Ep. 07: Professional Book Reviews with Patti Thorn

Book reviews are an important part of your marketing plan, but are all book reviews created equal? Learn more about using professional book reviews to help you sell more books. 

When it comes to soliciting book reviews for a self-published book, where do you even start? Patti Thorn, managing partner at Blue Ink Review, joins Robin Cutler and Justine Bylo on the podcast this week to discuss the difference between non fee-based (crowdsourced) and fee-based (professional) reviews. Before submitting a book to be professionally reviewed, it’s important to make sure that your manuscript is in top shape; and after you receive reviews, it’s important to know what to do with them! 

Learn more about book review submissions, the value of professional book reviews for self-published books, and how to incorporate reviews into your book marketing strategy. If you don’t yet have a book to review, create an account with IngramSpark and publish your book today! 


Robin Cutler [00:00:07] Hi everyone, welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. I'm Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:00:15] I'm Justine Bylo, the Author Acquisitions Manager for IngramSpark. Hi Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:00:20] Hi, Justine, how are you today?

Justine Bylo [00:00:22] Good, it's snowing here.

Robin Cutler [00:00:24] Oh wow.

Justine Bylo [00:00:24] I know.

Robin Cutler [00:00:26] And here would be, like, close to New York City, right Justine?

Justine Bylo [00:00:30] Yes, right outside of it, so we're getting some fun wintry weather.

Robin Cutler [00:00:35] Yeah, wintry weather in New York City is kind of scary to me.

Justine Bylo [00:00:40] Yeah, me too. It's not fun to walk in, I'll tell you that.

Robin Cutler [00:00:45] Or even try to get around or take a train in and out. Everybody freaks out in New York City, probably even more so than they do everywhere else.

Justine Bylo [00:00:52] Yeah, it's true, yeah, it's not fun, I'll be honest, I'm happy I'm in my closet recording a podcast with you today.

Robin Cutler [00:01:01] You look very cozy.

Justine Bylo [00:01:01] I am.

Robin Cutler [00:01:04] Today, Justine, we're joined by Patti Thorn, who's the Managing Partner at BlueInk Review, a fee-based book review service, devoted to self-published titles exclusively. Hello, Patti.

Patti Thorn [00:01:16] Hi Robin, how are you?

Robin Cutler [00:01:18] I am great. Let's talk about, maybe my first question for you is, fee-based book reviews, how does that differ from non fee-based reviews?

Patti Thorn [00:01:32] Fee-based reviews are reviews that authors pay a fee, and then their book is given to a, in our case, their book is given to a professional critic who then writes a review, and they get back the review and can use it however they like it. It's unbiased, and can be positive, negative, or anything in between. People use fee-based reviews because reviews from mainstream sources are very difficult to get, particularly for self-published authors. I used to be the book review editor at the Rocky Mountain News, here in Denver before it went under in 2009. Self-publishing authors would call me all the time and say, well, I need a review. I hope you'll review my book. I was faced with 250 titles coming in from traditional publishers every week. We had very little space and very little budget, and I would say, "I'm sorry, we just don't review self-published books." The fee-based reviews came into being as a bit of a response to that and, self-publishers, self-publishing authors need reviews, and this is a sure way that they can get them. They can also try other avenues but, this is a sure way of still getting an unbiased, trusted review.

Justine Bylo [00:03:02] Patti, can you talk a little bit about why authors need reviews for their books?

Patti Thorn [00:03:07] So, as I was thinking about this today, I was just thinking, you know, there's just so much content everywhere now. You know, you have content on TV, content on the internet, you have all kinds. Last year, there was a million books self-published. How are you going to get anyone to read your book, and it's also a time when people rely on reviews incredibly. People go to Google reviews for refrigerators, for shoes, for movies. Books are so much more important in that sense because you're going to be spending hours with a book. It's not so much the money as the time. People want to know, is this a good book? Reviews tell people, is it going to be worth their time. It also tells people what the book is like, so it might, it gives the plot but it also tells, sort of the texture of the book so, is it a thriller, is it a literary book, is it written in a breezy way, is it dense; it tells people, is this the kind of book I want to spend my time with? I might like books that are fact-based with lots of statistics, and I might hate those kind of books, so it tells people, it helps you find your correct audience. It's also important, well, I think I mentioned that just a minute ago, it's important to have an unbiased source give you a review. A lot of people rely on reviews, I'm talking about authors though, they'll solicit reviews from friends and family to post on Amazon, and I think people are very wise to that now, knowing that a lot of those reviews are not legitimate.

Robin Cutler [00:04:57] Even Amazon is wise to that.

Patti Thorn [00:05:00] This way you have an unbiased, third-party resource everyone trusts and knows it's not your friend or your mom or whoever, and that's important. The other thing I wanted to say is that, it helps people get larger exposure, so whatever, whatever review source you're using, those reviews sources usually have outlets where the reviews go out to, and authors can get a bigger, broader audience.

Robin Cutler [00:05:33] It'd be great, Patti, if you could give our listeners sort of a rundown on what kind of shape should their manuscript or even book be in before they solicit reviews for that book.

Patti Thorn [00:05:49] Yes, that's a really good question. The number one thing that we recommend, and not only recommend but highly recommend, is that people get their books copy-edited, and for those who don't know what that is, that would be, you hire an editor, who's a professional copy editor, who can go through your book and make sure all the punctuation's correct, all the spelling is correct. That it's consistent, like certain things are capitalized consistently, it's so important. We have received books that have no paragraphs, sometimes they don't have periods or commas in the right place. These things are so important for people to understand your book, for one thing, but also for people to see it as a professional product. That's incredibly important, I also suggest content editing. Content editing would be, that's a different editor, who would look at, who would look at the content of your book, and say, "Well, does it make sense?" If it's fiction, "Do the characters work? Are there believability issues?" Where, is one chapter not necessary, that kind of thing. And in non-fiction, it would be, "Is it well-organized? Does it make sense? Are your arguments rational?" They help you, kind of shape your book, and then the copy editor helps you polish it. That's the kind of shape you need to be in before you solicit a review.

Justine Bylo [00:07:24] Now, Patti, you are speaking my language because I often get on my soapbox on this podcast about how authors need to hire editors. You're just reinforcing my point, which, thank you for, and, so authors when you're listening to this, this is just one more reason why you need to hire good editors because, not only do readers notice, but when you submit for reviews, reviewers are noticing too, and that can really make an impact on your review. Am I right about that?

Patti Thorn [00:07:57] Oh, absolutely. Particularly, when a reviewer opens a book and sees all kinds of misspellings and bad punctuation, you're not going to get a great review with that kind of a manuscript or book.

Robin Cutler [00:08:12] Say someone's done the proper things. They've had their books reviewed, they've sent it out, and the review comes back, what exactly should they do with that review?

Patti Thorn [00:08:25] Well, so reviews are critical in helping you get the word out about your book. One way people use reviews that's important is on social media, so a lot of people announce that they have a book out on Facebook or whatever, and then it's really hard to, how often can you post, "My book's out. My book's in the bookstore." Reviews are a great way to have another thing to post, and it's a really influential thing, if you can say, so and so gave my book a rave review, and maybe you add a little excerpt from it on your social media, that gives you another avenue to kind of toot your own horn, and get it out there on social media, it's also important to have reviews on your author website, that gives you credibility. You would have a tab that said "Reviews", and you would list, you would have links to full reviews or, and list great excerpts to your reviews on your author website. That tells your audience that, again, an unbiased third-party has deemed this book great, worthy of their time. Reviews are great to use on book jackets, so if you have, if you are doing print on demand, for example, and you want to update your book jacket, a review is a great thing to use on the back cover. Some people might use even an excerpt on the front cover. It's much better than, some people will go like, "This is a great book. - John Smith." John Smith doesn't carry as much weight as a, professional review company. Those are great things to put on your book jacket.

Robin Cutler [00:10:16] Yeah, and you'll see this on, especially traditionally published books, you'll see where, even reviews sometimes are listed on the inside of the book, the opening pages. It will say, praise for, and then it has, a bunch of excerpts from different reviews. So, definitely call out the reviews as praise for your book.

Justine Bylo [00:10:43] The great thing about print on demand is you can always update them too. You're not held to offset printing where you've had to print a ton of books up front. You can always change it. You can always switch out that file for the new great review that you just got. It makes it really easy.

Robin Cutler [00:11:01] That's our other soapbox, isn't it, Justine?

Justine Bylo [00:11:04] It is.

Robin Cutler [00:11:05] About the value of print on demand and how, when you get these great reviews, you can easily update as Justine was just talking about.

Justine Bylo [00:11:12] Right.

Robin Cutler [00:11:14] What if you get a negative review?

Justine Bylo [00:11:16] I've had some authors have this happen, and it's always a heartbreaking thing.

Patti Thorn [00:11:23] It's a hard thing. When you buy a review or you solicit a review, you have to go into it with the attitude that even huge authors get negative reviews sometimes and mixed reviews. A lot of authors are looking for validation, in that they are, they get themselves all excited that they're going to have this glowing review, and when they get it, it's devastating if it's not hugely positive, but I would just caution authors to read the review, then set it down. Take a deep breath, give it some time to sink in, and then go back and look at it with a clear eye, is the reviewer saying something that I can learn from? One thing I would say is sometimes the review is not as negative as you might first think. Authors see one negative thing, and they kind of, have a little bit of a heart attack. They don't really put it in perspective, because we've given lots of reviews that are very positive. But a line to two that's not positive, and we'll get emails from authors saying, "Oh, the reviewer must have just hated my book," and I feel my heart kind of breaks for them because that's not the case if you really read the review, without your feelings involved, you would see that there's a lot of positive things that readers will pick up and they choose to read your book,

Patti Thorn [00:13:01] so I just think it's best if authors take a deep breath, and then come back to the review once they've had a little bit of time to absorb that wasn't all positive and then that I'm sure they will find things that they can take from that review and learn from, and also things--

Robin Cutler [00:13:20] And improve.

Patti Thorn [00:13:22] Yeah, and improve, that's the important thing.

Justine Bylo [00:13:25] I've even seen authors spin negative reviews into like, funny marketing schemes too. Which, I'm like, kudos to you for like turning something that could be devastating into an opportunity. You never know what people do with it. Yeah, and the other thing is, in a lot of reviews that they may be negative, it's just like with movies where you see the movie review, and it goes, "exciting", or something like that, there's always things you can pull from them

Patti Thorn [00:13:55] that are positive, that you can use in an excerpt if you don't want to run the whole review on your website, but just the lines that are really positive for your book.

Justine Bylo [00:14:06] Exactly. A lot of authors don't know where to begin with going to get these reviews. Where are some sources where they should start looking to start their journey with this process?

Patti Thorn [00:14:20] Well, I would say, if they google, "professional reviews" or "book reviews," they'll find lists of bloggers who are accepting books for review, I would say it's probably good to double check with that blogger before you send the book because a lot of times, blogs are listed as accepting self-published authors, and then they find that it's kind of daunting, and they don't, and they change their requirements. You want to know what the requirements are, and once you find that they are accepting self-published books, I suggest, and I don't know if everyone does, but I suggest that they just go ahead and send the book. I, when I was books editor at the Rocky Mountain News, I would get a lot of press releases, or emails saying, "Hey, do you want me to send my book?" And I'd be like, "No." I don't want you to send your book because I was drowning in books, but if a book came in that was interesting looking, and it just came on my desk, I might pick it up, and I might assign it for reviews. I would suggest that if you target the places where you're looking for reviews, and you know they're accepting those kind of books, just go ahead and send the book. You'll want to put a press release in, that talks about, just very briefly and snappy, in snappy language summarizes your book, and any awards you might've won. Things like that, that might catch an editor's eye. In paid reviews, of course, all you have to do is choose the venue that you think is the most respected or whatever,

Patti Thorn [00:16:10] and you just follow their purchase rules, and you'll be able to get a review.

Robin Cutler [00:16:18] I just want to point out to our listeners that BlueInk is featured under our resources, IngramSpark resources, and actually, BlueInk has graciously passed along a discount that they offer for IngramSpark customers. If you go on the IngramSpark site, under Resources, you'll see Experts, and you'll find BlueInk there. In the minutes that are left, Patty, let's talk a little bit about timing because I think there's some confusion about, the process in the book's life cycle when reviews kind of fit into that process of bringing a book to market.

Patti Thorn [00:17:05] That's a good question as well. In the traditional published world, publishers are used to sending out advanced galleys, they call them, they are uncorrected proofs, but the book is mostly ready, they send it early, sometimes without a cover or whatever, probably even three to four months before publication date. That allows the editor of any book review section, time to find a reviewer, get the review back, have it ready to go when the book is first published. In the traditionally published world, people want to read reviews of books that are just out. It's like news, it's news, you don't want to read a review of a book that's been out a year. In the self-published world, that's a little bit different. I think it's a little less important that you get a review immediately before, before the book comes out, I'm sorry, I'm not articulating...

Robin Cutler [00:18:07] No, I hear you. You have a little bit more leeway as a self-publisher.

Patti Thorn [00:18:11] It's still a good idea to solicit reviews early so that your will have all your marketing plans in place. If you have reviews ready to go when you launch your book, then you're ready with your press release. You could put an excerpt from a review on your press release to catch people's eye, ready on your website, ready for social media, right when the book is launched. I would suggest you solicit reviews two to three months before your launch date.

Robin Cutler [00:18:42] Great advice, right Justine?

Justine Bylo [00:18:43] Yeah, great advice, and it's always a really good part of any presale strategy in my mind too. That fits right in there, so great advice.

Robin Cutler [00:18:54] Well, thanks so much for speaking with us, Patti, about the importance of reviews, and thanks so much for listening to Go Publish Yourself. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, and leave us a review, a thumbs up on iTunes or Apple Podcasts. The more positive ratings and reviews we receive, the more authors and publishers, like you, will be able to discover our podcast too. If you're ready to publish today, please visit the IngramSpark website. For more tips on publishing like a pro, check out our weekly blog and free online self-publishing courses available in the IngramSpark Academy. So long, talk to you soon.


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