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.

Six thoughts on seeking advance book reviews

Laying the foundation for a strong launch.

The manuscript of my historical novel Go Away Home was edited and ready to publish in February. With today’s technology, I could have had the book on sale in a matter of days. But I didn’t. Instead, I set the launch for July – five months out. The reason? I wanted to secure advance reviews.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Traditional publishers build lead time into publishing schedules in part to allow time to line up the glowing reviews used on the book cover, in “Praise for …” comments inside the book, and for other marketing. Third-party endorsement for a book helps springboard the launch.

I don’t have evidence that says having a certain number of reviews makes a difference in book sales, but reviews do add credibility. Reviews matter to me personally when I check out a book. Reviews appear to matter to Amazon in terms of marketing they do for a book. Reviews also come into play with many book promotion sites.

As an indie publisher, this is yet another of the decisions I get to make. So, I’m giving the strategy of sending out ARCs – Advance Review Copies – my best shot.  I don’t have a magic target number; my goal is as many reviews as I can get. I found a really useful article on the topic at Your Writer Platform that set me on the path.

Time will tell whether my efforts are successful; I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve done and how I think about it.

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. One blogger I contacted wasn’t promising a review before January 2016.

To pay or not to payYou’ll find many sites will review for a price. Sometimes a hefty price. I make no judgement about whether paying for a review is a good idea. I lean toward not paying because I’m giving reviewers time. I also hope the concept of my novel will be strong enough to attract on its own merit. Plus, not paying fits my budget.

Target reviewers in your genre – I’ve sought out people and organizations that specialize in, or have an affinity for, historical fiction. 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.

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’ve been meticulous in giving reviewers what they want. No form letters. I’ve made all e-formats available, plus paperback.

Utilize the social networkI 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’m judicious in asking. I also make it clear to each volunteer that I expect an honest review. That the bonds of friendship don’t apply for this task. I mean it.

Playing the numbers game – Again following the lead of publishers, I’ve created ARC giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing. These giveaways run through the month of April. I state specifically that the objective is to give out copies to garner reader reviews.  Of course there are no guarantees. I understand from other authors that if 10-20% of the people who win a copy actually post reviews, that is a high return.

Keep breathing – Seeking reviews is a marathon, not a sprint. Finding the right contacts, sending the right information, waiting, waiting, waiting. Then there’s the anxiety regarding whether any reviewer will actually like my baby. When I began sending out review copies, I realized I spent a lot of time holding my breath.

Kara Logsden reading Go Away Home

Kara Logsden reading Go Away Home

And now for some good news:  I heard from two reviewers this week. “Well written. Compelling. Engaging,” said Kara Logsden of the Iowa City Public Library in a review posted in her blog. She took my book to a radio interview and posted the picture on Facebook. I was in heaven. To read more of Kara’s review, click.  A second, equally positive review, won’t be live until July when the book is for sale and Amazon lets readers post reviews.

The review process can seem arduous. But now I have early confirmation of my effort. Now I can breathe again.

What do you think? Authors: What was your decision regarding seeking reviews? What worked best? Readers: How much do reviews matter to you?