The Great Review Hunt
One of the most important things an author can do once he or she has written an excellent book, is get people to read it. Duh. The really hard part is convincing those who’ve read it to post a good review. This can be awkward, unpleasant and even seem beneath your dignity. Here’s what you need to know:
- Online reviews are the single most important factor in getting your book found on Amazon, B and N and iBooks. Without a large number of reviews in a short time, your book will sink to page ninety-whatever in the ratings and be almost impossible to promote.
- Your readers often don’t know how important these reviews are, and it’s not impolite to suggest they help you out. I’ve heard it said that “writing an Amazon review is like applause for the author.” Given what we actually make per copy, it’s almost literally the least they can do. Don’t be afraid to (politely, respectfully) ask. When people tell me how much they enjoyed The Count of the Sahara, I tell them, “don’t tell me, tell Amazon.”
- You’re a writer. The “dignity” ship sailed a while ago. Deal with it.
Why are online reviews so important? There are two reasons. The first is obvious; how do you know which book to read next? In a bookstore you might spot an intriguing cover, pick up a copy, read the back cover blurb, flip it open and if you like what you see, take a chance. Online, you are on a page with limited choices, or you’ve had a book recommended to you by the website. Odds are you look at a picture of the cover, read the blurb and check how many “stars” it has. If only 2 people have read it, you probably won’t give it the same chance you’d give one with 20, 40 or a hundred positive reviews. The more reviews, even if some of them are bad (have you ever liked a book someone else hated or vice versa?) the more credibility that book has with you. Your readers are no different.
The second reason these matter is less obvious, and far more complicated. Online websites have thousands of books in your category. Unless you are in the first few pages of a genre (honestly, how many romance novel titles do you flip through before you find your next read? Not many, I’m guessing) the odds of someone finding your book by accident drop to practically nothing. For a new author, the only way to quickly earn a spot on those first pages is reviews. Good ones, and a good number in the early days of release.
Amazon in particular has made it complicated. In an effort to curb cheating (seriously, avoid suspicious paid review sites and “review swaps.”) In the process of trying to get rid of obviously nefarious practices, they’ve made it very difficult to post reviews now. If someone shares your IP address (sorry, your roommate’s glowing review probably won’t see the light of day) or has your last name (thanks Mom, nice try) odds are it won’t show up.
If it helps, here’s what I’m going through now as a prelude to the release of my second novel, Acre’s Bastard:
- Identify authors, readers and existing Amazon or Goodreads reviewers who might be willing to read an advance copy and offer an honest review on or close to launch day. That way, when your book is released, there are a number of reviews ready to go. The robots on Amazon see a lot of activity for a certain book, that activity is positive, and the droids decide your book must be worthy of promotion. Given how much time it takes to read, and how many reviewers are backed up, give it plenty of time. I’m sending PDF copies out now, and the ebook doesn’t launch til mid January of next year.
- Find non-author resources for reviews. If you’re an indie or self-published author, it can be really hard to find newspapers and magazines to review your book. Bloggers on the other hand, particularly if they specialize in your genre, are an easier target. If you’re a Chicago area Hometown Reads author, for example, Windy City Reviews is a credible site. But start early. They’re all backlogged. If you need help, check out the Book Reviewer Yellow Pages
- Ask everyone who tells you to post a review. Seriously. When I sell a paperback myself, I always tell the buyer, if you like it write a positive review. It’s awkward at first, but when you explain how important it is, you’d be surprised.
- Get in the habit of leaving (honest) reviews yourself. Especially if you’re a Kindle reader. Don’t just skip that page that asks you to rate the book. Karma can work for you or against
Yes, getting reviews is difficult. It seems tacky and has nothing to do with the art of writing. But without them, your beautiful book will go unread and sit in the dark regions of the internet all alone. Is that what you want?