Can Book Review Blogs really lead to sales?

There’s no doubt about it: writing a book is a gargantuan task. Publishing is another minefield. But once the writing is over, the editing complete and the words in print, how do you actually tell the world about your work? How do you even start to build a readership, let alone make your way onto a bestseller list?

Promoting your novel is a challenge to say the least. For some authors, the logical first step is to get a few reviews under their belt, directly from specialist bloggers. But others vehemently claim:

No! It’s not worth it!.

So, do book review blogs actually benefit the author – resulting in sales and greater awareness? Or are they a waste of time?

Our voyage of discovery has changed immeasurably

Pre-internet, people discovered books at libraries, reading groups, through education or via printed publications. There was a sense of curation. Breaking into the mainstream meant getting that one elusive chance via traditional means. But the world wide web changed everything.

Now, not only can we discover books online, but we can buy them and read them via digital technology too. In fact, chances are you’ve heard about the book you’re reading right now from a tweet, Facebook status, your favourite blog, or even sites like Instagram and Pinterest. And that’s not to mention the millions of reviews on Amazon and an entire network dedicated to books; Goodreads.

Newspapers don’t have the monopoly on book reviews any more – and quite frankly that’s a great and liberating change. For authors like you, it spells opportunity – as long as you know how to grasp it with both hands. And that means understanding how to promote your book to boost sales.

The mechanics of book review blogs

Blogs are a true modern day phenomenon. From grumpy cats to high-end fashion, they are a powerful way to communicate and strike up conversation about popular, geeky, or even controversial subjects.

Book review blogs sit in a very specific but popular online niche. Run by an individual or even a team of reviewers, they are set up with the sole purpose of voicing opinion on fiction and non-fiction. From the latest YA fantasy novels to classic crime thrillers, they pride themselves on being honest and fair – offering blog readers unabridged insight into plot, style, characterisation and more. And that means that no matter if you are a well-known author or a total newbie, you have an opportunity to build a readership.

To get a better understanding of book review blogs, spend a moment casting your eye over some of the most well-known sites out there. Dear Author is a great example – and with more than 170,000 visits per month, it’s worth paying attention to this blog and others like it. If you have a little more time to spare, Blog Nation will open your eyes to a dizzying array of review blogs – some niche, and others more general.

For authors, it’s worth noting that some blogs expect payment in return for reviews. To dig a little deeper, we ran our own blogger’s survey. Of the respondents. 76% do not charge, while a further 20% of blogs offer both paid and free write-ups. So for the most part, you don’t have to pay to have your book reviewed. Instead, you have to meet their submission criteria – whether that’s fitting into a specific genre, demonstrating that it’s your first novel, or has been published in a particular way – perhaps as an ebook or via an indie publishing house.

When it comes to marketing, the idea of book review blogs certainly makes sense. They’re an accessible way for authors to get their work talked about. And for readers, they can be a valuable resource to discover new writing talent and the hidden gems of the literary world. But do these book review blogs actually help up-and-coming authors? Are they a good way to promote ebooks, or is it all just a big waste of time?

How can book review blogs help authors?

To get the word out about your books, you need to shout from the rooftops. But let’s face it, who would believe it if you – the author – told them it was the biggest thing since The Hunger Games, or as mind-bending as 1984? The reality is, they wouldn’t. To have enough faith in buying your book, you need unbiased advocates of your writing. People who will discuss your characters, wrap themselves in your plot and debate over the details. In short, you need reviews. Real, honest reviews.

A quick glance at the UK publishing figures bring a little more perspective to the situation. In 2013, 184,000 new and revised titles were released. And so far during 2014, publishers have brought out 20 books per hour in the UK alone. That’s a startling figure – and considering the average person reads between one and five books per year, the importance of book reviews as a kind of ‘compass’ becomes glaringly apparent. Without this guidance, we’d simply be dumbstruck by the possibilities. Reviews bring some much-needed perspective and guidance to the consumer experience.

But how about the humble ebook? Is it possible to bring self-published work to fame and fortune by using book review blogs?

Love it or loathe it, 50 Shades of Grey is a prime example. It started life as a self-published ebook and print on-demand. Nothing new there. But it gathered steam to be one of the most talked-about books of recent years. In fact, it currently holds the accolade of ‘fastest selling paperback of all time’.

Admittedly, it was helped along by a controversial subject matter. But the reason 50 Shades became such a booming success was because people actually reviewed it. Not every review was good. In fact, many were downright scornful. But that didn’t damage the book. The point is that these early reviews added to the intrigue and put 50 Shades of Grey on the ‘must-read’ list of people across the globe.

While this is an extreme example, there is plenty of truth to the idea that online discussions can drive book sales. Many blogs have a huge and loyal fanbase. And these fans love to talk online – via social networks, forums, and their own blogs too. And that all means there’s potential for tens, hundreds or even thousands of people to catch a glimpse of your name, or your book title. That’s certainly powerful.

But a word of caution…

Book review blogs are not guaranteed to bring success. In fact, they’ll rarely bring overnight sales, and long-term fame is unlikely. That’s why you need to take a level-headed approach, and understand how to leverage book review blogs to your advantage. Repeat after me: not every opportunity is worth pursuing.

It all starts by making informed decisions. Which blogs will give you a leg-up, and which will prove fruitless? Create a blog hit-list, and use this as your promotional address book. Here’s how to do it.

  • Find other authors you admire in a similar genre to yourself. Where are they reviewed? Write a list.
  • Read other book reviews on each blog. Is this a site you want to be associated with? Is its ethos aligned with your beliefs and values?
  • Who reads the blog? Ideally, the blog will have a fanbase that closely matches your ideal reader. Check out how many followers they have on social media, and how frequently these people interact. It’s not unreasonable to ask for visitor statistics either.
  • Where do they post reviews? According to our survey, most bloggers post reviews on other networks. In fact, 64% publish to their blog, Amazon and Goodreads. In general, the more the better: they’ll pack a bigger punch.

Reviews Posted

  • Think outside of the box. Don’t restrict yourself solely to book review blogs: consider lifestyle, arts and any other niche that shares a fanbase similar to your intended readership

So, what next?

If you’re still drafting Chapter 1, then busy yourself with writing. Now is not the time to think about the finished book. But when the manuscript is polished and shining and golden, it’s time to take an intelligent approach to promotion.

Once you’ve done your research, you’ll need to determine your plan of attack. How much time do you have to contact bloggers and answer questions? Do you have a budget? Do you want to coordinate with other marketing activities – such as email campaigns, social media, your own blog? With a clear idea of your personal constraints and aspirations, you can create a realistic approach – whether that’s a full-on blog tour or simply a couple of book blog reviews.

Whatever your viewpoint, there’s no denying that the internet is a huge opportunity for self-published or indie-published writers. You don’t have to rely on those gold-dust relationships or chance encounters to get anywhere. You don’t have to be reviewed by The New York Times or nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. You just need a savvy head, and the right approach to getting the word out about your work. What are you waiting for?