Reviews for your book
By Christy Nicholas
So, you’ve written your first draft. You’ve bled, sweated, and cried to get it professionally edited, published it (either with a publisher or on your own), and now it’s out there like a new-born babe, ready to walk.
Now you drink champagne and party all night. No? Well, now you want people to buy your book. Even if you are picked up by a major publisher, unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling, your marketing and promotion is up to you. One of the tools of promotion is getting reviews.
What are reviews?
Reviews are commentary and judgment from your readers. Some contain mini-summaries of your book, some don’t. Some include spoilers. Some just contain ‘I like it.’ Some are rude and you wonder if they even read your book (never answer reviews! Take the high road.) All are valuable. Yes, even the negative reviews have value.
A healthy number of reviews (say, over 20) give readers reassurance that your book has a readership, has caught the attention of a decent number of people, and they’ve cared enough to take the time to leave a review. Most readers do NOT leave reviews. Maybe less than 1% do so. Therefore, it can feel like pulling teeth in order to get reviews. Begging, buying, tricking – there are many ways to get reviews, some allowed, some not.
Why do you need reviews?
Reviews offer a glimpse into the book for those making a decision on whether to buy it. They offer a 3rd-person perspective on its worth. Now, most people looking at reviews for their decision-making realize that everyone has personal bias. However, too many bad reviews (or too many glowing ones!) can indicate something is wrong, either with your book or with the reviews themselves.
Too many bad reviews: There might be something wrong. Either you are marketing to the wrong group of readers, or your editing needs more work, or your story line isn’t as tight as it could be, or you’ve something else that might need adjusting. Another possibility is that you’ve pissed someone off and they’ve started a bad-review campaign against you, using their friends. Don’t laugh – it used to be bad. That’s one reason Amazon has tightened the strictures against reviewers. Many readers will look at the worst reviews to see if the reason for the bad review is something they care about. For instance, if a poor review says there were too many instances of violence or taking God’s name in vain, I might gloss over that. However, it mentions horrible editing, I might hesitate.
Too many good reviews: Yes, it’s a thing. It looks suspicious if you have all 5-star reviews or even none under 4-stars. Especially if Amazon starts investigating to see if you’re getting reviews from friends and family.
Several advertisers require a minimum number and/or star value to your Amazon reviews in order to accept your book for advertising. The most notorious of these is Bookbub, but some smaller ones also require it. Bookbub doesn’t have a set minimum, but common wisdom is the more, the better.
I would say about 50 is the magic mark for Bookbub. I had 54 on one book before I got my first deal from them. However, another book had 153 before I got a Bookbub deal on that one, and I’ve gotten a deal for a book with only 22, so there is no true magic mark.
However, I think getting reviews on Bookbub itself is also important to them. They are growing their platform and getting both followers and reviews there must help that.
From whom/how do you get them?
Your fans, of course! What, you don’t have any? Well, get some!
Seriously, though, getting reviews from readers is like pulling teeth. No matter how many time you nudge them, or ask for the review at the back of the book (do this), not even 1% of readers will leave a review. Amazon has strict rules on reviews (see below), as well, and may pull the review if they believe it to violate these rules. Worse, if they determine you are buying reviews, they can yank your book and ban you. Yup!
Some sources below are online magazines or industry review groups. Some of these are free, some have a cost.
- InD’Tale Magazine
- Discovering Diamonds
- Night Owl Romance
- Long and Short Reviews
- Historical Novel Society
- The Wishing Shelf
I have a list of reviewers I ask for each new book. When I get the ARC (Author Review Copy) from my publisher, I send out my requests. Don’t wait until your book is out! You want some to post the day of release, if possible.
There are bloggers who do book reviews for free, but most have a long waiting list or specific genres. It’s a long, tedious process asking for them, but it’s worth it. This website lists a huge amount of reviewers by category with a link to submission guidelines. Some might be out of date, but you should find plenty of options. http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/
Review Tour: You can also organize (or have a service organize) a review blitz, which is essentially a ‘tour’ of several review bloggers. Either on release day or several days, depending on the organizer. This gets the buzz out about your book over several platforms and offers the reviewers content. Usually the service costs about $100, and while they can never guarantee a certain number of reviews, several are reliable. I recommend a few, including Goddess Fish Productions and Itsy Bitsy Book Bits as services I’ve used in the past.
Newsletter: I have an author newsletter, but I have a smaller group of newsletter members for those who wish to beta read or review ARC copies of my books. Yes, I give them a free copy, and ask that they leave a review (not require – ask!). This is a much smaller subset of my larger reader group, and if I send one for a review and they don’t leave one, I simply don’t send them one the next time. Simple as that. If you have beta readers or ARC readers, ask them to leave reviews. They’ve already invested time and effort into the book and (especially if you’ve thanked them in your acknowledgements) are part of this project.
Author Street Team: Another technique is getting an Author Street Team together. These are a few devoted fans (almost like a fan club!) who will share the word of your new releases, post reviews, etc.
Facebook Groups: There are a few Facebook groups out there that are for reviewing books, such as Fantasy & Romance Review Group, Books/ARCs for Review, Booksgosocial Book Review Club. Each one has rules and you should follow them.
Endorsement reviews: These are reviews from other authors. You see them on the trad published books, like Diana Gabaldon giving a review for Naomi Novik’s book. These are hard to get from named authors. Usually, trad published authors are under contract to only give such reviews as per their own publisher’s request. However, you might get them from lower-tier authors. Develop friendships with them and ask!
Editorial reviews: These are paid reviews (which means they do not get posted in the Amazon Review section) from a supposedly prestigious service that you can post in the information section of your book or even on your cover. Example: “USA Today says “A thrilling ride” on the cover of a Grisham novel).
Some Editorial Review sources include Kirkus and City Book Review (San Francisco, Manhattan). These usually cost a big chunk of money, but do hold some cache, as they are picky about which books they choose. Your mileage may vary.
Where do you want them?
The most popular platform, though not the only one, is Amazon. There is a reason for this. It’s the single largest platform for buying online books in the world. Also, some advertisers require a minimum number of reviews and stars to allow you to advertise with them. It’s believed that the holy grail of advertising, Bookbub, requires a decent amount of Amazon reviews before they’ll accept your book for a featured deal. I have thoughts on this later.
- Barnes & Noble/Nook
- Book Riot
Amazon has several rules in what NOT to do (see below). Other platforms aren’t as picky, but Amazon is the 400-lb gorilla in the room.
How do you NOT get reviews?
Amazon rules (which change on whim):
- Paid reviews (including a free book in exchange for a review, i.e., quid pro quo)
- Reviews by close family or friends (how it determines this is a matter of much debate. However, trolling through Facebook/Goodreads friends is a possibility, so better not to leave those linked. Amazon owns Goodreads.)
- Reviewer must have spent $50 on Amazon in the last year using a valid credit or debit card. This is to keep people from setting up accounts with other emails just to give reviews.
- Review swaps – If I review Author A and Author A reviews me, chances are both reviews will be removed, especially if they are close together in time.
While this is a relatively short list, each item has lots of implications and gray areas. How does Amazon judge who your ‘close family and friends’ are? Can review swaps be done if the reviews are months apart, i.e., I review Author A in January and she picks up my book in April and reviews it? Unknown. The most inscrutable part of Amazon is they will send a message to the reviewer saying the review violates their rule – but not which rule or how. The appeal process is also opaque and long.