By Jon Land
When it comes to book reviews, we’re looking at the classic good news/bad news scenario. First, the bad: less traditional print media are reviewing books, and the ones that do (albeit less titles) remain as difficult to crack as a bank safe. Now, the good: more review outlets than ever before have sprung up online, many offering more incisive and better written coverage for authors with the initiative to crack this vault instead. If you haven’t already, check out sites like Bookreporter, the New York Journal of Books, and FreshFiction to see what I’m talking about.
So where does that leave a writer in search of building or expanding his or her brand? How can you critically survive, even thrive, in an age of disappearing or shrinking print book pages in outlets as esteemed as the New York Times and USA Today? Let’s explore some ways.
RELATIONSHIPS: Online journals are not limited by space and often have a stable of reviewers specific to the genre who similarly aren’t constrained by word count. They are much more open to submissions from new or independently published authors and enjoy forming the kind of relationships with authors that traditional media ordinarily shirks. Yes, it’s all about relationships, even in this world, and in some cases you may want to get your foot in the door by offering to review. Become part of the family and you know you’ll be taken care of, so long as the outlet covers their own reviewers’ books. Some have a policy against that but most don’t. Reviewing becomes a way of getting your foot in the door and, perhaps, opening that door to other relationships with those who see your reviews and authors who appreciate your coverage. It’s kind of like a blog, only exposed to a much broader and wider-ranging audience.
BLOGS: Speaking of blogs, I think one of the best way to get reviews right around the day and date of your book’s release is to look into booking a Blog Tour. These are exceptionally cost effective in that many blog tour Hosts will assure you of a minimum number of bookings, normally around 15-20, for a flat fee that could be around $500 or even lower. ITW, I think, still offers a member’s discount to Partners in Crime and I’ve enjoyed a great experience with them through a whole bunch of my Caitlin Strong books. For my latest title, BLACK SCORPION: The Tyrant Returns, my publisher Forge retained PR By the Book and I’ve had a great experience with them as well. Not all of these posts are reviews, though; some are interview-based and others ask you to submit your own post. Some prefer to run an excerpt and many love to promote a contest where they give away a signed book. Whatever the case, it’s coverage, the kind that didn’t used to be available on a far-reaching scale but is now. Check out The Noir Journal, The Qwillery, or Literary Inklings and you’ll get an idea of the quality and presentation I’m talking about.
PEER REVIEWS: However you view the relative deceit quotient of these, we can’t deny that a number of both traditional and independent authors have furthered their careers by campaigning to amass huge numbers of reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. By campaigning, especially as far as Amazon goes, I speak of getting a hundred of your closest, and maybe not so closest friends, to post brief reviews of your book timed as close to publication time as possible. I’ve never actively pursued this myself, but I get it. The process is about building your brand, by getting additional numbers to recognize you and pay attention because so many already have. A lot easier, in other words, to get people to jump on the bandwagon you’ve built for yourself. I’ve heard Amazon frowns on this process now, but have seen no evidence to that effect. And I know a number of authors for whom this became a crucial building block of their ultimate success.
QUANTITY AND QUALITY: The point is to make up for in quantity of reviews what some used to get with a single big hit, the kind that has become elusive to the point of being near impossible. If you have the foresight and ambition to be reading this, there’s no reason why you can’t snare at least a dozen solidly and professionally written reviews for your next title. So you may not have a New York Times pull quote to use, but you may well have a dozen of them which isn’t so bad either. And here’s the thing to remember: The process builds upon itself. Each book adds more volume to that which you’ve already established. You’re building your brand, remember.
THE TRADITIONAL ROUTE: The big media brands are difficult to crack, no doubt about it. So are the Sunday papers that still run original reviews. There’s nothing wrong with approaching them, as long as you keep your expectations realistic. I’ve published 37 books and have been reviewed by the New York Times once—and I consider myself fortunate for that. But I feel I have a much better shot at landing the Times, along with the other literary brass rings, precisely because of the coverage I’ve amassed by following the steps covered above. It’s a matter of laying the groundwork for bigger things ahead, and there are plenty of traditional, well-respected outlets you can start with like RT Reviews, Suspense Magazine, CrimeSpree, and Mystery Scene. You could even look into some very prestigious sites that offer paid reviews—what better investment to make, after all, than in yourself and your brand?
Look, if there was a magic review bullet, I would’ve fired it myself a long time ago. But the simple fact is there isn’t. It takes work, hard work, carried out with the attitude that no site or blog is too small to pursue. If a hundred people see the review of your book, that’s a hundred people who’ve now been exposed to and will hopefully remember you. Who knows, they might even buy your book. And if they don’t buy this one, there’s always the next.
Jon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor. Jon often bases his novels and scripts on extensive travel and research as well as a twenty-five year career in martial arts.
He is an associate member of the US Special Forces and frequently volunteers in schools to help young people learn to enjoy the process of writing. Jon is the Vice-President of marketing of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and is often asked to speak on topics regarding writing and research. In addition to writing suspense/thrillers John is also a screenwriter with his first film credit coming in 2005.
Jon works with many industry professionals and has garnered the respect and friendship of many author-colleagues. He loves storytelling in all its forms. John currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island and loves hearing from his readers and aspiring writers.
To learn more about Jon, please visit his website.