How To Start a Profitable Book Review Business

    January 16, 2004

Writers in general are a huge, lucrative, and sometimes desperate market. Fiction writers however, are the cream of the crop. For some reason, it seems like *everyone* dreams of being the next Stephen King.

With the widespread use of the Internet, there’s been a dramatic surge in self-publishing, print on demand (POD), and ebook distribution. The problem though, is that even though these methods make publication much quicker and easier – and potentially much more lucrative – writers still need to generate publicity for their works.

And the traditional way is still generally the best: book reviews.

Now first let me explain how the book review process normally works, then I’ll tell you how to put a profitable twist on it. And to wrap it all up, I’ll share a few insights that should help you avoid headaches or problems.

The Traditional Book Review Process No matter how a book is produced, there is one aspect that stays the same. The book must be promoted. And more often than not, the author has to be the one who promotes the book. The most common way to promote any book is to get book reviews.

Getting a book reviewed is a tedious, time consuming, and sometimes humiliating process. The author starts by searching for book reviewers. If they’re smart, they’ll identify those reviewers who cover the genre their book falls into, then they’ll send an inquiry via email or regular mail. Identifying a reviewers preferences and/or specialties is a form of targeted marketing. Some reviewers only look at science fiction work, some only romance, and some won’t even touch fiction at all. So if an author sends poetry to a computer book reviewer, they’re wasting their time and money.

Now, sending an inquiry can mean a variety of things: Press Release, book synopsis, excerpts, or just a general note asking if they’d consider reviewing the work. Some authors simply send the book itself.

In either case, the next step is to wait anxiously.

The Problem With Traditional Methods Regardless of how well the author researches a reviewer… whether they send an inquiry or just send the book… WAIT is a critical word in a burgeoning author’s world.

You see, book reviewers are like journalists – they get pounded with requests. It is not uncommon for a reviewer to get several unexpected books delivered in the mail every single day… on top of hundreds of inquiries and requests by both email and regular letters too. Consequently, established book reviewers are usually 5-6 months behind.

So when an author sends their book – with or without inquiring first – it could be quite some time before they actually see a review produced. If they’re reviewed at all. That’s the other problem: There’s no guarantee the book will actually get reviewed.

Now, authors need reviews for numerous reasons. To get sales of course, but also to get other reviews! And many books traditionally sport review quotes on their inside jackets and covers too.

How You Can Profit You can profit in this industry, simply by filling author’s needs and desires.

All you have to do is provide top quality reviews – fast. And in this industry, 6 weeks is fast. I would suggest 3-4 weeks turn around though, because it would make a huge impression.

Now earlier I mentioned this market was desperate… and when I say desperate, I actually mean it. Aspiring writers probably fall for more scams then business opportunity seekers do. So if you decide to start a business like this, you will need to establish – and maintain – excellent credibility. This is easily done though, and I’ll give you a few tips on that in a moment.

There’s one other thing you need to know before launching a venture like this: Paying for good reviews is frowned upon, distasteful, and considered “cheating” – or at the very least, bad form. Because of this, it’s critical that you position your new business service precisely. And to help in this area, I also strongly suggest that you have a minimum of two service offerings.

In general, your service will be to provide book reviews to authors. You should give authors the option of getting an expedited review – completed in say, 3 weeks maximum – for a small fee. I would suggest something like $95 or $99. This will be your money maker.

There is one other company online that offers expedited book reviews, but they charge a fee of $297 (Last time I looked), and their turn around time was 6 weeks. Since you’re most likely starting as a one person operation, I think the lower price combined with the faster turn around time will help your business grow fast.

You will also offer authors standard, free reviews. These will have turn around times of 3-6 months, depending on how busy you are.

Your sales material should clearly state that you’re not charging for good reviews. You are charging for expedited service. And in keeping with that, you should NOT try to write glowing praise on every review you provide.

A good review will highlight both strengths and weaknesses. It will help your readers make an informed decision as to whether they should spend their hard earned money on this particular piece of work.

Putting Strategies In Play I would recommend these strategies too:

1. Really read the book. Take notes if you need to even. But read it. Too many “book reviews” are just a few obligatory lines that clearly indicate the reviewer barely looked at the book.

2. Read the book. Honestly and completely. This needs saying twice because another common “review” tactic is to simply look over the press release and other reviewer’s comments, then regurgitate that into a “new” review. Those kinds of games will kill your business before it even gets off the ground.

3. Give your best. If you expect to be paid for a service, then give the best damn service you can think of. Make the review at least 300 words, but 500 or so is even better. Give constructive criticism if it’s warranted.

4. Be sensitive to the author’s feelings – and to your end readers. If you get a book that is simply horrible, unedited, full of errors and inconsistencies… tell the author. Privately. If they’ve paid for an expedited review, offer to refund their money. Explain that a public review at this point would do them more harm than good.

5. Once the review is finished: – post it on your review website – send it to the author – and distribute it to free article publication lists.

These serve multiple purposes all of their own. – It builds your credibility with the author particularly – and with other newsletters, websites and readers – It gets the word out about your services – It showcases your work, and can generate additional work and/or recommendations over time – It will generate links to your website

The author should also have full use ability of the review once you’ve delivered it to them. You don’t have to give them copyrights to it if you don’t want to, and you can require that your name stay attached with any quotes, excerpts, or re-publication. In general though, the author should have the right to use your review in any way they need to for promotion. It’s what they wanted it for in the first place, right?

One other thing I’d suggest is to set up a syndication feed of some sort at your website. RSS/XML is great for this. Having this available for other websites to use as content will help get the word out about your services, which in turn will help your business grow that much faster. It’s also a great selling point to book authors, when you can tell them their review will be syndicated across hundreds or thousands of websites automatically.

Follow these same high standards and principles with your regular, non-expedited reviews too. These will be what you’ll use to promote your expedited service! Use these reviews to build your portfolio, credentials, and business identity. You’ll also get thank you notes from authors – expedited or not – and you should use these as testimonials on your site.

The Future in a Nutshell Now, there’s a heck of a lot more detail that should be included in a guide like this, but I’m not writing a book :) This is plenty to get you started of course, but I do want to mention one more thing: growth.

Over time, possibly just a few months but definitely within a year if you really work at it, you’ll have more reviews than you can handle. At that point, you should consider paying other writers to create the reviews. Many beginning writers will work for free, so you could farm out your “standard” reviews to them with just the promise of a free book. If you want to also farm out the expedited reviews – you will need to farm this out at some point, can you imagine getting 100 expedited review orders each week? 😉 In any case, you could offer other starting writers $10-$20 pay per review plus the free book, and you’ll still have writers beating down the door. Eventually you could hire a “managing editor” and let all the writing be done by others… while you’re off in an exotic land somewhere without a worry in the world 😉

(C)2004, Kathy Burns-Millyard. All Rights Reserved.

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