Self-Publishing & Merchandising : What About Reviews?

[ Apologies for my absence last week!  I *should* be getting a new hard drive in the next few weeks, but in the meantime I’ll be struggling along as best I can.  You are the entire reason I hang out here every week, dear readers, and I hate it when I leave you hanging! ]

So.  We’ve examined several facets of the merchandising machine in light of our platform as self-published authors: the background, extras and special editions, book covers and jacket design as well as interior design, and the all-important blurb.  This week, I’ll be examining the book review–or at least, I’ll be examining a few of the book review’s many, many permutations and details.  We’ve touched on the matter of reviews before–here and here, for example, and also here and here, just to point you to a few examples–but I think it’s worth noting that the matter of book reviews for self-published authors is somewhat of a moving target.  There’s no one-size-fits-all understanding, much less solution, for your average indie writer.

Why are reviews important?

As I pointed out in 2011, the number of reviews you receive on a website like Amazon, paired with each title’s star rating, leverages a lot of weight on new readers.  If all you had to go on was this:

poor reviewsgood reviews

… which book would you be more likely to choose?  The book with more reviews and a higher star rating, of course!  (Of course there are other factors at play to distinguish these two books from each other, including a skillfully designed cover versus a sort of ho-hum cover, as well as the emotional weight of a free book versus a not-quite-free book … but you get the drift.)  And every outlet through which your book is reviewed, whether it’s Amazon or Kirkus or some other website, magazine, or blog, will boost your book’s visibility.  Having a presence is extremely important!

How do I get reviews?

This is where things get complicated.  The short answer is: any way you can.  Query book bloggers that you follow, and authors that you admire, and of course your friends and family.  (They’re your built-in audience, so take advantage of them!  Just, you know, not too much.  You don’t want your reviews to radiate desperation.)  While there’s no one single right or wrong way to go about querying for reviews, do keep in mind that reciprocity is an important part of the publishing world, especially the world of self-published and indie authors, who have to build digital communities and networks for themselves.  It’s a great idea to offer to review another author’s book in exchange for a review of your own; that way, both authors benefit, not to mention avid readers of indie literature!

There are, of course, other reliable places where book reviewers hang out.  Amazon’s top reviewers make up one such group–and the best part is, it’s their job to review new products, and they tend to love it!  Some may have specific product and even genre preferences, but you should definitely consider turning to them when you’re looking to build your reviewer base.  Remember,,,, and  And don’t forget about Goodreads!  We’ve blogged about giveaways in the past (here and here), but it’s worth mentioning again: dedicated, socially-connected readers gravitate to Goodreads, even while avid book-buyers will head to Amazon.  Consider hosting a Goodreads giveaway to bolster both the visibility of your book and the number of reviews!

I only have so much time in the day–where should I spend my time?

The best thing you can do for your self-published book is to keep writing.  The more books you write and publish, the more linkages you will build between texts, and the larger your circle of influence will grow.  But also, you know, you are a writer first and foremost–so in all things your craft should come first, and promotion second.  That being said, self-promotion and merchandising is always going to be work.  Sometimes it will even be hard and thankless work.  In the long run, however, your book’s visibility will benefit if you put in a little time here and there, and chip away at the reviewing machine.

Next wednesday, I’ll be looking at reviews again, but with a more refined microscope: I’ll be examining the blog review–dos and don’ts, and the how to make them happen fiddly bits that didn’t fit into today’s blog.  Stay tuned!

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

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