You’ve created a website, Facebook Page, tweeted about it, done the press releases, book trailer and book launch, so why do you need a review? How do reviews help your marketing strategy?
Simply because readers and potential readers know you, your publisher, your friends and your mum think your book’s wonderful. But they are asking what your book is really like. An endorsement from a reviewer, perceived to be independent, can persuade those potential readers still reluctant to part with their money.
What a Review is
A review is an opinion that enables readers to decide whether or not they want to buy the book.
A review may include consideration of a writer’s career and how their current book fits in the context of their previous books, but most reviewers don’t have space to do this.
It may include references to broader trends in that particular genre and how the current book fits with those, but generally reviewers don’t have space to do this.
What a Review is Not
- A critical essay – a reviewers have limited space so can’t do a critical essay instead;
- unconditional praise – reviewers can fall in love with books but generally they aim to show the book’s strengths and weaknesses;
- pure criticism – some reviewers take the title ‘critic’ too seriously and the resulting review is unbalanced and unhelpful.
Where to send your Book for Review
Generally publishers have a list of magazines and bloggers they send review copies to. If you have self-published a book, you can either send your book to anyone who reviews the genre you’ve written in or select only those reviewers/magazines likely to be sympathetic to your book.
- Check the magazine actually reviews your type of book eg Sphinx only reviews pamphlets, not full collections;
- Check the magazine actually carries reviews – some do a ‘books received’ roundup instead;
- Check guidelines – some magazines are now limiting how frequently they will review books/pamphlets by poets;
- Don’t overlook blogs that also review (like this one!).
Should you React to a Review?
If you read a review, remember:
- The reviewer is entitled to their own opinion;
- The reviewer is entitled to quote whichever part of your book they feel is appropriate to make their point;
- The reviewer has limited space so cannot write a detailed, in-depth discussion of every aspect of your book;
- If a reviewer did not like your book, it does not mean your book is bad;
- Your circle of writing friends who have seen early drafts and commented on the book as a work in progress will have a more positive opinion of your book than someone who had only seen your book and not the effort that went into writing it (and, unfortunately effort is irrelevant for the purposes of a review, the book has to stand or fall on its own merit);
- Limited review outlets means that each review takes on more significance – fewer poetry magazines include reviews so one negative review from three overall reviews takes on more significance than one negative review plus ten positive ones;
- Reviewers are not writing blurbs;
- Do you like the reviewer’s work? If you are not a fan of the reviewer’s work, chances are the reviewer won’t be a fan of yours;
- Even if your book was published as the result of a competition win, the reviewer is still entitled not to like it and this does not mean the competition’s judge was wrong to select your manuscript as the winner or that you have the right to criticise the reviewer’s opinion;
- Your book is permanent, a review will be supplanted by the next blog post or new issue of the magazine where it appeared..
Generally it’s not advisable for writers to respond to reviews (although a thank you letter/email to the writer of a good review is always welcome). Once work has crossed the boundary from private to public readership, writers have to let go and accept that readers will interpret the work according to their own experiences and prejudices and so develop opinions that differ from the original author’s. These opinions may be positive or negative.
If you feel the urge to respond:
- Read the review carefully – are you responding to the actual review or have you managed to take a comment out of context?
- Ask a friend/trusted reader’s opinion of both the review and your response;
- Consider if the reviewer is part of the target market for your book – if you write poetry aimed at an edgy, young urban audience and a middle-aged reviewer didn’t get it, that may actually be a recommendation;
- Is your response based on factual errors (typos, misquotes, the reviewer failing to notice your book was set in the 18th century, the reviewer getting their facts wrong) or on the reviewer’s opinion?
- If there are factual errors or typos in the review, approach the editor so these can be corrected;
- If you want to respond because you disagree with the reviewer’s opinion, stop. Unless you are the type of person who would willingly enter a public slanging match if another happened to mention they didn’t like the colour of your shoes;
- Don’t criticise the reviewer instead;
- Don’t presume to know what the reviewer looks like, what their political affiliations are or even what their class background is, if you get it wrong, you’re the one who will look foolish.
By Emma Lee