The Down and Dirty on Getting Book Reviews

Spring daffodil - Guenette photo

I remember once bemoaning my lack of book reviews with a close friend and she told me –

Real readers don’t write reviews. Think about it? Did you ever write a book review before you needed one yourself?

Good question and my answer was no.

Garnering my first book reviews was painful. The process involved trawling a limited pool of readers and that pool often seemed covered by thick ice. I chipped away at the following groups:

Other self-published authors. I was aware of my need for book reviews and I recognized that same need in others. Since publishing an ebook and starting to read on a Kindle, I discovered a host of great new authors. I wanted to be supportive. By fishing in this pond, I hoped others felt the same.

Future self-published authors. I solicited in this pool to catch authors who were hoping to build up future review capital. Yup – once again – reciprocal obligations.

Members of authors’ review circles. This is a type of group where reviews are either exchanged outright or there is an arrangement in which  A reviews B and B reviews C on down the line. A review in one of these circles can be powerfully echoed across social media on the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of the various members. But whichever way I chose to drop the line, I was on the hook to provide reviews to get reviews. Do you see a theme emerging?

Book review bloggers. The best sites were absolutely not looking for any reciprocal activity but the competition to have my book work its way to the top of a blogger’s pile was fierce. Hooking a high-quality book blogger doesn’t happen every day.

Periwinkle - Guenette photo

Suffice to say, I wasn’t catching many reviews for the effort involved in baiting my line. But I knew the numbers mattered. I wanted to qualify for various promotional opportunities and I needed those reviews.

In my last post, I wrote about the number of ways the self-published author is vulnerable to those who seek to make their money by taking ours. Many sites offer book reviews in exchange for cash. But purchasing reviews is not an advised practice with perhaps the exception of the big bucks required to get a Kirkus review. Amazon seems fine with those. Ignore the unfair reality that publishing houses pay top dollar to get high-quality reviews for their authors. No one said the life of the self-published author would be fair.

I have learned the hard way to avoid trading reviews with other authors. Amazon is onto this practice and they frown upon it. I know of one self-published author who has had most of her reciprocal reviews pulled down. A lot of effort for no gain on either side. But Amazon regulations aside, reciprocal reviewing put me in a tight spot. If the other person gave me a 5-star review, no matter the number of times I jumped up and down and sworn I would only review honestly, I did feel swayed to give a great review in exchange. This is human nature and if I’m anything, I am human.

I have recently heard of a new Amazon review policy, meant to stop the seemingly unstoppable tide of phoney reviews. Readers must have spent a minimum of $50.00 as an Amazon customer to place a review. Many have screamed unfair and shouted for the rights of the reader who has only bought one ebook ever and has developed a burning need to review that book. Too bad, so sad. Amazon wants reviews written by committed readers – not one-time only buyers, not bots or anonymous voices in the wilderness filling in blanks on a review template provided for them by a company who charged the author big bucks to get that book 50 reviews.

First rhodo bloom - Guenette photo

So – what is the self-published author to do? How is he or she to get those all important initial reviews? How do you find genuine fans?

Do beat the bushes the best you can. Solicit book reviewers and bloggers. Make sure your contact email is at the back of your ebook. Invite readers to contact you. Offer them an incentive for making the effort. When a reader emails you, ask them politely to put their thoughts about your book in writing on Amazon if they haven’t already done so. Let them know that reviews can be as simple as – I love this book because ____________. They can fill in the blank and they’ve often done just that in their email to you.

Getting these initial reviews isn’t easy. It won’t happen overnight. But you don’t need hundreds. I snagged my first BookBub promotion with 33 reviews.

So – let’s talk about the genuine fans. They do exist! I didn’t catch them until I started commercial fishing in the great lake of readers who discovered my books through my first BookBub feature. This promotion meant wide spread exposure to a targeted audience of ebook readers who were interested in my writing genre. Since then, through various other promotions, I offer the first book of my series free and I’ve managed to introduce my writing to new readers and create a halo effect of sales over all my books.

It turns out real readers do write book reviews and post them on Amazon. At last count, reviews for Disappearing in Plain Sight (first book in the Crater Lake Series) have zoomed up to 163. And reviews still matter. I’ve discovered that even when I offer one of my books FREE, people still check out the latest reviews before downloading the book.

First Rhubarb - Guenette photo

There you have it – the down and dirty on book reviews for the self-published author. Please weigh-in on this issue. Let me know what you think, what you’ve tried and how the act of getting book reviews makes you feel.

15 comments on “The Down and Dirty on Getting Book Reviews

  1. I did some reviewing in my pre-writing days, but usually only if I truly loved the book. I didn’t realize then how reviews affect authors, and tbh, I think they get too much weight because there are so many unfair practices involved. There are good books out there (I’m thinking specifically of one of Chuck Wendig’s) that get skewered because haters travel in packs. KU borrows aren’t counted as verified, and verified “count more.” It’s kind of a mess and I think a lot of people know that.

    That said, sometimes, a good review is a much needed and appreciated boost.

    • You raise a really good point, Allison, when you mention that reviews have so much weight when, at the same time, the review system is filled with many unfair practices. At least we are all operating in the same flawed system – not sure if that is any comfort to anyone. A good review of a book a reader loved is always appreciated! I work at appreciating all my reviews – good, bad and indifferent. Some sting and some make me glow but to be honest, I take most with a grain of salt while applauding the fact that a reader wants to offer their thoughts. It’s a moment in time opinion – necessary for me as a self-published author (and thus appreciated) but in no way a defining moment for my work.

  2. Debra says:

    I think I’m getting the message, Francis! I recently told another author friend of mine how dedicated I’ve been to writing reviews for her because of our close personal relationship, but that ordinarily I don’t. There are reasons for that, although they’re weak. I don’t think I write the best reviews, for one thing. They always feel a little stilted as I don’t like to give away any of a plot. And in addition to that, I rarely, if ever actually read reviews. I prefer to take a chance on a book if I have reason to think I’d enjoy it!

    Just today, however, I received in the mail a letter from another blogging friend who has just published using Amazon. I’d been a first reader for her book, so she proceeded to tell me the new Amazon rules etc., and seek my assistance in sharing the book as well as making sure I left a review. I’m happy to do that. Now that you’ve brought this up (being the third author in just a couple of days) I think I need to pay much more attention to reviewing books I enjoy. I think I’ve not previously taken the time to consider how much this means to each author. Thank you for this excellent overview. And with what I have spent on Amazon, my reviews should be at the very top with a gold star! 🙂

    • Like you, Debra, I rarely ever read reviews before reading books. That might have been why I never thought of writing one. I do notice after my promotions, from the spikes in the tally of whether an Amazon review was helpful or not, that many readers do read reviews. Go figure 🙂 So – yes, having them matters and getting the initial ones is hard work. If you can help that blogging friend out with review – go for it.

  3. jenanita01 says:

    Amazon’s new ruling seems unfair to one time buyers, which is a shame, but might help to sort out the mess that Amazon themselves helped to create. I just hope they don’t follow it up with anything worse!

    • With any type of review regulation, there will be those who are genuine readers writing legitimate reviews who fall outside of the rules. Agreed that Amazon helped create the systemic problems in their review system. I end up shrugging and moving on. Since they are practically the only game in town where the self-published author can make a go of it, what is one to do?

  4. Isn’t a BookBub promotion very expensive though?

    • Yes! On the up side, I have yet to speak to an author who ran a free promotion who didn’t make his or her money back plus. My initial BookBub feature cost approx. 350.00 US. To that, I added 3 additional promos to lead into the BookBub – another 300.00. I made that investment back before the 4 days of free promotion ended. One caveat on that – I do have a series to sell and offered the first book for free so I had the halo effect of sales over the other books in the series. I do hear now that authors who are running promotions for books at the 1.99 or 2.99 price point – way more costly than the free promotion cost – are not making back their initial investment within a couple of weeks of the promotion. But there are so many factors. Did they have a series? Was it the first BookBub feature for that book? My second time on BookBub with the same book did not do as well as the first. Complicate process but I certainly found my BookBub feature to be a turning point for my sales.

  5. […] Getting Book Reviews | Disappearing in Plain Sight  […]

  6. jane tims says:

    I try to write reviews for authors I know because I know how important they are. I am so far behind in my reading though because I do read reviews and am often enticed to by by some comment a reviewer makes, good or bad. As an author I just want to be read!

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