By David Kudler
One of the most powerful tools for marketing your book is always going to be reader reviews. We all dream of a featured review in The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, or Library Journal. But other reviews — whether from influential bloggers to readers on social media like Goodreads or Facebook or retailer sites — can be very important for reaching your audience.
Why are reviews so important? Well, first, obviously, they provide your book with visibility, discoverability, putting your work in front of potential readers who may know little or nothing about it. Ideally, the review comes in the form of a positive recommendation — but even if it doesn’t, even if the review is less than glowing, the review spreads the word about your book. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and all of that.
Because second, and more subtly importantly, they provide your book with social proof. You know how, when you’re the first person to come into a restaurant, they want to put you at the front window? That’s because people are more likely to want to go into a place that has other people in it. Subconsciously, books (and many other products) work the same way. We’re more likely to get excited about reading a book that everyone else seems to be talking about, even if what everyone is saying isn’t completely positive. Think of it as the 50 Shades effect.
Here are a few dos for getting your book the discoverability and social proof it deserves — and a few don’ts as well.
Is your book likely to get picked for a review by a prestigious magazine or web site? No, not very.
But do you want to know a way to guarantee that it won’t be picked? Don’t submit.
Now, I wouldn’t waste a huge amount of my time and energy submitting to the Times or such. But take some time and look at your book objectively (something that you need to do as you look at marketing your book anyway).
Look at the market.
- Are there periodicals and web sites that focus on that market?
- Genre-, profession-, or subject-specific journals?
- How about your college’s alumni magazine?
- A local radio station?
If so, go on their site and see if you can find instructions for submitting your book for a review. They may require a hard copy, but some accept or even prefer a PDF, ePub, or mobi file. They’ll probably want the book well in advance of release — this is a prime use for your ARCs (advance review copies).
For the love of Gutenberg, when you submit follow their directions. Your odds may not be great for getting a review submitting over the transom — but I promise, if you don’t submit how and when they want it, your odds are nil.
Aside from the traditional (and not so traditional) media outlets, one of the best targets for you to pursue are what are called influencers — bloggers and social media mavens who have a following, and whose opinions will carry weight with your ideal reader. 1
Now, obviously, the more influential influencers — the ones with the most followers — are the ones you want most to review your book, but they’re also the ones who have the most folks pitching them books to review. Back in the day, everyone wanted Oprah to recommend their book — but she only mentioned one a week. How likely are you to be that one?
Spend some time searching through web sites, blogs, and social media accounts to see who your ideal reader is most likely to be following. Recognize that the social media of choice for your genre may be different from another author’s. For example, I found that the target audience for my YA adventure book Risuko was much more likely to be active on Instagram or Tumblr than, say, Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t forget YouTube! BookTubers — folks who do video reviews of books — can be hugely influential, reaching hundreds or thousands of potential readers.
Google is your friend. Do searches on your genre and/or subject matter and book review or book blogger or BookTuber, etc. See what pops up on the first page; those are most likely to be the most visible influencers. But don’t stop there; you’re looking for folks who are likely to be interested in your book. This is one case where the second (or fifteenth) page may provide gold!
Go on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and other book review sites and see who has reviewed books like yours — or, if this isn’t your first title, who’s reviewed your earlier ones. Obviously, if they liked you (or your competition), they are likely to want to read your new opus.
On those sites — or on genre-specific communities on Facebook, LiveJournal, etc. — look for groups that like to read your kind of book. You may be able to submit your title for a group read or, at the least, offer free copies for review.
Consider possibly offering your book up on NetGalley. 2
It will take you some time, but find folks you think will be excited to read and review (R&R) your book. Look at their profile or contact page. Do they have directions for submissions? They may tell you if they’re currently accepting new books. If they’re not, obviously don’t waste their time and yours. And, as with traditional media, follow their directions. Put together a professional, helpful packet requesting that they review your book. 3
Make sure that the reviewer knows the correct lingo — Amazon will take down reviews that say the reviewer received the books in exchange for a review. They see this as quid-pro-quo. The reviewer should acknowledge not having had to pay, but the current acceptable language runs something along the lines of this:
The important thing is that it’s clear that they got the book gratis, but also that there was no expectation of a positive review.
Here’s one a lot of people overlook, and it’s one that you can do for as long as your book is on the market: ask readers to review it.
Put a note at the back of your book — right after they’ve turned the last page and are as motivated as they will ever be to share what they felt about your book. Thank them for reading, and let them know how deeply you’d appreciate it if they’d let their friends know what they thought.4
Here’s an example from the back of the ebook for Risuko:
A few things to point out:
- I made the note pretty straightforward; you can talk about your book and process more, if you’d like, but I figured I wanted to make my pitch up front.
- I used a handwriting font to try to personalize it more — still not sure about that.
- I included links to review the book on Amazon5 and Goodreads; those URLs are redirects that forward the reader from my site to the correct URL to create a review.6
- I included a group of hyperlinked social media buttons at the bottom to encourage them to share and review the book.7
Part of the reason that I ask people to send me their reviews, by the way, is that it gives me a chance to engage with them, giving me additional information and hopefully making them even more invested in my book — and it also allows me to request that they post a review to their favorite retailer/review sites, especially if they loved it! 😉
If you do all of these things — or even most of them — you should be able to get a critical mass of reviews for your book.
There are also, however, a handful of things you shouldn’t do in pursuing reviews.
If you’ve followed a reviewer’s submission guidelines and sent them a copy for their review, it’s perfectly reasonable to follow up later to see if they’ve had a chance to read your book. Send them a polite email. Once.
If they haven’t gotten around to it? Don’t pester them. (Unless they invite you to.)
There is a plethora of reasons why a reviewer may not have posted a review of your book — among them these:
- Their inbox is overflowing and they haven’t gotten around to it yet.
- They’ve stopped reviewing or are on hiatus for personal reasons.
- They couldn’t stand and/or couldn’t finish your book and don’t want to waste your time or theirs.
You aren’t entitled to a review, even if you’ve followed their rules. Hectoring, berating, begging, and otherwise bothering them for a review isn’t going to get you what you want. Don’t be a jerk. Focus on others.
While we’re talking about keeping your focus positive — if a reviewer doesn’t like your book (or takes issue with any particular part of it), don’t try to tell them they’re wrong. It won’t work, and you’ll end up looking like a jerk.
Books are subjective, and book reviews even more so. If you’re lucky enough to get dozens or hundreds of reviews, some of those will be negative.
Remember what I said about there being no such thing as bad publicity? That counts here too.
If I see a book that has six five-star reviews and nothing else, I assume that’s the author’s family, best friends, and possibly dog. Having a range of reviews gives them all more validity — another example of social proof.
Yes, some negative reviews will be needlessly nasty, but the worst thing you can do is feed the trolls. At a mythology-based online forum I used to help run, we had a saying drawn from the Norse Eddas: “Don’t eat with Loki. He mixes malice with the mead.”
That said, if you see a review that breaks the terms of service for the site, do consider reporting it. But don’t respond. 8
Unless you want to say thank you. That’s okay. 9
Okay, so this is one I’ve thought long and hard about.
In a perfect world, all reviews should be voluntary — there shouldn’t be any monetary exchange between the publisher and reviewer, since that makes their relationship ethically more than a little fraught.
Certainly paying bloggers (or folks, say, on Fiverr) is a big no-no. If Amazon or other retailers or review sites spot fake reviews, the reviews will get deleted, the reviewer banned — and you may find yourself in trouble as well.
If a “reviewer” asks for payment of any kind — I saw one blogger who demanded that anyone requesting a review buy their book! — run, don’t walk.
There are also large review journals (such as Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly) that will review indie books for a hefty fee.
Is it nice being able to quote Kirkus on the cover of my book? Sure. Has that made me back what I paid? Probably not.
But is it even vaguely ethical?
Those journals don’t charge Random House to review their books. Charging a tiny publisher such as myself an arm and a leg to run a review — with no guarantee that the review will be particularly well written, let alone positive — feels like more than a bit of a ripoff. 10
By the way, I won’t put NetGalley in this category; it’s a review distribution service. NetGalley does not itself review your book, and so the money you pay won’t influence the reviews. I’ve gotten my books reviewed on NG by bloggers and rank-and-file Goodreads and Amazon reviewers — but also by small media outlets, librarians, teachers, etc.
Don’t Review (Yourself)
It probably goes without saying, but don’t review your own book.
Not even under an alias.
If Amazon spots a review from the same IP or email address that you’ve posted the book from, they’ll take it down. If they spot a close personal connection between the author and the reviewer — even on social media — they’ll take it down. If you review another writer’s book and they turn around and review yours…
You guessed it. They’ll take both down. No quid-pro-quo, remember?
I’ve even heard of rings of authors — A reviews B’s book, B reviews C’s, C reviews A’s — getting busted.
They may ban the perpetrator(s) from leaving any reviews at all. They may delete all of their previous reviews. They may ban their accounts — including their KDP accounts, which can essentially banish their books completely.
So, no — don’t try to review your own work. We already know what you think of it!
It’s okay to ask your friends and family — but don’t be surprised if the reviews are never posted or are deleted after the fact. 11
1 You’ve visualized your ideal reader, right? That’s the specific person toward whom you’re directing your marketing efforts — and reviews are part of those. The clearer you are about who you’re targeting, the more effective your marketing can be.
2 If you’re a member of IBPA (or a number of other indie publisher service organizations), you can get a discount on NetGalley services.
3 Carl Hose put together a helpful, short guide to preparing a review request back in 2008.
4 For another great example of this — along with more great tips for getting reviews — check out Penny Sanseveiri’s post “How to Get 100+ Reviews on Amazon.” There’s a screenshot of an author note graciously requesting reviews about half of the way down. (I got the idea for doing this from Penny, so consider this… quid pro quo.)
5 But don’t include a link to review on Amazon in an ebook for any of the other retailers!
6 I do it this way for two reasons: a) the review URLs change, and I don’t want someone with an old copy of my book hitting a dead end and b) this way I can track how many folks click through, whether they leave a review or not.
7 Check out my how-to post for doing this.
8 I did have one reviewer leave a glowing review for Risuko on Goodreads… but giving it a one-star rating. I checked in with her to make sure there hadn’t been some mistake. There had. She changed it to the five-star rating that her review had suggested.
9 Also, if someone left a positive review of Book I, it’s okay to let them know that Book II has just been released!
10 Risuko’s Kirkus review was, in fact, very positive and fairly well written. I still don’t feel as if it was worth it, and I’m still uncomfortable with the questionable ethics of the transaction.
11 Also… Not everyone will review. Even if they love you.