Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically
The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Reading Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s books is always a pleasurable experience. It’s not just because of her warm, intimate and accessible prose. Howard-Johnson is something of an industry expert, and she manages to make the most complex processes seem simple fun. Her How to do it Frugally series provides pretty much everything you need to know about all aspects of marketing your books without spending a fortune. The latest in the series, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically, is no exception. This is a very thorough compendium that goes from importance of obtaining reviews through to building lists, writing query letters, using Amazon, how to deal with (and still use) negative reviews, and a whole lot more. How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically is the most comprehensive book on getting book reviews I’ve ever come across. In her usual warm and easy-to-follow manner, Howard-Johnson outlines everything you need to know to maximise your book’s chances.
Some of the information is a tidy and helpful distillation of commonsense, such as “review trippers,” or how to deal with things like passed deadlines, book bigotry (or publisher bias), what an ARC is, and how to get ebook reviews, even from reviewers who only take hard copies. Other chapters are really innovative, such as creating an early series of contact lists and working them, even (ideally) before the book is written, and “magic bullets” (or bullet points) to ensuring that you get more positive responses to your review queries than negative ones. The latter point is crucial. I often think about what makes me accept a book for review – even when I have an already massive stack, and what makes me reject it immediately, and Howard-Johnson’s “legitimate hacks” are spot on. They really get to the crux of what a reviewer is looking for, not only in the approach or query, but in the way the book is packaged and presented. Howard-Johnson’s chapters on making use of Amazon are also particularly valuable, as this information is both key to sales, and not readily known or easy to find out.
The overall focus of the book is around getting reviews, but How to get Great Reviews Ethically and Frugally does more than simply focus on the review. It really parcels up the entire promotional process around a book and presents it in a handy format for new, and more experienced authors. There are chapters around book tours, quality control, what to do with the reviews you get, and even how you send your book, and I completely concur that parceling a book up nicely, and not stamping it all over with “Review copy” (including on the inner page where a reviewer might be trying to read, which has happened to me), makes a difference in terms of the reviewer’s personal experience with the book and how much value they assign to it.
Frugality is Howard-Johnson’s stock-in-trade, and since none of her suggestions involve a large outlay, I’d say that picking up a copy of this book is about the most frugal and valuable thing a new author can do in order to generate inexpensive and highly credible publicity. The book is easy to read, and rich with Howard-Johnson’s own considerable experience. Above all, I think the point that she makes about treating the acquiring of reviews, not as an ancillary activity, but an integral part of the promotional campaign and one that cannot be skimped on, is key. If you have a new book out, or are contemplating having a book out, you need this guide. How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically is an excellent resource that both beginning and seasoned authors can return to again and again.