What works and what doesn’t? A writer’s experiences, part 1
Getting initial reviews is a tough business – readers and buyers don’t leave reviews in general. Only one of 200-300 average readers will end up writing a review for any book. Why? People are inclined to write a review only if they either loved or hated the book and most of the readers don’t even know what to say – they are not writers after all. Apart, it’s a time consuming activity and these days, everybody’s complaining how busy they are. So, an author should either produce a bestseller or search for ways to obtain the so-needed reviews. Reviews are very important – they give books “social proof” and credibility. What would you trust: a book with no reviews or a handful or one with hundreds of reviews, the most of them positive? Yup, that’s right – the latter. But how to get them? Let’s dive in!
There are several ways to find reviews for any book(s) and I will focus only on the ethical ways to obtain them. Paying to services to write reviews (five, three or even one star – yes according to studies books with a single one star review sell more than those with shining 5 and 4 only star reviews) is neither good for you as an author, your brand or your readers. This is what happened to John Locke when he confessed that he paid companies for writing massive reviews for his books. His readers felt cheated and it is not a good experience you can offer your fans. Readers are the primary focus of every writer. Everyone else in the game is a middle man, even the publishing houses. After all, the readers are the only persons who read and buy yours or anyone’s books. So, focus primarily on them. When we put the readers (or more business minded- customers) first, the game changes. NYT bestselling author C.J.Lyons loves to say that the reader is God to her. Whatever marketing or publishing decisions she takes, she asks herself, will they benefit her readers.
The best and fastest way to get ethical reviews is to have a large email list of engaged readers and build a sub-list that comprises of your street team. A street team is group of engaged readers who are willing to read your final draft and point to you grammar or minor mistakes and leave a review when/if the title is out. It is the best solution in the long-term but what if you’re just starting out and you have a smaller list or not that engaged subscribers? Then you need to drive more interested in you subscribers but it requires content. I will focus especially what to do when you don’t have subscribers. I won’t mention NetGaley or Story Cartel because both are paid services. I hear author Brain Cohen to confess that in the past Story Cartel was more of a use and now it serves best if you have a blog following. The service costs around 30$. NetGalley on the other hand is quite expensive – 300$. Maybe that’s the reason why publishers use it the most. Of course, there are writers who form groups to share the up-front cots but I am reserved for NetGalley. The reviewers who end up writing reviews are very harsh and it doesn’t make any sense to me.
We, as writers, need to find interested readers who like to review books. The best tactic is to find similar book(s) like yours or with similar themes. The first thing people do is to pitch Amazon top reviewers and book bloggers. In the past it may have been effective but not anymore. Experience: I emailed probably 100 or even more Amazon top reviewers and book bloggers and only a handful of them got back to me. The percent is nearly 5%, so this is another 20/80 tactics. If you have the time and want to experiment, you can follow certain book bloggers, share their content, leave comments and in a few months you can ask them for a review. It’s very possible to receive one because you have provided first a value, you are not a random stranger asking for a favor.
1. What I found indeed as the best practice is Goodreads. Now, threads and separate forums such as “romance authors” or “sci-fi and fantasy”, etc. are probably nice places to kill time but again these refer to the 20/80 rule. It’s very possible to spend a lot of time without achieving anything in particular (though I found 2 persons to read my book this way). I have seen thousands times, authors who advertise or ask for reviews in every possible thread, even posting in forums that don’t match the book’s genre. This is stupid and purely a waste of time. What I found, tanks to this post in Reddit, is to message Goodreads reviewers who have reviewed a similar book like yours. Message those who rated the book in question 4 or 5 stars and you’ll see a lot more conversion than pitching Amazon reviewers. Why? The answer is simple:
Goodreads folks aren’t used to such a kind of attention. I had a few women thanking me for sending them my book for free; one said she experiences such a thing for the first time. In comparison, no Amazon top reviewer will ever thank you, actually they feel, you should thank them (maybe they have a point).
And most importantly the folks on Goodreads are book lovers, literally. I cannot imagine a more engaged and dedicated place for bookworms. Amusingly, a guy even bought my book this way. I messaged him, saying I would love if he agrees to read and review my book and pasted the Amazon link. I offered him whatever format he is comfortable with. He immediately replied to me that he’ll buy the book cause it’s only 99 cents. He write to me: “we have to support our writers”. And he did it. Amazing! I cannot make even some of my childhood’s friends read my books though we have written together as children but a complete stranger bought it because he thought I was an American writer. No wonder, Amazon bought Goodreads back in 2013. You can bet that Goodreads algorithms are incorporated in Amazon’s metadata as well.
Update! Though Godreads folks are very responsible I experienced that the ones that hot back to me didn’t write a review on Amazon, only on Goodreads, so keep this in mind.
2. Another good way to find a lot of reviews for your book(s) is very simple and thus ingenious: make your book permafree, i.e permanently free. Why? Because free books get downloaded, no matter how hard Amazon or the other retailers try to hide them. Somewhere between 600 to 900 times more downloads get free books. Why? There is no risk for the reader – you they like it, they discover a talented author, if they don’t – there is no money investment. Permafree books are a great way to win fans, get reviews, email subscribers and up sell your products and back-list.
3. Ask your email subscribers and offer them ACR (advanced copy for a review) and always include a CTA (call for action) for leaving a review with a clickable link to the retailer’s page. This is very important. The Internet has made people lazy – they don’t want to lose even a few seconds typing the web address or searching for your sales page.
You can also swap reviews with other authors writing n similar to your genre. Sometimes it works because you can read a decent book from the other writer but it’s a time investment and there is also the risk of fair rating – “If I write only 3 star for the other author’s book, will they write also a 3 star review for me?” Be sure to be ethical. I saw the badge “an ethical author” on Mari Biella’s blog and I inserted it on my blog too. Also, if the other author wants to swap verified reviews ( i.e to buy one anther’s books), make sure to make the prices equal. I swapped only one reviews like this and I piad for the author’s book 3.99 $ when she bought mine only for 99 cents. Her book happened to be published by iUniverse and she said she couldn’t price-match the price. I will never do anything like that and swapping reviews is an option for me only if I know and like already the author or if I am really interested in their book.
To summarize: build an engaged email list and offer them ACR, put CTAs at the back of all your books, search for similar books like yours and contact Goodreads folks and a few targeted book bloggers. If you have time, pitch Amazon reviewers too. If you plan running a free promo, make sure that your book has at least 5-6 reviews. If you want to make a permafree book, ensure there are at least a few reviews but don’t worry to much. If the book is good, it will easily climb up the charts and rank even in the overall best selling rank (including the paid books).
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