Reviews are dead. Long live reviews!
There is no area of book publicity that has changed more over the last few years than the ‘book review’. Traditional reviews – the ones written by professional critics – used to dominate the publishing industry. In years gone by, they were so important that book publication dates were always Thursdays, so that review copies could be delivered to reviewers in time to get into in the Sunday papers.
But space and budgets for considered reviews of books in newspapers and elsewhere are dwindling. These reviews are still important – particularly because they are difficult to achieve and have the weight of authority behind them – but they are no longer the only kind of review that matters, for we are all reviewers now.
As technology has opened up publishing to almost anyone it has also done the same for reviews. Reviews are everywhere. And not just for books. If you go to a restaurant, you might review your Beef Bourguignon online when you get home. If you get a tooth capped you might critique the dentist. And if you read a book, you let everyone know what you thought about it.
Reviewing is now part of everyone’s everyday experience and, while our opinions may not be held in the same esteem (or as well considered) as those of the Literary Editors, there are a heck of a lot more of us. Star ratings on Amazon, Goodreads and other websites are an average of many reviews and you are not just getting one person’s opinion but a crowdsourced composite. Furthermore, online reviews reach consumers directly; they are on the site where you can just click a button to buy the book – to turn that review into a sale.
So how do you get more ‘real people’ reviews on Amazon and other online book sites? Setting aside the dodgy ‘pay for good reviews’ websites that have sprung up (and do set them aside, they are not worth it and can land you in hot water), my favourite options are NetGalley.com and giveaway competitions.
If you don’t know it, NetGalley.com is a website that allows subscribers to upload an ebook that can then be made available for free to reviewers through the site. Reviewers are mainly bloggers and enthusiastic readers and reviews are honest. It can be fairly expensive to subscribe to NetGalley but if you only have one, or a small number of books, it can be more affordable through a third party (such as Cameron Publicity and Marketing).
Giveaways are a great way to get printed books into the hands of people who may review your book. Goodreads has a very popular giveaway service for authors who join their author programme. Also, really good, established bloggers who specialise in a particular subject area or genre can have a huge audience that are exactly the kind of people that you want to reach. Offer them copies for a competition and even those who do not win may decide to buy your book anyway. When you send out books to giveaway winners, be sure to include a note asking them to review the book if they like it.
The role of the book review has changed and the way that authors and publishers think about reviews must change as well. For better or worse, a book is now judged by a collective star rating more than a single considered opinion.