Book Trends Blog

January 4, 2011

Getting Reviews by Bob Spear

An oft asked question by authors and small presses is, “Why can’t I get any reviews?” Let me share some insider info about the book review process and how to swim with the current.

Back in the early 2000s, I began writing reviews of books we sell in our bookstore to send to the American Booksellers Association for their consideration for inclusion in BookSense (now called IndieBound) reading lists that were sent to 1,200+ independent bookstores every month. I did enough of that with positive feedback to convince me I should start a book review company, , in June of 2002.

It didn’t take long for the word to get around that I was willing to take on all genres in both book and manuscript form. I developed a rubric-based review methodology, which I taught to a number of bright volunteers. The submissions began rolling in, and I and my helpful friends started picking and choosing books for review and posting them on line, all for free. I developed submission guidelines and expected that folks would abide by them—WRONG!  The following will explain some of the reasons why people find it hard to get a review.

Would you submit to an agent or a publisher without first checking to see what they are interested in repping/publishing and how they want to see submissions? You would think certainly, yet so many writers do that without doing their due diligence. Not doing so is just another filter to weed you out. The same is true for book reviewers. If a reviewer says, please don’t send such and such genres, why would one send something in that group and even try to convince the reviewer to take it on anyway. That raises hackles very quickly, and no, don’t expect him or her to send back your book, whether it’s on their dime or yours. Reviewers just don’t have time. I would get 400+ submission requests a month plus a large number of books that were sent without requesting permission.

Following submission guidelines and requesting first (if that is what the guidelines require) is just common courtesy. Initially, it would concern me, but I quickly developed an awfully hard nose. If the author didn’t submit as I wanted it, the submission went into the trash can without an explanation. I just didn’t have the time to explain the obvious. Oh, so you think you know the reviewer’s guidelines? You’ve submitted to him before, so now you’re an old pro—NOT! Conditions and guidelines change for good reasons. Before you send out another submission to someone who has reviewed you before, make sure the rules haven’t changed. I began charging a fee for book reviews about three years ago. Why and how are clearly laid out on my website, yet I still get submissions from people who never bothered to check first. If there is no accompanying fee, I toss it—Read the Instructions!

You may ask, why would so many waste their books? Primarily because of mailing lists of reviewers. Some of them are offered free and some are sold by book marketing folks. Let the buyer beware. Don’t assume these lists have been vetted and are totally up to date. Again, do your due diligence. Check first before sending out your books blindly to a list.

What Else?

OK, so it’s common sense to learn the rules and to play by them. What else can you do to better your chances? Begin reading reviews on and off line. Look for reviews which are similar to or related to your book. If they got reviewed by a reviewer, maybe yours might be attractive to him as well. Be sure to refer to the other book and where you saw its review—reviewers are only human and like to be noticed, too. If you’ve read the other book, mention what you liked (don’t tear it down) and suggest yours has some attractive features as well. WARNING! Never, NEVER,NEVER, enclose a bunch of reviews by other reviewers or write one yourself and suggest the reviewer might find it helpful. BIG TIME INSULT! Let the reviewer do her job without anyone else’s unwanted help.

Don’t place any time constraints for when you need it. Your needs and timing are not his. Don’t bug them about if and when. You’ll get it if and when you get it. The exception to this is if you paid a fee for a review. That is a different situation entirely.

Get Real

If no one knows you, don’t expect much interest from major reviewing sites and journals. They have enough to do keeping up with major, established writers. Remember over a quarter of a million new books are being published each year and more are on the way. It’s hard to get noticed in a crowd like that. Don’t be afraid to send a strong query. You might get lucky, but don’t submit without asking. Get on Google, etc and search for lesser known reviewers and query them. A review is a review. Remember, it’s not so much about who sees it where, it’s about getting quotes that can be used on marketing pieces and book covers. Let me show you what I mean. The following is a review I did for free for one of my twitter followers, the I will show you how her mother took what I said and turned it into a strong NYTs advertisement:

Title: The Fire Stone
Author: Riley Carney
Publisher and/or Distributor: Book Light Press
Publisher Website:
Pages: 305
ISBN: 9780984130702
Price: $20.95
Publishing Date: 2010
Reader: Bob Spear
Rating: 5 hearts
This YA Fantasy is exceptionally remarkable in that it is the first in a series (Reign of the Elements) of five books, with a new series soon to begin, all written by a sixteen-year-old young lady from Colorado. It features a Cinderella-like human boy, Matt, a magical giant bird-like Alorath named Sam, two elves, a dwarf, a wizard, and a warrior. Matt has been abused by his parents all his fifteen years. In between his many chores, he has been taught by the dwarf, and now the wizard steps forward to watch over Matt and guide him on a totally new path on his own. He can’t help but pick up more friends along the way to saving small kingdoms and searching for the first elemental talisman—the Fire Stone. All the time he and his friends and mentors fight against forces of the Dark Lord in a race to obtain the stone. Matt discovers he is capable of magic and also learns how to fight to defend himself and the forces of good.

Ms Carney reminds me so much of Christopher Paolini and his youthful start. She includes the best elements of a good fantasy without going overboard. Her characters are likeable and realistic. The plot has plenty of twists, with friends and family really being totally what they did not seem. There is humor, coming of age, values, and logic buried throughout the story. It’s a pleasant read for young and old. We rated this book five hearts.

And Now the NYTs Ad:

Ages 9-14 This YA Fantasy is exceptionally remarkable in that it is the first of a series (Reign of the Elements) of five books, all written by a 16-year-old.

Ms Carney reminds me so much of Christopher Paolini and his youthful start. She includes the best elements of a good fantasy without going overboard. Her characters are likeable and realistic. The plot has plenty of twists…There is humor, coming of age, values, and logic buried throughout the story. Five Stars

Bob Spear, Author/Reviewer,


A NY agent contacted them and asked for a book to read. I’m not sure what came of it, but now you see why reviews used properly are important factors in your marketing plan.

Getting reviews and using them is a matter of common sense. Picture what a reviewer’s life must be like—harried and aggravated by people who come across rudely ignorant of the process. Then, try to structure any and all of your contacts with them in a friendly, no pressure, and courteous manner. The old saw about catching flies with honey applies.



  1. I have two questions, Bob. (1) Would you want to give me a review on my short story collection? and (2) Isn’t it true that if you are viewed as being self-published by a major reviewer such as the NY Times, Library Journal, or Publisher’s Weekly, they will just toss your book in the trash, unread?

    Comment by Tom Mach — January 4, 2011 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Tom, as to the first question, let’s talk off line about that. Re your second question: yes, pretty much so. That’s why I say query them first. It’s cheaper for them to toss your letter than a book and you never know. Some self-publishers are earning good reps and respect. All this is why I urge you to seek lesser known reviewers and use their reviews for shameless marketing. Librarians pay attention to the big reviewers, but most of my bookstore’s customers could care less about all that. In fact, in today’s tea party environment, we folks in flyover country are being listened to a lot more.

    Comment by bobspear — January 4, 2011 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

  3. This is a timely post for me as this year my debut novel will be published and my first short story anthology too. Both are being published by small presses, so I am ready, willing and able to get out there and look for ways to get my books reviewed as neither have a huge internatioanl marketing department.

    I’m grateful for the simple, clear and practical advice, thanks!

    Comment by Emma Newman — January 5, 2011 @ 6:22 pm | Reply

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