So I did some research a while back on how to increase my chances of getting my novels reviewed and came up with 10 helpful tips.
I’m focusing here on smaller venues for indie authors in particular. Bigger publications like Booklist & Publishers Weekly are fantastic, and you should absolutely try to get into them, but be aware that they only review a fraction (less than 10% I read somewhere) of the submissions they get ~ and that’s from all publishers. So you’re competing against the big legacy publishers, too.
By and large, most review sites want hard copies of the book at least 3 months prior to publication. Keep that in mind when you’re deciding when to launch and in what format to launch. Some will take ebooks and some will review anytime, even after publication.
First, start at the Midwest Book Review website. I used them as a source for nearly all the information that you’re reading here.
1. Don’t advertise it’s a self-published book
For starters, don’t advertise that it’s a self-published book, especially if you have your own small press. If they come out & ask, by all means be honest. And if they have a policy against reviewing self-published books, then you must tread carefully and choose whether or not you want to submit your book since that may be a policy coming from their legal department. But if your book can pass the it-looks-like-it-was-professionally-published test, then not mentioning it’s self-published will increase your chances of getting a review.
2. Feature stories are better than reviews
Having been a journalist for a number of years, I can tell you that book-review editors are not the only ones at a publication to whom you can send your book. You can try columnists. There are feature editors. If your book has a section tie-in (like sports or movies or fashion for instance), you can try the editors of a particular section. Try your hometown paper (both where you grew up & where you live now) or the alumni magazine of your college. You may get a review out of it. You may get a feature story done about you, in which they plug your book. You’re actually better served with a feature article than just a simple review. You’re more likely to connect with readers, who then go out and buy your book, if they get to know something about you as the author.
3. Join the independent book publisher’s association
If you have your own small press, join the Independent Book Publisher’s Association. Not only will you join a network of other small publishers banding together to help each other but you’ll also give yourself an edge with some review sites (Midwest Book Review & Foreword Magazine for starters) who will automatically bump your book closer to the top of the review pile.
4. Call/email first
If possible, call or email a reviewer first to see if they have an interest. You’ll save yourself time and money if they tell you no. Also, make sure once you’ve been given an okay to send it that you address it to the specific person you corresponded with & write Requested Material on the outside of the envelope.
5. Don’t give reviewers a reason to disqualify you
There are a lot of books vying for attention and only so much space/time in a reviewer’s calendar. They are looking for ways to whittle down their submissions; make sure you don’t give them a reason to disqualify yours right off the bat. Follow their directions carefully. If they want a press release, make sure you send one. If they want finished books, don’t send galleys. Make sure they review your genre of book before you submit. Follow their publication-date deadlines. And most importantly, make sure you include all your contact info, including: name, mailing address, website address, phone number, & email address. Also include book information, including: price, ISBN number, number of pages, & genre. And finally, send hard copies of your book in padded envelopes or in boxes. You don’t want them damaged before they arrive and risk an editor passing on them because they no longer look professional.
6. Send a cover letter with your submission
Make sure you address it to a specific person (the editor’s name, the book blogger’s name) and not Dear Editor. If you’ve gotten a good review from them for a past book, by all means make sure you mention it in your cover letter; something to the effect of how pleased you were with their review of your previous book, TITLE, and you’re excited to be submitting your new book, TITLE, for their review.
7. Be aware of publishing cycles
All this information comes from James Cox, editor over at the Midwest Book Review.
Months: Worst months to submit: October & November because you’ll be competing with lots of releases from major publishers. Best months to submit: January & February for spring and July & August for fall, because there’ll be less competition from major publishers.
Days of the week: Do your best so your books arrive on a specific day. Worst day: Monday, because there are more submissions on this day; your book will have much more competition for someone’s attention. Best days: Thursday or Friday, less competition.
8. Keep good records & follow up
Know who you sent a copy of your book to & on what date. Give them at least two weeks, then send a letter or an email asking if they’ve received your submission and tell them you look forward to hearing from them.
If your book is reviewed in a timely fashion & they notified you of the review, put them in your “use again” pile. If they took a long time to review or never notified you of the review, put them in your “maybe use again” pile. If you never heard from them again, put them in the “don’t use again” pile.
9. Post a media kit on your website
At a minimum, your media kit should have your biography, high-resolution (300 dpi) pictures of both you and the book cover(s), a synopsis of the book, any press releases you may have, and contact information for you.
Make sure everything in your media kit/press release is professional, polished, and the very best you have to offer. Don’t send/post anything, ever, that you wouldn’t want to see in print later.
10. Thank reviewers
Send a thank-you note/email to anyone who reviews your book. They took a long time reading and reviewing your work so you take five minutes and write them a thank-you. This one is a must.
A side note on reviewers who want money
This one is your call. As a former journalist, I think there’s an inherent lack of objectivity when money is involved. That said, I also know that the bigger book review publications aren’t open to indie authors. Be aware, though, if you’re going to give them money to review your book, that you most likely will NOT be in their main publication. In fact, you may only be listed on their website that may or may not have anyone at all looking at it. You will, however, be able to use that review in your own marketing, and that may be, to you personally, worth the cost you pay.
Hope you found this helpful. Wishing you the best of luck & happy writing!