10 ways to maximize trade reviews in your book marketing

What are trade reviews? Do they really matter?

A trade review is an analysis of your book written and published by a trade magazine in the publishing industry. You may be familiar with some of the big ones: Publisher’s WeeklyKirkusBookListLibrary Journal.

The reviews are usually short. They are a summary of your book written with an obvious slant. Typically, the last couple lines are where the review writer lays out his or her opinion of your book.  

So what is the purpose of these reviews and where do they go?  The reviews are listed on the trade publication’s website. But don’t get too excited. It doesn’t mean your review will be seen by the 1.2 million monthly visitors at publishersweekly.com. Trade magazines traffic in reviews, so your book will get listed among hundreds of others. Only a handful of authors are lucky enough to get prominent space on a publication’s website, social channels or newsletter. Instead, 95% of authors find their review buried far back in the abyss of the website, where few eyeballs ever notice them.

The main utility of a trade review is what YOU can use it for in the rest of your marketing endeavors. Pull a short quote or two from the review and list it:

  1. On your website
  2. A graphic posted on your social media feed
  3. The top banner photo of your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profiles
  4. On your book’s sales pages (Amazon, Ingram, your website, Bookshop.org, etc.)
  5. On your book cover! (Only if it is particularly impressive, like a coveted Kirkus starred review.
  6. As the content of an ad for your book (on Amazon, social media, or wholesale bookstore catalogs)
  7. In a pitch email to the media or podcasts when requesting feature interviews
  8. When you reach out to other authors to request blurbs/recommendations of your book
  9. As part of a media kit that you send to the press before your book launches
  10. Provided to bookstores or other venues to use in publicity leading up to an event with you

You will never use the entire review, but there are a LOT of places a couple quotes from the review will go. Here are how some authors in the Good Enough Book Marketing membership community have used their trade review:

Left: Linda MacKillop posted a quote from her PW review to her Instagram and Facebook page. Right: Wendell Affield used his Kirkus review for an ad listing in a catalog targeting independent bookstores.

Basically, trade reviews do two important things: 

1)    They provide professional credibility within the publishing industry. This helps you walk up the “marketing ladder” to land bigger exposure in larger media outlets. (primary reason)

2)    They give you content to generate excitement about your book’s launch to your readers. (secondary reason)

Why Trade Reviews? Aren’t other types of reviews enough? 

Trade Reviews are professional proof of your book’s quality. These publications have massive recognition and trust within the publishing industry. Remember: trade publications go to other institutions, professionals, and peers. The main focus of a trade review is to get attention and respect within the book world—not to convince your readers to buy your book.

Reviews in the general media or blurbs from other authors, on the other hand, are written to target and convince readers. These types of reviews are also important. But authors who aren’t yet able to land large media or the approval of famous authors can still utilize trade reviews to “prove themselves” as a writer.

The main point: when a bookstore owner, reporter, podcast host, library purchaser, etc. is considering your book, a positive trade review from a recognizable publication will go a long way in convincing them to give your book a chance—especially if you are a debut author!

But let’s not ignore the hard part about getting trade reviews.

The cost

Submitting your book for a trade review is expensive. Exact cost varies from publication to publication, so do your research and search for discount codes! If you’re traditionally published, you don’t need to worry about this. Your publisher is the one submitting your book and paying any fees. All you have to know is what to do with the review as you push your book forward into the world.

If you’re an Indie author, though, it’s all on you. Not only do you have to submit your book for review in the correct time frame, but you have to pay for it, too. There are some publications that offer both a free and premium option for reviews. Usually the free version means there’s no guarantee they’re going to review your book. It will be several months before you will know whether your book was chosen, which can really delay your book’s publication timeline. And the reviews from the “free” version are usually much shorter than the paid ones, so you have less content to pull from when finding the perfect quote to use. The free version is rarely worth the gamble. I recommend always using the paid option. Keep in mind: even though you are paying money, there is no guarantee for a positive review (that would be unethical), only a guarantee that a review will happen.  

What if you get a negative review?

The internet is full of authors venting about bad experiences with trade reviews. It is a very real frustration for a lot of excellent writers. Some feel they wasted a lot of money for something they didn’t get any positive return on. That disappointment usually stems from unrealistic expectations. Remember, you should think of this as a tool to use going forward, not something that gets you direct results.

But a lot of other disappointment comes from the content of the review itself. What if you get a negative review? A few tips: 

  • Indie authors: Before submitting for a trade review, try to get beta readers with experience or familiarity in the book industry. This is important because trade reviews are written by Old Industry folks. Your literary-minded friends will be able to point out where your book may be too “outside the lines” for a trade review’s opinion. This will save you a lot of money and disappointment.
  • For all authors: Be clever about the quote you pull from the review. Remember, these reviews are several paragraphs long. Even a negative review will probably have some moderate line that you can use in your marketing—even if it’s just a line describing your plot. As long as you don’t manipulate the review’s meaning, there are creative ways to use a disappointing review in your marketing materials.

There are two important things to remember when it comes to negative reviews.

The first is that positive trade reviews are only valuable if the potential for a negative review exists. As much as it hurts personally to get a negative review, everyone in the industry, yourself included, benefits from trade reviews having high standards. When you do finally land a good trade review, it will be that much sweeter.

Secondly, remember that these reviews don’t have much visibility beyond what you give them. So you don’t need to panic that a bad review will cost you any opportunity or reader.

How to do trade reviews “Good Enough” 

There are SO MANY trade publications in the publishing industry nowadays. It can be tempting to do what the major publishers do and submit your book for reviews in all (or many) of them. This is unnecessary and very expensive. I recommend every author get only TWO trade reviews per book. One in a trade magazine that targets booksellers/publishers. A second review in a magazine targeting libraries.

To keep it simple: choose either Publisher’s Weekly (BookLife, for Indie authors) or Kirkus for your commercial book industry target. Then choose either BookList or Library Journal for your library target.

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