Today anyone can have a book published. Many people dream of it. In fact one recent survey says 81% of people feel they have a book in them that they should write.
I don’t know about you, but this statistic fills me with more despair than hope. I’ve been writing for publication for about 35 years and while it is reassuring that I can bring any book of mine to print, it seems unfair that any novice who can put 20,000 words or so on paper can do the same. Of course, selling the book once it is published is another story.
The hardest part of writing today is not the actual writing or the publication, but getting your voice heard among all of the other voices. Self-publication has lost much of its former stigma and offers opportunities like never before. But because it is so easy to be published, many books of inferior quality and content are competing for attention. In addition to that, many good books are calling out to readers. How can potential readers hear about your book above all the noise of the information overload?
Book reviews and awards help the good books to rise to the top. They give needed exposure for readers to find and read your books. I used to wonder how the lucky authors got those reviews and awards. Now I know that authors aren’t going to get any of either unless they, or their publishers or agents, submit their books.
Somehow that goes against the grain. I feel silly suggesting my book is good enough to merit an award. I’d rather someone else would nominate me. Who am I to ask for a book review? But if my message is worth a year or two of the hard work of writing, it must also be worth my time to promote.
Consumer Book Reviews
Today what do most readers do first when deciding whether or not to buy a book? They check out the reviews on Amazon. Even shoppers in bookstores often check with Amazon on their phones before buying. That makes Amazon reviews really important.
When you have a book published, or even afterward, work to find readers who will review your book on Amazon. You may need to offer a free book in exchange for an honest review. Good reviews are great, but if all your reviews are 5-star reviews with glowing reports, readers may suspect they are only written by your friends. Even a few negative reports may help, especially if your content is controversial. Work hard to get a good number of Amazon reviews.
If you have author friends who have only a few reviews on Amazon for a book, consider helping them out by writing reviews for them. They will love you for it.
Goodreads is also a great place to have reviews. Amazon now owns Goodreads and they work together, but Goodreads is currently about the best social network devoted to reading. Their membership is growing rapidly. Goodreads allows you to schedule give-aways, and authors generally give away free books hoping readers will review the books when they finish them.
Book Review Blogs
Book review blogs can also be a good source of online book reviews. Self-publication has created a huge need for book reviews so these blogs are everywhere, but be aware than some don’t have a large readership. Successful blogs sometimes sound welcoming to new authors, but when you pursue a review you find that they aren’t accepting more submissions.
Many of these blogs also work in only one genre, like Christian fiction. In November 2013 I published a true story about Mary Weaver, an innocent Christian woman who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Edges of Truth is challenging to promote because it straddles several genres. It reads like fiction, but it’s a true story. As a biography it is often listed with historical figures like Martin Luther or Hudson Taylor, but it appeals to a different sort of reader. It fits best as a memoir, but some companies don’t have a separate listing for memoirs. Many of the review blogs are for Christian fiction, but this book doesn’t fit there.
Spend some time on Google finding blogs that fit your book and check their submission guidelines. This may be a good source of book reviews for you.
Librarians and Christian retailers often look for trade reviews of your book when considering a purchase. Some trade review magazines charge anywhere from $100 to $500 to review your book, and you may even end up with a very negative review that is useless to you.
Be aware that many trade reviewers want galleys as much as three months prior to publication.
I wanted to be able to sell our book Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story to libraries in Iowa and I knew that many librarians wouldn’t consider it until I had a good trade review. I chose to seek a review by Midwest Book Review. Though it isn’t in the very top layer of prestigious reviewers, I felt it was a good fit for our book. They give special consideration to small presses and self-published authors. They accept books that are already in print. They don’t charge for their reviews. Our memoir happened in the Midwest which fits their company. And Midwest had already reviewed another one of my books and given it a good review.
I was told that Edges of Truth ”handily passed their initial screening process” but that they had so many submissions that they couldn’t handle them all. The editor of MBR said they would print a review by someone else if I got a professional review.
Online Christian Book Review Sites
We (my co-author and the person my book was about and I) had counted heavily on getting a review by Midwest Book Review to be able to sell to Iowa libraries. When we didn’t get it I didn’t know where to turn. Research on the internet brought me to a book that could give me some new sources. Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace (Third Edition) by Sarah Bolme was worth the price of the book to me if only to point me to some good sources of book reviews and book awards. It lists a number of online Christian book reviews sites. Many of them offer free book reviews, but you can get them faster if you pay something. Some are also connected to book awards.
I submitted Edges of Truth to Reader’s Favorite using the free option and waited for a review. Within a couple of months I received a 5-star review.
It’s nice to have a 5-star review. It makes you feel like you have a little trophy you can set on your mantel. But I didn’t go to all the trouble of seeking that review for that little thrill of recognition. The review is a tool we can use to promote our book. If we don’t promote our book no one will buy it. If no one buys it, no one will read it. If no one reads it, what’s the point of two years of hard work by two co-authors and the book’s subject?
How to Use a Book Review
The first thing I did with my Reader’s Favorite review was to send it to Midwest Book Review who published it in their August 2014 issue of their online book review “Reviewer’s Bookwatch.”
Though initially declined by MBR, this gives me a review that was featured by them. I drafted an informational letter that included the review and sent it to 91 public libraries in Iowa asking them to consider purchasing our book for their shelves.
I can also use this review and the 5-star seal on the cover of the book and inside the book with other reviews. I can put it on our website. It sometimes shows up on the Amazon description of the book under “Editorial Reviews.” I can use this review, or parts of it, anywhere I want. I can use it to interest other reviewers in reviewing the book.
A good review, then, is not about boosting the author’s ego. It is a useful tool that can be used in many ways to promote your book.
Book awards work in a similar way. Many book reviews are connected to book awards. Again, Sarah Bolme’s book was very helpful in listing awards that apply to Christian books.
Most of the awards require an entrance fee of somewhere between $45 to $110. Most books can only be entered for about a year within their date of publication. They all come with one guarantee: If you don’t enter you don’t win.
I felt Mary Weaver’s story was unique and had strong take-away value. If it could win any place in any award category it would help us to sell the book. I researched the various awards, their categories, and deadlines. I looked at Amazon descriptions of books that had won the awards in recent years and tried to sense if our book would stand a fighting chance of winning. Then I chose four contests that I felt were a good fit for our book.
Christian Small Publishers Book of the Year Award specializes in books that are self-published or published by small publishers. Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY’s) has a lot of competition in their larger categories, but they have a regional category for the Midwest that I felt we could stand a chance in. Illumination Book Awards has an Enduring Light Medal for books with a Christian worldview that have been published since 2000.
I won’t hear final results for most of these contests until early 2015, but if we win any place in any award, we can use it to sell our books.
[Image courtesy of Anna Subbotina/Deposit Photos.]