In 2013, Naomi will be expanding her advice to offer something extra for readers. As founder of the incredible Sisterhood of the Traveling Books, Naomi is perfectly placed to provide fantastic and savvy tips on Goodreads, ebooks and more. Please let us know what you’d like to see covered in 2013!


This week The Author CEO, Naomi Blackburn, continues her series on gathering book reviews. Last week, Naomi examined paid reviews that don’t offer value or kudos. This week she looks at the flipside, discussing paid reviews from esteemed sources such as Kirkus Reviews.

Naomi is founder of the Goodreads group Sisterhood of the Traveling Books, as well as the Nordic Noir group, dedicated to discussing Scandinavian mysteries. Last year, Goodreads ranked her at #11 on their top reviewer list, in both the U.S. and in the world (based on 2011 rankings). As a reviewer, Naomi is brilliant, insightful, and, as she puts it, “brutally honest.”

Please feel free to leave questions for Naomi, as well as any suggestions you may have for future posts. I hope you enjoy the column!


The Author CEO: When It Makes Good Sense to Pay for a Book Review

by Naomi Blackburn

A review from a reputable source like Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly can be an important tool in the book marketer’s tool box. 

Here are some of the benefits to be gained from purchasing a review from one of these organizations.

• The book receives a professional-quality review from reputable critics.

  A positive review from a respected organization increases the credibility and perceived quality of a self-published book.

◊ Paid reviews from organizations like Kirkus and PW are among the few currently viable substitutes for traditional reviews.

 Their market relevance makes them a good tool in an author’s marketing box.


When It Makes Good Sense to Pay for a Book Review

As I stated in the last post, though some authors and readers disdain the idea, it sometimes makes sense to pay for a book review. One situation, and probably the only one, is for a professional review from reputable organizations like Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly.

Kirkus and PW are a lot like Underwriters Laboratories. For those unfamiliar with the organization, Underwriter’s Laboratories tests the safety of electrical products being placed in the consumer market.

UL certifies, validates, tests, inspects, audits, and advises and trains. We provide the knowledge and expertise to help customers navigate growing complexities across the supply chain from compliance and regulatory issues to trade challenges and market access. In this way, we facilitate global trade and deliver peace of mind.

Here’s how Kirkus and PW reviews of indie-authored books stack up to UL testing:

Underwriter’s Laboratories

Underwriters Laboratories

Reputable organization (eg Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly)
Kirkus StarPublishers Weekly

Use of professional staff Engineers among others Industry Editors, Librarians, critics with an advanced degree in Literature
Pay for review Yes Yes
Required to use review results No No
Established organizations Yes (1894) Yes (Kirkus – 1933, Publishers Weekly – 1872)
Guarantees positive outcome of review No No

Created with the HTML Table Generator


A Tale of Two Authors

In preparing this post, I took the time to talk with two authors who have used a professional review service. Both walked away with different feelings regarding the process and the benefit.

Darcie Chan utilized Kirkus reviews for her debut release The Mill River Recluse. When I asked why she made the decision to pay for a Kirkus review, she said she felt that the Kirkus name would potentially encourage large-scale reviewers, such as media outlets, that normally pass over indie titles to take a look at her book. Here is an excerpt from our correspondence:

Darcie Chan, author of The Mill River RecluseRegarding my Kirkus review — I did it because I wanted a well-known industry name to weigh in on my book. If the review was positive (which it was, although I had no guarantee of getting a good review), I wanted to be able to use quotes from it for marketing as a way of assuring readers that my story was worth a try. I do feel it was worth it, because there are many readers out there who prefer to read a review from a trusted or well-known name (such as Kirkus) before investing the time and money in a book/ebook. I also paid for a review from IndieReader, although IR no longer charges for their reviews.

Would she do it again?

Yes, I would do it again, at least with respect to the Kirkus route, because I do think a good review from a well-known reviewer lends credibility. That’s not to say that reader and blogger reviews aren’t important — they are. But Kirkus is on a whole different scale in terms of reach and impact.

In terms of paying for the review — again, with Kirkus, the fact that you are paying for the review has no effect on what kind of review you get. It may be horrible — in which case you have the option of keeping it private. But, I found that there are VERY few mainstream reviewers/newspapers that will review self-published books, and to me, that made Kirkus’s review service even more valuable.

I found this latter comment very interesting. A review from an organization such as Kirkus is simply a tool of the trade-not to be substituted for a ‘roll up your sleeves and bring out the elbow grease’ marketing effort. Darcie continues:

I did receive a great review that ran in The Rutland Herald, which is the newspaper that serves the area of southern Vermont in which my novel is set. I think they made an exception to the no-self-published-books review policy because my novel fell into the “local interest” category. I do feel that, at some point, “word of mouth” took hold, and I think that is the main reason my sales continued to expand until they reached bestseller-list levels. But, I think most everything I did — advertising, features on ebook blogs, pricing, reviews, etc. — played a role in launching the novel.

As Darcy implies, a Kirkus review does not guarantee attention from traditional media sources; in fact, traditional media continues to largely ignore self-published books-although this is changing! While it’s difficult to credit any single marketing effort with the success of a book, she feels that her Kirkus review played a role in attracting readers. As most of us know by now, The Mill River Recluse went on to be a runaway bestseller.

Not all authors share Darcy’s positive take on Kirkus reviews. Giacomo ‘Jim’ Giammatteo submitted his novel Murder Takes Time for a Kirkus review. Here’s Jim’s take on the process:

Giacomo GiamettoWhen I first started on this self-publishing venture, I had no idea what I was getting into, especially on the marketing side of things. One of my first decisions was to pay $425 for a Kirkus Review. I assumed that because Kirkus was so well known as reputable book reviewers that a good review from them would set me off on the right path. That decision was just the start of discovering what little I knew about the publishing business.

I soon found out that, while authors and others associated with the publishing industry are very familiar with Kirkus, normal, everyday readers aren’t. A Kirkus Review means no more to them than a review from Jane Doe on Amazon, assuming both are written the same. I found out later that a well-written review from a book blogger with a decent following is far superior to Kirkus, or any other professional review service. I have come to believe that selling books is all about spreading the word, and while reviews certainly help in that regard, they only help if people hear about them. That’s why bloggers are so important.

I’m not trying to cast a shadow on Kirkus; they gave me a fantastic review for which I’m grateful. But if an author were to ask me for advice, I’d say spend your money elsewhere. You’d have to sell a lot of books to pay for the cost of that review.

Like Jim, most authors have a limited amount of money to spend on marketing. Savvy authors consider both the positive and negative aspects of any tool before they buy in. Only the individual author can decide what’s most important to him or her or how to best allocate funds to achieve personal goals.

No review is a panacea. Not even the best review from the most reputable organization can guarantee a knockout bestseller. Nor is it a gold-paved road straight to a traditional publishing contract. A paid review from a respected organization is simply a tool in the author’s marketing box.

About Naomi Blackburn

Naomi Blackburn

Naomi Blackburn, owner of The Author CEO, a consultation firm dedicated to helping independent authors navigate the development of strategic business plans and the marketing world, holds an MBA and has worked in the field of business development, sales and consulting for 12 years. A former social worker, she has helped hundreds of clients meet their life goals. An avid reader and top Goodreads reviewer, she comes to the world of books from a reader/reviewer’s perspective. She strives to help authors achieve their goals by teaching them to think of themselves as CEO/entrepreneur of a small business and helping them negotiate the business side of selling books.

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