Even if you self-publish, you will spend months of preparation for a release day that may go out with a whimper, not a bang. In some respects, a lack of reviews is worse if you have self-published, because those who follow that route have to do all their own marketing and promotion, a task which requires direct involvement with readers.
Why are reviews important?
Like any other product on the market, people rely on the recommendations of others when they choose a book to read. In traditional publishing, endorsements by well-known authors and public figures are a key element in marketing. In the self-publishing world, success rests on the number of readers on Goodreads, on Amazon, and on blogs who will give your book a 5-star review. Without this kind of public endorsement, it may be nearly impossible to promote your book, especially if you have enrolled in KDP Select.
Amazon KDP Select giveaways are still the reigning book promotion tool. There are dozens of sites that will post your free days, but nearly all of them require a minimum number of reviews. It's one of those chicken-and-egg dilemmas. You can't promote your book without reviews, but you can't get reviews without promotion.
Should you pay for reviews?
If you are a new self-published author, don't pay for reviews.
Traditional publishers have long-standing ties with the media, which self-publishers don't. This often drives self-publishers to pay for publicity. In my experience, paid reviews don't have nearly the clout of regular reviews posted on Amazon or Goodreads. For one thing, they have limited shelf life. A paid review may get posted on Blogcritics and then picked up briefly by small publications, or it may simply get sent to you for your own use. Very rarely do these reviews make it into larger media outlets, where they will reach the maximum number of people. Of course, you can always shell out $400 for a Kirkus review, but you take your chances. A good review in Kirkus is like an endorsement from God, but a bad review is the kiss of death.
How to get free reviews
Fortunately, there are mechanisms in place for getting reviews without spending a great deal of money. Giving away copies en masse is one route, targeting individual reviewers is another.
Twitter. Search accounts for "book reviewers" plus your genre. Make a Twitter list for reviewers!
Librarything allows authors to give away copies of their books to Librarything members. (Read their policies.) Authors of self-published ebooks can give away up to 100 copies. Reviews are not required of readers, although they are recommended, so don't expect more than a 10% return rate. But even 10 reviews will enable you to post your free days on some of the larger freebie sites if you have enrolled in Amazon KDP Select.
Bookblogs is a great site for finding reviewers and for posting your giveaways. Explore the "groups" section and join the groups that are relevant to your genre. When you give away a book, or are looking for reviews, you can post it on the group site. You also have the option of sending a message to every member of that group.
Book Blogger List
This well-organized site is for fiction only. A convenient drop-down menu off the navigation bar lets you choose the genre. I had more luck with the reviewers who posted their blogs on this site than any other.
The Indie View
Reviewers are listed on a convenient table that provides links to their websites, submission guidelines, and where they post reviews. Because so many reviewers list their sites here, your chances of finding a substantial number of reviewers for your genre are high. All reviews are free of charge. If you've written an ebook, this site will prove very useful.
Book Reviewers on the Web
This is a one-size-fits-all list that requires a lot of work. Don't bother with the first few sections, just scroll down to the last part: "Web directories of book review sites." That's where you will find gold.
YA Book Blog Directory
The YA Book Blog Directory is a reference site for YA book blogs.There are numerous book blogs, all with unique styles and preferences. HUGE list - organized alphabetically.
The Midwest Book Review
Story Cartel is based on an interesting concept. Somewhat like Librarything, you post your book for free for a limited time in exchange for reviews. The difference is that with Librarything giveaways, the author sends the book to a list of readers, whereas Story Cartel posts your book. With over 12,000 readers, you are guaranteed to get at least a few reviews.
Directory of Book Bloggers on Pinterest
Alphabetical list maintained by Mandy Boles.
Kate Tilton’s Book Bloggers
Smaller list maintained by Kate Tilton - all provide reviews.
This site allows you to submit a book to be featured as a spotlight before "thousands of readers." The turnaround time for a free review is 16 weeks. Although the site is very professional, the claims that they make best-sellers are vastly overstated. The majority of the books featured on this site have Amazon rankings well into the hundred thousands and often in the millions. If you decide to go with this service, don't pay for a fast track review.
For those who are looking for reviewers with serious clout ...
The Complete Review
The Complete Review is just that - a complete source for book reviews of all sorts, paid, print, online, free, and in many languages. If you have just published an ebook on Amazon, this should not be your first stop for finding reviewers. But, if you are on your second or third book, this site will prove useful. You can also find general literary sites, literary blogs, and publishers here.
AcqWeb is gathering place for librarians looking for acquisitions. The list they feature is not long, but it will give you a good idea of where librarians go to find book reviews for items they are interested in purchasing. When it comes time for you to pay for a review, make sure it appears on one of these sites.
The Writer's Site
This site has a short list, but the commentary is useful. Many of these reviews sites do not appear elsewhere.
The 8 Best Review Sites
This article is a rundown of the top places you can get your book reviewed. The New York Times, of course, is first on the list. This is the list big publishers hoping to make a splash send ARCs to. While it's not useful for most Indie writers, it's always a good idea to become familiar with how the book review world works.
Words Into Print
Words Into Print is an extremely useful resource if you are considering a print publication. Not only do they give you a list of all the places to send ARCs, they tell you when. This site also provides useful information about other facets of self-publishing, writing query letters, creating a press release, scheduling readings, and so on.
And, if you have the money ...
If you are serious about having libraries order your book, and want the stamp of a prestigious review source you can always submit your book - in print or digital format - to Kirkus. It's expensive - $425 for a standard review. Kirkus is a high-stakes gamble. A good review will get you far, but a bad one is the kiss of death.