an additional line saying how wonderful the book is, that doesn’t mean the book was read. Details about character plots or other items not obvious from the book cover are needed to verify the book was actually read. Also check to see whether there is an actual name of the reviewer on the review; if there isn’t, it’s probably a regurgitation.
4. Check whether the reviews all have 5-star ratings or whether they actually give other ratings. All 5-star ratings are a good sign the books are not read, or the reviewers are simply being paid to please the authors. If some reviews do have lower ratings, read the reviews to determine the reasons why—do they mention the books have grammatical or typographical errors, or plot issues? Or are they nitpicking and unfairly slamming the books? You want to make sure your book is read and also judged fairly by the reviewer. To find out if a review is legitimate, compare the review by this reviewer against reviews for the same book by other reviewers. A 5-star review on one site might mean the book was not read if another reviewer gives 2-stars due to editing issues, but a 5-star review by one reviewer who really liked the book compared to a 2-star by a reviewer who simply did not care for the book’s topic may reflect just a difference in readers’ opinions, making most reviews legitimate.
5. Double-check additional services reviewers offer to determine their legitimacy or value. Many review sites will offer additional services, such as written, radio, and TV interviews. If these services are offered and you are interested, ask for links to the interviews. Listen to the interviews and decide whether the interviewer sounds knowledgeable or interested in the books and authors to determine whether an interview is worth the price of the service for you.
6. Get references. Ask reviewers for references from other authors whose books they have reviewed. If they do not provide references, you may want to think twice about having the reviewer review your book. You may also decide to contact other authors on your own to see whether they have been happy with the review service and feel the contract was fulfilled. If the author is unhappy, discern the real reasons—is it because they didn’t get 5-star reviews for their books, and if so, why didn’t they? Or is it because the reviews were not posted on certain sites as promised or were there other failures to fulfill the contract?
7. Decide whether or not you want to pay for the service. Many review services charge to cover their overhead, while several others offer free reviews but recoup their expenses by selling the books. There is no getting away from expenses incurred by the reviewers, and just like you, they want to be paid for their time and work. Only you can determine whether the work they do for you, in reviewing your book or other services, is worth the price. Don’t forget to factor in both how many hours it will take the reviewer to read the book, write the review, and post it to various sites, as well as how likely you feel the review will be to increase the number of copies you sell and how many you will have to sell to recoup the cost of the review service.
8. Find out who is the book reviewer’s audience. Who reads the book reviews put out by this reviewer? Knowing the audience is vital for determining whether your review will be of value to you in selling your book. If you’re sending your book about physics to a mommy blogger, a review is probably not going to get you many sales, but if you submit it to a review agency that specializes in science-based books, with an audience of scientists and science enthusiasts, you may sell numerous copies. However, even if the reviewer’s audience may not be a good fit for your book, if the reviewer posts the review on multiple sites, and especially at online bookstores, it is likely that numerous readers beyond the reviewer’s primary audience will read the review and be persuaded to buy the book.
9. Ask about the reviewer’s correction policy. Ask the reviewer what happens if the review is negative and you would prefer not to have it posted. Is a refund offered? (In my opinion it shouldn’t be since the work is already done). What about if the review has a character’s name or even the author’s name spelled wrong or there are other errors in describing the plot? Will mistakes be corrected? Will you be allowed to approve the review before it is posted online to make sure it doesn’t contain typos or misinformation such as referring to your book as the second rather than fourth in your fantasy series?
10. Get permission to use the review to market your book. Reviews are the property of the reviewer, but the point of a review is to help readers determine whether or not to read a book, so find out upfront whether you are allowed to reproduce the review on your website or print it and mail it with your marketing materials. If you are only allowed to quote a portion of the review, how much can you use? Does the reviewer mind if you quote from the review on your website or on the back of future editions of your book? A review is not of much value if you can’t use it to help you sell your book.
A lot of book reviewers are out there. By following these guidelines, authors should be able to narrow down their list of reviewers to those who are legitimate and will help them get their book out to the reading public in a positive and effective manner.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.