Why Do I Need a Book Review?

22nd August 2023
7 min read
23rd August 2023

Writer Chelsea Ennen shares the benefit of book reviews and talks about how to commission a review on the Kirkus Indie programme.

Chelsea Ennen

After years of hard work, drafting and revising in an endless cycle of edits, your masterpiece is finally finished. The epic fantasy novel you’ve been working on since your days of playing Dungeons & Dragons with your college friends, the memoir detailing the highs and lows of your quest to find a long-lost relative, the work of historical fiction that kept you in the library for months getting the details just right—it’s finally ready to send out to the world.

But now that you’re either trying to get an agent in order to pursue a traditional path to publication or going the independent route and trying to bring in readers, you’ve hit a wall.

The hard truth is that there are a lot of people who have written books and are fighting for the attention of the same industry professionals and readers that you are. But one of the first steps to connecting with an agent for traditional publishing or finding your audience in the indie publishing scene is to get as many reviews of your book as possible.

Aim for Objective

Your friends and family might all adore your novel, but their reviews don’t exactly count—at least not to the general public, and certainly not to industry professionals. They’re your loved ones; of course they think you’re the greatest writer ever.

Instead of asking everyone in your group chat to flood your Goodreads page, commission a professional review from an objective, respected industry source. Kirkus Indie offers an affordable range of review packages that guarantee unbiased reviews from a pool of reviewers that includes librarians, booksellers, academics, and other writers.

A Kirkus review tells potential readers that your book has been evaluated by one of the most highly respected and unbiased names in the industry—a description that would not fit a review written by your brother-in-law. And while you may find yourself in the elite group of authors who receive one of the highest honours in publishing—the Kirkus Star—not every word of the review has to be glowing for it to be useful.

It’s understandable to balk at the idea of paying for a critical review. But paying for positive coverage of your book isn’t a review; it’s an advertisement. And no one thinks of ads as objective or balanced.

Even if you receive a mixed review, there’s no reason to fret. Because Kirkus’s readers include booksellers, librarians, and, of course, readers, an important part of your review is the brief summary. Again, this might not seem like the kind of thing you’d want to pay for, but it’s crucial to reach readers.

For example, say you’ve written a high fantasy epic, and a reviewer noted that while your medieval setting isn’t all that interesting, your characters are richly detailed. That won’t be a problem for readers who can’t get enough of fantasy in historical settings. If a reviewer thought your romance was steamy until your heroine chose the wrong partner, readers may be intrigued and want to see if they agree. In other words, if a reader is drawn in by the summary included in the review, they’ll likely read it and decide for themselves whether the criticisms are warranted.

If you’re not happy with the review, you can still feel secure that your money was well spent. Publications like Kirkus offer independent authors the option to keep reviews private, so instead of using it as a review, you can use the feedback to make your book better. For example, if the reviewer thought your characters fell flat, you can see where they need more life. If the reviewer picked out the murderer at the end of chapter one, you can hide more clues or add red herrings.

Objective, unbiased, and fair evaluations are essential for any writer. Whether you use that criticism to your advantage in a rewrite, publish a fair review that has plenty of good things to say, or celebrate a total rave, getting a book review will only help you in your writing career.

Getting the Word Out

There’s another crucial service that an industry-backed book review provides for you: the attention of booksellers, librarians, readers, editors, and agents.

Kirkus is a trade publication with subscribers all across the industry. Librarians read Kirkus reviews to help them make choices about what to order for their readers. Booksellers do the same. Readers go over reviews to pick out their next book.

You could have dozens of rave reviews from total strangers, but that’s not going to help you find readers who aren’t already looking for you. And if you haven’t published your book independently, you likely know all too well the pitfall of ending up in the dreaded slush pile. Including a link to a glowing Kirkus review with your query letter demonstrates to prospective agents that your work has already been vetted and will likely be worth their time.

One of the most valuable things about your review is that professionals and readers trust it more than they trust advertising, and even your own book summary is advertising. Those few words of summary, paired with the criticism, can get your book in the hands of people who will love it the most.

Take Yourself Seriously

It’s all well and good to be someone like Stephen King, whose legions of fans don’t need to know anything about his new book before they order a copy. But for everyone else, even experienced authors with a healthy backlist, reviews are what set your book apart from the crowd.

Remember that your book is not a vanity project. You’ve taken it seriously as a professional endeavour, and you deserve the professional attention that a quality book review offers.

If you’re still hesitant to commission a review, ask yourself if what’s behind that hesitation is simple fear—fear that you aren’t good enough, that you aren’t a “real” writer, that you don’t have what it takes. That voice of fear is unfounded, and you shouldn’t let it bring you down! You deserve to take yourself seriously and to share your book with the world.

Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and her dog. When not writing or reading, she is a fibre and textile artist who sews, knits, crochets, weaves, and spins. Find out more about Kirkus Indie.

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