top of page

Elements of a successful book: reviews

In this final post in the Elements of a Successful Book blog series, I'm talking reviews—what they are, different types, how to get them, and what they can do to support your book's success.

The importance of book reviews

It cannot be understated: reviews are a major consumer influence in our society. In today's market where many book sales occur online, book reviews can help your book stand apart from the competition and assure potential readers that the content of the book is worthy of their time (and money). It's just a fact of life that we are more likely to buy products that others have vouched for with a good review.

A review gives credibility to your book, shows the value of your book, and will often describe your book to potential readers in ways you've never thought of.

Reader reviews vs. trade/industry reviews

There are, in general, two main paths to receive reviews for your book. There are reviews collected or solicited from readers of your book, and there are trade/industry reviews. Most of us are familiar with reader reviews as we usually have direct experience with leaving a review for a book, product, or service in our own life. Reader reviews are the more accessible path for authors to take to receive reviews, so I'll address those first, offering ideas for how to collect reviews from readers both before and after publication.

How to receive reader reviews

There isn't a single way to receive reviews for your book. The simplest way is to solicit them, or ask for them, in a structured way before the release of the book in a way that will actively encourage readers to leave a review.

  1. Creating a list of ARC (advanced reader copy) readers who are willing to read your book before its release and leave an honest review is one of the most common methods for this type of review gathering. Note: ARC books are free to the reader, and the reader leaves a review in return.

  2. Giveaways are another simple tool for gathering reviews. This could be as simple as giving away book-related merchandise (pins, pens, prints, bookmarks, etc.) to readers who leave a review on requested platforms.

  3. The simplest option is, of course, to insert a call to action at the back of your book, perhaps on the author bio or an author's note page where you specifically prompt readers: "If you enjoyed this book, please leave a review (and include the location of where you'd like them to post their review)."

  4. Sending your book (again, for free) to influencers (book reviewers on Instagram or TikTok/BookTok for instance) or bloggers relevant to your book's genre for them to read and review on their blog or platform is another way to get information about your book out into the world and in front of a larger audience while prompting reviews.

  5. And, of course, you can always utilize your own newsletter/mailing list to ask for reviews or do newsletter swaps with other authors where you can include a CTA to request reviews for an upcoming release or newly released book.

A note about paid reviews: in general, it is frowned upon to pay readers for reviews, and book retailers and distributors (such as Amazon KDP for example) actively take action against authors who solicit paid reviews for their book (i.e., saying you'll give someone $X if they leave a review for your book, even if you gave them the book for free).

How to receive trade/industry reviews

Trade reviews, what they are and how to get them, are a mystifying topic for most authors. Simply put, trade reviews serve the unique purpose of acting as a barometer of a book's potential success in the market. They offer insight into the merits of a book before it lands in the hands of readers. And if I haven't been wordy enough already, they are, basically, an evaluation of the book written by industry professionals such as critics, journalists, and experts in the field.

Practically, these reviews can be used in several ways:

  1. Trade journals (ALA, Kirkus Reviews, Foreward Reviews, Publishers Weekly, etc.) alert the trade (booksellers and librarians) about new books that are coming out, what they are, and how they can get the book. In this sense, the trade review acts as a stamp of credibility, increasing the likelihood that booksellers or librarians will feel confident in purchasing your book.

  2. Marketing materials, whether blurb or back cover copy, ad copy, or otherwise, are a natural outcome of receiving a trade review (if it's a good review, of course!) and can be used for presale or sales needs.

  3. Once a book is reviewed there are a variety of databases in which it will appear, increasing the overall reach and buying potential of your book.

Take note, it's important to research trade/industry reviewers carefully. They will usually all have different specifications for submitting your book. Pay attention to their requests and ensure you have enough time in your timeline to publication to receive the review in a timely manner. Another consideration is whether you are self-publishing or not. Not all trade reviewers accept self-published books.

That said, not every submission will receive a review. Trade reviewers are not obligated to review your book, and they are limited by how many books than can potentially review. One way to get around this is paid reviews.

Now, I know I just said you should never pay readers for reviews. That still stands. But what you can do, if you'd like to guarantee that you receive a trade/industry review of your book (whether for good or ill!), is pay a trade reviewer to review your book. This requires a bit of research as well. The submission guidelines may be a bit different, and of course, the bigger difference is you'll end up paying anywhere between $400-$600 to receive the review (at the time of this post).

Dealing with bad reviews

Let's address trade reviews first. So what happens (whether you paid or not) if you receive a less-than-stellar review of your book? Well, the good thing is that that review never has to see the light of day. You have the power to "kill" it, meaning it won't be published anywhere where other folks can see it.

Reader reviews on distribution and retail sites, or even sites like Goodreads, are a bit trickier to deal with. Some authors may choose not to read bad reviews, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's a mistake. By reading the review you'll be able to take action (or not).

For instance, did the reviewer simply not understand or resonate with your book? Perhaps it just wasn't for them, and they're frustrated about wasted time and money. The whole world will not love your book, so there's not much to be done in that case.

However, if the reviewer offers feedback, like a character felt flat, the pacing was slow in certain parts, or there were numerous grammatical mistakes, then that's something you can run with. You may decide not to do anything about that book (such as taking it down, editing, and re-publishing) if the negative reviews are pretty rare.

If you have a lot of negative reviews though, and the reasons for the reviews are fixable and consistent, then you may have to bite the bullet and re-publish after a thorough clean-up of the manuscript. Alternately, if the situation is more like the paragraph above, you'll likely just take the feedback and incorporate it into your next book. That is, after all, how we grow and get better at just about anything!

It's in your hands

I posted this blog series' list of elements on social media not long ago and received some pushback about this last topic. The writer proclaimed, "But authors can't control reviews!" And I don't disagree with that statement on its face.

True, authors can't control what others write about their book. There will be people who leave random, nasty reviews. There will be people who absolutely loved your book and who can't be bothered to write more than a few words or a sentence about it.

However, as discussed above, the onus for soliciting reviews, whether from readers or the trade/industry, is truly in the hands of the author. No one is going to randomly stumble across your book and feel necessarily called to leave a review. That's just not how it works. So make that ARC sign-up, prep your giveaway items, include that CTA at the back of your book, and reach out to trade reviewers. You'll be glad you did knowing that you've made every attempt to help your book along to success.


Elements of a Successful Book Blog series



bottom of page