So you wrote a book.
And it’s truly a thing of beauty.
Prose polished to perfection, you’ve lovingly crafted your masterpiece in the stolen moments around an impossible schedule.
You’ve commissioned the most beguiling of covers, invested in an ace editor and painstakingly tweaked the interior formatting to ensure the delicate sensibilities of your reader will not be unexpectedly jarred by a rogue font pairing or flubbed folios.
Time to share your creation with the world.
Time to receive the glowing appraisals and positive feedback from your appreciative fans and the top book reviewers in the industry.
But hold up a minute. You know your book is the cutest, smartest, most precocious book in the world–obviously–but, how will top reviewers or your adoring fans know, unless they read it? And how will they know to read it, if there are currently no reviews encouraging them to do so?
Gnarly catch 22.
How on earth do you get reviews for your book (so you can sell more books, so you can get more reviews to sell more books)?
Do Book Reviews Impact Book Sales?
Before we get knee deep into the “how” of getting book reviews, let’s take a look at why (or whether) we need them.
How important are book reviews in terms of adding exposure and increasing attention? Do reviews actually sell more books?
Determining the actual impact of reviews on book sales is a bit slippery. A multitude of factors come into play before a decision to purchase is made, many of which are interdependent and act to create a combined affect on book buying behaviour.
Mark Coker, of Smashwords, shared the results of a survey he did on How Ebook Buyers Discover Books, where he “challenged readers to select the single most common criterion they follow to discover their next read.” The results were somewhat surprising as to the weight given to reviews in the mind of an ebook buyer.
Looking at the data reported, only 3% of respondents cite reviews or recommendations from traditional media as being their preferred book discovery method, and 7% state that they browse randomly first and then look at reviews.
Granted, this study is limited in size and scope, but it does beg the question: is the effect of reviews on purchasing behaviour as significant as we presume?
Plus, the trustworthiness of online book reviews is increasingly being called into question. Authors now have the opportunity to pay a third party to write a review, perhaps artificially boosting their review numbers. And although it may be possible to receive “legitimate” paid reviews, many are disingenuous, with the seediest variety being downright deceptive.
This practice reduces the authenticity and reliability of reviews, further muddying its relevance as a buying trigger.
So, is our work done here? Can we just skip book reviews altogether and focus our efforts elsewhere?
According to Cornell sociologists Shay David and Dr. Trevor Pinch, co-authors of a 2006 analysis of online recommendation systems, “…recent qualitative research adds weight to the claim that these review systems have causal and positive effects on sales; to nobody’s surprise, books with more and better reviews are shown to sell better (Chevalier and Mayzlin, 2004)”.
Here’s my take: while it still may be unclear as to the level of influence reviews hold in today’s world, I think it’s safe to assume that honest, authentic reviews and feedback, written by real readers will impact book sales.
Readers still look for reviews written by their peers (social proof) to help determine whether a book is worth buying and positive reviews can act as a catalyst for sales.
Reviews also present an excellent opportunity for authors to get valuable, honest feedback from their readers. Praise is great for your ego (and motivation), but a good critique can help you grow as a writer. Reviews help you relate to your work from a reader’s point of view, which can favourably shape how you approach subsequent projects.
On Amazon, reviews are a substantial part their business. In fact, reviews are highly valued and featured prominently on the site. With Amazon giving reviews that much attention, it makes one think that their role in the book buying process is not insignificant.
Should I Pay For Book Reviews?
Thanks to the self-publishing revolution, many of the walls have come down, allowing authors greater access and opportunities than ever before.
But, “with great power comes great responsibility”, and there have been reports of rather dubious wielding of power.
Authors are now also expected to carry more–if not all–of the weight of decisions that were previously left in the hands of the publisher.
It would be naive to think that book reviews procured by a publisher for its author were free, unbiased and unculled (have you seen a bad review on a dust jacket?). But, the issue now is the perception of impropriety when an author pays for a review, often regardless of its legitimacy.
With book review authenticity already in jeopardy, it’s easy to see how paid reviews can further taint consumer perception.
Obviously, it is up to the individual to determine if paid reviews crosses any ethical or moral boundaries, but since there are other valid (and free) options available, it may be prudent to just skip the paid review minefield.
How to Get a Bevy of Reviews for Your Book–Without the Dupery
Now that we’ve established that there is still a need for ethically sourced, high quality book reviews, it’s time to determine how to get the job done–without going “dark side”. 😉
Develop Your “List”
Book reviews are only one small piece of the book marketing puzzle, so it’s important to craft a plan of action that will aid in your overall strategy for marketing your work and establishing your career as a writer.
Often writers focus only on the writing, and recognize the importance of marketing and promotion after the book is out. This compartmentalized approach often results in a disappointing outcome: scattered (panicky) book marketing attempts and low book sales.
Two things that you can do to thwart this dismal end result:
Start early. Start now, before your book’s release. It takes time to build the relationships and contacts you’ll need to get the quality and quantity of reviews that will make an impact on your sales. Waiting until your book is published invariably means rushing–and rushing invariably means low quality.
Think long term. Whatever steps you take now should also positively affect your “business” down the road.
This means that the work you put forward for review is top-notch and worthy of a sincere, intelligent analysis. Regardless of whether your book is traditionally published or self-published, your professionalism and attention to detail will leave a lasting impression on your reader.
Taking a long term view also ensures that you tend carefully to the connections and contacts you make with readers, reviewers and other professionals in the industry.
Make a list, and each time you establish a reviewer connection or valuable contact, add them to the list.
That way, you will be amply prepared when you publish subsequent books.
What follows are a variety of ways to help build your list of potential book reviewers and start getting some quality reviews for your book:
1. Harness the Collective Influence of Book Bloggers
Book bloggers are an awesome bunch. They are book lovers who have self-selected themselves based on genre, generated active, involved communities around that topic, and have considerable reach and influence with their readerships. And in some cases, they have access to an even larger pool of readers because of affiliations they’ve built with other book bloggers and reviewers.
The problem is the wave of demand: everybody and their pony wants–no, needs–a book review ASAP.
The way to get noticed in the surge? Cultivate relationships.
Like all things platform related, time and engagement are key ingredients. In order to stand out from the crowd, you must take the time to develop relationships with book bloggers before you start asking for a review for your book.
Get involved on discussions on their blog, engage with them and their community by asking and responding to questions on topics of import to your genre.
Follow them on social media, and join the conversation when it’s relevant to do so. Don’t pester. Add value.
Sound like a lot of work? Don’t expect more than you’re willing to give. Book bloggers are potential business partners, who may have other connections and resources that can help you in your career. Assuming you will write more than one book, a book blogger can be as important to you as your readers.
Connect with them meaningfully, add value to their community and when it finally comes time to ask for a review of your book, they’ll likely be happy to do so.
Here are some more tips for working with book bloggers:
- Make a list of bloggers that review your particular genre. The shotgun approach does not work here. Choosing a reviewer that is not interested (or worse, offended) by your topic or content could leave you with some very disappointing reviews.
- Review and follow their book submission and review policies exactly.
- Your pitch should briefly state who you are and what you are offering for review. Provide basic info about your book including the title, genre, number of pages, a short blurb, book formats available, the publisher, the release date and a link to your website.
- Personalize your pitches or queries. Check out their blog and other books they’ve reviewed. Ensure that they specialize in your genre or target audience. Address them by their name (NOT Dear Book Blogger), and mention that you’re an active member of their community (if you are).
- Note the turnaround times, the “to be read” lists and their reviewing style for similar novels.
- Are reviews posted only on their blog or also on Amazon, Goodreads, and other review sites?
- You can get a very rough estimate of a site’s traffic by checking their Alexa rank (the lower the number, the better). Add this metric to a book blogger’s social media numbers, as well as the number of shares and comments on the posts, and you’ll start to get an idea of the popularity of the site. More popular sites may have a wider reach (although not necessarily more influence over their readers), but they may be more difficult to get a review from. Blogs that see little action in the form of visitors, comments and shares, may have too little reach.
- Thank every book blogger that takes the time to provide you with a review, favourable or otherwise. It’s common courtesy, and just good business.
- Book Blogger Directory – a comprehensive, alphabetical listing of book blogs, organized by genre.
- The Book Blogger List – a database of book bloggers organized by genre of interest.
- YA Book Blog Directory – a listing of young adult book review blogs.
- Story Cartel – all books on Story Cartel are free in exchange for honest book reviews.
- Directory of Book Bloggers on Pinterest – a curated list of book bloggers using Pinterest by Mandy Boles.
- Kate Tilton’s Book Bloggers – a smaller listing of book bloggers that provide reviews.
- The Indie View – huge listing of Indie reviewers.
- Step-by-Step Self-Publishing Reviewers List – another comprehensive list of active book bloggers.
2. Capitalize on Your Writer Platform
You may have saw this one coming, right? 😉
Your platform consists not only of the tools you use to gather your people together (like social media, blogging, speaking, traditional media, and so on), but the connection, the engagement and the influence you have over your readers, and they over you.
It’s the back and forth, give and take, that’s the juice behind your platform’s power.
If you are careful about laying a proper foundation, the impact and reach of your platform will multiply over time. But even in the beginning stages, your newly hatched platform can help facilitate getting reviews for your book.
- Clearly define your author brand and determine the ideal audience for your book. This makes it much easier for you to recognize the intersect between what you have to offer, and the needs and interests of your readers.
- Use social media, forums and other online communities to develop relationships with those people whom you’ve identified as your target readership–share useful info, join discussions, have meaningful conversations. After you’ve built a relationship, let these people know that you are interested in getting feedback for your book and would be happy to offer a free copy for an honest review.
- Ensure all your outreach and communication efforts are funnelled back to your author blog/website, and encourage these visitors to join your email list. Offer an ARC (advance reading copy) to those on your list who agree to review your book before its official release, ask for beta readers, or if your book is already out, just offer a free copy for a review.
- When promoting your new book on your blog, ask people to post reviews, and make it super easy for them to do so by providing a link and some basic instruction. In many cases, this may be their first book review!
- Sprinkle review snippets throughout your site, as well as on your media/press page. Link to the reviewers site and ask them to provide a link back to your website in their review.
- Blog tours, giveaways, author interviews, speaking engagements, classes, library visits, media events, and so on are all opportunities where you can encourage and remind people to post a review.
- Determine your ideal audience’s influencers. What blogs do they read? Who do they follow on social media? Try to line up a guest post, or maybe a podcast interview with these influencers and let people know your hoping to get ‘X’ reader reviews by a certain date.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing your platform to generate more reviews for your book. But remember, it’s important to build a relationship first.
- Blog Talk Radio – podcasts related to book reviews
- Search Twitter using hashtags to find possible contacts – #bookreviews, #bookreviewer, #bookblogger
3. Target Top Reviewers on Amazon
Garnering a positive review from one of Amazon’s top customer reviewers is not only a great endorsement for your book, it’s often perceived as a more meaningful, and especially helpful, review due to the criteria that Amazon uses to qualify those that have achieved this ranking.
Their higher profile and credibility, plus the competition for their in-depth, quality reviews makes it tough to catch this group’s attention. But the rewards are often worth the extra effort. In many cases, reviews from top Amazon reviewers can generate enough momentum to create a cascade of additional reviews and book sales.
As with book bloggers, taking the time to build a connection with these reviewers prior to pitching them can increase your chances of getting reviewed exponentially.
Unsolicited, generic emails will often be viewed as spam, so do your research. Do they accept unsolicited books? What other books have they reviewed? Does yours fit with their interests? Do they have a blog where they post their reviews? How do they review other books in your genre? What are some of their other interests (perhaps some you share) that you could use to help personalize your query or pitch?
Another strategy for finding high quality reviewers on Amazon:
- Go to your personal Author Page on Amazon and locate the “Customers Also Bought Items By” section on the right. This section provides a list of authors whose topic or genre is similar to your own.
- Clicking on an author name will bring you to their author page, which will include a listing of their books. Choose a book, then click on a review for that book. This will take you to the Customer Reviews page.
- Click on the name of a reviewer to get to that reviewer’s Amazon profile (which lists books or items that they’ve reviewed).
- Look for contact info like an email address or a link to their website.
- Send them a query via email, referencing that you noticed they reviewed book XYZ by John Doe and you are wondering if they would be interested in reviewing your book on a similar topic, and that you’d be happy to send them a free copy if they’re interested.
- Remember, you can go through the “Customers Also Bought Items By” section on each author’s page, not just your own.
- Again, no spam!
4. Giveaways: The More You Give, The More You Get
The strategy for this one is pretty simple: the more hands you can get your book into, the more likely it will be read. Increase the number of readers and you increase your chances for reader reviews.
There are loads of opportunities where you can give your book away, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Goodreads and Library Thing giveaways can often help generate more reviews and awareness for your book. Make sure you follow the policies, rules or requirements the sites may have, and do a bit of research to see what has worked well for other authors in your genre.
- Blog tours are a lot of work, but they can be a great way to get more eyeballs on your book, as well as help you make connections with book bloggers, reviewers and other authors in your genre. If managed carefully, these relationships can pay huge dividends down the road.
- Hold contests and giveaways on your own blog or through social media (Facebook, Pinterest).
5. End of Book Request
When you get to the end of a great book, what happens? You want more, right? The same is true for your readers. They want to engage, they want to know more about you, as an author, and other books that you’ve written.
Obviously, this is a great opportunity to promote your current or future books and send readers to your site to sign up to your email list. But, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to thank your readers and ask them for a review.
Write a short note, and be clear that you would love honest feedback about your book. Remind your readers that their views not only impact other reader’s purchasing decisions, but that their opinion matters to you as well.
Add a link to your Amazon Author Page to make it’s super easy for them to follow through.
6. More Options
By implementing some (or all) of the above strategies, getting reviews for your book(s) should now be relatively easy. But just in case, here’s another varied list of resources:
- Book List Online
- Book Page
- Midwest Book Review
- Book Reporter
- School Library Journal
- Fore Word Reviews
- The Horn Book
- Kirkus Reviews
- City Book Review
- San Francisco Book Review
- Manhattan Book Review
- Seattle Book Review
- Kids Book Buzz (all books reviewed by children)
- Tulsa Book Review (Licenced by the Tulsa City-County Library system)
A Side Note on Quid Pro Quo Reviews with Other Authors
What would otherwise be an ideal opportunity for authors to support each other, has been sullied by a few bad apples. For some, “support” has been interpreted as “exchange” and it has left a bit of a stain on the acceptability of author’s reviewing other author’s work.
Exchanging reviews with other authors, regardless of the intention, lessons the likelihood that the reviews will be viewed as legitimate.
It’s up to you to determine whether giving another author a review is worth the potential pitfalls (there are still opportunities outside of Amazon), but in every case, your review should be given freely, honestly and without the expectation of receiving a review in return.
Over to You
What did I miss? Any other strategies, ideas or resources for getting authentic, thoughtful reviews for your book that you can recommend?
How do you feel about paid reviews, or the significance of reviews in general when it comes to influencing book sales?
I’d love to get some discussion going on this, so please share your comments and feedback below!
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