One of the scariest and most exciting things about your book going out in the world is people reading it and having opinions. Reviews are an important part of the book publishing ecosystem.
Even though a lot of people find their books online through creators on TikTok or other social media, traditional publishers still invest time and energy in getting review copies to book reviewers for review consideration. If you’ve ever wondered who reads book reviews and what book reviews are for, there are a few different perspectives from the people reviews are meant for.
First, what do we mean by a book review? In this piece, I’ll discuss book reviews that are written for more “traditional” media publications. Goodreads is a big source of reviews for both professionals, casual readers, and bookish influencers, but the point of Goodreads is being able to post whatever you think about a book to advise other readers. “Traditional” book reviews tend to have an association with pre-internet print or analog media (though that it not always the case anymore).
Trade publications that cover the publishing industry (like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and more) review a wide range of books. These publications give short, holistic reviews, and the reviewer can choose to assign a star to a book they find particularly compelling. You will nearly always see a starred PW, Booklist, or Kirkus review included on an author’s book’s back cover if they’ve gotten one in the past.
Magazines, local newspapers, and other entertainment-focused media cover books as well. There are also a variety of niche publications that cover special interest books. For example, the Women’s Review of Books and The Gay & Lesbian Review focus on books that correspond to their titles.
For the Publishing Company
Reviews are an essential part of a publishing company’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 beginning of how much of the first printing will be dedicated to review outreach.
Among many other duties, the publicity department of most publishing companies will send review copies to editors, reviewers, and publications for review consideration and assignments. However, anyone with connections to people who review books at a publishing company can recommend those reviewers to publicity or send them on their own.
Additionally, some authors will work with independent publicists or public relations firms to get their books out to reviewers. Some authors choose to do this because they self-publish or publish with small publishing houses that don’t have as many resources dedicated to publicity. Postage for book mailing can get very expensive.
The reviews help the publishing company sell the books to various stakeholders with whom they have longstanding relationships, or to those with whom they’re trying to establish relationships. Glowing pre-publication reviews can cause libraries or bookstores to order higher numbers of books for their stock, putting more copies of the well-reviewed book in front of readers.
For the Readers
Even though casual readers might not be engaging with Kirkus Reviews or Publishers Weekly, anyone browsing a bookstore will come across quotes from these reviews printed on the back covers of books.
Book reviews also give basic information about the plot that help readers determine if they want to dive into the genre. If a book lover picks up Booklist magazine to read reviews, they might be looking for a comparable read or something totally new. Reviews can help with either of these, as most book reviews give comp titles.
A book that gets a lot of pre- or even post-publication reviews is also going to attract the attention of readers who want to engage with the book everyone is talking about.
The Author Perspective
Book reviews are crucial for authors to understand how their book is being received and maybe even if they’ll be able to get another contract. Without wading into the rough 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 in reviews to aid her writing process: “I’m too nosy not to read them! I’m also the kind of person who actually enjoys a thoughtful critique 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 Dirty Word, also found that the reviews gave her “a sense of how readers connected (or didn’t) with this thing I’d put out into the world. That sense of connection is a huge part of why I write what I write.”
Contributor Jessica Pryde, author of Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters, also chooses to read reviews of her books out of curiosity and an attention to her craft. Since the book is pitched at a niche market, Pryde is “delighted” because the reviews bring the book to a wider circle of readers who may not have sought out the book, but nevertheless would enjoy the book.
All of them understand how difficult it can be to write a book and then read an unenthusiastic or even negative review. “Feel free to take all the time you need feeling angsty and affronted and perhaps even slightly homicidal,” says Steph. “But once you get it together, remember: In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean much, and the right readers will find your book no matter what the reviews say.”
Jessica also stresses how important it is to understand that reviews are rarely written to hurt you personally: “Whether they’re negative or positive, they’re not written with you in mind. So if you’re nosy like me, have at it, prepared to potentially get your feelings hurt. But if you’d rather not know, you don’t have to.”
Susie’s perspective has changed on reviewing: “When I read a review now, I focus less on, Is it a good book or a bad book? takeaways and more on, What aspects of the book are they celebrating or criticizing here, and are those things important to me as a reader?“
The Final Review
Overall, reviews from traditional publications will remain important to publishers, authors, and readers. There’s an established history that works in the ecosystem of book publishing, bookselling, and book buying.
On the other hand, Book Riot will always be a place to find more lists of exciting similar titles and book nerds nerding out about their favorite genres and upcoming new releases.