Cristina Deptula serves as executive director of the green social enterprise Authors, Large and SmallShe enjoys a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction, from Bill Bryson to Toni Morrison to Abraham Verghese, and believes there is a place and an audience for every book.
Reviews are a basic part of book publicity. I, as well as most people I know, check out books on Amazon and Google before buying them, hoping to find informative reviews.
Quality reviews can also help sell your book at events, signings, and to the people you know personally. Quoting someone else who appreciated your writing is often less awkward than verbally praising yourself.
Where can authors find reviewers? Here are some examples of how we landed reviews for our clients:
* Book review blogs. A Google search of 'blogs reviewing fiction' or 'blogs that review self help titles' will provide a list of links. These are often the first places, after Amazon and GoodReads, that upcoming authors consider. These are worth a try, as the better known blogs dedicated to this purpose attract a good number of readers seeking new recommendations. Unfortunately, they are often swamped with review requests and must turn down plenty of excellent work for space and time reasons. Even if a mainstream book review blog requests you to send them a copy of your title, they may still choose not to review it, or they may be scheduling reviews months in advance. So, I would suggest contacting them but reaching out to other venues at the same time.
We have had some success with specialized review blogs. As an example, with Barry Jackson's novel Furry Paw, Middle Claw, about a man's learning to love his wife's adopted stray cats after he sees how they help their autistic son communicate and reach out to others. This title, from New Jersey's Turn the Page Publishing, received thoughtful mentions from cat-related book review blogs I found on CatBlogNation.com
Giving a specific reason, when possible, that you picked a particular review blog for your book will help. Read the 'bio' or 'about' pages and see if you can make a connection, or mention something about how your book is similar to other titles they have reviewed. For example, we got Jonathan Humphries' Windham's Rembrandt, a memoir of his father's experience as Texas' first maximum security prison fine arts teacher, written up in a book and consumer product review blog because the blogger had an interest in criminal justice.
* Mutual review communities, and trading reviews. Authors you know from your critique group, people you meet at writing conferences, and people you find in online communities for writers may all be open to reading your book and mentioning it on their websites if you will return the favor. Don't be afraid to drop an email or Facebook message to another writer you admire and suggest this, even if they don't know you personally...you are offering them a favor as well as asking for one. If they are too busy, they can simply politely decline.
We introduced several pairs of authors to each other: Adam Brown, creator of Astral Dawn, an epic adventure where a young adult hero saves Heaven from colorful demons in disguise, and Lisa Henthorn, author of 25 Sense, a women's fiction story about a career girl who finds love and learns from her mistakes, including her affair with her married boss. Also, Elsie Augustave, whose debut novel The Roving Tree relates the story of a Haitian immigrant girl finding her way in her adoptive family's upscale East Coast neighborhood and later heading to Zaire to help with development work, and Dorothy Spruzen, whose murder mystery Not One of Us provides social satire of insular East Coast society. And several others, some of whom paired up on their own and volunteered to review each other's books.
There are Facebook groups dedicated to mutual reviews for authors of specific genres. These are worth joining if you read through and like the type of coverage each book receives, and know for a fact that you are able to hold to your end of the bargain. Nothing sours a reputation faster than receiving assistance from a volunteer-run community and not giving back what is expected. If some unforeseen issue prevents you from reviewing or mentioning the other writers' work, please let them know about it as soon as possible. Most emerging authors have families, lives and day jobs, and know that sometimes those matters have to come first. They will be understanding when you show respect and keep them posted so they can have time to find other reviewers if necessary.
* Topical blogs. Some element of your fiction, or the topic of your nonfiction, might strike the interest of someone who writes online about a certain topic. The upside to this is less competition from other writers requesting reviews, but the downside is that the blogger may not have time or be interested in reviewing books at all. However, as with many publicity techniques, it doesn't hurt to ask.
* Your local paper. Some reporters will spotlight local creative talent. There may also be homeowners' association, bookstore, library or PTA journals who will mention your work. Drop an email to a few people lower down on the masthead who might be appropriate (local editor, cultural editor, art scene, human interest, etc) rather than the executive or managing editor, who is likely swamped with email. Many hometown papers are getting consolidated and bought out, so the offices are often shared, and an email is more likely to reach the right contact than a voice mail.
* Encouraging people to start blogs and sending them your work to review. If you mentor young people, know an emerging writer or artist of any age who would like to build his/her platform, or have contacts with college students or language learners seeking to practice their English, they might appreciate the chance to develop their skills by writing online. Your books, and those of the fellow authors in your circle, will give them something to write about.
Be careful, though, not to put pressure on them, even accidentally, to like your writing. Remind them that they have a right to their own opinions, and need to give solid and specific reasons for why they like your book, even if they are a genuine fan of yours. If you offer payment for reviews, send it before the person creates the piece, so it is compensation for their time and in no sense an evaluation of their work.
We have helped facilitate this as well, most recently for recent college graduate Merrick Hansen's Tumblr review blog Literature Typeface. Also, we gave Elizabeth Hughes, a self-published author in San Jose, CA looking to develop review writing into a side job, a regular column in Synchronized Chaos Magazine. I'm an editor there and put in a good word for her, and the rest of the volunteer organization was glad to bring her on board.
These techniques will involve spending some time and money. But you can keep costs down by sending out Kindle or PDF versions of your title whenever possible to avoid paying for shipping. And you can save time by creating a list of people whom you contact with each new release, and building that list over time rather than starting from scratch. Even once you have a stable of reviewers looking forward to your new releases, it's worth it to keep adding to it, for even more coverage and as some reviewers will likely drop out over time.
Getting reviews on Amazon, GoodReads and Library Thing is a great start, as most people check these sites first when looking up new books. But writers can also receive solid coverage through other venues, and these techniques are good ways to get there. (And many blog reviewers also repost on Amazon/GoodReads - again, never hurts to ask!)