The Indie Author's Guide to Free Reviews
These online resources help authors connect with bloggers and writers who review indie books for free.For an indie author trying to draw attention to her recently published or soon-to-be-published book, reviews are hugely beneficial. Commentary from bloggers or critics—even when the assessment is mixed—make a book seem more legitimate, while at the same time offering insight into its genre, subject matter, style, and potential audience. But, in an increasingly crowded indie market, it can be difficult to get noticed—and thus, reviewed—on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. And paid review services can be expensive, adding to the already significant financial strain many encounter when self-publishing a book.
So what’s a budget-conscious, review-seeking indie author to do? These online resources help authors connect with bloggers and writers who review indie books for free.
[Note: this article was originally published in July 2014 and was updated on May 8, 2017.]
What to Expect and How to Prepare
Whether an indie author is researching book bloggers using a reviewer directory -- such as IndieView -- or submitting a book directly to a blog known for reviewing self-published titles -- such as Dear Author -- she should be sure to read each site’s review policies carefully. Directories sometimes have guidelines for contacting bloggers, and individual reviewers and/or book blogs will often have a checklist of requirements for submissions (e.g., print format only, no books of a certain genre, etc.). Self-publishing expert Joel Friedlander, writing for Writer’s Digest, also suggests having jacket images, a cover letter, an author photo, an author bio, a press release, and a sufficient number of hard copies (if you are publishing in print) at the ready.
Reviewer directories provide lists of bloggers and writers who review self-published books, often for free. Here are three examples of the reviewer directories you can find online:
IndieViewFirst launched in 2010, IndieView is a site that connects indie authors with volunteer reviewers. In order to find a potential reviewer, an author can visit the site’s directory, which lists the names, websites, genre preferences, and review policies of each of its more than 300 reviewers. After finding a promising match, an author can then contact the reviewer directly, typically via her website. IndieView does a good job of maintaining a robust and respectful reviewing community. In order to remain on its list of reviewers, members must “actively post reviews,” accept e-book submissions, and never charge for reviews. In addition, many of the reviewers will post their reviews to sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and Shelfari. IndieView’s directory model can prove time-consuming, since an author will have to research each reviewer’s site, policy, and past reviews individually. But, given its size and the sheer variety of genre preferences represented, it’s a good place to start.
Book Blogger List
The Book Blogger List uses a model similar to that of IndieView, providing a directory of book bloggers (organized by genre preference) that accept submissions from authors. The biggest upside to the Book Blogger List is that it requires all of its bloggers to remain active: Blogs are monitored every two months, and lapses in activity result in removal from the site’s directory. On the downside, the site doesn’t explicitly require its bloggers to review for free (although most do), so authors should be sure to read each blogger’s review policy carefully. And, as with IndieView and other reviewer directories, it’s important to respect each blogger’s stated genre preferences. “Don’t approach a blogger who only reads children’s lit to read your non-fiction business book,” the site recommends.
While it remains true that traditional media doesn't regularly review self-published books, this is -- very slowly -- beginning to change. In 2012, the New York Times reviewed a self-published title for the first time. And in 2014, the Guardian ran The Guardian Legend Times Self-Published Book of the Month, which showcased the best self-published books. Still reviews of self-published titles from traditional media are few and far between.
In May of 2014, Publishers Weekly launched BookLife, a site aimed at indie authors that allows self-publishers to submit their books to PW for review consideration for free. To date, the magazine has reviewed more than 1,700 self-published titles. Additionally, BookLife features how-to articles for self-publishers and an annual contest for indie authors with a writing stipend of $5,000 going to the winner.
Blogs and Individual Reviewers
An indie author can also skip the directories and reach out to book blogs directly. The following blogs have a reputation for reviewing self-published books. They are, of course, only examples: as Indie View and Book Blogger List’s directories attest, bloggers willing to review self-published titles number in the hundreds.
Dear Author is a popular book blog that covers mainly romance, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction. According to owner Jane Litte, the site’s writers review around 30 books per month, some of which are self-published. Though “only a tiny fraction” of indie submissions receives reviews on the site, Litte says there are a few things authors can do to stand out. “Authors should familiarize themselves with the review policies of the blog,” she says. “We receive a number of submissions from self-published memoirists or nonfiction authors or authors of short stories and poetry. We don’t review those books.”
In addition, she says, “Having a professional cover, blurb and excerpt can elevate your self-published book above others…Don't give the reviewer a reason to say no…because [of] a poorly crafted and edited blurb, an amateur cover, or a less than gripping excerpt.” Finally, “knowing the audience for your pitch can go a long way in pushing your query ahead of others,” Litte says. “It might take extra time, but targeted pitches are better than mass mailings which many bloggers, including myself, routinely delete.”
Maryse Black is a book blogger with a sizable fan base (more than 40,000 Likes on Facebook and a mailing list of more than 6,000) who reviews self-published books on her website, Maryse’s Book Blog. Her preferred genres range from young adult and fantasy to contemporary fiction. While she doesn’t guarantee reviews, she does provide helpful information about what types of books she’s drawn to, and, as a rule, always reviews free of charge. A review from Black can be a significant boon: According to the Associated Press, her review of New Adult indie author Colleen Hoover’s book Slammed helped spur the book’s popularity; it went on to appear on the New York Times bestsellers list for e-books