What About Book Reviews?

You may find this post to be a little controversial because I’m going to gore a sacred cow, book reviews.

Book Reviews of the Past

There was a time that new books lived or died as the result of their reviews. If one could garner an excellent review from a major reviewer/review journal, your success was almost guaranteed. Even a bad review wasn’t all bad because it would guarantee sales to curiosity seekers. Not many folks were in the reviewing business.

They got paid for their work by newspapers and journals who sold subscriptions and advertising to pay for their content. One large review operation that uses between 80-100 volunteers has been funded by grants. In other words, there was a variety of structures that allowed for a paid professional/semiprofessional reviewer corps. Getting the blessings of one of these was considered a real coup and almost essential to obtain bestseller status.

The Modern Review Scene

The old, established scene is still here, but it has been greatly degraded by journals and newspapers going out of business. Still, there are far more reviewers today than ever before because of two things–the internet and online retailers such as Amazon who encourage people to write about what they read. The numbers of the traditional professional reviewers are less, but there are many more who have come to prominance  via blogs. The business side of book reviewing has been changing as well. As I mentioned, professional reviewers got paid by who they worked for. These organizations never charged for their reviews and the idea of having to pay for a review was abhorrent to many. That has definitely changed. Such reviewing giants as Kirkus, Bowkers, and Foreword Magazine now have pay-for-review programs for self-publishers and small presses.

After reading and writing reviews on over 2,000 books for free, without any compensation for my time and talents, I decided to charge $247 for normal books and $47 for children’s picture books’ reviews. I still use sets of rubrics or evaluation guidelines to base my scores, which make my reviews far more objective than many in the industry. That has surprised and upset a few clients, even though my website at http://www.heartlandreviews.com is very clear as to my approach. They thought that by paying, they would be given a fluff review. Sorry, but I just don’t do that. I’m an honest, straight from the shoulder type of guy. My scoring system provides details on a number of different areas which helps writers/publishers understand what may need improvement.

What Do You Do With Reviews

Although reviews in the major journals can be helpful with the library and major chain bookstore markets, there are other ways that any reviews can be useful. They are an important tool for marketing. I have seen excerpts of my reviews on book jackets and covers, inside books, websites, and in display ads in many newspapers and journals, to include the New York Times. They can be used in your current books and in future books, advertising flyers, brochures, and even on brochures. Instead of leaving blank pages at the end of a book to load up a signature, fill them with reviews and marketing information.

The day of the review is not over, although the rules have been changing. You are limited in how you use them only by your imagination.


This is a cross-posting from Bob Spear‘s Book Trends blog.