Tips and Advice About Getting Book Reviews

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by MichaelSullivan, Sep 20, 2012.

  1. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    This came up in another thread but it seems important enough to have a thread of it's own. I'm actually combining information from a few sources. First two posts i did on reddit/r/writing the one from my wife's blog. You can find the posts here:


    NOTE: This post was too big to do as one so I'm dividing it into two. You can find the Second part here.

    Reviews are a good way of establishing credibility of a work. In fact, I don't think an author should spend a huge amount of time "promoting" a book until you get at least double digit (10+) reviews on Amazon and preferably 15+.

    Venues to Concentrate on
    I personally care most about Amazon and goodreads. Amazon because they are the 800 pound gorilla and goodreads because it is so easy to target people who should like the type of book you write. There’s not enough time in the day to “do it all” so the venues I neglect is Barnes and Noble and the ibookstore. To be honest I don’t even know what my numbers are on those sites. My series is published two different ways: self-published (6 book Oct 2007 – August 2011) and traditionally (3 books Nov 2011 – Jan 2012) my numbers are:

    • Amazon Traditional: 220, Self:400
    • Goodreads Ratings Traditional:2,116, Self 4,531
    • Goodreads Reviews Traditional: 406, Self 649

    Paid Reviews
    I’m opposed to paid reviews. There are a few reasons for this.

    • The “good ones” are expensive (Kirkus $425 for standard, $575 for advanced), that’s a lot of money for one review.
    • No matter how much they claim to be “unbiased” readers it’s hard not to divorce from your mind that he who pays the piper gets to call the tune
    • To me the reek of desperation

    There was a book I was remotely interested in because of a “good review” by a site I wasn’t familiar with – so I clicked through and found out that it was a paid review site and it made me lose all interest in the book. I just don’t think the risk of alienation is worth the small benefit to get one review.

    Review Trading
    From time to time a new writer will come up with what they think is a great idea…review trading. It sounds like the perfect synergistic relationship to help each other out but it’s a potential land mine and I really recommend not doing this. Consider the following:

    • What if the other person's book sucks? Then what do you do?
    • You don't want to "go on record" singing praises and then look like a fool.
    • What if they don't like your book and give you a bad review? Do you give them a crappy review back?
    • To give an "honest" review you have to read their book and that is time best spent writing other books
    • What if they don't post a review?(Perhaps because they didn’t like it and didn’t want to say bad things) then you end up with nothing.
    • If your book only has a few reviews, and a reader digs a little bit, will they suspect somethings a foot? Yes…and they’ll be vocal about it. You don’t want any possibility of “impropriety” when it comes to reviews. I’m all for supporting one another as writers. So if you read someone’s book and you like it…by all means review it. They might notice and do the same for you, just don’t make a “formal” arrangement.

    Sock Puppets, Friends and Family
    It should go without saying that padding reviews with fake accounts or cajoling your friends and family to post reviews just isn’t a good idea. I know when you are starting out the desire for reviews can drive you to do irrational things. But again, you don’t want to provide any fodder for people to discount the validity of reviews. If a friend feels compelled to write a review (or if you see someone who you know post something) you might even contact them and ask them to make a disclaimer. Something like: NOTE: For the record Michael is a member of my critique group and I initially read the book to support his writing, that being said, I really enjoyed this story and my comments are not based on my personal relationship with him.

    It’s a very sad and disappointing fact that most of my family, and many of my friends have never read my books. This includes: my mother, my brother and sister, my wife’s sister, and two of our three children. In fact in our entire “direct” family only one daughter has read the books (and they were written to get her to read!) So I always find it interesting when people see a bunch of high reviews and write that it must be “all friends and family posting.”

    The point of a review is to provide credibility. As I mentioned before you have to avoid even the appearance of impropriety so you should never artificially pad reviews.

    So now that I’ve told you what you can’t do…how do you get reviews. There are many ways to do this:

    Goodreads
    Is a perfect site because it is easy to find people that should be perfect fits for your books and as such will review the book well. You should:

    • Find a book that is similar to yours
    • Go on goodreads and find people with high ranked reviews for that book
    • PM them that you have a book like that which you think they may enjoy and that you'll give them a free copy with no strings attached...your "hope" is that they will like it enough to post a review but you don't "expect" anything
    • Reassure them that you want "honesty" (actually getting some positive and negative reviews is generally better than all positive reviews as people find it more "credible"

    Amazon
    Some of the top reviewers on Amazon list their email addresses (or websites where you can find their addresses) so they are easy to reach. These people are voracious readers and as such they provide some good credibility. For instance Harriet Klausner (#1 Amazon reviewer) is often used in marketing materials, “A great read” – Harriet Klausner #1 Amazon reviewer. You can find a list of top reviewers here[1] . Also don’t rule out “the little guys” do the same thing that you do with goodreads. Find a book similar to yours and then look at the high ranked reviews and see if they post a website or email address.

    Bloggers
    I credit much of the success at getting the word out about my books to goodreads and bloggers. I wrote a separate thread to cover how to approach bloggers that you can checkout here.

    Fans
    No one will speak more passionately about your books than a fan. They already love you and want nothing more than your success so why not help them help you. Many fans post reviews, but to the vast majority it never occurs to them. If you make a subtle nudge they jump to the occasion, “Of course, I’ll leave a review…I can’t believe I didn’t think of that myself,” they reply.

    When I find a fan, I try to reach out personally and… * Thank them for their support * Ask them if I can write back when I have a new book out (permission based marketing – a whole topic in and of itself) * And politely ask them to write a review if they haven’t already.

    I write each request personally, and modify it based on context – for instance if responding to an email. I never cut and paste but most of the requests sound something like this….

    Anytime you find a new fan (on a forum, through email, by fanning you on goodreads) it’s common courtesy to thank them for their support. Also…when someone posts a nice review on goodreads, I might ask them to repost on Amazon.

    Don't get obnoxious about it, if they don't post a review don't go back and prod them for one. They are already a fan, don't risk that relationship for the sake of a review...some people just aren't comfortable doing so. Fans are to be cherished, never risk alienating them.

    Well that’s about all I can think about on the subject of reviews. I hope it is of some help, and others will weigh in with their comments and things that have worked for them.

    Bottom line, with so many “legitimate” ways to get reviews, if you put a little work into it, in no time you’ll have a nice stack of reviews yourself.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 21, 2012
  2. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    Tips and Advice About Getting Book Reviews: Part 2

    This is the second half of my post on reviews. This one focuses on "How" you approach bloggers. You can find Part #1 here: Tips and Advice About Getting Book Reviews: Part 1

    In this post I'll cover...

    • What not to do
    • What to send (the email)
    • Where to send them (how to find bloggers)
    • Getting to know them
    • The Approach
    • Improving your chances
    • What to do afterward

    What not to do
    I think the biggest mistake people do is they email them a "Hey my name is joe, blow, I have a book about xyz, do you want me to send it to you?" This doesn't get much response. Bloggers are BUSY PEOPLE. They have lots of books just waiting to be read. You have to find a way to get yours ahead of all of the others (many of which will be coming from "big presses" and "established names".

    What to Send
    My wife actually did my "blogger" campaign and she made a little "mini" ad. (using Google doc and cut/paste into the body of the email - don't send attachments). Here is an example she used for my first book The Crown Conspiracy:

    [​IMG]

    Notice a few things about this:
    • The cover of the book
    • A headline: They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly
    • A one paragraph snappy "back of the book blurb"
    • Quotes from other reviews (use what you have and trade out as you get better ones)
    • Link to sample chapter
    • Call outs for any awards or special recognition
    • Easy access to reference "quick list with: Genre, ISBN, page count release date etc.

    Where to send it
    Okay...now that you have "what to send" let's talk about "where to send"
    Do a Google search for "book review" and your genre" For instance I just did this for Fantasy and got:


    But these into a spreadsheet and go to each site and look for a "blog roll" where they will give you other sites they follow. For instance at Fantasy Book Critic they show:

    • @Number71
    • A Dribble Of Ink
    • A Fantasy Reader
    • ... (editted for space) ...
    • Walker of Worlds
    • Whatever
    • When Gravity Fails
    • Zeno Agency

    Put these in your spreadsheet. Check each one's blog rolls and it will grow exponentially...Make yourself a goal to add 5 new blogs to your spread sheet a day. Soon you'll have hundreds.

    Get to know them
    Like everyone people will do things for people they know (and like). Always treat bloggers with the ultimate respect...they deserve it...they are going to be helping your career and get nothing in return except a free book and some gratitude. So be nice to them...always.
    Before you start sending stuff out do some research and get acquainted with them.
    • Note the ones that show up on multiple blog rolls -these people have the most "influence" rate them.
    • Go to each site and find their submission guidelines do they like electronic or print. not it in the spreadsheet.
    • Record the email address in your spreadsheet
    • record their "real name" in the spreadsheet
    • follow the blog
    • follow their tweets
    • comment on their postings through comments
    • get a feel for what types of books they like and which ones they don't
    • Make all kinds of notes in your spreadsheet

    Approaching them
    Now you are in a position to approach this strategically rather than haphazard.
    • Prioritize the blog based on influence and whether they like your types of books.
    • Start with the "little fish first" this might be a new blogger, or stay-at-home mom who is a voracious reader. They aren't often approached to do a review and they will be flattered and usually say yes.
    • Start working your way up to the more influential blogs. They all read each other's stuff so when getting to the "bigger" fish mention, John, at xyz really liked the book, and based off of your review of abc, which is similar to mine I think you will to.

    Maximize your chances
    Bottom line if you follow all of the above you will get people to review your books. The more interaction you have with them - the more likely is they will move your book up in replacement of others.
    Don't waste their time. If a blogger reviews primarily paranormal romance don't send them your military science fiction piece. There are more than enough blogs that will be a better fit.

    After the review
    After they review the book do the following:
    • Always thank a reviewer for their time...even if they hated your book.
    • Never "argue" a point with them. Even if they didn't "get" your book don't try to explain what they missed.
    • If they didn't like your book, tell them you hope that next time you hope they find something more to their liking and that you understand (they proably already feel bad enough...but your understanding will make them feel better)
    • Ask them whether they want you to respond to comments or "stay away" some want interaction others want an "author free" area so that their readers can talk honestly
    • If they wrote something nice - ask them if you can use one of their quotes in promotional material (they will be honored and say yes)
     
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    Michael,

    Thank you for your thoughts on this. I have a few of my own in response, but, first, a question:

    You can spend a lot of time contacting Amazon reviewers. At what point does adding additional reviews become not worth the time investment? Should I try for 10, 50, 100, 500?

    EDIT: I changed the sentence above that introduces the question to eliminate reference to bloggers. The question pertains solely to Amazon reviewers.

    Regarding Review Trading:

    You raise good points. I had a situation occur where I read a friend's book and hated it. When I showed him my review, we agreed that it would be better not to post it. I think that, if you make this kind of arrangement in advance, you can avoid some problems.

    I don't quite get your second point about singing praises. You're talking about offering a glowing review for inferior material? If so, my advice would be: don't do it. Tell your author friend that you simply cannot offer a good review of the book and let them decide if they truly want your honest review.

    They should give me an honest review, even if they hate my book. I should do the same. So far, out of four reviews like this, I've really liked three of the books.

    Your last point is good as well. I think that it's necessary to post disclaimers.

    Regarding Sock Puppets:

    I agree with you, but not, I think, for the reasons you stated. My thinking is that most of my friends and family wouldn't be able to write a truly useful review, and piles of fluff don't do me any good.

    I do have a few friends who I think will be able to write well thought out reviews. I will request that those friends do so.

    What about this idea, though: say someone has written you an excellent review on Amazon. This review is perfect - it highlights the good parts of your work and mentions enough negatives to give the review credibility. Those negatives, though, you feel will not adversely impact sales. Is it okay to have your friends and family go click that that review is "useful" so that it will stay at the top of the page?

    My main thought about trading reviews and having friends do them is this:

    When you launch your book, you need to get reviews in immediately. It seems stupid to leave these reviews to chance. By prearranging to have people you know and trust give good, meaningful reviews, you establish a good foundation for your marketing.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2012
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    If I read a good review today about a book that was published twenty years ago, I might pick it up. I think the better question is how few is too few, but I don't think there's an upper limit.

    MichaelSullivan, do you mind if I merge and sticky these two posts?
     
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    I don't get your point here.

    Obtaining these reviews take time. You have to find the reviewer, get their contact info, figure out if their tastes match up well with your book, figure out their submission guidelines, contact them, and then interact with them.

    I think it's a valid question to ask: what should be my goal? As what point does time spent obtaining the review become too high for the small amount of additional gain.

    Note that my question pertains to Amazon reviewers, not bloggers.

    I think that book blogs are a different equation all together. They can actually drive people to your book.

    My assumption, and PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong, is that the Amazon reviewer helps when people find your page but does nothing to drive traffic to it.
     
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I think that's only half-right. If someone's looking at a list of books your page is on and sees that a few people have reviewed the book, they're more likely to click through to your page than otherwise. There are also a handful of Amazon reviewers who have followers - I know I've clicked to see "other reviews" if a review was just that helpful. Lastly, not all reviews have the same value. There are times where I've only read that one of the hundred reviews on a page because it was detailed, well-written and highly ranked - there's no telling how long it would take before someone posts a review that's high quality and relatively positive.

    I don't know anything about Amazon's algorithm, and whether they favor books with reviews or not, so I can't speak to that.
     
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    Good points.

    Let's assume, however, that you do the following:

    1. Have people you trust review advance copies of your book so that it gets 10 reviews as soon as it is published
    2. Contact reviewers from Amazon and book blogs until you get up to 30 quality reviews

    Is there enough value in contacting additional Amazon reviewers to justify the time cost in doing so?
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Without knowing what kind of results you'd get, I'd say that's more than snough for Amazon. I looked again at the original post and you did mention Bloggers - to some extent, each blogger has an outlet to a different audience, so the sky's the limit.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    True. I should not have mentioned bloggers in that context. I'll edit it to remove it.

    Bloggers is a completely different ballgame.
     
  10. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Dark Lord

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    May I also mention this resource which is on Michael's wife's blog that collects some reviewers that accept self-published and kindle books:

    Write to Publish: Resources
     
  11. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    I would say you want to get into double digits 12 - 15. At that point the book has some 'credibility' so your marketing efforts should move from getting reviews to getting people to a page - now that it looks well established.
     
    Zero Angel and BWFoster78 like this.
  12. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    Yes...but some won't have the backbone to have that "very difficult" conversation with them. It will cause hurt feelings and maybe even retaliation. Best not to even get into that situation.

    Everyone is going to have their own "barometer" for what is acceptable and what is not. I for one wouldn't have an issue with that, but others might.

    I don't think it has to be "immediately" in fact if you had a bunch of reviews show up on the same date the book goes live that will look suspicious. I'm not sure that "arranging" is the right word...maybe getting the books in front of people that you know like "that kind of book" would be more the tack I would take.
     
  13. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    Not at all - get out the glue and mush them together.
     
  14. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    Certainly reviews help once you drive traffic to it (and the main reason for doing so), but it also helps in "discoverability". In general there are "best seller lists" and "popularity lists". Bestsellers is ONLY based on sales but search and popularity is influenced by a combination of sales, price, reviews, likes, and ratings.
     
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    That's good information. Thanks!
     
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Mythic Scribe

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    I'm backing away somewhat from review trading. Your points, combined with some other thoughts, made an impression on me.

    I think the concept of immediately is to send out review copies before you publish.
     
  17. Mary C. Moore

    Mary C. Moore Apprentice

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    Interesting thread here. I am fascinated by the authors who develop pseudonyms in order to post glowing reviews of their own work and then if that wasn't enough, take the opportunity to bash their competitors. That is a special kind of sociopath.

    I am trying to get word out, I have been doing reviews for mainstream books for awhile on goodreads, and just recently decided I would start reviewing indies and posting it to my website via goodreads as well as wherever the author requested (ie Amazon, B&N etc). I have had quite the positive response, many requests, however only one has been traditional fantasy, which is what I prefer to read. If any of you guys are interested you can take a look at my review policy on my website... I know as an indie author how important those non-friend honest reviews can be.

    *If your writing is anything like Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, Patricia McPhillip, or Robin McKinnley, odds are I am your review gal!
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2012
  18. ccrogers3d

    ccrogers3d Journeyman

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    This advice is exactly what I need right now! I only wish I had read this a few days ago, because I've already made some of the mistakes you warn about. :) Thank you very much for sharing this info!
     
  19. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Scribal Lord

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    You are very welcome.
     
  20. OlgaGodim

    OlgaGodim Journeyman

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    Extremely useful posts, Michael. Thanks a lot. I'll have to apply your strategy to my upcoming novel and hope for the best. :rolleyes2:
     
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