Goodreads Giveaway Gone and the Review Question

On Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM, the two-book Goodreads Giveaway for Pilot Error ended with a total of 640 members (out of a total 6 million) entered to win. That’s a tiny percentage, even when considering that the Giveaway was restricted to US members.

That may sound as if I care, which I don’t, and I’m disappointed, which I’m not, because the important point is that Goodreads provides the opportunity to put a book in front of a whole lot of folks who love to read books, review them, and share with others what they are reading and reviewing.

At last count, 64 members had listed the book as “to read.” That’s only 10% of the people who might have wanted nothing more than to get a free book, but you have to start somewhere, and hopefully some of those members will follow through with the intent and might even review it.

I shipped the books out to the winners last week. Anyone who signs up promises to review the book if they win, which brings be to the second half of this post title.

Within one of my writer’s groups, an ongoing conversation addresses the relative benefit of reviews versus press releases for attracting readers. It’s an interesting question, and any writer with a book out there should be aware of the various ways to enhance discoverability, the first objective of any marketing effort, and the topic isn’t restricted to comparing reviews and press releases, but also reviews and paid reviews.

Some writers think that reviews from readers mean nothing. Without knowing the qualifications of the readers who review the book, who cares about their opinions? Others think that you can reasonably assess the validity of any review, and that a well-written, comprehensive review carries sufficient “weight” to be worth considering. But what about an independent review from a respected source? Shouldn’t that provide a more reliable evaluation?

Kirkus Reviews is an American book review magazine founded in 1933. It serves the book and literary trade sector, including libraries, publishers, literary and film agents, film and TV producers and booksellers. Books are submitted to Kirkus, which then picks the ones it will review. Self-described as the world’s toughest book critics, Kirkus has every incentive to cultivate a strict reputation of impartiality.

It goes without saying that Kirkus wields a powerful pen whether it chooses to review a book or not. Consider the variable effect of no review, a less-than-positive one, or glowing praise. And the key ingredient supporting the validity of Kirkus is the principle of caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware. Once you submit a book to Kirkus, what you get is what you get. There’s no “O0ps, I wish they hadn’t said that” clause.

But Kirkus Reviews does not consider indie books. Here’s the explanation: From a print-production and economic standpoint, it is impossible for Kirkus Reviews to review titles that fall outside the realm of traditional, mainstream trade titles from traditional, mainstream and other established publishers.

And then this: That’s where Kirkus Indie comes in. No matter what type of book you’d like reviewed, Kirkus Indie can accommodate you, with the chance to have it included in an issue of Kirkus Reviews and the monthly Kirkus newsletter, which are distributed to key book-buying and filmmaking professionals and representatives.

Okay, so an indie author can get a book reviewed. For a price. But can the reader of a Kirkus Indie review have the same confidence in its impartiality? Kirkus obviously has a vested interest in making sure you can. But there’s another factor to consider. Kirkus Indie does not use the principle of caveat emptor. The author has the option of not publishing the review.

I personally don’t think that affects the value of a Kirkus Indie review. So what if readers don’t see reviews of books that don’t fare well? They are looking for books that do, and that’s what they get. On the other hand, readers aware of Kirkus Reviews and Kirkus Indie, and who rely on them for information to help make book-buying decisions, might be inclined not to even consider a book unless it shows up in either of the two places. Absence may well imply its own negative stigma for some readers.

Kirkus Indie reviews aren’t cheap, especially when considering that most indie authors make little or nothing from selling their books. And some writers maintain that if you’re going to spend money for publicity, you can obtain more value from a press release than a Kirkus Indie review, especially since the author controls the message.

In my opinion, that logic is self-defeating. Any reader knows that authors love their books, so how can a press release controlled by the author provide anything of value by way of review?

Of course the author loves it. All you have to do is attend a social function with an author in the crowd and it’s worse than having a pilot in the room: “Well, that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about my novel!”

At this point in my indie journey I’m undecided on the question of paid publicity. But if I had to choose today, Kirkus Indie would be the front runner because all the other paid options like blog tours, interviews, and press releases clearly appear to be self-promotion with no claim whatsoever of impartiality.

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