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The Magic of Awards and Reviews by Amy Edelman

Marketing a book is a little like making great chocolate chip cookies.  There are certain ingredients that are important to include—chocolate chips, for one—and others that might seem optional (brown sugar?).  

But it’s the brown sugar (or in this case, reviews and, to a lesser extent, awards), that make the rest of the marketing efforts possible.
The fact is, when you are promoting anything (and I say this as a publicist with 25+ years experience) you need to be able to illustrate a point of difference between you and the thousands of other authors who also have a book about, say, a girl in love with a guy who likes to tie her up.
And saying that your book is different is not enough.  You need to have the proof—and reviews and/or awards are a great place to start—to back it up.  
As you probably know, there are generally two kinds of book reviews: reader and third party.  Reader reviews are ostensibly done by people who read the book and honestly report on what they’ve read.  Ideally they have no stake in how they respond.  Third party reviews are written by professional reviewers, who again, have no stake in what they’re reading.
Let’s tackle reader reviews first, because they’re usually easier to come by.  The absolutely first thing you should do when your book is ready is to reach out to everyone you know who is likely to read and review it (not necessarily read, review and LOVE it).  Why is this important?  Because a crowded Amazon page is a compelling Amazon page.  Also, some blog tour services won’t work with authors whose books have less than a specified number of reviews, so aim for getting as many reader reviews as possible.  
But, even if you have a ton of reader reviews, they are not as weighty as a third party reviews.  Why not?  Because while Amazon and GoodReads are filled with them, the recent spate of sock puppetry—fake reviews posted by people paid or otherwise motivated to do so and designed to mess with the ratings of self and trad pubbed books—make them less than reliable.
Thing is, trad pubbed authors are able to fall back on the mainstream, third party reviews whereas indie authors…not so much.  To that end I recently launched a Kickstarter project called Rabble that, if it gets funded, will provide aggregated book reviews from trusted, verified sources for both traditionally published and indie titles.  
In the meantime, what’s an indie author to do?  
  1. If indie authors have one clear disadvantage over their trad pubbed brethren it is not being able to get reviewed in mainstream outlets.  
Which leaves you three choices:
a) You position your book as being published by a small press, which in reality, it is, and send it along to Kirkus (https://www.kirkusreviews.com/) and Publisher’s Weekly (http://publishersweekly.com/) the way trad publishers do.
What I didn’t realize until a recent conversation with an ace book publicist (you can find her via IndieReader Publishing Services) is that, if instead of publishing your book(s) under your own name, you create an imprint.  That way you can legitimately sail under the radar of Kirkus and PW, who will then review your book for no fee (NOTE: You will need to send them your title 3-4 months in advance of your expected pub date.  Also, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that either outlet will review your book or that they will give it a positive review.  And since you’re submitting as a publisher, both outlets will post it to their sites/publications either way.  
b) You pay for a review from a reputable source (again, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly come to mind)
Now I can hear at least 50% of you ask indignantly “why should I have to pay for a review when trad pubbed authors don’t?”  Well you can find my full answer here ( http://indiereader.com/2012/08/everybody-pays-for-it/), the highlights of which are, “Professional reviews for all published books—whether trad or indie—are, directly or indirectly, paid for.  Traditional publishers not inclined to paying outright for services find other, more socially acceptable ways of racking up positive reviews. On an author’s behalf, publishers, editors, agents and PR people may attempt to develop relationships with reviewers before a book has been critiqued. Ther
e are fancy lunches and plenty of swag. If a book has been reviewed favorably by a critic in the past, you can bet that the publisher will send new manuscripts in their direction in the hopes of receiving another good review. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “We’ve already established what kind of woman you are, madam.  Now we’re just haggling about the price.”
The reality of the situation remains that the world is not a fair place and if you want something bad enough, you may have to pay for it.  An upside of paying for a review is that if it’s not positive, most outlets will give you the option not to post it.  But a great review from Kirkus or PW (or another reputable source), can be totally worth its weight in PR gold and used everywhere—Amazon page, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to separate your book from the rest of the pack.  
c) Seek out reputable blogs that will do it for free  
Many great bloggers have stepped in to fill the void left by mainstream reviewers who refuse to read an indie.  Trouble is, there aren’t enough bloggers to read all the books that are sent their way to review.  My suggestion is do some research and make a list of the bloggers that have reviewed best selling indies (check out their  Amazon pages.  You can find a up-to-date list here… http://indiereader.com/the-list-where-indies-count/and Rabble will also be a resource).  Be professional when reaching out.  Write a cover letter, include the book’s title and genre and–most importantly—include your contact info (especially an email address) so that they can get back to you.  Be patient.  
2. As far as Award’s go, the point of getting chosen as a winner is the same as with reviews: you want to get people’s attention for your book in a crowded sea of other titles.  
That said, there are many Awards/contests out there and you should carefully read the small print and decide for yourself which make sense.  If there is one person reviewing what is probably a ton of books I would question the validity of said award.  Check out the judges.  Check out the reputation of the organization sponsoring the awards.  Check out the media generated for the winners.  Check out the prizes and see if there’s something tangible, like a review.  If you get only cash you’re essentially back where you started from.   
In the end there is no substitute for writing a great book. But in order to get attention for that book, reviews and awards can definitely make a difference.  

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Amy Edelman is a publicist and a writer.  She self-published her first book, “The Fashion Resource Directory”, back in the 80s, long before POD and Amazon and e-readers roamed the land.  Her second and third books (“The Little Black Dress” and “Manless in Montclair”), were traditionally published (by Simon & Schuster and Shaye Areheart Books, an imprint of Crown).  Having the good fortune to have published books both ways has given Amy a first-hand look at the advantages and drawbacks of each.
As both an author and a publicist with over 20 years experience, Amy understands how difficult it is  for all authors to get exposure.  She came up with the idea of IndieReader, “the essential consumer guide to self-published books and the people who write them” for two reasons.  The first was to create a more level playing field for authors who choose to go it on their own.  The second was to give book-lovers the opportunity to discover great works that they might not have otherwise have found.


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This Post Has 23 Comments
  1. Thanks for the article. I realized before I selfpubbed my novel, that it would be work to get the book noticed. I approached my local newspaper and got an article about it published, got the novel into the quarterly my wonder local indie bookstore publishes and I approached my local library for getting it on their fiction shelf. At this point, free. Getting third reviews meant spending money, though one did not.

    First, I met a reviewer who came to speak at my local writing group. She is still able to get reviews into several newspapers in my region. I was fortunate to have her accept my novel for review and one came out in the newspaper about two months later. I then looked around for other places.

    PW Select is a couple of years old. It’s for self-pub authors. It is costly to get listed in their quarterly with no promise that your book would be selected to be reviewed, but mine did. I use that good review and the listing often.

    A new book reviewer is Chanticleer Book Reviews (alert — I won a grand prize in their novel contest), but from what I see, their reviewers are tops in their genre, many retired professional editors and publishing experts. They give honest reviews. Entering one of their contests is another less expensive way to get a review.

    I did enter the EPIC ebook award and won in historical fiction last year. I also entered others and nothing happened. For me, it was accessing what monies I had and if it would help my novel get noticed. It’s been a huge learning curve. Which is why I’m here in IndieReCon.

  2. Thank you for the tips, Amy! Is there a good resource to find awards that are open to indie authors? I’ve found a few through word of mouth, but I haven’t found a place to easily find them.

    1. Yes, I agree on that last sentence! 🙂 Very important to research the contest and decide which are worth the money. Thanks again! I’ll continue to keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities!

  3. Wonderful and informative post, Amy, thank you so much! I have published a poetry book, and am looking for honest reviews – a difficult thing to do because it’s such a narrow niche; we need people to read more poetry! Thanks again; I’m really enjoying IndieReCon! ~ Julie

  4. This is a great article, Amy–thank you! I think I’ve done some things right, but have totally missed the boat on others. Thanks to your article, its easier for me to make sense of which ones I need to work on!

  5. I had a question for Amy, if she has a chance to answer it . . .

    Will Kirkus and/or Publisher’s Weekly review a book that has been out for a few months? Or will they only review prior to release?

    Many thanks for all the information, Amy! 🙂

    1. Thing is, most self-pubbed books don’t have official pub dates like trad pubbed books do, so if you want to try for a free review from PW or Kirkus you should back up a bit before you push the “publish” button and reach out to them at least 3-4 months in advance. If you’re paying for the review you can just send the book when it’s done.

      Hope this answers your question!

    1. Thx Jane! As far as whether an imprint is the same as a pseudonym…not quite. I mean choose a name that you feel like you can continue to use to publish all your books (if you write more than one)…similar to what S&S or Random House do.

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