As a self-published author who once wondered how on earth the writing and publishing world worked, imparting the tips and tricks I pick up along the way is a continual goal of mine. I detail these “trade secrets” in my blog series, Dear Aspiring Author.
Obtaining reviews is one of the most difficult and most important parts of publishing – Whether you are self-published or traditionally published. In an online world where books are flooding the market, reviews are a proven way to set yourself apart. But how do you even get your first review? Let alone fifty, a hundred, or a thousand!
This post focuses on how to get reviews, not how to get good reviews. If you want to get five star reviews, make sure your work is quality by having your manuscript edited and critiqued by beta-readers before you send it out for review. You have one shot to stand out in a readers mind. Don’t rush the job. Make sure the word is polished and done to the best of your ability. Small things like a copy edit, or a final read through before publication can really up your professionalism (and help the indie author reputation).
Before undertaking the momentous job of review “fishing”, it is necessary to understand why getting feedback is paramount.
Reviews achieve three major goals
– They give credibility to your work
– They provide a source of honest feedback to help improve future works.
– They improve your amazon ranking, helping to generate more sales.
I published my first novel, Fantasy of Frost in January 2015. In three months the title has generated 67 reviews on Amazon.com, with many other reviews spread across other amazon branches.
The First Few Reviews
How to get the ball rolling? Several sources I came across in research before publication recommended twenty reviews to achieve regular sales. I don’t categorically agree with this for a couple of reasons. For starters, some people love discovering new authors (yay for us), and don’t mind less. Also, reviews are a continual process. If you get twenty in January and none in February then from what I have observed, your ranking will slip and sales will go down. I will agree that twenty is a great start.
For a first time author there is no other way than to start at the bottom and claw your way to the top. Unfortunately in self-publishing you do not have access to the same network of resources available to those in traditional publishing.
You start with what you have got. Identify your network. If you are lucky you may know some people in the writing industry, but for most debut authors their network is family and friends. So get that ball rolling by politely hassling your family and friends for honest reviews.
I know *rolls eyes* reviews are supposed to be unbiased, but it’s a tough world out there for debut indie authors and this will kick start your sales. On a side note, I always disregard the first ten or so reviews of a book for this reason, but most won’t give it a thought. Also, once you get more ‘true’ reviews your book will settle into a more realistic star rating – protecting the reader.
Now you have a few reviews from your super helpful family, how do you get more?
This is where the hard work begins. Every new writer trials different platforms to help expand their network with authors, bloggers and readers, and to generate reviews – or they should. The platforms below are not the only ones I have tried, but they are where I have had the best results to date.
I haven’t found facebook reviewer sites effective in generating many reviews. I guess this is because the majority of the people joining these groups are authors looking for reviews – instead of readers wanting to review.
So why am I mentioning good old Facebook? Because I have found my author page here to be a great means of connecting with readers and to advertise incentives for leaving reviews. It is also a way you can periodically ask for reviews.
Remember, many people who love your book will never review. People have good intentions, but busy lives. Facebook is a way to keep the request in front of them, then one day they may see your post and have a spare minute or two to leave feedback.
In one word, invaluable. There is potential to meet so many like-minded people through this site. It is an excellent interface for setting up review exchanges with other authors, and generating a following. Some of the members have blogs, and post their reviews on their websites. The more eyes the better, right?
About half of my reviews are from GR (that’s what the cool kids call Goodreads). This is a combination of review exchanges, word of mouth, and readers offering to review in exchange for a free copy.
I’ve used the forums on here many times to advertise my free promo days, signed giveaways, $50 amazon vouchers, and requests for reviews. There are literally thousands of groups you can post on.
It’s funny. Although generating subscribers was mentioned in every book I read on marketing an e-book I never really believed it. I’ve grown up in the facebook and twitter era. These are my “go to” social media sites. But email…that’s how old people stay in touch, right?
As someone who was recently young and naive in this matter, let me now banish your own naive thoughts. Newsletters work!
Similar to facebook, you are able to directly contact your reader with review requests, competitions, and updates of your upcoming releases. But newsletters are more reliable than facebook, who are starting to cut likes on public pages and limit the audience receiving your updates, unless you boost your posts.
Several marketing sources advise not to put all your eggs in one social media basket and I agree whole-heartedly. You are in this for the long run. What if facebook loses popularity in twenty years? Having an email list provides security for the long-term.
I haven’t used this myself as I cannot justify the cost at this stage, but it crops up a fair amount in reading so I thought it best to explain. Netgallery is a professional reviewing site where you pay an annual membership fee. From speaking to other authors it seems like this source is largely utilised by traditional publishers. It does have the added benefit of providing a secure way to disperse MOBI, EPUB and PDF copies to reviewers.
– Contact bloggers through their website. Bear in mind bloggers sometimes get hundreds of requests per day. That means, despite their very best intentions to review the literary world, they physically cannot read everything sent their way. Out of around twenty reviewing blogs I approached, three got back to me, and one accepted. There is also usually a wait of months until you receive their feedback. One review is one review, I know, but the other avenues I’ve tried have been more fruitful and less taxful on my time.
– Book promotion sites. Many of these websites offer reviewing services. Some charge, some don’t. There is the same issue as with the review blogging websites. There are an overwhelming number of requests and the odds of getting your foot in the door is sub-zero low. I’ve applied to a few book promo sites, mostly out of interest, and have not heard back.
– Amazon top reviewers. You can check out their profiles and see if these people are accepting submissions. Again, I assume these people are swamped with books, but it can’t hurt to try.
I’ve used this term a couple of times throughout this blog and I truly think this is the key to generating your first fifty reviews.
The best advice I have found to date went along the lines of; the more you give, the more people want to give back. This applies to every facet of book marketing; the networking, the garnering of reviews, and in keeping your audience long-term.
Combine this scenario where readers want to give back with the fact everyone loves to win, and you have a near irresistable situation for your fan base.
How to do it.
Firstly, leave the reader in no doubt that the surest way to thank you is by leaving a review. Then. Don’t go on about it. You don’t want to badger your readers all the time or they’ll leave. I have found if you offer incentives and occassionally mention reviews, the reader will make this connection regardless. They are smart people – they read books.
For example, I recently ran a giveaway for a signed copy of my book. All you had to do was like my facebook page and tag two friends on the post pinned to the top. The post was a pre-order link for my second book, Fantasy of Flight. As a result there was a boost in my pre-orders and I raised awareness of my sequel release, as intended. During this giveaway six readers reviewed, even though this was not part of the draw. A couple of these may have been random reviews, but this number was above average and I can only explain it with the mantra; the move you give, the more people want to give back.
There is a lot of room for creativity with these incentives and they do not have to cost you money – just time. As writers we should be good at this! You could release character interviews, or author interviews, pieces of writing, small amazon vouchers or audiobooks. The possibilities are endless.
For the first fifty reviews I received across amazon, I mainly used snippets of book two in The Tainted Accords. I released the first snippet at twenty reviews, the second at fifty reviews. Now, I have released a third for reaching fifty pre-orders of Fantasy of Flight, and will release a fourth before the novel is released. You get the idea.
I’ll let you in on another little secret of mine.
With KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) on amazon you get five free promtional days every 90 days. Firstly, use these. Secondly, time your giveaways for when you have a free promo day. I sold 2000 copies of Fantasy of Frost when I ran a free promotion parallel to a $50 amazon giftcard giveaway.
Are you thinking 2000 x $0 = $0?
Yes it does, but my daily sales afterward are now double, paying for the expense of the giftcard. Two weeks after the free promo I had gained nearly twenty reviews, and the novel was #3 in both two categories; epic fantasy and coming of age fantasy during the promotion – something I can now brag about to add credibility to the book.
None of my giveaways or promtions can be commended for as being THE reason for getting reviews. Rather, it is the accummulative effect of maintaining prominence in the minds of your readers, combining several review sources, and by giving as much as you can to your fan base. Reviews are crucial for sales and your continued ranking efforts. Do not sit back and wait for reviews, you have to seek them, offer incentive, and lobby the term on your social media platforms and newsletter periodically. Leave the reader with no doubt in their mind that the surest way to help you is to leave feedback. If you do this there may be overflow from various promos you run (as I detailed above).
Here are some other things I’ve found useful:
– Make it easy for people to review – have a link in your book, add links to your newsletters and posts on facebook.
– Leave a message in the back of your booking thanking the reader and asking for a review. I have also have a ‘How to leave a review’ page.
– Highlight bloggers who have reviewed you on your website or on facebook as thanks.
– Use free book promotion sites and other platforms to advertise your free promos and giveaways.
– Gift or give copies of your book to bloggers, authors and reviewers in exchange for an honest review.
– Exchange with other authors in a similar position to your own.
– Keep a list of the people who are reviewing your book and send a follow up email after a month. You are giving them your book, it’s not rude to prompt them for the expected time frame. This will also highlight those who you shouldn’t ask for review again (and those you should).
– If a person gave you a good review, ask if they are interested in reviewing your other works.
I’m learning more about writing, publishing and marketing every day and you can join me on this journey (and learn some tips and tricks in the process) by following my Dear Aspiring Author guest blog series on my website www.kellystclare.com.
You might also be interested in another of my blogs titled ‘On Writing Your Debut Book’.
I wish you all the best with your review seeking endeavours!
A massive thanks to Rachel at Rachel Author Barnard for having me,
Kelly St. Clare
When Kelly St Clare is not reading or writing, she is dreaming up a story in her head; the cause of many headaches for her friends and family, who have struggled to encourage her participation in normal activities – such as everyday life.
Books have always been magical and mysterious to her. One day she decided to start unravelling this mystery and began writing. Her aim: To write stories she would want to read.
A New Zealander in origin, Kelly currently resides in Australia with her soon-to-be husband.
Follow her via Newsletter at www.kellystclare.com, and find her on Facebook or Goodreads.
If you would like to read her coming-of-age epic fantasy novel, Fantasy of Frost, then you can view it here.
Other resources to keep up to date with marketing strategies:
Sell more Ebooks: How to increase sales, by Lucinda Crosby and Laura Dobbins (chapter three)
How to Get 63 Authentic Amazon Reviews in 3 Days or Less: How to Market Your Book, Sell More Books on Kindle, Become a Best Seller, by Bart Baggett
Self Publishing: How to Make Money Online by Selling Ebooks on Amazon, by Abraham Falls