Indie book reviews: Separating the wheat from the chaff

If you want to add indie ebooks to your library, how do you pick the good ones and avoid the duds? It’s not as if an ebook that never circs is going to clutter your shelves, but at the same time you want to focus your energy on acquiring ebooks that your patrons will enjoy. You need ebooks with positive reviews–and not only positive reviews but positive reviews from credible review sources you can trust. After all, reading the reviews takes effort. You don’t want to have to evaluate the sources of the reviews, too.

Or, if you’re an indie author, how do you get a review that librarians will respect, so they will buy your book? An author may also ask, do I even need a review?

When I began research for this article, I wanted to know two things

  • How the review process works for indie author
  • How librarians can find credible reviews of indie books so they can make good choices of what to buy for their collections

I began with a little online research.

Jane Friedman wrote an excellent post on paid reviews for indie authors, and PW has a recently updated  article on the same subject by Daniel Lefferts and Alex Daniel in the BookLife section for self-publishing authors. Some authors find that paid reviews do create additional book sales, while others do not.

On the other hand, if an indie author wants to sell to libraries, then a credible, even if paid for, review will probably be necessary.

Looking for professional insight into the review process and how it works, specifically with indie authors, I turned to Patti Thorn and Patty Moosbrugger, co-owners of BlueInk Review. While Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and various other publications and websites offer paid or unpaid reviews of indies as well as of traditionally published books, BlueInk Review works exclusively with indie authors and feeds their reviews into both trade and library selection channels. Because of BlueInk Review’s tight focus on indies, and the connection to both the bookselling and library worlds, they seemed like the best place to start.

Librarian and ebook expert Jamie LaRue thinks so highly of BlueInk Review that he writes in American Libraries:

Let me be blunt: I think every public library in America should track their recommendations, and buy them.

As background, Patti was the Books Editor at a regional newspaper that shut down following the last recession, so she knows how to write and edit reviews. She has written hundreds of reviews herself and edited thousands more. Patty was and is an attorney and literary agent, so she knows what authors need and want. Hence, both are highly qualified to be in the book review business. All the quotes, below, are from Patti.

To begin with the review process and its importance to indie authors, Patti explained the importance of book reviews. Just as with traditionally published books, a good review helps readers make the decision to invest their time (and possibly their money) in the book.

“People need reviews because it takes a long time to read a book, so they want validation that the book will be worth their time. A good review provides that.”

In other words, readers need reviews for essentially the same reasons that librarians need reviews. Likewise, indie authors need credible reviews just like traditionally published authors do.

In the past, it was essentially impossible for an indie author to get a credible review. As Patti recalled her days as a full-time book review editor

“We were just swamped. I’d get 250 books a week from traditional publishers, so I couldn’t even look at self-published books.”

The situation has not improved as far as winning reviews from mainstream publications. With more books published every year, both traditionally and independently, the odds of a mainstream publication reviewing an indie book have actually decreased; hence the need for specialty publications.

BlueInk Review assures that their reviews are credible by hiring only critics who either have professional experience as editors or who are subject matter experts.

“Our critics are all people who have experience editing in big publishing houses or have written reviews for mainstream publications, such as Kirkus, the New York Times, and Forward/Clarion. Obviously, if we get a math book, we get a math professor.”

Here is a list of BlueInk Review critics with their qualifications.

All reviews, favorable or not, go up on the BlueInk Review website. Authors have two weeks to opt-out and have them taken down. This will also prevent them from going into a feed to Ingram’s iPage. Only BlueInk Review select (very well-reviewed) titles go into a feed to Booklist, the ALA’s official book review/selection tool that is read by over 60,000 people. So, if you see a reviewed book from BlueInk Review in Booklist, you know it has a buy recommendation.

For librarians who want reviews of indie books, other sources include Kirkus and Forward/Clarion.

You can also sign up to receive a tightly focused monthly newsletter listing only books reviewed favorably by BlueInk Review.

It is safe to say that if librarians want to add well-reviewed indie books to their libraries, then finding credible sources of reviews is no longer a problem. It has been solved, specifically by BlueInk Review, but also by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. Likewise, if you are an indie author, there are excellent ways to purchase a paid review, BlueInk Review being the best.

If you use book reviews to select indie titles for your library, or if you are an author who has used paid or unpaid reviews in your marketing, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences.