If you asked an author what the most important part of the marketing process is, and you'll hear a few different answers: social media, your author platform, Thunderclap or some other crowdspeaking marketing blasts, and book reviews. Of all the answers, getting book reviews is probably the aspect many authors focus on the most. And for good reason: readers still rely on reviews to help make their book-buying decisions. Platforms like Amazon use the reviews to help show their customers books they may like based on their viewing and purchase histories.
And thanks to technology, reviews are more widely available than ever before. Book bloggers, review sites, GoodReads, or direct at the online sales sites like Amazon.
Paid or Unpaid Reviews
There are several places that will review your book for a fee. Fees range from just a few dollars to several hundred dollars and often depend on the prestige of the site offering the review and the overall demand of their service. Seeking paid reviews is a bit controversial. Arguments for them include that book reviewers are providing a service — both for the reader and for the author — and should be compensated for their time. Additionally, with a reputable review service, paying can guarantee that someone will read your entire book and provide a thorough and well-written review.
On the other hand, customers don't always know what goes into a book review. And for many, finding out that the reviewer has been compensated somehow (whether through payment or free product) makes them question whether or not that review can be trusted. After all, would someone really give a bad review if they've just been paid?
The key to any book review, whether you choose to pay for one or not, is that it is well-written, thorough, and honest. If you do decide to go to a paid review service, make sure it is a reputable one (and fair warning: the reputable ones cost quite a bit of money). Do not go to some hobbyist who has decided to launch a site and wants to charge for a book review. You want potential readers to be able to trust the review–or else they won't bother getting the book.
Using Advanced Review Copies
It might seem like an easy enough process: send people a free book before it's been released, then ask for a review in exchange. This is a nice way to build up a stack of reviews even before the book has been officially released to the public. However, this requires a lot of books– especially for unknown authors or authors publishing their first books. I surveyed a group of authors on Facebook and asked them about how using Advanced Review Copies to get reviews worked, and they all said it was a very low return rate, close to 1-2% for their first book.
The return rate went up for their second book, and climbed more for their third book until it was finally closer to 25-30%.
This is because reviewers are relationship-based. The better they know you as a person, and the more often they read your work, the more likely they are to review your book. So while using Advanced Review Copies is a good idea, it won't give you a very high return on your first book. And if you're paying for those review copies to be printed or sent out, you may find yourself paying quite a bit of money for not much in return.
Ask Book Bloggers
Blogging has turned into a huge industry with a prestigious following. Bloggers are often seen as experts, especially when it comes to topics such as product and book reviews. Most reviews found on people's blogs are considered to be honest. Plus, having your book reviewed by a good book blogger can help extend your reach by hundreds or thousands of people quickly. Hey, with the right SEO, the book blogger can put you in front of millions of potential buyers.
But, and here is the crux, you can't just send your book out to a blogger and expect a review. Why? Because they are in such high demand. Hundreds of books are published every week, and at least half of those authors reach out to book bloggers to request a review. Which means, once again, these reviewers pick and choose based on relationships. Based on which authors are already engaging and adding value to their blogs. Shoot them an email a week before your book is released asking for a review? Probably not going to happen.
The better approach is to start early. Create a list of book bloggers, and start following them. Don't stalk them or pester them, just read their blogs and participate where you can. Be friends with them. Make sure you note their submission guidelines for requesting a review (some are very specific). Then, when the time comes to request those reviews, you'll have a much higher chance of being picked simply because you took the time to establish a relationship with that blogger.
Ask your Readers
It might sound mundane, but a simple note in the back of your book asking the reader to leave an honest review has been shown to almost double the number of reviews left. This doesn't have to be anything elaborate. Most of the time I see simple notes at the end of the eBook reading something along the lines of “Thank you so much for reading my book! If you enjoyed it, I hope you will let everyone know by leaving a review at [link].” Simple but effective.
What about asking your friend and family and fellow authors?
Amazon is starting to be very strict about its review policy. And there's a good reason for that. Their customers rely on those reviews so they can make informed decisions about whether or not to buy something. Customers need to be able to trust that the review is honest. And sometimes, finding out that the reviewer is a relative can taint that trust.
Additionally, exchanging reviews with another author is viewed in much the same way as paying someone for a review is. And in Amazon terms, that can mark the review as illegitimate. Any reviews that Amazon deems as invalid are automatically removed. And in extreme cases, some authors have their entire accounts revoked. Since the majority of online book sales still go through Amazon, you can see why this is such a big deal.
So, in general, it's safest not to ask friends or family for a review. Or, if they do agree to review your book, it's best they do not post it to Amazon. And do not, under any circumstances, exchange reviews with other authors. (This is not to say that you cannot review a book for another author, I do it all the time. But do not promise to review a book for another author in exchange for having them review your book).