Everything You Need to Know About Why Getting Great Reviews Is Your Job


By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excerpted from Carolyn’s 
How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career

You need this article! Here’s why: 

In spite of a contract or even an advance, your publisher may not be a true publisher. True publishing includesthe marketing of a book. Think big names like HarperCollins, Knopf, and Writers’ Digest, the publisher of Nina Amir’s books like Creative Visualization for Writers. They assign a marketing budget to your book and an actual marketing department complete with actual human-type marketers who are trained in the specialized field of not just marketing, but marketing books. Except for those who write only for pleasure, there is no reason to publish a book that doesn’t get read.

Even sadder: Those big publishers need their authors’ help, too. No matter how they are published,  authors can’t count on a free lunch when it comes to the marketing their book. That’s especially true when it comes to the getting of reviews—the kind of reviews that keep a book alive.

Some publishers—even traditional publishers—may not respect tradition, be uncooperative or goof. One of my writing critique partners was published with a fine press. When she learned they had not sent advance review copies of her literary novel to the most prestigious review journals before their strict sixteen-week deadline, she was naturally upset. They explained it was a snafu that could not be fixed. That was no comfort at all. It did help her to know that because thousands of galleys sent to the important review publications lie fallow in slush piles, the chances of having a book reviewed by a major journal—even one published traditionally let alone getting a glowing review—is remote. Because she had me to nag her, she moved on to alternative marketing and review-getting strategies found in the flagship book of my multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of book for writer, The Frugal Book Promoter, third edition from Modern History Press, using my backdoor review-getting method. 

Soon after my writing-friend’s experience, I realized that what authors need to know about reviews deserved a full book. I knew early on that reviews are the meat and potatoes of marketing for books. What I didn’t know is that reviews are a magic ingredient from beyond the launch to reviving a book that should by now be a classic but sadly isn’t! That resulted in my How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career, a real tome of more than 300 pages of easy reading. It covers everything an author needs to know about reviews—their easy-to-do and do-it-by-yourself powerhouse for successful writing careers. 

These days most small publishers have no marketing department—or marketing plan. In fact, many admit that when it comes to marketing, you are on your own. No offense, publishers. I know many of you do a terrific job considering the profit margin in publishing these days. Let’s face it, you can use help, and you don’t need to deal with disappointed (irate?) authors. And, authors! We are ultimately responsible for our own careers. Sometimes when we wait to take responsibility, it is too late in the publishing game.

Some publishers charge the author an additional or separate fee for marketing. Many who offer marketing packages do not offer a review-getting package. If they do, the review their authors get is a paid-for review, which is definitely not the route you want to go. More on that later in a complete chapter on getting ethical reviews in , How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically. You know, the kind of reviews that influencers like librarians and bookstore buyers respect.

Many publishers do not even have lists of people to contact who might help your marketing with endorsements or reviews. Further, many big publishers are relying on bloggers for their review process more and more as print journals and newspaper book sections shrink or disappear and as they begin to understand that grassroots publicity—reviews or otherwise—can produce a very green crop. And bloggers? Well, that’s a resource pool you can easily plumb yourself. 

My first publisher supplied review copies only upon written request from individual reviewers. They did not honor requests generated by their authors’ initiatives. This meant that I could not count on them to supply books to reviewers I had successfully queried for a review. Unless the reviewer accepted e-copies (and many reviewers don’t!), I had to order copies directly from the publisher and then reship them to my reviewers. This method is slow, cumbersome, unnecessarily expensive, unprofessional, and discourages authors from trying to get reviews on their own. 

Publishers should offer review copies to a list of reviewers—even unestablished grassroots bloggers—who have been responsive to their authors in the past. And they certainly should not charge an author for review copies. Publishers have a profit margin and publicity obtained by their authors (including reviews) affects their bottom line, too. They should send their author a thank you (or a red rose!) along with encouragement to keep up the good work

And about the idea that the very definition that “publishing” includes marketing: That means that even if they are too small or underfunded to have a marketing department, they should have a list of reviewers to query for reviews, a list of influential people to provide blurbs for your cover, access to book cover designers (not just great graphic designers) who know what sells books, and a whole lot more. Ask potential publishers about their marketing process before you sign, but—even if you feel assured after having that conversation—it’s best to assume you may be on your own. 

So, the marketing part of your book that includes finding the right reviewers to read and comment on your book will—in most cases—be up to you and well within your skill set after reading this book. And even when you have the luxury of a marketing department behind you, those authors who know how to get reviews on their own can keep a book alive for an infinite amount of time after their publishers relegate their books to a backlist or their contract expires.

Note: If it is too late to apply this information to the process you use in choosing a publisher, tactfully take hold and guide the publisher you have through the review process. There are lots of ways to do that in this book. I love Nike’s advice to “Just do it!” only I add “yourself” to the motto. Many publishers are in your employ. You may be paying them for services. At the very least, when your book sells, it makes money for the publisher. You don’t have to ask for permission (though it never hurts to listen to their reasoning before you make a decision).



Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award.

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.       

The author loves to travel. She has visited more than ninety countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her website, https://howtodoitfrugally.com, includes a media room. Yours should, too!

Cover Photo by Joy V. Smith




Terry Whalin said...


Thanks for these great insights about book reviews. It's hard for every author to get reviews. To support other authors, it's one of the reasons I have written over 1,100 Amazon reviews and over 700 reviews on Goodreads--basically every book that I read or even listen to in audio format.


Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, thank you for the helpful information on getting book reviews. It is hard for authors to get reviews. Interestingly, the past two-weeks, I've had people email me offering to review books. Ever suspecting some kind of scam, I just delete the emails.
But authors giving reviews of other authors books is a great way to help an author and generate some visibility. Thanks for sharing.

deborah lyn said...

Another super article Carolyn! Thank you for bringing book review issues up close for authors. Yep perfect: “Just do it!” “Yourself” !!

What Is More Valuable Than Fame

By Terry Whalin (@terrywhalin) Many writers believe writing a book will make them famous. They believe getting their book into the market wi...