Do This, Not That – Professional Reviews in the Time of COVID

By Keri-Rae Barnum

As we get ready to wave goodbye to 2020, there are several things we hope don’t make a reappearance in the new year. TP shortages. Quarantine haircuts. Thanksgiving get togethers that require actual pants. (You can eat so much more pie in elastic waist pajama pants.)

But there is one thing COVID-19 and mass stay-at-home orders accelerated this year that I really hope sticks – digital submissions for professional reviews.

Why Reviews Matter

An October 2020 article posted on Qualtrics says that “91% of 18-34 year olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 93% of consumers say that online reviews influenced their purchase decisions.” And, as Beth Barany pointed out in her article Get Book Reviews: Your Novel Can Always Find New Audiences asking for and building up your bank of online reader reviews is an important ongoing aspect of book marketing.

However, there is another type of review that is just as important to your book’s success: Professional Reviews.

The Importance of Professional Reviews

Receiving a positive review from a well-known review or news outlet is practically more valuable than gold when launching a new book. From gracing the cover of your book to being used on marketing sheets and in your online book descriptions, a great quote from Publishers Weekly or a starred Library Journal review can net you a lot of mileage.

A professional review lends authority to your writing and provides social proof of the quality of your work. But you can’t receive a review from a professional third-party if you don’t ask for one and there is a right – and a wrong – way to make your request.

The Old Way of Submitting for Reviews

Early in 2020 if you had asked me how much lead time you needed to pitch professional reviews, I would have told you 6 months:

  • 4-6 weeks to order print Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of your book
  • 1-2 weeks to put together review kits complete with:
    • the physical book
    • beautifully printed marketing sheets
    • a cover letter
  • another week for shipping times

As you can imagine, pitching a single title to 10-12 review outlets could easily become a costly and time-consuming project.

And did I mention that these kits would need to arrive at each review outlet a minimum of 3-4 months before the book was scheduled to be published? That’s right… if you wanted reviews for a December title, you had to begin the process of pitching your book for professional reviews no later than June. Yikes.

What Changed

When cities were shut down and stay-at-home orders were issued, the publishing industry adapted. Professional review outlets that previously required physical ARCs began requesting digital submissions. This has been a game changer.

Rather than 6 months lead time and several hundred dollars of investment, an author or publisher can now submit their book for reviews in a single day, at no cost and with as little as 3 months lead time before their pub date.

Digital Submissions for Professional Reviews

Is your expected publication date after March 2021? As of today (December 14, 2020) you have time to submit for professional reviews.

Keep in mind that each review outlet has specific instructions and criteria for review consideration. Digital submissions do not mean careless or lazy submissions, so do your homework and remember the devil is in the details.

For the best chance at receiving a professional review, authors should research the best review outlets for their book and the submission guidelines for that specific review outlet. While not universal, many outlets require the following:

  • Cover letter with appropriate contact information
  • Marketing plan
  • Designed book sheet including details such as:
    • ISBN
    • price
    • pub date
    • book synopsis
  • An informational sheet on the author
  • Book launch press release or announcement
  • A jpg of the front cover of the book
  • A digital ARC (PDF and ePub files are the most requested)

Additionally, publications and review outlets may have multiple editorial departments. It is important that you know who to send your book to because if you send your children’s picture book to the adult nonfiction review editor, it will most likely be discarded. It is your responsibility to ensure that you send the appropriate materials to the correct person for serious review consideration.

Recommended Professional Book Reviewers

Publisher’s Weekly (BookLife)

Booklist

Kirkus Reviews

Book Reporter

Shelf Awareness

Foreword Reviews

American Book Review

LA Review of Books

City Book Review

New York Times

Library Journal

Midwest Book Review

A Parting Word

Now that I’ve told you all about how amazing professional reviews are, I’m going to leave you with a word of caution.

A professional review quote can add credibility to your book as well as create opportunity for sales. If you have the lead time, you should absolutely pitch your book for professional reviews. However, getting professional review is a bit like winning the lottery. The chances are slim. BUT, if you don’t play you can’t win… and if you can play for free, why not?

Want to read more articles from Keri-Rae Barnum? Click here.
 
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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