Reviews matter – Here’s how to get them

Have you watched the big five trade book publishers launch a book? They always have an impressive list of reviews on Amazon the day a book launches. When I launched Go Away Home, I tried to have reviews ready to go, too.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

When a senior acquisition editor for Lake Union Publishing told me all the rave reviews led her to read my debut novel, she affirmed what I’d felt in my gut — reviews really do matter.

This post consolidates two previous posts about my approach to getting reviews and includes new learning gained since those posts were written.

How many reviews is enough? – Though I didn’t have a specific number of reviews in mind, 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 and how it worked.

Overall
Give yourself time – Reviewers get hundreds of review requests, and you may find yourself in a very long queue. Most reviewers ask for 10-12 weeks. I started seeking reviews five months in advance of my launch.

To pay or not to pay – Many sites will review for a price. I make no judgement about whether paying for a review is a good idea. I leaned toward not paying because I gave reviewers time. I also hoped the novel was strong enough to attract on its own merit. I did pay for an expedited review from Readers’ Favorite only because I wanted to be sure I had it before publication.

Utilize the social network – I put the word out to my social media contacts to see if any were willing to read and review, preferably in time for my launch. Questions have been raised about the value of reviews by author friends, so I made it clear to each volunteer that I expected an honest review. That the bonds of friendship didn’t apply for this task. I meant it. A one or two-star review is no fun, but all reviews speak to credibility.


Actions & Results
Target book bloggers and organizations who review in your genre – The Indie View has a list of bloggers willing to review.  It’s a long list and you have to search for reviewers in your genre. Morgen Bailey offers reviewers by genre on her writing blog.

Personal pitches to historical fiction authors and bloggers. I made 39 direct pitches, resulting in 17 reviews, including one from the Historical Novel Society. I also pitched to local media. While I received good media coverage of launch events, these did not include reviews. Of course, not everyone reviews. Several people took review copies but have yet to post reviews. There are no guarantees they ever will.

It takes a lot of time to identify the right bloggers and to tailor pitches according to each blogger’s specifications. I created a table to keep track of my contacts, format requested, ARC distribution, and follow up. I was meticulous in giving reviewers what they wanted. No form letters. I made all e-formats available, plus paperback. Doing this again, I’d cast a broader net to include women’s fiction bloggers. With a year of promotion under my belt, I know that this genre is another good fit for my book.

Lake Union has made Go Away Home available to reviewers through NetGalley. I was not familiar with this service making advance review copies available to bloggers, media and other reviewers, but they tell me books posted here can result in dozens if not hundreds of new reviews.

Blog Tour – I also paid for a blog tour organized by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. It was well worth the investment to have a specialist with established contacts set up a tour. Go Away Home was featured on 14 blogs, resulting in 3 guest posts and 8 reviews – 4 & 5 stars, all posted on Amazon and Goodreads.

Play the numbers game – I created advance review copy giveaways specifically to garner reader reviews.  I understand from other authors that if 10-20% of the people who win copies actually post reviews, that’s a high return.

LibraryThing Giveaway. Following the advice in a blog from The Future of Ink, I made 100 e-copies available. Sixty-five readers took copies. At launch, 17 wrote 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.

Two 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. 2) LibraryThing provides reader emails, so it’s easy to contact readers directly.

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.” At last check, 4 of the 20 had written reviews, a 20% review rate. Reviews ranged from 2 to 5 stars.

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.

Reinforcing that these giveaways are good for raising visibility, Lake Union Publishing is running a 20-copy giveaway of the new edition now. Click and enter.

Bookbub Promotion. Hands down, the biggest review generator was one I hadn’t even considered for that purpose – a BookBub promotion. In addition to generating impressive sales, readers responded with 36 new reviews in the first couple of months after the promotion.

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

Was all this effort worth it? You bet.

  • People comment on all the great reviews I’m getting. Reviews create enthusiasm and buzz.
  • Amazon has promoted Go Away Home numerous times in direct-mail emails.
  • Just this past week, Go Away Home earned it’s 100th review.
  • And, of course, there’s the big bonus of attracting the attention of Lake Union Publishing. There’s no guarantee that reviews will lead to a contract, but without them it most certainly would not have happened.

I’m so grateful to every reader who reads my books. A special thank you to each of you who took the time to post a review. Reviews really matter.

Does paying for book promotion pay off?

As an indie author, I’ve looked at paid book promotions from time to time and always backed away. There were so many questions for which I had no solid answers. Which promotion site? What guarantee did I have that it would work? How many books would I have to sell to break even? If I did a promotion, when? My novel Go Away Home published in July; was a September promotion too early? My memoir Growing Up Country has been on the market for seven years; would anyone still be interested?

Finally I decided: Do it or stop thinking about it. I took the dive, and scheduled a promotion  for my novel. I had to take a big gulp when it came to paying the bill and I spent a lot of my time holding my breath. Ultimately, I’m glad I did.

Here’s what I did and how it worked.

Go Away Home - BookBub PromotionWith the philosophy If you can’t go big, go home, I chose BookBub – the gorilla of ebook marketing in terms of reach, cost, and results – to promote my novel in September. Electing for as clean a test as possible, I didn’t do any promotion other than that. Not even social media.

Go Away Home Promotion

  • BookBub Cost: $400 for a one-day, $ .99 promotion.
  • Reach: 1,030,000 women’s fiction readers. I’d requested historical fiction, but BookBub recommended women’s fiction. I figured they knew what they were doing and went with it. Plus the women’s fiction promo was $40 less expensive.

Sales & Rankings:
Pre-promotion Amazon Kindle Sales Rank – 55,110

Day of promotion – Sept. 7 – Price at $ .99 – Sales – 1,422 – Author Rank: as high as 69
Day 2 – Sales – 319
Day 3 – Sales – 151
Day 4 – Price at $1.99 – Sales – 52 – Author Rank: between 393 and 1,116
Day 5 – Sales – 66
Day 6 – Sales – 61
Day 7 – Price returns to $3.99 – Sales: 27 – Author Rank – 1,298

Go Away Home - Amazon Best SellerGenre Rankings: In the course of the promotion, Go Away Home ranked in the Top 10 in Coming of Age, Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction and Historical Fiction

Return on investment: First-day sales covered the promotion cost by 2.5x

On to the next book: Encouraged by the success of the novel promotion, I elected to use paid promotions for my memoir. Again, I let BookBub lead the way and added two other paid promotion outlets: Ereader News Today and The Fussy Librarian. Here are the results.

Growing Up Country Promotion

Sales & Rankings
Pre-promotion Amazon Kindle Sales Rank: 217,307

Day of promotion – Nov. 13 – Price at $ .99 – Sales: 2,504 – Author Rank: As high as 21
Day 2 – Sales: 520
Day 3 – Sales: 388
Day 4 – Price at $1.99 – Sales: 101 – Rank: between 105 and 870
Day 5 – Sales 73
Day 6 – Sales 64
Day 7 – Price returns to $3.99 – Sales: 20

Growing Up Country Author RankGenre Rankings: In the course of the promotion, Growing Up Country ranked in the Top 10 – often #1 – in History, Family Relationships, and Midwest & Women’s memoirs & biographies.

Return on investment: First-day sales covered promotion costs by more than 3.5x

  • BookBub: 2,788 sales; revenue to me $1,951.60
  • Ereader News Today: 146 sales; revenue to me: $102.20
  • The Fussy Librarian: 17 sales; revenue to me: $11.90

Seven observations from these promotions:

  1. It’s a hoot: Okay, just had to get that out of the way. It’s a kick to see my book ranked up there with books by Sue Monk Kidd and Diana Gabaldon. Even if it’s only for a few days. Now back to business.
  2. Scheduling a promotion – BookBub is known for being tough to get into so I gave them as much scheduling flexibility as I could. They responded to my submissions in 48 hours and were easy to work with. I scheduled Ereader News Today & The Fussy Librarian to run in the days after BookBub to extend the news.
  3. You get what you pay for: There were fewer sales through Ereader News Today and The Fussy Librarian, but the cost was much less and they delivered sales proportionally, so I’d use them again.
  4. A long promotion tail: Even though sales dropped precipitously from promotion highs, both Go Away Home and Growing Up Country have sold more copies each day, every day since their respective promotions than they did prior to the promotions.
  5. Holiday cross-over sales: While paperback sales of Growing Up Country have always accelerated during the holidays, this is turning out to be particularly good year. The ebook promotion drove the memoir to the top of the charts as people were looking for gift books. A month after the promotion ended, the memoir still ranks in the Top 10 Midwest memoirs and is selling well in both ebook and paperback formats.
  6. Reviews – A Bonus: Because of the promotions, both books have garnered a healthy increase in reader reviews. Go Away Home picked up 36 new reviews since September and Growing Up Country has earned 54 new reviews in the past month, including its first one-star review (be still my heart!).
  7. Your results will not be the same as mine: BookBub shares the average sales for each category. Women’s fiction: Average sold: 2,120 with a range of 170 to 5,420. Biographies & Memoirs: Average sold: 2,430 with a range of 290 to 6,210. I didn’t quite make the average with my novel but exceeded it with my memoir. Great success since I was holding my breath that I’d surpass 170 and 290. All the usual suspects come into play in whether a book sells well: cover design, title, quality of writing, topic interest, reader moods, the phase of the moon.

I share this report for what it’s worth. Paid promotions are one arrow in the author’s marketing quiver. And this is one for which you can see a clear ROI.

This was a lot of numbers to crunch and I hope I was reasonably clear. Let me know where I confused and where I might yet elaborate. Apologies for the blurry graphics; they’re the best I could get from a screen shot.