Book reviews ~ yay or nay?

For three years, I ran Rainbow Reviews, which became one of the largest online review sites for GLBT fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. When I started JMS Books LLC
, I no longer had the time or energy to maintain so many different sites. And to be honest, RR never really grew to be what I had envisioned starting out. I wanted more reviews of all genres, and not just gay erotic romance. Still, it was a lot of fun running a review site, particularly one so popular.

A lot of new authors aren’t really sure exactly how to get their books reviewed. While it’s nice to think you’d like to submit review copies to large publications like Out or Entertainment Weekly, the truth of the matter is that those magazines need advance reader copies (or ARCs) of books up to six months prior to publication. Plus, they very rarely seem to review indie, small press, or self-published titles. Not to mention that the cost of buying hard copies of the books and shipping them to the magazines is prohibitive if no one is even going to bother writing a review.

When you publish a shorter e-book, there isn’t even a hard copy to send into the reviewers. That’s when online book review sites become your best friend. There are so many sites out there, for every genre imaginable ~ a quick Google search of “book reviews” will show you as much. When submitting your book for review, keep in mind the following:

  • Follow the review site’s guidelines. Don’t send a gay book if the site doesn’t review GLBT titles; don’t send poetry if they don’t review it. Many times it isn’t that they don’t want to review certain types of books; they just don’t have the reviewers or resources available to do so.
  • Don’t pay for a review. This is a gimmick, pure and simple. 99.9% of online review sites review for free ~ they get “paid” in the copies of books they receive for review, or they generate revenue through banner ads or other promotional offers. While I agree with paying for ad space or other promotion, I don’t agree with paying to get reviewed.
  • Do not submit your book and then expect the review site to buy their copy. This isn’t how you solicit a review. If you want a site to review your book, you have to send them a copy of it! Yes, it sounds elementary, but you’d be surprised how often new authors sent me a review request at Rainbow Reviews and never bothered to submit an actual copy of the book.
  • Along this line, send the format the reviewer prefers. Many sites accept PDF only; some want a text-friendly version (such as HTML); some want only print.
  • Don’t mail in blind review copies. Contact someone at the review site first (either using their submission form or emailing their review coordinator) and provide at least the title, genre, and blurb for your book. Then follow the directions ~ if they want you to send a copy immediately, do so. Otherwise, wait for them to ask for a copy.
  • Once you’ve submitted a book for review, be patient. You don’t make any friends pestering a review site about if and when the review will be posted.
  • Most importantly, when your book is reviewed, read the review with an open mind. Realize not every review will be glowing, and even poorly written or unfavorable reviews may be mined for a positive line or two you can quote on your website. Even a bad review can sell books.
  • Try to favor review sites that accept electronic book files. They cost you nothing to send. Print books are rarely reviewed, particularly if sent to places that receive 100+ titles a day to review. Online review sites are your friends ~ your name and title will be picked up on search engines and raise the percentage of your search rankings, making your book rise in the results generated when people Google your name or book title.
  • Many online review sites offer additional resources to authors. Once you’ve submitted a book for review, request an author interview, or join the site’s Yahoo! group to help promote your book. Sign up for chats and offer free copies of your book in giveaways and promotions. This helps build your name among readers online. Romance and erotic romance sites are particularly helpful in this respect.

Above all, remember that a review is nothing more than one person’s opinion. You’ve heard the saying ~ opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. Don’t get angry with a review site or reviewer if you don’t like their review ~ remember, you requested it. You didn’t ask them to like it, and most sites don’t guarantee that they will. Writing vicious e-mails or comments to the site will only make you look foolish and unprofessional.

Instead, if the reviewer takes time to read your book, write a review, and notify you the review has been posted, the least you can do is take two seconds to reply with a quick thanks. It will go a long way to creating a positive reputation for yourself online, and may even win you a fan in the process.