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March 11, 2016

This month, BookLife’s panel of indie experts field self-publishing questions submitted by authors and readers via email and Twitter, and deliver answers on getting self-published books reviewed and getting discovered.

Honest Reviews

Asked via email and Twitter by multiple authors: Most reviewers won't review self-published titles. How can I get a fair and honest book review without breaking the bank?

Bestselling author Hugh Howey: It sounds like you’re interested in reviews from book bloggers and other media outlets. It might soothe your frustration to know that very few of these outlets can move appreciable numbers of books with a review. It just won’t kickstart your sales. Reader reviews are far more important, so try to win your audience over. If you are dead set on getting a review from a blogger, use your writing to get a foot in the door. If you can’t hook the reviewer with an email, the book probably won’t win them over either. Perhaps write your request as a work of short fiction, or have your protagonist appeal to the reviewer. Be creative. Stand out!

Book designer, author, and blogger Joel Friedlander: There are thousands of review possibilities, so many that there’s no reason for most authors to pay for a review. Spend some time really honing your query letter, it will make a big difference, and concentrate on reviewers who already have an interest in your topic -- you’ll have much more success.

Publishing veteran and blogger Jane Friedman: I don’t recommend paying for reviews. Start sending out print and/or digital review copies well in advance of your publication date, the same way a traditional publisher would. Use the book review resources at Martin Crosbie’s site. Then do giveaways after your launch. The review-building process is of course difficult for a first-time author, but once you have a fanbase, it will become easier and easier.

Lulu VP of marketing Dan Dillon: Send copies of your book to your super fans, beta readers, most influential friends -- the people you’re relying on to ensure your book is the best it can be. You may also want to send a free copy to bloggers who write about what your book is about. Invite these people to write a review for you. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Bestselling author and blogger Joanna Penn: One of the best ways to get reviews when you're just starting out is to put the book for free and then advertise the freebie using one of the many email services. You need reviews to get on Bookbub, so start with the smaller sites...You should also start building an email list of people who enjoy your books and you can ask them for reviews in the future. Always ask for honest reviews so people can leave a one star if they want. You can also use Goodreads book giveaways.

Smashwords founder Mark Coker: Before you do anything, put yourself in the shoes of a potential reviewer. They’re inundated with review requests. Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, and thousands of authors are desperate to tap into the reviewer’s platform and reach their audience. How do they select books? They’re looking for super-awesome books that will please their audience. The challenge is to convince them that your book is super-awesome for their audience...

"The number one tool for any new or unknown indie author is the giveaway."
The first step, therefore, is to write a super-awesome book. Get it professionally edited if you can afford it. One well-known romance reviewer -- a woman with the power to catapult a book to bestsellerdom -- told me that if an indie author mentions in their pitch that the book was professionally edited -- especially by an editor with strong credentials -- she’s much more likely to consider it for review. One reason most reviewers primarily review traditionally published titles is that these titles are assumed to have been professionally edited. With indie titles, reviewers make no such assumptions.

Getting Readers' Attention

Anonymous asks via email: I'm active on social media, but I'm not sure how to get people to take a chance on my writing?

Bestselling author Bella Andre: I've always believed that the best way to promote your book is by writing the next book. Once you have a four to five books out, and especially if they are in a connected world/series, then you are best able to begin promoting your books to readers. You can try a temporary sale on the first book. You can buy some online ads through companies like BookBub to increase the visibility of your books with new readers. It's also key to have great covers and book descriptions to entice new readers to give your work a try.

Hugh Howey: Use your writing. If you want to make a living at this, you should be able to craft blog posts that engage readers, tweets that cause click-throughs, and teasers that arouse curiosity. Can you sell your book in a single sentence? If not, keep working on that sentence. And keep writing more books.

Jane Friedman: The number one tool for any new or unknown indie author is the giveaway, whether that’s through Amazon, your own site, or a marketing service like BookBub. Also ensure your book’s metadata is accurate and specific (your categories, tags, and description) -- to make sure readers who are searching for your work’s themes, settings, or characters will be more likely find it.

Joanna Penn: Having a book for free is the very best way to get people to try your work. I have my first in series free on all e-book stores and I give away a novella on my site to entice people to sign up for my email list. You can also do giveaways on Goodreads and other sites. Connecting with book bloggers can also be a really good way to get your book in front of readers.

Have a Question for Our Indie Experts?

To ask us a question, simply find BookLife on Twitter or Facebook, let us know what you need to know, and tag your question #indieexperts. Every week, our editors will select the best questions and our panelists' answers will be posted on BookLife. And, if social media isn't your thing, feel free to email questions to

Some questions and answers have been edited or condensed.