A discussion topic between writers will almost always turn to book reviews. It’s not easy to count on people who buy your book (or get it for free on a promotion day) to go back to the outlet that they bought it from and write about it when they’ve finished it.
This might be because they didn’t like it – an inevitability that every author has to face; not everyone thinks you’re as bright, witty, charming, creative, or as imaginative as you think you are – or it might be because it’s not terribly easy to post a review on many sites. It’s getting better, but it can still be daunting for readers; it takes time, involves writing something (and for readers who read on eReaders or tablets with clunky keyboard interfaces it’s a pain in the butt to write anything beyond “LOL” or “:-)”), and it’s inconvenient. When a reader finishes off a book just as they’re getting off the subway, there’s a good chance they’ll just not review it – even if they loved it and couldn’t put it down. They might mean to, but it’ll never happen; out of sight, out of mind.
Reviews are the lifeblood of ebooks. They’re pixelated gold that will tell other readers that THIS book is worth reading. They’re star-driven recommendations that put food on your table.
The industry prefers reviewers be kept at arm’s length from the author. Even Federal Trade Commission has jumped in (at legacy publisher’s requests, no doubt) and has issued guidelines that if there is an “online endorsement” the nature of that relationship should be made clear – especially if there’s any kind of financial relationship. At the end of the day, I’m of the opinion that very few reviews of anything – from ebooks to slow cooks – are of virgin birth. There’s a cost and a payment made for everything. I’m such a cynic.
How do you get these reviews? There are a few ways:
- Stalk Good Reviewers
This takes the most amount of time and requires serious sleuthing skills (not to mention alliteration). If you, as a writer, don’t have a fan base (why not?) you’re going to be at a deficit when it comes to getting reviews. You’ve got to find people who you know review the type of book you’ve written, and who might have blogs where they review books.
How do you find them? Get a good, strong, cup of coffee, settle in, and start combing Amazon. Find other books in the genre you’ve written and start reading the reviews.
Many reviewers use their real names, and have links to their websites. If you find a review you like – that might have been just written for your book – research a bit on the reviewer. Read other reviews they’ve written. Check out their blog. If you think they’d be a good fit for reviewing your book, contact them.
- Recruit Reviewers
This is the “lazy writer’s way.” Go find a list of reputable book reviewers from a website and start emailing them … not as personal, not necessarily the best way, but certainly easier and quicker than the stalker method. Reviewers are just a Google search away.
Just remember: McDonalds is also easy and quick, too. While it’s possible you could get a burger made by the future Gordon Ramsey, it’s far more likely that you’re going to get a burger that’s not of “Michelin Star” quality.
Rather than getting a review from someone you’ve vetted, you’re going to be getting a pig in a poke.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing; many of these review recruiting websites do check their reviewers out. Reputable reviewers will either post or link to reviews that they’ve done. And they’re generally serious and professional in the reviews they give. Some may be too serious (there are frustrated reviewers out there who want to be writers, but – for whatever reason – can’t close that deal and they’ll take it out on the books that they review – especially if it’s a topic they “know” more about than they think the author of the book they’re reviewing does. They’re vindictive fanboys.), so be careful.
- Bought And Paid For Reviews
This is frowned upon. This is such a bad idea that I can’t recommend enough NOT doing it. When you get found out – and you will – you’ll be bitch slapped on every website in the known world. If you’re big enough name, you might even make the newspapers. It might not ruin your reputation, but it’ll give it some serious battle scarring and a tarnishing that won’t buff out.
As a cautionary tale, there once was a famous writer who shot up the charts with purchased ebook reviews. He’d reportedly pay full price for 5-star reviews, and half price for 4-star ones. He was found out, flogged publicly, and has continued on writing and selling books. I’ve purchase a few of his ebooks – not based on the reviews, but based on another work he wrote (I never buy ebooks based on reviews!*) – and they were good, solid, entertaining books. Since the story broke, I’ve gone back and read some of his older works, and they’re JUST as good. So … while he did get caught with his hand in the reviewer jar, I’m inclined to think that he just took a business shortcut rather than intentionally doing anything out of malice or purely for financial gain.
In any case: don’t buy reviews. It’ll suck for you when you get caught (and it’ll suck more if your books are bad).
How to be a Book Review Enabler
When you find a reviewer by any of the above methods, you need to make it as easy as possible for the reviewer to get your book, read your book, and review your book.
Review requests should be made by email, along with inquiry as to the reviewer’s requirements (do they want an ebook or a dead-tree book? If they want an ebook, in what format? What is the lead time before the review goes live?) – don’t send the work! Nobody worth their review accepts unsolicited works!
If the reviewer agrees to review the book, send it to them ASAP – you should have it ready to go before you send out the review request. Many reviewers who are worth their salt have a backlog of books. The sooner you get your work to them, the quicker they can put it in their queue.
And NEVER charge a reviewer for your book. Did you get that? Never. Legacy publishers don’t, you shouldn’t either. You’re not trying to make a single book sale, you’re trying to make HUNDREDS of book sales, and the reviewer is the key to unlocking all those sales. Remember what I said above about the industry wanting reviewers be kept at arm’s length from the author? Remember that other thing I said about very few reviews being of virgin birth? Understand why I’m a cynic now?
When the review does go live, email the reviewer with a sincere thank you (even if it’s not a 5-star review. If it’s not the review you thought it should be, DO NOT ask them why it’s not! They gave you a review! Move on!), link to their review from your blog, and make sure you let all of your followers know that X has reviewed your book and the review is up at their website (or wherever they put it. If they put it on their website and Amazon, always link to the reviewer’s website unless they tell you differently; websites work off traffic analytics, so help them that help you!).
What Happens When You Get A Bad Review
You’ll get them. Being a writer isn’t easy. People won’t like your work. People who don’t read your work won’t like your work. People won’t like YOU and will childishly take it out on your work (it’s happened to me) because they disagree with you personally – you’ve bested them in a discussion, you’ve disagreed with them, you’ve made them look like the dim bulb that they are, etc. They. Don’t. Like. You.
When this happens, you can report the review (most websites have a procedure for this), and you can move on. Never engage or argue over your work. That’s aces and eights. Every good writer – just like every fast gunslinger – knows where to pick their battles. They might not get to choose the battle itself, but the winner knows where the right arena is, knows the terrain, and knows how to win. It is NEVER on the sales floor – and that’s what Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, Kobo, iBookstore, Diesel, Smashwords, and all the rest are: your sales floor. Don’t fight there. You won’t win. Period.
Read the bad review and move on. Don’t respond to it.
In the back of your book, make sure you put a blurb about how important reader’s reviews are. Ask your readers to write one. Amazon is getting better at helping out authors as well; when you use the Kindle or Kindle app, at the end of the book a popup asks for stars & a review that are then put up over at Amazon.
Bribe your readers. Yep. There. I said it. If a reader writes you to tell you how great your book is, how it inspired them, etc., ASK THEM to write a review of the book on their website or at Amazon. In exchange, give them a copy of your next book (or, if you’re a one-trick pony, send them an autographed copy of the book for their bookshelf). If they’re hesitant, ask if it would be all right to put their email effervescences up on your website, or include the best part as a blurb on the site (or in the next book).
At the end of the day, if you want quality reviews, you’ve got to make quality connections – REAL connections – and work your butt off! While writing may be creative and your book a labor of love, selling books is a business.
* Nope, I never buy any book (or anything else) based on reviews. I do my own research. In the case of books, I always crack it open and read some of it first. If I like what I read, I’ll get it. If I don’t I won’t. This is why it’s important to make sure your book is the best it can be before you put it up for sale: there are LOTS of cynical people who won’t look at a review to make a buying decision; they’ll look under the hood!