In the massive world of publishing, where up to 1 million books are published every year,1 getting the word out about a book can be a herculean task. Ostensibly, that’s where review services come in, so today, we’re discussing the largest purveyors of those services: what they provide, how they provide it, and whether they’re worth an author’s time, money, and patience.
First is Kirkus Reviews, which has been around in various forms since 1933. The services it offers are designed to help publishers, agents, librarians, and readers make decisions on purchasing, stocking, and listing. According to the Kirkus website, the company published over 10,000 reviews in 2015, and with an average website impression of 1.5 million per month,2 those reviews are being seen by an enormous variety of people, some of whom are undoubtedly looking for new authors to champion.
What makes Kirkus even more impressive is the fact that in 2005, it began a service specifically designed for self-published books—Kirkus Indie—that allows authors to pay a fee in return for an honest review.3 It is important to be aware that the fee ($425 for “standard service”) only guarantees the book will be reviewed; it does not guarantee the review will be favorable (which would be unethical).
Once the review is complete, all rights are given to the author, including the decision to publish the review or not. If the author clicks the “Publish” button, the review is posted on the website and Kirkus allows the reproduction of that review in full for promotional use (including excerpting for the book’s cover). If a review is negative and the author decides not to publish it, “the review will never see the light of day.”4
The magazine portion of Kirkus publishes only seventy indie book reviews per month, and there are mixed opinions about whether a positive review in the magazine or on the website will ever translate into sales. This means that authors need to do as much research as possible to gain a deeper understanding of the process and whether it might be right for them.
Other sites work on the same idea as Kirkus but do not service self-published authors (BookPage, for example). Until recently, Publisher’s Weekly was part of that group. Then it began offering a service specifically for self-published authors—BookLife—which “provides a free and easy way to submit self-published books to Publishers Weekly for review.”5 BlueInk Review, IndieReader, and Self-Publishing Review also offer paid review services geared specifically toward self-published authors.
Beyond paid services, authors can procure reviews in other ways, including through Goodreads, which offers a program that allows authors to reach out to potential readers by publicizing events, joining discussion groups, posting videos, hosting giveaways, and advertising—all of which can lead to an influx of unbiased reviews. Amazon offers a similar service.
In the end, whether the pursuit of book reviews is worth an author’s time and energy is a matter of opinion. We can only advise authors to do their research. Though the benefits of receiving a favorable review through any outlet are obvious, negative reviews also have their place, namely in helping authors progress in both their writing ability and their understanding of what readers are looking for. That means it doesn’t matter which review service an author chooses; it only matters that potential readers are introduced to the book in some positive way.
Remember the wise words of author Neil Gaiman:
If you make art, people will talk about it. Some of the things they say will be nice, some won’t. … If bad reviews (of whatever kind) upset you, just don’t read them. It’s not like you’ve signed an agreement with the person buying the book to exchange your book for their opinion. … I know people who love bad reviews, because it means they’ve made something happen and made people talk; I know people who have never read any of their reviews. It’s their call. You get on with making art.6
3 To see an example of a Kirkus Indie review, see https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/cynthia-ripley-miller/quest-crown-thorns/