Authors need the social proof that comes with trade book reviews to get library and bookstore distribution. A professional reviewer explains the process.
Rose Fox is the director of BookLife Reviews, a paid review service just launched by Publishers Weekly, and was previously a senior reviews editor for PW and a freelance book reviewer. When they reached out to me about writing a guest post, I knew all my readers—self-published, traditionally published, and hybrid—could benefit from Rose’s 20 years of experience on all sides of book reviewing.
Trade book reviews: Behind the scenes with a professional reviewer
By Rose Fox
Sending a book out for review can be immensely stressful.
If you’re self-published, you may have chosen the indie route to dodge all the gatekeeping and waiting periods associated with sending manuscripts to editors and agents—only to run into the same feeling when sending books to reviewers!
Traditionally published authors often rely on their publishers to submit their books to the media for reviews known in publishing as trade, media, or literary reviews. Sometimes, though, it’s up to the author to make it happen.
If pursuing trade book reviews feels like dropping copies of your book into a black hole, read on for an explanation of exactly what happens on the other side, including why getting a book reviewed can take a lot longer than you’d think.
Who decides whether my book gets reviewed?
At a trade publication such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, or Library Journal, or a newspaper or magazine such as the New York Times or the Los Angeles Review of Books, your book will first be assessed by an editor who works with your fiction genre or nonfiction category.
These publications get hundreds of books every week, so it may be a little while before yours gets to the top of the stack.
The majority of indie books are turned down at this stage, and many traditionally published books are as well. Editors have limited time and publications have limited page space; books have to be significant or promising in some way to make the cut.
Pro tip: If you’re submitting your own book for review, don’t bother with gimmicks like mailing an editor chocolate or wrapping your book in fancy paper. What review editors care about is professionalism. Your cover art and jacket copy need to be top notch, and the text of your book should be well designed and typo-free.
Most important is a pitch letter or press release that explains why your book is worth covering. A publicist can help you put together a submission package that’s polished and appealing.
If the editor decides to cover your book, they will choose a reviewer with relevant knowledge and expertise and pass the book along to them. Each editor may work with dozens or hundreds of freelance reviewers, each with a particular specialty.
Who will review my book?
You won’t know in advance who the reviewer will be. In fact, you might not ever know. For example, reviews at Publishers Weekly and Kirkus are anonymous. Those at Library Journal, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Foreword are bylined.
Bylines are also the rule at newspapers and magazines, where reviewers often let their personal writing style and opinions shine through.
Several trade publications have paid review services for indie authors, such as PW’s BookLife Reviews and Kirkus’s Kirkus Indie. These are run along the same lines, with similar policies on bylines or anonymity.
Why does getting a review take so long?
The reviewer usually takes two to four weeks to read the book and write a detailed, thoughtful review. Then the review needs to be fact-checked and edited, which might mean some discussion with the reviewer. After that, the copyeditor will do a pass.
If the review is going to run in print, it will be laid out by the art team and proofread.
Depending on the publication’s schedule, the review could be held until a particular date—maybe the newspaper’s book review column only runs once a month, the review is perfect for an upcoming theme or feature, or this week’s issue is full already.
Worth the wait
Taken all together, these factors can lead to you waiting two months or even longer for a review to see the light of day.
Is it worth the uncertainty? Often, the answer is yes!
A positive review from a respected major publication can give your book a huge boost and put it in front of literary agents, film agents, booksellers, and librarians.
Submitting your book to a trade publication is free, and the payoff can be huge, so there’s no reason not to do it.
But I hate waiting!
Paying for a guaranteed review from a reputable service is an alternative. It removes a lot of the uncertainty and waiting from this process.
You don’t need to worry about being rejected, and there’s a guaranteed time frame for receiving your review: BookLife Reviews, BlueInk, and Clarion have turnaround times of four to six weeks, and Kirkus Indie starts at seven to nine weeks.
In some cases, you can pay an additional expediting fee to get your review even sooner.
Paid reviews are similar to standard reviews
Paid reviews work the same way as standard trade publication reviews: An expert reviewer will review your book; a skilled editor will edit the review.
Even if the review isn’t positive, you can learn from the critique. Plus, with BookLifeReviews and most paid professional review options, the review will only be published with your approval. If you’d rather keep it private, only you will see it—you can absorb any lessons from it and move on to making your next book even better.
A glowing review, on the other hand, can give you a fantastic marketing boost.
Your fee buys you the peace of mind of getting a guaranteed review on a set schedule. For many indie authors, it’s well worth the cost.
As with every aspect of marketing your book, submitting for a trade review or purchasing a paid review requires an investment in hopes of a return. Go in knowing what to expect and you won’t be disappointed.
Have you submitted your book for professional reviews, whether paid or not? What was the outcome? Please tell us in a comment.
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