Book Reviewers: The New Gatekeepers?

Writing Wednesday is a day late this week – it’s been a crazy one.  This is an update on another chapter of the self-pub journey.  I feel like I’m peeling away layers of an onion, and the writer in me wants to catalog the journey.

As an indie author, you’re not just the creator, you’re also potentially the editor, proofreader, formatter, packager, marketer, and salesperson.  On top of that, you’re the CEO, accountant, and creative team.  Whether you have experience in any of these realms, once you publish a book, the next question you’re going to ask yourself is, “Now, how do I get people (aside from friends and family who feel obligated) to read it?”

Even if you don’t do a lot of marketing, there are a couple of things that will go a long way towards helping to sell your book.  They are no-brainers:

  1. Have an online presence of some sort.  I don’t know about you, but as a reader, I’m pretty picky these days.  Unless I’ve read an author before, I’m very skeptical.  I won’t even grab something that’s free without checking out the author first.  They have to have some form of author page, website, blog, or social media presence, and that needs to have a professional appearance – like they’re running a legit business.  Once that’s established, the next thing that influences me to buy is…
  2. Reviews.  Word of mouth sells books.  If your friends and family are REALLY supportive, they’ll actually read your book, and if they really really really love you, they’ll even leave you a review on one or all platforms.  But what about debut authors who aren’t so lucky?  How do you get the few dozen folks who purchase your book to post a review for it?  Well, there’s the obvious: ask.  In the back matter, put a polite request and a link.  That’s still leaving it to chance.  So the next thought is – get a book review blogger to write one.  Not only is it a guaranteed review, but from someone who has readers of their own that trust and value their opinion.  That’s some serious street cred!

The absolute best kind of word of mouth will have to get people off that fence and into your book, right!?!?

There are a lot of book review bloggers out there.  Many are even genre specific, which is pretty cool as far as helping to reach your target audience.  They range from hobbyists just looking to score free books in exchange for sharing their opinion (hey, nothing wrong with that!) to high-end sites with thousands of readers that could give you a significant boost in sales.


In a lot of ways, until you HAVE street cred, it’s hard to get street cred.  Most of the larger sites don’t accept self-published titles.  ALL of them that do have legions of indie authors pounding down their virtual doors and shoving free copies of their books through the crack.

This past week, as I took my first steps into that arena, I got a serious case of deja-vu.  I was googling book reviewers, doing a quick eval on whether my book was a good fit for them and checking their review policy and request/submission process.  Then I was crafting custom-tailored emails and starting to make a list, when it hit me why the feeling was so familiar…  ANYONE who has EVER queried an agent is familiar with this:

You Shall Not Pass
From Reddit

The process with book review bloggers is so eerily similar.  I even got a standard “Thanks, but we’re going to pass on this one” form rejection.

It was eye-opening to realize that there are other writers who had agent after agent pass on their book(s) who are now querying the book review bloggers, especially the popular ones. We are still in the same virtual slush pile, its just in someone else’s inbox.  The book bloggers have become the new “gatekeepers” between authors and “the market.”  Will readers take a chance on a book with no or just a few reviews?  Sure, some will, but plenty more will pass simply for that reason.

A part of me was enraged that I now have a new set of hoops to jump through.  I thought I was done querying.  I was excited to self-pub because I had all the powah! and control of my own destiny.  What a buzzkill.  But once I thought about it rationally, I see advantages and disadvantages to having gatekeepers.


  • Having to put in the time to query book reviewers (and it IS time-consuming!) will hopefully weed out the lazy and less serious authors.
  • If your work stands out as high-quality and you conduct yourself professionally, hopefully you will have an advantage.
  • Book reviewers are closer to the reader branch of of the publishing tree than the editing branch, so they are probably more likely to take a chance on something that is less “marketable” as long as it sounds appealing.
  • Their livelihood doesn’t depend on the choice, so they can afford to be more generous.
  • They are not controlled by “The Big 5” (or is it four… or three now?  I don’t know.)
  • When a book blogger gives you a yes, and likes your book, they can tell the world, and directly influence your sales, while the control/benefit still belongs to the author.
  • The whole process is MUCH speedier.
  • Basically… there is HOPE in this slush pile.


  • Less popular genres and speculative fiction have a disadvantage, because there aren’t as many dedicated review sites as let’s say romance.
  • Did I mention it’s time consuming?  They say the best thing you can do to sell books is write more books.  This is definitely one big thing to add to the ever-growing list of marketing/managing tasks that will keep you away from your WIP when you self-pub.
  • You could get a BAD review.  Public. Humiliation.  If an agent thinks your book is crap, no one will know.  A reviewer can tank your book as much as they could boost it.

Overall, that’s more pros than cons, so I’m going to be optimistic and say that this shift of the slush pile is a good thing.  I did get two takers so far, and I will keep fishing for more.  Let’s hope when they read it, they have something good to say about it!

Thanks for tuning in.


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