Reviews matter – Here's how to get them

By Carol / June 16, 2015 /

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.

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.

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  1. k rawson on June 16, 2015 at 9:19 am

    What a great, informative article. Your comprehensive plan has really paid off for you! You’ve given me some new avenues to investigate.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 16, 2015 at 10:27 am

      I’m glad you found some new ideas to try, Karen. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Shirley Hershey Showalter on June 18, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    If I ever write another book, I have a lot to learn from this post. I’m glad I did about half these things, but you did more and in the right order!

    Other authors will benefit greatly, and you can come back to your own post to remind yourself of good practices.

    Thanks, Carol.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 18, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      You caught me, Shirley! One of the reasons I write posts like this is to share what I’ve learned with others. The other reason is to have a record of what I did for future reference. We’re all in this together. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Janet from Nevada on June 29, 2015 at 7:04 am

    I just ordered your book, I’m waiting for the new one to be released because I like the cover so much. Reminds me of Little House on the Prairie that I read when I was young. The book description appealed to me because of the blend of Midwestern themes and the struggle of wanting more than one path in life. I’m curious to see what your character comes up with for a solution. As I was searching for a book to read, the new cover grasped my attention, and the reviews sold me.

    I am also a writer and wanted to ask you about the first publication. What kind of company is Rising Sun Press? Are they Amazon related? Did you publish it and have copies for the five months you were collecting reviews? And then post it to Amazon in July of 2014? How did you get the reviews you collected in that time posted to Amazon?

    Thanks so much, I look forward to reading your story and I’ll definetly be posting a review!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on June 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Thanks choosing the new edition of GO AWAY HOME, Janet. I’m glad to hear the cover caught your attention and the reviews pulled you in. You won’t have long to wait – Launch on July 7!

      Rising Sun Press is the imprint I created to publish my own books. I had advance review copies (mobi, epub, pdf, and a few hard copies) available to give potential reviewers in the five months leading up to the 2014 launch. When the book was launched, I sent email reminders to those who had taken review copies reminding/urging them to post if they’d read the book and wished to write a review. Each reviewer has to post their own review. I was fortunate so many reviewers followed through. There’s no guarantee that those who take books will either read or review.

      I’m honored that you’re reading my story, and I’ll be delighted if you post a review.

  4. J. Bradley Van Tighem on July 15, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Carol.
    Thanks for all the great information on gathering reviews and congrats to you on your success!
    I have taken many of the same paths as you to garner reviews for my book PUHA like GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Reader’s Favorite. Much like LibraryThing, a couple of other giveaway-for-review sites that worked well for me were StoryCartel and ChoosyBookworm. Both of these sites send you lists of emails to help build a personal email list for future campaigns.
    I would like to get going with BookBub, but got rejected the first time. Any tips on how to get accepted by BookBub?
    Best Regards,

    • Carol Bodensteiner on July 15, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      Good to hear from you, Brad. Thanks for sharing info on StoryCartel and ChoosyBookworm; I hadn’t heard of them.

      I was lucky to be accepted by BookBub on first application. From what I’ve heard from others, persistence is important. If you aren’t accepted, try, try, try again. It’s also important to give them as much flexibility on promotion date as possible. I didn’t set my promotion dates until after they accepted me. You also need reviews, and it looks as though you’re on a good path with those.

      Good luck.

  5. Kelly K. Lavender on July 16, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Thanks for the valuable information. Congrats on your success!

    Please be so kind as to offer your insights about the following: If I offer a free novel, I don’t think BookBub will immediately promote it for 99 cents. Does your experience reflect that? Timing seems to be all-critcial to fuse all marketing plans.

    Separately, what are your thoughts about the practice of labeling a heavily downloaded free novel as a bestseller? It seems to be a popular strategy by indie authors. I think it’s misleading.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on July 16, 2015 at 10:24 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Kelly. I don’t list my books for free, so I’m not the best one to ask. BookBub has requirements about promoting a book after it’s been free. You can check their website for those.

      Timing is absolutely critical in marketing plans. For instance, I know that people see my memoir as a good gift for their elder relatives, so I always promote it coming up to the holidays as a reminder. It’s important to know as much as you can about your target audience and take them into account as you plan your promotions.

      I have seen what you mention – the practice of labeling a heavily downloaded free novel as a bestseller. It’s not a practice I’d recommend.

  6. Libby James on February 14, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    A little overwhelming, but so very helpful!
    Thanks Carol

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