This is a guest post by Susan Helene Gottfried
Recently on Facebook, a discussion came up about the value of paying for a review from a company like Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus, the two biggest names in publishing I know of that offer review services to us Indie writers (we won’t go into specifics, as PW’s Select program works a bit differently from Kirkus, and none of us really want to be here until next week.) Emlyn picked up on the fact that I know a bit more than I pretend to, and she asked me to weigh in with the two cents of a woman who’s been around publishing for a long time now.
We won’t get into whether or not it’s a good idea to pay for a review, because I believe that’s a personal choice each author has to make for him- or herself.
Rather, I want to talk about the value of such an investment—do you know what to expect? Many people in that Facebook post commented that the money hadn’t been well-spent, as the review wasn’t terribly in-depth. Some felt that it was a rip-off and the author would have gotten a better review from a book blogger.
I won’t argue that book bloggers write longer, more detailed reviews. They have the space to. They also exist for a different reason than the Big Four Reviewers (Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly) do. Book bloggers seek to share books with their readers, by and large. The Big Four seek to help bookstore owners, librarians, and anyone else who makes a living getting books into the hands of readers. The aim of The Big Four is, in a couple hundred words, to give the book buyer enough of an overview so informed buying decisions can be made.
Why limit their reviews to a couple hundred words? Why not expand now that we’re in the Internet age?
Well, two reasons. First is that before we entered the Internet age—and remember, some of The Big Four have been publishing for over 100 years now—space was limited. It cost money to print these magazines. Shorter reviews meant more could make each issue.
Second is time. Book buyers have to choose between hundreds (or more) titles, in a short period of time. They don’t have days to spend reading reviews. As someone who used to subscribe to PW, I can tell you that no matter how short the review, it still took me multiple days every week to read through all the fiction reviews, skipping the pages of non-fiction and children’s along the way.
That’s a lot of reading. And in today’s e-publishing world, there are more books being published, more decisions for book buyers of all sorts to make. Remaining with these short, concise, pointed reviews makes sense when viewed from the eyes of the publications’ audience.
Know what else I like about the short reviews from the Big Four? They are an art form unto themselves. I say that as someone who writes them herself.
Think for a second: even flash fiction is generally acknowledged to be as long as 1000 words. Words are precious. That’s why the criticism bites so deeply and the praise seems so faint.
Now, back to us: the indie writers. What benefit is there to us in these super-short reviews? Unless we have print copies enrolled in CreateSpace’s expanded distribution, libraries can’t buy our books. They often won’t, even once we are enrolled. And since POD books aren’t returnable, bookstores don’t want us, unless it’s on consignment.
That seems to limit the value we can get from a paid review. Right?
Remember, they’ve had time to establish their reputations—and it’s this reputation that you’re really after. You’re not going after in-depth analysis. Nope. You are forking over a boatload of cash and hoping for a sentence or phrase that’ll be so stellar, you can redo your cover art to include that quote. You are hoping to make your book look like that best-seller you yearn to be, with quotes from the big-name reviewers. For some readers, that quote means a lot. For others, not so much.
As I said in the opening, it’s up to you to decide if you’re willing to roll the dice and pay for what’s being offered. Just make sure you walk in with your eyes open. Read a few reviews posted on each site. Talk to others who’ve had a review. Did it help their sales? Did they recoup the cash? Was it worthwhile?
The more you know going in, the better your experience in the long run. And we’re all in this for the long run, right?