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How to get around the “we don’t review self-published books” roadblock

How many times have you heard that mainstream media outlets don’t review self-published books?

That statement is both true and false.

It’s true that most mainstream media outlets aren’t interested in self-published books that:

  • Don’t meet traditional publishing standards
  • Use an obviously do-it-yourself cover
  • Name a commonly known self-publishing company or anything else that shouts “SELF-PUBLISHED!” on the copyright page

That doesn’t mean you can’t get your self-published book reviewed by the big guys, though. You just have to know what you’re doing, from beginning to end.

Here’s what you need to get around the “we don’t review self-published books” obstacle.

1. A well-written book that looks and reads like anything coming from a traditional publisher

This is non-negotiable. If you want trade/literary/media reviews, your book has to be a good read – and look like one, too.

If you’re not a good writer, hire a reputable ghostwriter. Association of Ghostwriters members need documented experience to qualify.

Pay a professional editor.

Work with a cover designer with experience in your genre.

2. A publishing company name that disguises the fact that you’re self-published

we don't review self--published books 2The publisher’s name is printed on the copyright page and in the product details on retail sales pages.

It’s common knowledge that Lulu, BookBaby, Xlibris, and “Independently published” (that’s what Amazon is now using instead of its defunct CreateSpace), among others, mean the book is self-published.

Create a publishing company for your book, using a name with no connection to you, your book title, or your family. Make it as generic as possible.

Do not use:

  • References to where you live (I live across the street from the Erie Canal, but I’d never use “Erie Canal Press”)
  • Anagrams of your first or last name
  • Your book’s topic (a book about spiritual guides by “Spiritual Guide Publishing”)
  • A combination of family names

When you create your publishing company name, make sure it fits the types of books you write. If you plan on publishing several children’s books, you want your company name to be light and fun. Writing business books? Let law firm or consulting company monikers inspire you.

3. Bookstore and library distribution

A friend who reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor told me recently that books he reviews for that media outlet “should be widely accessible.”

He went on to say, “The Monitor won’t like it if I review a book and readers go to their local B&N and can’t find it.”

we don't review self-published books 3
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, Calif.

Add to this the fact that bookstores and libraries aren’t interested in carrying self-published books that aren’t well-written and professionally packaged.Now you understand how important it is to meet accepted quality standards.

One major exception to the “we don’t review self-published books” problem

A significant exception to this – in theory – is Publishers Weekly’s (PW) free review program for self-published authors, BookLife.

A BookLife review lets you tout the fact that your book was reviewed by the best-known publication in the book publishing industry. BookLife reviews are attributed to Publishers Weekly and published alongside the other PW reviews in the main part of the magazine.

The only difference between PW reviews of self-published and traditionally published books is the word “BookLife” in parentheses at the end of the self-published book’s review.

Kelsey Clifton’s debut sci-fi novel, A Day Out of Time, was recently selected for a BookLife review. She’s anxiously awaiting the outcome.

She says, “If you look on the ‘Submissions Guidelines’ page, it does say that their process ‘is highly competitive — both for self-published and traditionally published authors…. If your book is chosen, know that it truly stood out.’ Which is always great to read!”

Skip the reviews, go for publicity

Another valid and valuable option is pursuing publicity instead of or in addition to mainstream media reviews.

Publicity is that free media exposure you get when your book is mentioned in the press. It might be:

One advantage of this approach is that the journalist doesn’t need to see or read your book. What counts is that you wrote a book related to a topic that’s interesting to the outlet’s audience.

As with reviews, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the publicity you seek. But you won’t know until you try.

It’s not hard to get this publicity, either — you just have to know how to do it. Learn now in Book Marketing 101: How to Build Book Buzz. There’s a course for nonfiction and another for fiction.

One of the beauties of learning how to get publicity is that you can secure this media exposure long after the book launch. I once generated three press runs of one of my books on the strength of sales generated soley by publicity. Why can’t you do that, too?

Take action!

If you’ve got a standout, professionally packaged book, go for it.

If it’s too late to do this for your present book, follow these steps for the next one. You’ve poured your heart into that book. Why not give it the best possible chance of success?

Was your self-published book reviewed by any traditional media outlets? Please tell us about it in a comment.

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

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  1. Excellent advice, Sandra. When I recently purchased a block of ISBN numbers, I used my company name (which includes my initials). Should I use a different name as publisher when I self-publish with Amazon? Or can I even do that after using the biz name at ISBN checkout?

    1. Thanks, Patti! I’m glad the article was helpful.

      I would use a different name for the publishing company name because your initials will give you away. I don’t know the answer to your biz name/ISBN question, but Bowker should be able to help.


  2. Love this article, Sandra. I’ll share it with my followers. When seeking publicity, don’t forget about print and electronic newsletters. Often, they have loyal readers.

    When I published a set of tips booklets in 2000, I sent a sample along with a press release to the Kiplinger Letter, a high-circulation newsletter for corporate execs. One three-sentence mention resulted in hundreds of dollars in sales as well as bulk orders.

    1. Thanks for the always helpful advice, Joan! I agree! It’s always about knowing your audience and where you’ll find them.


    1. It’s never too late to try to get publicity. In fact, I recommend working to get publicity as long as the book’s in print. Give it a try!


  3. I am 86 and neat help for my last book that came out last year. Life Rich is my publisher. The press release they did was awful. No responses.

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