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What’s even better than a reader review?

Did you know there are two types of book reviews?

When I talk to authors about reviews, many think only of reader reviews – those reader comments that appear on Amazon, Goodreads, and other online sites. Reader reviews are important, essential, and influential.

But you also want to know about – and pursue – what the publishing industry refers to as “literary” or “trade” reviews. These are the critical, in-depth reviews of books offered by professional reviewers writing for media outlets.

Literary reviews carry more weight

Reader reviews have exploded all over the Internet in recent years, which is why most authors are more familiar with them.

And while there are fewer options for literary reviews today because so many publications have folded, reviews by trusted pros at media sources still carry more weight than reader reviews. That’s because book buyers know they’re from an objective media source with a name they recognize.

In addition, many bookstores and libraries won’t purchase self-published books that don’t have them. They are essential social proof.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Let’s say you love romance novels. Whose review would you trust more – a detailed and thoughtful commentary from Historical Romance Magazine, or a two-sentence reaction from the average reader you’ve never heard of?
  • What if you’re thinking about adding a deck to your house right about the time you read a good review for Build a Deck in a Weekend: 18 Plans You Can Use Right Now in your favorite magazine, Family Handyman. Think that detailed review might influence you? If you’re like most, it will.
  • If you wrote How to Hire, Motivate, and Retain the Best Restaurant Staff: The Only Guide You Need to Succeed in the Restaurant Business, you’d be grateful for a review in Nation’s Restaurant News. That’s a trade magazine read by restaurateurs — your book’s target audience.

When my book, Publicity for Nonprofits: Generating Media Exposure That Leads to Awareness, Growth, and Contributions was published, I was pretty happy with the review in trade publication Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog.

It said, “Publicity for Nonprofits doesn’t just explain why publicity is important, but shows you how to use cost-effective public relations plans and tactics to reach fundraising goals, recruit employees and volunteers, and educate consumers.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

better than a reader review 2Don’t discount this option

While it’s true that some literary reviewers won’t review self-published books, others will, including two of the sources consumers recognize and respect, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

Plus, while The New York Times Sunday Book Review section is out of the reach of most authors whether they’re traditionally or self-published, there are still other legitimate outlets for literary reviews.

They include your local daily or weekly newspaper, city and state business journals, trade journals, and association newsletters. They’re all easier to crack than Cosmopolitan or The Los Angeles Times.

What can you expect?

What’s realistic for your book? It depends on these and other factors:

  • Your traditional publisher’s quality standards and reputation
  • Whether your self-published book looks and reads like a traditionally published book
  • The size of the book’s genre or category (and hence the competition for attention)
  • The book’s topic or niche
  • The author’s reputation
  • Your local media options
  • Honest feedback you’ve received from early or beta readers

How to get them

Pursuing literary reviews is a smart and effective book marketing tactic for many authors and books. Are you one of them?

Learn more about this process as well as how to snag those important reader reviews in the two Build Book Buzz Book Marketing 101 courses — there’s one for nonfiction and another for fiction. You’ll learn how to get both types of reviews in Module 1 of the four-module training program.

What does your favorite review of your book say? Please share it in a comment.


(Editor’s note: This article was first published in March 2015. It has been updated and expanded.)

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

16 Comments

  1. Sandra, great article. I think a lot of indie authors overlook trade reviews. Two things worth mentioning… Publishers Weekly doesn’t actually review self-published books through their regular channel. Indie authors will have to submit through their affiliate, BookLife.com.

    Also, while Kirkus does review indie books, they can be very costly at between $425 and $575 per review. This might be out of reach for many indie authors. Still worth pursuing if you can afford it.

    1. Thanks, Trace. Yes, I’m aware of the situation with PW and Kirkus. In fact the Kirkus link in the post takes readers to another post I wrote that helps self-pubbed authors decide if they should pay for a Kirkus review. I didn’t add the information about how both publications have different options for self-published books because I didn’t want to take it into a “should you pay for a review” discussion.

      I’m glad you stopped by…come back!

      Sandy

  2. You’re correct – it’s not just quantity, but the specific qualifications of reviewers.

    Here are two for Pride’s Children PURGATORY, because one is a respected trade reviewer – and the other one of my favorite Amazon and Goodreads reviewers:

    —–
    Midwest Book Review: “PURGATORY… is about movie stars, love, and thwarted passions and purposes;… death, resurrection, and revitalization… a focus on abandonment… and the lasting consequences of bad choices.

    “…literary in its approach… [based] upon the slowly evolving relationships… of individuals …[who] find their lives unexpectedly entwined… PURGATORY’s real strength lies in Ehrhardt’s ability to … tug at the heartstrings of her readers… fine observations of … integrity and its impact on life choices …a story that is hard to put down…

    “Readers of women’s fiction and literature will relish the… involving progression [of] each of the characters.. along their paths to being true to themselves and those around them.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer

    —–
    “This book was a feast…I found myself turning page after page, and DEVOURING the words, licking my lips figuratively at how delicious they were, and thinking: SHE CAN’T KEEP THIS UP! There is no way she can continue to let me walk around and see and hear and feel what the characters are experiencing; except she did…Kary is CLEARLY a hero, by any criteria you want to apply apart from armed combat, and she is the center of the book. She lives in isolation in New Hampshire, and writes … She has other grief in her life, but she does not share the pain casually.” – Amazon reviewer Pat Patterson

  3. Thanks for the excellent post. I have invested in reviews from the Midwest Book Review and Kirkus for my book “Solve the Divorce Dilemma” and their reviews were favorable.

    Here’s Kirkus’:

    Debut author and attorney Frontera offers women a guide to getting out of an unhappy marriage.

    There are many women trapped in unhappy marriages who are also burdened by the fears and uncertainties about trying to end it. Frontera offers this book to those who are unsure of their path forward but know that something needs to change….This guide explains the ins and outs of the long but potentially fulfilling process—from figuring out whether you married the wrong person, to being honest about your part in marital strife, to planning the divorce conversation, to embracing a healthy lifestyle, post-separation. Most of all, however, Frontera reminds readers that they deserve to be happy. Her prose is warm and encouraging in tone, even when she deals with the sadder aspects of her topic…The author also does an impressive job of combining emotional material with more pragmatic tips on, for example, finding a lawyer. Overall, though, this book is more about making the decision to get a divorce than it is about carrying it out. Women who find themselves at this crossroads will appreciate Frontera’s sympathetic framing of the issues, and her book will help them come to the conclusion that’s best for them.
    An earnest, practical manual for those considering divorce.
    Kirkus Reviews

    MBR really liked the book and the reviewer made it the recommended read of the month on her literary blog.

    As the next book gets ready to launch later this year, I will be relying more on trade reviews for a more successful launch.

  4. What a fantastic review, Sonia! Congratulations! Have you used excerpts from both for the “Editorial Reviews” section of your Amazon sales page? Are the reviews on your website?

    Sandy

  5. Although poetry books are categorized as nonfiction, the strategies one might use for a topical nonfiction book are unlikely to apply to poetry books. What are your suggestions for soliciting reviews of poetry books, if they are not written by any of the handful of poets who are big names in the field?

  6. Sandy,

    I was fortunate to get reviews from Kirkus Reviews (through their paid program) and Publishers Weekly (via BookLife) for my book, Color Your Life Happy: Create Your Unique Path and Claim the Joy You Deserve.

    Although both were positive, my favorite is the one that appeared in Publishers Weekly.

    Brown, a publishing coach, devotes this encouraging self-help primer to the idea that happiness is a choice. She opens with 10 promises to readers about how they will benefit from reading the book, goes on to define what happiness is (“an emotion of inner joy”) and isn’t (“the absence of sadness”), then devotes the balance of the text to self-help strategies. The author employs charming personal stories (often from her childhood in St. Louis, where her mother operated a beauty salon) and excerpts of poetry to illustrate her points about moving from pessimism to optimism. Not all of Brown’s tips are especially fresh or even of her own phrasing—as with the Scripturally-derived injunction to “treat your body like a temple”—but the references are useful and eclectic, including both The Twilight Zone and The Secret. Brown also dispenses advice on varied topics, including how to shorten your work commute, cut down on time spent texting, and, less tangibly, “access your spiritual path.” She’s occasionally blunt (“Face it—some days are going to suck”) but more often determinedly positive, as when she advises readers to ask about problems, “Is this a major setback or a divine set-up?”

    Brown’s joyful exuberance, evident throughout, makes her book an inspiring and worthwhile addition to the self-help field. (BookLife)

  7. Thanks for your article and the suggestion to pursue trade magazines. I got an author interview in one. I decided to buy a Kirkus review because I wanted to get my book into libraries. It’s in over 20 library systems around the US, and I don’t think that would have happened without a favorable review and me reaching out to libraries. Here’s the review:

    Material Value by Julia L F Goldstein

    An engineer explains how to make products less toxic and more sustainable.

    In this debut science book, Goldstein takes readers into the realms of manufacturing and recycling to explore how things—particularly consumer goods—are made, how the process can be improved, and what happens when they move into the recycling system. Capsule portraits of entrepreneurs involved in different aspects of sustainable manufacturing (a project manager who maintains a database of construction materials and their ingredients, a distributor of compostable flatware and packaging) appear throughout. These are woven into a narrative that includes a concise history of plastics from Bakelite to the present; Nike’s shift toward corporate social responsibility; and a visit to a steel plant. The book does a particularly good job explaining the complicated world of recycling, where both economics and feasibility limit the materials that can be productively broken down and reused. That section concludes with examples of cutting-edge techniques that offer new recycling possibilities. Goldstein frequently refers to earlier works on the subject, showing how sustainable manufacturing has evolved over the past decade. And she makes a compelling case for its eventual mainstream viability, drawing connections between lean manufacturing strategies and a more efficient use of raw materials, for instance. The book is well-written, with enough detailed information to engage knowledgeable readers but without technical jargon or minutiae that might overwhelm a novice. The tone is casual and intimate (“It’s great to have flatware that composts, but not if it falls apart when we’re using it”), and the author often uses her own experiences as a source of examples and anecdotes. While the volume maintains an upbeat perspective, Goldstein acknowledges the challenges of bringing sustainability to the manufacturing process and offers a candid evaluation of the effectiveness of each technology discussed. Readers will be left with the sense that although sustainability is not an easy feature to add to the manufacturing process, it is indeed possible to do so with both ecological and financial benefits.

    An engrossing, comprehensive overview of sustainable manufacturing and recycling and the challenges to expanding their adoption.

    1. Congratulations on such a wonderful review, Julia. I can see from the review why libraries picked it up — and I’m sure you’re right that a reputable review made a difference. You have a lot to be proud of!

      Sandy

  8. Great article. I just discovered BlueInk Review today for indie-authors. They cost the regular amount $400-$500 but librarians seemed to pay close attention to the books they review and like.

    1. Thanks, Blair! Are you going to pay for a review from them? I’ve been meaning to talk to them about their process, etc., so I appreciate this reminder.

      Sandy

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