Five strategies for getting book reviews

Getting book reviews that would be posted on Amazon and Goodreads at launch was one of the marketing strategies I pursued prior to publishing my novel Go Away Home. In April, I blogged my intent. Now, I’ll share the results.

Iowa City Public Library blogger reviewed Go Away Home

Library blogger reviewed Go Away Home

The bottom line first – Though I didn’t have a specific number of reviews in mind (which makes it pretty hard to fail), I felt really successful to have 48 reviews averaging 4.7 Stars posted on Amazon in the first month Go Away Home was on sale. On Goodreads, I had 40 reviews averaging 4.5 Stars.

Here’s what I did.

Pitched review copies to historical fiction authors and bloggers. I made 39 direct pitches. From those pitches, I received 17 reviews. Several people took review copies but have yet to post reviews. I’m contacting them with gentle follow-ups – Have they had a chance to read? What did they think?

LibraryThing Giveaway. Following the advice in a blog from The Future of Ink, I made 100 e-copies available. Sixty-five readers took copies. So far, 17 have written reviews, a 26% review rate. Reviews were 4 & 5 stars, and readers readily placed the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. A gentle follow-up email resulted in pleasant conversations with several readers as well as immediate reviews.

Three advantages to the LibraryThing contest. 1) I gave e-copies in .pdf, mobi, and e-pub formats so there was no out-of-pocket cost to this contest. 2) LibraryThing provides reader emails, so it’s easy to contact readers directly. 3) From what I’ve read on other blogs, getting 26% to review a book is excellent.

Goodreads Giveaway. I made 20 paperback copies available in a three-week giveaway that attracted 1,874 entrants and caused more than 600 to mark Go Away Home “To Be Read.” So far, 4 of the 20 have written reviews, a 20% review rate. Reviews ranged from 2 to 5 stars. Some reviewers placed reviews on Amazon.

The big advantage of the Goodreads giveaway was getting my book in front of so many readers. The biggest downside of this giveaway was cost of books and mailing. Three copies were won by readers in Canada, where media mail does not apply. Yikes. Plus, since Goodreads does not provide email addresses, it’s not easy to follow up.

Blog Tour. I signed up for a 15-stop blog tour that yielded 7 reviews – 4 & 5 Stars. In addition two other bloggers shared reviews that same month. All were posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Boldly Ask. I’ve been bold in asking people to post reviews. When readers tell me they enjoyed the book, I ask them if they’d be willing to post a review. With little editing, they can usually post what they’ve written in their emails to the review links I provide.

Has all this effort made a difference? I think so – for two reasons:

  • People comment on all the great reviews I’m getting. So I know they’re reading them. Reviews create enthusiasm and encourage buzz.
  • Amazon has promoted Go Away Home several times in direct-mail emails.

Overall, I’m glad I made the effort. There are many ways to generate reviews. What strategies have you found to be successful?

Are you aging like the prairie?

As I walk my prairie this year, I’m struck by how it’s maturing. I was aware that flowers predominate in a newly established prairie while grasses take over in later years. This year, I’m seeing that reality. The contrast between new and mature prairie is clear and dramatic because this spring I let the prairie expand to another section of lawn.

The flashy exuberance of youth.

The flashy exuberance of youth.

The new section is awash in yellow – delicate partridge peas, profuse sweet black-eyed Susans, gangly maxmilian sunflowers, The young plants could hardly wait for me to stop mowing the lawn so they could take over. Their exuberance exciting, the brilliant colors irresistible.

Meanwhile, in the mature prairie, the brilliant flowers of youth have been replaced by graceful fronts of prairie grass. These grasses are strong and tall, able to withstand the winds of summer and winter blizzards. It took longer for grasses to appear in the prairie because they sent down deep roots that nurture them and provide a foundation for the future.

Subtle color in a mature prairie.

Subtle color in a mature prairie.

The mature prairie has not given up on color though you have to look more closely to see it. Mixed in with the grasses are spots of blue and purple: wild bergamot, blue vervain, a few purple coneflowers.

As I move into the second half of my sixth decade, I think how the maturing I see in the prairie is similar to the maturing I see in my own life.

I long ago eschewed the bright colors of the psychedelic 60s for the grays, blues and browns of the business world. These days I’m still more comfortable in muted tones but I augment those muted hues with brighter colors in smaller doses. They brighten my attitude as well as my look.

Though not so flashy, the mature prairie is still capable of surprises and trying something new. This prairie put forth the first butterfly milkweed this year, the orange blossoms a bold statement that though it may take time, it’s never too late to bring out something new.

I felt bold as I ventured into writing and publishing my first novel. Do I say I took this up “late in life”? No. I prefer to say I took up novel writing when the time was right, when my roots were deep and my life experience ready to tackle this new adventure.

Things happen in their own time – in the prairie and in life. The prairie is aging gracefully. I hope to do likewise.

How do you hold on to first-time awe?

My granddaughter started kindergarten this past week. When she told her dad about her first day in school, she could barely contain herself.

  • “Guess what? We played in the gym!”
  • “Guess what? We had music class!”
  • “Guess what? I met new friends!”
  • “Guess what? I ate my lunch there!”

She had a truly awesome, magical first day.

As I thought about the joy and awe with which my granddaughter launched into school, I realized how seldom I feel that sense of magical awe anymore. When you are five, most things in your life are glorious, untarnished firsts. When you are sixty-five, firsts – when I have them – occur in the midst of days crammed with responsibilities and in the context of a lifetime of experiences that tinge awe with reality.

I know I have so many reasons for joy and awe. Yet, often I rush past them, thinking instead and ahead to the next meeting, the calls waiting to be answered, the blogs to be written, the host of responsibilities that crowd every day. As a result, I look past the moments of joy and awe while they’re happening rather than reveling in the moments.

Part of the answer for me, I think, is to be conscious of the need to slow down, to live, to breathe, to take joy in each moment. Then I also need to spend more time celebrating those precious moments.

She lost her first tooth!

She lost her first tooth!

I can learn from my granddaughter. Before school started, she lost her first tooth. She was over the moon. She wanted every picture I took to show she’d lost that tooth. When she visited this weekend, she had a second tooth on the verge of coming out. She is just as excited. We took pictures of the loose tooth, and I know we’ll take more pictures when the tooth is gone.

The launch events last month for my novel Go Away Home were amazing, joyful experiences. I did have to run from event to event, but after the last event, my husband, son and I went out to celebrate. They were so happy for me – I was so happy for me. Celebrating at the moment expanded the joy – and kept me from rushing right into thinking about the next task on the ‘to do’ list.

Holding on to the joy and reveling in the joy, ensure special moments remain special. They allow me to squeeze every drop of pleasure out of those precious moments in my life.

My wish for my granddaughter is to be able to experience that first-day-of-school, first-lost-tooth, first-time awe many, many times in her life.

My wish for me is to remember that there is joy to be experienced if I slow down and absorb it.

 How about you? How do you keep a sense of joy and awe in your life?

Peppers – vegetable or fruit?

Vegetables or fruits?

Vegetables or fruits?

There are NO vegetables. Everything we call a vegetable is actually a fruit. So said the host of the TV show On The Spot this past weekend.

What? I’m a farm kid. I grew up around agriculture and spent most of my professional career in public relations working with clients who served the ag industry. I had never heard this before.

This was such a provocative statement, stated so definitively, that I had to do the research. First stop: Wikipedia. The answer was fascinating, taking into account botany, the culinary arts, and the law.

Botanically – (upon which On The Spot must have made its pronouncement) – the ovary of a flowering plant is the fruit. Since both fruits (peaches, plums, oranges) and vegetables (eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes) come from the flowering part of the plant, they are botanically speaking all really fruits. 

Culinary – In the grocery story and kitchen, fruits and vegetables are mutually exclusive. Fruits are the edible part of the plant with a sweet flavor. Vegetables are the edible part of a plant with a savory flavor.

Legally – When in doubt, the law may intervene as it did with the tomato in Nix v Hedden, a case argued before the Supreme Court in 1893. The outcome? The tomato is a vegetable. The case had such import because commodities are taxed as vegetables in particular jurisdictions and pocketbooks would hurt depending on where the tomato came down.

To be fair to the Supreme Court justices, while they declared the tomato a vegetable for tax purposes, they acknowledged it was botanically a fruit. How’s that for standing firmly on both sides of the debate?

My research didn’t stop with Wikipedia (a cautionary tale for all). The Mayo Clinic points out there really are vegetables – those foods that come from parts of the plant other than the flower, e.g. celery (stem), lettuce (leaves), and beets, carrots and potatoes (roots.)

All this may be a bit of a diversion, but we writers like to be precise in our use of language. And as one speaker arguing for a classical education opined, It’s important to know the rules before you break them.

Offering another, particularly timely, perspective on the topic, a Facebook post weighed in on the topic today: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

I know all this new-found knowledge/wisdom will come into play in my writing at some point. I can hardly wait.