There is no area of book publicity that has changed more over the last few years then the ‘book review’. Traditional reviews – the kind that you read in the newspaper and are written by professional critics – used to dominate the publishing industry. In years gone by they were so important that book publication dates were always Thursdays, so that review copies could be delivered to reviewers in time to get into in the Sunday papers.
But now these reviews are dying off as newspaper circulations decrease and culture sections get smaller. And at the same time, we all know that the number of books being published is growing exponentially. The result is that the traditional newspaper review tends to be dominated by big authors and publishers – books that are frankly going to sell well anyway. They are certainly prestigious, but do they add to sales? Maybe. Maybe not.
Publishing experts have as many opinions about book reviews as there are books, but as anyone in the publicity business knows, securing ‘traditional’ book reviews is much more difficult than it has ever been. The large advance copy mailings that used to be the bedrock of publicity campaigns are now uncommon. These days the more efficient and economical practice is a smaller, targeted book mailing to very carefully chosen outlets.
But all hope is not lost! Aside from targeted mailings to ‘high priority’ outlets – media with high probability of interest in a specific book – online reviewers are flourishing. In fact, as technology has opened up publishing to almost anyone it has also done the same for reviews. Reviews are everywhere! And not just for books. If you go to a restaurant, you might review it online when you get home. If you get a tooth capped you might critique the dentist. And if you read a book, you let everyone know what you thought about it.
Reviewing is now part of everyone’s every day experience, and while our opinions may not be held in the same esteem (or as well considered) as those of the Literary Editors, there are a heck of a lot more of us. Star ratings on Amazon, Goodreads and other websites are an average of many reviews and you are not just getting one person’s opinion but a crowd-sourced composite. Furthermore, online reviews reach consumers directly and it only takes a tap of a mouse to turn that review into a sale.
And let’s not forget the bloggers. Really good, established bloggers who specialise in a particular subject area or genre can have a large audience that are enthusiastic about the topic and value what the blogger has to say. A good review from an important blogger can drive sales through your target readership.
You cannot rely upon the Internet only for your publicity and marketing campaign - but do use the web as much as you can. Get your name and book on as many sites as possible and make the most of them. For example, on Goodreads you can set up a ‘giveaway’ competition. By giving out a number of copies for free you can encourage winners to review the book once they have read it – thus giving you more reviews and star ratings (hopefully good ones!).
Remember that reviews and online media are only a small part of a publicity and marketing campaign. There is still a valuable role for traditional media outlets in book promotion. A comprehensive campaign that covers a range of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV is crucial for maximum impact. A feature story, interview or author profile will usually lead to more sales than a review of the book in the same newspaper.
The role of the book review has changed and the way that authors think about reviews must change as well. For better or worse, a book is now judged by a collective star rating more than a single considered opinion. Make the most of the viral nature of reviews online, but don’t forget that they are not the only way to generate publicity.