One of the scariest and most exciting things about releasing your book to the world is the people reading it and having opinions. Reviews are an important part of the book publishing ecosystem.
Even though many people find their books online through creators on TikTok or other social media, traditional publishers still invest time and energy in providing review copies to book reviewers for consideration. If you’ve ever wondered who reads book reviews and what book reviews are for, there are a few different viewpoints from which book reviews are intended.
First, what do we mean by a book review? In this article, I will discuss book reviews written for more “mainstream” media publications. Goodreads is a great source of reviews for professionals, casual readers, and book influencers, but Goodreads’ purpose is to be able to publish whatever you think of a book to advise other readers. “Traditional” book reviews tend to be associated with pre-internet print or analog media (although this is no longer always the case).
Trade publications that cover the publishing industry (such as Weekly editors, Kirkus Reviews, List of books, and more) review a wide range of books. These publications give short, holistic reviews, and the reviewer can choose to award a star to a book they find particularly compelling. You’ll almost always see a star-studded PW, Booklist, or Kirkus review included on the back cover of an author’s book if they’ve had one in the past.
Magazines, local newspapers and other entertainment-oriented media coverage books. There are also a variety of niche publications that cover books of particular interest. For example, the women’s review of books and The Gay and Lesbian Review focus on books that match their titles.
For the publishing house
Reviews are an essential part of a publishing house’s business operations. Many publishers include a specified number of review copies in the contract with writers for their books. They need to know from the start how much of the first impression will be devoted to delivering reviews.
Among many other tasks, the publicity department of most publishing houses will send review copies to editors, reviewers, and publications for review and assignments. However, anyone with ties to people who review books at a publishing house can endorse these reviews for publicity or submit them on their own.
Additionally, some authors will work with independent publicists or PR firms to get their books to reviewers. Some authors choose to do this because they self-publish or publish with smaller publishing houses that don’t have as many resources dedicated to advertising. Postage for sending books can be very expensive.
Reviews help the publisher sell the books to various stakeholders with whom it has long-standing relationships or those it is trying to build relationships with. Rave pre-release reviews can cause libraries or bookstores to order more books for their stock, putting more copies of the well-reviewed book in front of readers.
Although casual readers may not engage with Kirkus Reviews or Weekly editorsanyone browsing a bookstore will find quotes from these reviews printed on the back covers of the books.
Book reviews also provide basic plot information that helps readers determine whether they want to dive into the genre. If a book lover takes List of books magazine to read reviews, they may be looking for a comparable read or something totally new. Reviews can help with either of these, as most book reviews give mock titles.
A book that gets a lot of reviews before or even after publication is also going to grab the attention of readers who want to engage with the book everyone is talking about.
The author’s point of view
Book reviews are crucial for authors to understand how their book is being received and maybe even get another contract. Without wading through the choppy waters of Goodreads, book reviews can still be a source of joy and anxiety.
Susie Dumond, Book Riot contributor and author of Queerly beloved, wants to take reviews to facilitate her writing process: “I’m too curious not to read them! I’m also the kind of person who actually appreciates thoughtful criticism of my work. Instead of making it harder for me to write, it inspires me to do better with whatever I write next.
Steph Auteri, contributor and author of A swear word, also found that the reviews gave him “an idea of how readers connected (or didn’t) with this thing I brought into the world. This feeling of connection is a big part of why I write what I write.
Contributor Jessica Pryde, author of Black Love Matters: Real talk about romance, being seen and happily ever after, also chooses to read reviews of his books out of curiosity and concern for his profession. Given that the book is being launched in a niche market, Pryde is “thrilled” because reviewers are bringing the book to a wider circle of readers who may not have sought out the book, but would love the book nonetheless. .
Everyone understands how difficult it can be to write a book and then read a half-hearted or even negative review. “Feel free to take all the time you need to feel distressed and offended and maybe even slightly murderous,” Steph says. “But once you’ve put it together, remember: in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t mean much, and good readers will find your book no matter what the critics say.”
Jessica also stresses the importance of understanding that reviews are rarely written to hurt you personally: “Whether negative or positive, they are not written with you in mind. So if you’re nosy like me, go ahead, prepare to potentially injure yourself. But if you’d rather not know, you don’t have to.
Susie’s perspective on review has changed: “When I read a review now, I focus less on, Is it a good book or a bad book? takeaways and more, What aspects of the book are they celebrating or criticizing here, and are these things important to me as a reader?“
The final exam
Overall, reviews of traditional publications will remain important to publishers, authors and readers. There is an established story that works in the ecosystem of publishing, selling, and buying books.
On the other hand, Book Riot will always be a place to find more lists of exciting similar titles and book nerds interested in their favorite genres and new releases coming soon.