Book Reviews: Why You Need Them and Tips for Getting Them
As a writer, you might assume that putting the finishing touches on your book means the tallest hurdles you’ll face have now been cleared. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case — at least if you want to actually sell some of your books and have people read them. For that, you’ll need to focus heavily on promoting and marketing your book and making potential readers aware of it. As it turns out, a major part of this process revolves around getting reviews.
For the purpose of this post, when I say “reviews,” I’m mostly referring to customer-written reviews posted on Amazon. However, other types of reviews — be they social media posts, Goodreads ratings, or full reviews posted on blogs or various websites — can also play a big role in the success of your book. So why are reviews so important and how can you get more of them? Let’s take a look at the power of customer reviews and a few strategies for increasing your review stats.
Why Reviews Matter
Have you ever gone to buy a product that sounded great, only to discover a number of reviews suggesting that it didn’t live up to the promises it made? You’re not alone — which is why having people vouch for your book and share what they thought the highlights were can go a long way in getting others to click that “buy” button.
On Amazon, there are really two ways reviews can impact what potential readers think of your book. The first is the average star rating that displays prominently below your book’s title. For many, that star rating could be all they need to make their final decisions. However, others may want to dive deeper into the actual written reviews.
Written reviews can be both a blessing and a curse. As someone who’s often looked through various Amazon reviews, I can tell you that sometimes the star rating doesn’t seem to match the reasons given for said rating. This includes people being petty, personal, or otherwise unreasonable. Luckily, most readers can see past these outliers. Of course, if there are no other reviews to go by, these unfairly negative reviews can have an impact — all the more reason to try to get as many reviews as possible.
It’s no secret that Amazon relies on various algorithms in order best serve and market to customers. What is more of a secret is exactly how these algorithm’s function and what factors they give more weight to. That said, the number of reviews you have can be a factor in how your book ranks in Amazon’s search results.
At this point, it’s important to note that there are two different types of Amazon reviews: verified and unverified. Verified reviews are those where Amazon can confirm that the reviewer purchased the book in question. Moreover, reviews are only given verified status (including the “verified purchase” tag that makes them stand out) if the reviewer paid near full price for the product and did not get a steep discount. This is notable because those that purchase your book during a sale or promotion might not be able to give verified reviews even though they did legitimately buy your book.
All this talk about verified reviews isn’t to say that unverified reviews aren’t still helpful. For one, they can still help with purchasing decisions as mentioned above. Therefore, you shouldn’t fret too much about verified status, although it’s obviously a plus if you can get them.
Feedback and insight
Beyond customer buying decisions and Amazon algorithms, I believe that one of the biggest benefits that comes from customer reviews is the written feedback. These insights can even have an impact on future editions of my book as well as the way I market it.
As I’ve said before, one great thing about ebooks is how easy is it is to make changes, updates, and add content to your already-published title. I’ve taken full advantage of this with my book by adding sections and notes as I see fit. In that same vein, I’ve been able to take some of the reviews and feedback I’ve received about the book into consideration when making these updates, elaborating where needed and making certain points clearer. Granted, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to take every note a reader gives you, but accepting valid criticism and acting on it can make your book better overall.
On a similar but opposite note, another way I’ve used customer reviews is to understand what aspects of my book readers thought stood out and what they found to be the most helpful. Once again, I’ve been able to take this insight and double down on those aspects for upcoming editions. Additionally, I have also been able to market the book highlighting those strengths.
How to Get Reviews for Your Book
Now that you understand how valuable reviews of your book can be, there are a few ways you can go about soliciting reviews. At the same time, you should definitely be aware of the rules Amazon has regarding such practices. For example, you are not able to pay or compensate readers in exchange for reviews (you are allowed to gift them a free review copy, however) nor are you able to demand they post only good reviews. Instead, it’s all about asking for honest reviews from a number of people. Here are a few ideas:
Something we didn’t touch on in the previous section are reviews published not on Amazon or Goodreads but on blogs and other media outlets. As you might expect, these types of reviews can also be extremely effective in driving sales and raising awareness for your title. Naturally, that can also make them a bit tricky to get if you’re an unknown author.
The truth is that there are plenty of major book review sites and other publications that get hundreds if not thousands of submissions from authors. While you’re welcome to try your luck with the big guys, you may be better off finding small sites that serve the specific niche your book is in. For example, when I was looking to promote my first book The E-Ticket Life about my travels to different Disney parks, I sought out various Disney fan sites to ask if they’d be interested in reviewing it. That way, not only was I more likely to get the review but was also marketing directly to my key demographic.
Ask your friends
Marketing my first book was a lot different from marketing my second. For one, the Disney fandom was something I was very familiar with while the self-publishing space mostly alluded me. Because of this, my book launch didn’t come with the pop you’d hope it would. With little traction gaining, I ended up making a post on Facebook asking who might be willing to give the book a read and write a review.
So how did this work? Well, the results were actually pretty mixed. For one, only about half of those who volunteered ended up following through with reading and reviewing. Secondly, since these copies were either gifted or sent in PDF form, none of the reviews were verified.
Lastly, I should mention that this seems to be a bit of a grey area with Amazon. According to their FAQ page, Amazon says they “don’t allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book.” Of course, what constitutes a “close friend” is open to interpretation and the preceding text almost seems to imply they only disallow friends that live with you. In any case, I will say that a couple of my friends’ reviews were removed by Amazon without explanation. Personally, I feel like, as long as they are giving an honest review, there should be no issue. Still, please realize there are some risks involved with this plan.
Ask your followers
In her excellently titled publication Writing the Damn Book, author Stacy Nelson talks about what she calls her “book angels.” These are readers she tasked with helping to promote her book launch, including receiving a free advanced copy so that they can review it as soon as it’s released. Clearly one of the easiest ways to arrange such a band of heavenly book helpers is through social media. There you can reach out to your followers and see if they’d be interested in such an arrangement and allow you to build your pre-promotion posse in no time.
Ask your fans
It may surprise you to realize that, while those who read and enjoy your book might take the time to write you and tell you about it, the idea of writing an Amazon review might not have ever crossed their mind. That’s why it’s always a good idea to politely request that they do so whenever possible.
You can actually start planting the seeds of this when you’re first promoting your book. As you appear on podcasts, write guests posts, and share on social media, you can always tack on a quick message about how helpful it is when readers who enjoy your book leave a review. Like I said, you can also mention this request to those who reach out to you after the fact.
Many readers are very generous and willing to help you out in any way possible — it’s just that they might not know how much of an impact their review can have. Therefore, be sure to thank them for their support and tell them exactly how they can help you further.
Ask your target readers
Finally, another way to solicit reviews for your book is to look toward those who reviewed titles similar to yours. A simple way to do this is to just search for books on related topics or of the same genre and click on some of the profiles for the various reviewers. That way, you can offer them advanced copies of your book (essentially having them join your “book angels”) or gift them with review copies after publication.
You might not realize it, but some reviewers actually have full profiles on Amazon, which will give you info like their personal websites that you can use to contact them. If that doesn’t work, you can also try Googling their name or use services like Hunter.io or ContactOut to help you find their e-mail addresses. Just keep in mind that, the more effort you put into finding someone’s info, the more likely it is that they won’t want to hear from you and could report you for spam.
On that note, the key to this one is to ensure that you’re not being spammy with your solicitation. This starts with being considerate of how you contact a potential reader. For example, don’t try to send e-mails to everyone on the top Amazon reviewers list — you should specifically pick people who you feel would realistically have an interest in or get benefit from your book. Additionally, while sending a follow-up e-mail is likely fine, you don’t want to send multiple e-mails to one person if you aren’t getting a response.
This is actually a strategy I recently tried and had fairly positive results. I was able to connect with a number of readers who not only shared their thoughts and feedback with me privately but were also kind enough to post reviews on Amazon. Moreover, those that declined my offer were kind about it and didn’t seem to be annoyed by my efforts.
Depending on the size of your outreach list, you may also find it helpful to enlist the help of an e-mail automation tool. One such service I tried is called Ninja Outreach, which allowed me to add my prospects to a list, create a template with custom fields to be filled in, and even arrange for follow-up e-mails to go out after a set number of days. I found this to work really well… except that, starting at $69 a month, the service is definitely pricey. However, they do offer a two-week free trial, so if you have your lists in order, you may be able to finish your project before having to pay.
Whether you’re preparing to launch your book or trying to keep the momentum going, earning reviews can go a long way in helping the success of your title. Because of this, you’ll want to convey the importance of Amazon reviews to your fans, reach out to potential readers for their help, and make other efforts to boost word of mouth. Ultimately, this can take a lot of energy on your part but will hopefully pay off in the form of more sales and more readers enjoying your work.
Also published on Medium.