If you write a novel, you have to get it reviewed. A nonfiction book can succeed without reviews if it fills a niche and is written by someone with special expertise. But a novel—even if it's a great story, well-written, edited and professionally designed—won't get far without reviews. Few people will know about it—or believe it's any good—if you don't get it reviewed. So do you just send your book off to the New York Times (like one of my friends suggested I do) and wait for the review to show up? Or do you face reality and look for other possibilities?
More and more newspapers are eliminating their book review sections, and those that remain get hundreds of review requests every week, so unless you're a celebrity, your chances of getting a newspaper review aren't great. And then there are the big pre-publication reviewers—Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and ForeWard Magazine—who require a specially prepared review copy four months in advance of the book's publication date. So if your book is already published, they are out.
And what if your book is self-published? That limits your review opportunities even more. Many newspapers and magazines have a policy of not reviewing self-published books.
In recent years, online book review sites have jumped in to fill the demand. After my novel, Too Near The Edge, was published in October 2006, I sent email queries to 15 online review sites requesting that they review my book. Of those, ten replied with requests for me to send a review copy, which I did. I got five reviews, the first within a few weeks from when I sent the review copy. I did not pay anything for any of these reviews and none of them took more than a month to complete. I did pay one site $22 to post the review their reviewer had written on Amazon and several other online sites. As far as I can see, the reviewers from the sites I used are volunteers who love books and care about writing useful reviews.
But the online review scene is changing all the time. New review sites continue to crop up and those that have been out there a while continue to change their requirements. I just did a search on bookconnector.com—a site where you put in the type of book you've written and it spits out a list of possible reviewers for you. I put in "Fiction," "Mystery / Thriller / Suspense," "Published hardcover or softcover book," and the site came up with 129 review sites for me. And at least one of the sites that reviewed my book quickly and for free a year ago is now saying that they are limiting the number of free reviews they do each week and that they highly recommend that authors pay for an express review to get the review in a timely way.
I'm seeing discussion on author groups about the problems of paid reviews, how this cheapens the process and how these reviews are worthless. Some review sites are careful to say that the author is not paying for the review, but for getting it done quickly or posting it at various online locations. But others, including some that are subsidiaries of the most prestigious reviewers, are openly offering reviews to authors for a fee. For example, Clarion, a fee for review service now offered through ForeWord Magazine, offers authors "a professional review of your title, with the same quality and word length offered in the magazine and very often by the same reviewers" for $305.
And Kirkus Discoveries is "a paid review service that allows authors and publishers of overlooked titles to receive authoritative, careful assessment of their books," for $550 (reviews completed in 3-4 weeks) or $400 (reviews completed in 6-8 weeks).The author has the right to use these reviews as cover blurbs, in publicity materials, etc., and, if the author agrees, the reviewer will post the review in other locations. Assuming you pay the fee and get a good review is the review worth the price? Will it help your book get credibility or will it make you look desperate? Are we better off with no reviews if we can't get them from mainstream sources?