There’s no getting away from it, if you want your books to take off, you need reviews to help get them off the ground. One of the best ways to do that is to generate enough interest to get people reading and reviewing your books.
BenjaminWallace.com lists the 3 main reasons readers buy books as
- Everyone else is buying it
- As a result of a personal recommendation
- They read a sample and liked it.
Unless you’re already a big name with a massive following, you can’t hope to force #1 on that list. It will either happen or it won’t. All you can do is write your best book, get it professionally edited and designed, and support your content with a great cover and sales blurb, to make sure that #3 happens.
Nor can you force readers to make personal recommendations. But you can focus on influencers who are more likely to share their opinion and experience with your book.
Traditional publishers send out copies of books in the publication process prior to release to garner blurbs, editorial reviews, and encourage early reader reviews. As an indie author, you need to take responsibility for this activity yourself.
Unfortunately, all too often the attempt to rustle up reviews descends into begging, whining, wheedling, and outright cheating when new authors don’t understand the etiquette of author/reader interactions.
So here’s a quick Stay Classy guide to getting book reviews for indie authors. Some of these are things I’ve learned along the way, and wish I’d done right from the start. Others are common sense and good manners.
Write Your Best Book
‘Good enough’ is not good enough.
No, you can’t churn out a 10,000-word chunk of garbage using an automated text generator and call it a book, if you want anyone to take you seriously. If you expect people to pay for, read, and review your work, put the effort in to make it worth their time.
Hire an Editor
Even if your language skills are amazing, and you have outstanding attention to detail, get it professionally edited. By a real editor who cares, not a publishing services company.
If English is your second language, or writing isn’t your strong suit but you have a message to share, you’ll probably need more than one round of editing.
It won’t be cheap.
Get a professional cover design
Don’t use Amazon’s cover designer, or CreateSpace’s (or any other online cover generator) with stock images, generic layouts and garish colour schemes.
If you plan to write more than one book, create a style that you can adapt to future covers to keep costs down and increase recognisability. But don’t skimp on the first cover.
Don’t forget the inside
Get a professional interior layout and design for multiple digital formats. Make the reading experience as professional as possible. You want readers to either not notice, or forget, that yours is an indie book.
Make a List
Blog about your small victories and defeats during the writing process.
Join forums, groups and community sites and engage with readers without pushing your book all the time. This is easier if you engage during the writing process than if you appear with your book complete.
Attract reviewers to you.
Put an open request for reviewers in your own email signature file, and on your website, and put a call out for reviewers on social networks.
Carry a copy of your book everywhere you go, in case someone is interested in reviewing it. Hand out business cards rather than books, unless requested. It will save you money, and if they are interested, they will contact you later.
Where possible, include links to your books in forum signature files. Write guest posts and give author interviews.
Join author groups
Connect with other authors to share hints and tips, but don’t spam them with review requests, or expect them to buy your books. Most will be too busy trying to sell you theirs to even read your pitch.
Don’t swap reviews. If you’re approached for a review swap, suggest you swap blurbs or editorial reviews instead, and explain Amazon’s T&Cs expressly prohibit swapping consumer reviews.
Build a list of potential reviewers in your niche or genre.
Include book reviewers and bloggers. You can give your list a head start on sites like BookBlogging.net, BookBloggerList.com, and BookReviewerYellowPages.com or Google search for book reviewers in your niche.
Also add YouTube channels, podcasters and other non-text creatives who might be interested in talking to you or reviewing your book.
Don’t forget to include local media and news outlets, book clubs and interest groups.
Approach libraries, schools, business or trade associations whose members might be interested and offer to give a talk or do a book signing.
Attend local fairs and conventions.
If you’re writing for children, look for parent and teacher groups.
Check the reviewer’s guidelines, and only query people who accept and review books like yours. Send them what they ask for, just as if you were submitting to a publisher.
Don’t bug all your friends and family to leave reviews if they’re not genuinely interested in your subject, focus on super fans in your niche or genre instead.
Don’t buy likes, reviews, or any other fake popularity.
Use a VA
If it gets overwhelming, hire someone to keep track of your potential reviewers and correspondence, but train them well. They will be representing you, and could do your reputation more harm than good if they don’t understand or follow the rules.
Always Query First
You might think sending your manuscript on spec saves time for the reviewer if they want to read your book, but reviewers are inundated with requests. Book files are large, and clog up inboxes.
Always send a query letter first. Read the reviewer’s guidelines and send what they ask for.
Don’t rush the query
Spend some time on the reviewer’s site and show you’ve read their recent reviews in your letter.
Don’t act entitled, or demanding, but don’t be so self-deprecating you put people off. Just give an honest pitch, and let people make up their own minds.
Proof read your query, as spelling and grammar errors in your pitch don’t bode well for the quality of the book, and will put potential reviewers off. Spell the reviewers’ name right, and never ask only for positive reviews.
Use this sample reviewer approach letter, tailored to each individual.
I read your review of [recent review] on [site] and wondered if you might be interested in reviewing my book, [title.] It’s a [genre] published by [publisher/imprint] (due out) on [date] (under the pseudonym [Name].)
You and your readers may be interested in the book because [specific point of appeal]. I’m currently looking for reviewers, and would like to offer you an ARC/a Review copy/Review and Giveaway copies. I have included a brief synopsis and cover art to help you decide if it might be for you below. If you are interested, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Review copies are available in digital or print, so just let me know which format you prefer, and where to send them, and I will get them to you as soon as possible.
Synopsis and Cover Art.
(Links to Goodreads, Amazon or other links to the book if it’s already published,) and to your press kit.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you,
Have a Press Kit
Don’t issue a press release unless your book is timely. Write one and put it in your press kit on your site instead. Include:
- author photo,
- a book extract,
- short, medium, and long synopses,
- Short, medium, and long author bios,
- book cover,
- and rights clearance statement.
Don’t make absurd claims for your book or writing style. Tell your back story.
Make Reviewing Your Book Easy
Above all, always respect the reviewer. Most often, they’re not getting paid. They’re doing this in their spare time because they love books.
Never take a negative or petulant tone with a reviewer.
Don’t pay for reviews
Understand the difference between an editorial review and a reader review.
Editorial reviews, such as those from Kirkus, appear on the reviewer’s website, not on book stores. You may be able to use these in your book blurbs, or add them as editorial reviews on Amazon.
Reader reviews appear on book sellers’ sites, such as Amazon, and reviewers receive nothing but the review copy in exchange for all the time and effort they put into reading and writing about your book.
Amazon’s terms and conditions state reviewers must disclose if they received a review copy, so don’t pout when they do. In fact, you should send Advance Review Copies, and Read for Review Copies, with the clear instruction to ‘provide an honest review and a disclaimer that you received a review copy if you post your review to Amazon or other retail sites.’
Some bloggers will write an editorial review and post excerpts of the review to Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Rifflebooks, and Shelfari. If you’re not paying, it’s okay to ask reviewers to share on these sites, but don’t be pushy about it.
Deliver the right book
Always deliver the book to the reviewer in their preferred format. That includes print or digital, mobi, PDF or whatever else they want.
Include a cover letter with a link to your media kit with the book delivery, to make it easy for the reviewer to check details.
Let people know your deadlines and timeframes, but don’t expect them to fit in with them, and let them know a review will be appreciated even if it’s received later than hoped for.
Ask them to send you a link to the review when it’s posted.
Keep in touch
Allow at least 6-8 weeks for a review. Some reviewers have TBR piles of dozens of books, Don’t rush the reviewer, but follow up after a month (or whatever timeline they suggest) if you haven’t heard anything from them.
If you approach a blogger or influencer and they pass on your book, or don’t have time to write a review, offer to write them a guest post instead.
If you requested the review via private email, always send an email thanking the reviewer for their time.
If you receive a positive review, ask if you can use excerpts in your blurbs.
Ask if they would like you to send them an invitation to review your next book, and whether they would like to join your mailing list, with a brief outline of the types of emails you send out. Whatever they say, respect their decision.
If you received a negative review, tell them you’re sorry they didn’t find what they were looking for in your book, but you’re glad they took the time to read and comment anyway.
Never challenge their negative comments, or correct factual errors. You asked for their honest opinion, and received it. If you confused them, that’s a failure in your writing you need to address.
Never say anything in a private email exchange to a reviewer you wouldn’t say in a public forum.
Depending on the severity of the comments, and the thickness of your skin, you might still want to offer them the option of being invited to review your next book.
In every case
Keep a list of everyone who reviewed, and whether they’re interested in reviewing the next book. Use social media to link to their review (even the negative ones) and thank them publicly for their time.
Where reviews are posted on a blog with comments open, ask if they want you to engage publicly or stay away. If they invite you, leave a polite thank you there.
Be prepared to engage in discussion with readers, but stay classy.
Never rant on social media, especially on your profile pages or in groups.
Develop a thick skin. Or don’t read your reviews. Don’t take it personally, whether it’s a pass, a poor or a rave review, or a late one, it’s not about you. It’s about your book, and how it affected the reader.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments, so I can keep this list up to date.