How Do You Get Reviews for Your FIRST Book?

| Posted in Book Marketing |


I don’t have to tell you: getting reviews is invaluable when it comes to selling books (just try to get a Bookbub ad without a bunch of positive reviews, I dare ya). It’s something I’ve talked about before (and I do mean talked… here’s a podcast from earlier in the year: Getting Book Reviews and Building a Relationship with Readers), but it’s something I get asked about a lot, so I thought I would cover it again.

A lot of my previous advice on getting reviews has been tailored to authors who have a few books out, so I thought I would write a post for those who are trying to get more reviews on their first book. Starting at ground zero sucks (what, you didn’t want me to be blunt?), but you’re not alone. I’ll even be in the same boat again soon — I just sent my first “pen name project” manuscript off to my editor. I’ll talk more about that book launch this fall, but for now, here are some tips for getting reviews on your first book, based on my own experiences and also based on what other successful indie authors are doing right now.

Setting Yourself up to Succeed (or get reviews anyway)

Before you even publish your book, I suggest adding an afterword to the end of the manuscript. Ask the reader to leave a review. You can phrase it however you want (if you enjoyed the novel, please consider leaving a review…), but you’ll get a lot more reviews if you ask. Some people even include the link back to the book’s page, to make things super easy for the reader.

You can also ask the reader to sign up for your newsletter (and give them an incentive to do so), but be careful about how many requests you make in the back of the book. I’ve seen people who have a whole list of things they want readers to do (like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and Google+, follow my blog, share this book with a friend, enter my raffle, etc.), but I would keep the call to action simple. Not only can asking for a lot seem pushy, but most people are going to do a max of one thing anyway. If you’re starting out, reviews may be the most important thing to focus on. You can always change the afterword later on.

Offering Incentives to People Who Leave Reviews

Some people will leave a review simply because you ask (thank you, good readers). Others may need a little motivation. You need to be careful with what you offer because Amazon’s ToS has some strict rules in regard to reviews (i.e. you can’t offer gift certificates or payment). Here are a few things I’ve done:

  • Let people know that whether or not you continue the series (if this is a Book 1) depends on how many reviews it gets and how many readers want to see more — Now, if you’ve already sent Book 2 off to your editor and this isn’t true, I wouldn’t recommend doing it, but if you’re basically writing pilots at this stage to see what has potential (I did a lot of this last year, after finishing my first series), it may be completely true. If the reader wants to see the adventure continue, he or she may be more motivated to leave a review.
  • Offer a spot on a special reviewers’ list — It doesn’t hurt to cultivate a list of proven reviewers (this means never having to start over at ground zero). Ask readers to send a link to their review at Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever in exchange for being put on your list to receive review copies of future books.
  • Offer a prize — I haven’t done this, because I’m always slow about getting my paperbacks out there, but I’ve seen authors offer signed paperbacks to the first 10 or 20 people who review their ebooks.  I’ve also seen people offer a chance to win a bigger prize if they send a link to a review (Becky White gave away a $100 gift certificate when she did a big free push). I’m not personally a fan of lottery prizes as an incentive, since more people lose than not, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work. (Though if you’re angling for Amazon reviews, in particular, you might want to double-check their ToS for that kind of thing.)

Getting People to Read Your Book

I know what you’re thinking: okay, incentives make sense and asking makes sense too, but how do I get people to read the book in the first place? Nobody can review it if they don’t know it exists.

You’re right. It’s hard to get people to buy a book without any reviews, and it’s even harder to get reviews when nobody’s read the book. So what’s the answer?

Giving away free copies. People will try a free book that doesn’t have a load of reviews, especially if it’s got a stellar cover and blurb. Now, you can go out and try to hand sell X number of free review copies (I did this with my first book, using the Mobile Read forum, Kboards, and the Nookboards (not that active anymore, alas) to get in touch with people who might be interested), but it’s probably easier just to make your ebook free everywhere for a few days. If you’re in KDP Select, you can do this through a Countdown Deal. If you’re not exclusive with Amazon, you can make your book free at Smashwords, Kobo, and Apple, and hope Amazon matches it to free.

It’s up to you whether you want to make it a free-for-all or hand select potential reviewers. If you do go free everywhere, this doesn’t mean you have to go permanently free. Maybe you just want your book to be free until you have X number of reviews, and then you’ll put it up to its regular price. It’s basically just giving away review copies en masse.

Note: some people say that you’re more likely to get 1-star reviews when you make your book free (possibly a reason to be more selective with who you give the book to). Getting some 1-stars is probably worth it if your average doesn’t get too low and if you’re getting good reviews at the same time. Believe it or not, some readers don’t trust books that have only positive reviews, thinking someone might have been gaming the system.

Sending off Review Copies to Book Blogs and Review Programs (meh?)

I did some of this when I first released The Emperor’s Edge and Encrypted back in the day (it used to be a lot harder to find sites that accepted self-published books!). I did get a good review or two out of the deal (and a nice write-up on a fairly big genre book blog), but bloggers tend to be pretty backed up.

You also might not get as good of reviews as you’re hoping for because you’re foisting these books on people who are already inundated rather than having readers self-select, based on their interest in the blurb. I’m not quite sure how the Vine program works on Amazon, but I’ve seen traditionally published authors get some of the crummiest reviews through it, ones that start off, “I don’t usually read X genre, but…”. It really is best to get reviews from people who saw the book, thought it looked like something up their alley, and were excited to read it from the start.

That’s probably enough from me on the subject. What are your thoughts and experiences?

Rust & Relics Novella and 99-Cent Urban Fantasy Boxed Set

| Posted in My Ebooks |


Destiny Unchosen CoverIt’s been a while since I first published Torrent, Book 1 in the Rust & Relics series, but I’m finally getting back to that world. There will be a new novel ready to go this fall, and I have a novella for you right now. Destiny Unchosen is from Temi’s point of view, comes with a lot of adventure, and gives us a peek into Eleriss and Jakatra’s world (Are those guys elves or aliens or what? You get to decide… :) ).


Before tragedy left her crippled, Artemis “Temi” Sidaris was a world-class tennis player at the height of her career. The sport was her passion, her dream, and all she ever wanted to do. Fighting monsters… was not part of the plan. 

But when a pair of pointy-eared strangers offers to heal her injury if she’s willing to wield a powerful sword to protect humanity… how can she resist? 

Destiny Unchosen is a 21,000-word novella that takes place between Torrent and the forthcoming Thorn Fall (September, 2014).

You can grab Destiny Unchosen from Amazon, SmashwordsBarnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple (coming soon).

I think you can enjoy Destiny Unchosen without having read Torrent (quite a few spoilers though!), but if you haven’t given the first novel a chance yet, you can grab it for… about 10 cents right now. It’s part of a nine-author, nine-book urban fantasy bundle that’s only 99 cents.

Here’s a little more information on the bundle (I think it’s a great way to try out a lot of new authors and new books for a very inexpensive price):

NINE BY NIGHT: A Multi-Author Urban Fantasy Bundle of Kickass Heroines, Adventure, & Magic

nine-by-night-coverNine books. Nine bestselling authors. Nine heroines that take names–and chances–while confronting dark foes, whether by force of arms or magic, that threaten their entire world.

From NYT and USA Today Bestselling Author, SM REINE - WITCH HUNT — Shaman on the run. Isobel Stonecrow speaks with the dead…for the right price. She brings closure to the bereaved and heals broken hearts. But when she resurrects someone for the wrong client, she ends up on the OPA’s most wanted list.

From NYT and USA Today Bestselling author, CJ ELLISSON - DEATH’S SERVANT — Jonathan Winchester has clashed with his werewolf alpha one too many times. He returns to Virginia to find work and meets a young waitress, Raine. As their relationship progresses, Jon’s embroiled in more intrigue than he bargained for and a danger bigger than he can handle.

From bestselling author, LINDSAY BUROKER - TORRENT — When Delia chose to major in archaeology, she imagined herself as the female Indiana Jones of the Southwest. She didn’t imagine herself stumbling across decapitated bodies in old mine shafts or learning that monsters are real…

From USA TODAY bestselling author, ANTHEA SHARP - SPARK — What if a high-tech game was a gateway to the treacherous Realm of Faerie? Superstar gamer Spark Jaxley’s life might look easy, but she’s part of an elite few who guard a shocking secret; the Realm of Faerie exists, and its dark magic is desperate for a foothold in the mortal world. 

From bestselling authors BOONE BRUX and CJ ELLISSON - DEATH TIMES TWO — The V V Inn has a ghost problem. New grim reaper, Lisa Carron, accepts the job. She quickly learns the hotel is full of the dearly departed–and she’s working for vampires. Throw in Asa, a young vamp hot enough to melt the Arctic ice, and Lisa realizes she’s way out of her element. 

From bestselling author, JC ANDRIJESKI - ROOK: ALLIE’S WAR EPISODES 1-4 — Like most humans, Allie distanced herself from Seers, a race of human-like beings discovered on Earth. Yanked out of her life by the mysterious Revik, Allie finds out her blood may not be as “human” as she thought, the world is nothing like it appears to be…and she has more in common with Seers than she ever wanted to believe. 

From bestselling author, ANNIE BELLET - JUSTICE CALLING — Gamer. Nerd. Sorceress. Jade Crow lives a quiet life running her comic book and game store in Wylde, Idaho. After twenty-five years fleeing from a powerful sorcerer who wants to eat her heart and take her powers, quiet suits her just fine. Surrounded by friends who are even less human than she is, Jade figures she’s finally safe. As long as she doesn’t use her magic…

From bestselling author, JESI LEA RYAN - ARCADIA’S GIFT — Teenager Arcadia (Cady) Day’s family tragedy unleashes a hidden power. After experiencing what can only be called a psychic episode, her home life crumbles. As her emotional control slips away, Cady begins to suspect that her first psychic episode was just the beginning…

From Urban Fantasy author, KARA LEGEND - WILD NIGHT ROAD — One innocent hex sets off a chain reaction of trouble among the shifters of the Kinraven that threatens war between werewolves, seraphim and witches. Lilith Darke will do anything to be free of her seraphim master. All hell breaks loose when rival packs face off only to discover a new, deadly threat that will take all their magick to survive.

Pick up the collection at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Smashwords.

Are Facebook “Promoted Posts” Ever Worth It for Authors?

| Posted in Advertising |


I’ve talked a lot about buying sponsorships on book blogs and mailing lists such as Bookbub, Ereader News Today, Pixel of Ink, and sites of that ilk, but I haven’t covered pay-per-click advertising much, not since a very early (three years old now) post on my experience advertising on Goodreads. The main reason is that it’s hard to make pay-per-click advertising work when you’re selling something with as small of a profit margin as an ebook. If you have to pay for every click, and each click costs 40 or 50 cents and only 1 in 10 people end up buying the book, you’re not going to make money on a 99 cent or even 3.99 ebook.

Facebook operates under the same paradigm. You can buy pay-per-click advertising and create little ad campaigns (limited space to type in your copy), or you can pay to promote one of the regular posts you make on your author page (no limit on space). Either way, you’re charged when people engage with your ad (i.e. click on it or like it).

You may be thinking, but wait… shouldn’t people who like my author page see all of my posts anyway? Alas, no. That hasn’t been happening for a while. Facebook openly admits that you’ll only reach about 16% of your audience with your page’s posts. If you want more people to see those posts, you have to pony up the money and boost your post.

The cost varies based on the number of likes you have and how many people you want to reach. With 3,000-odd likes, Facebook recommends I spend $100-$200 to boost a post these days. It used to be more like $30 to $50. (Fortunately, you don’t have to spend as much as they recommend.)

So… is it ever worth it? Should you pay to boost a post when you have a new release?

I’ve tried boosting posts a few times over the last year, and it never seemed to do much in terms of sales. I usually use my Amazon affiliate link when I plug one of my own releases, so I can see how many sales I get from those plugs. The trend is for Twitter to be negligible, for Facebook to be slightly less negligible (promoted posts or not), and for the vast majority of my new-release sales to come via my newsletter (I’m only counting the ones I can measure with my affiliate link of course).

A somewhat different experience with a multi-author urban fantasy bundle that I’m in

This weekend, a group of us launched Nine by Night, a nine-author, nine-novel, 99-cent urban fantasy collection. We’re staggering our newsletter announcements, and I’m not supposed to do mine until later in the week, so I haven’t done a blog post about it yet. However, we decided to try and kickstart things by announcing the release on the social media sites.

Yesterday morning, I wrote up a quick Facebook message with a link to the Amazon page (an affiliate link, of course). I was on my way out the door for a Sunday morning hike, so it wasn’t the most scintillating marketing copy — I’m sure you could do better! I decided to pay $100 to boost it to people who like my page and their friends (in most cases, I’ll boost these to people I target by sex/age/interest such as women who like urban fantasy, but since a couple of the other bundle authors were already doing that, I went with the people who have already liked my page (and their buddies since that’s built in)).

For my money, I got a reach of about 25,000 with a post engagement of 327 (note: this includes likes, comments, shares, etc., not just clicks on the Amazon link). That’s a much lower engagement percentage than I get on organic posts or on posts where I ask a question or do something that encourages more interaction, but when I’m paying for the likes, clicks, comments, etc., I don’t necessarily want people to engage just for the heck of it. I want people who are going to buy the book!

Overall, those 327 “engagements” translated into 108 sales (actually, it’ll probably end up being more like 150 since this ran for 24 hours, and I can’t yet see Monday’s affiliate sales). That’s actually not bad at all — much more than I usually get for promoting my own single-author releases on Facebook (doh!). I suppose that’s not that surprising since this is an awesome deal for readers (a chance to get nine complete novels for 99 cents).

In this case, I felt like the promoted post was worth it, not only for the sales, but because when you start adding those kinds of numbers to other promotions (i.e. newsletter announcements and blog sponsorships), you can potentially get the momentum you need to appear on the top of Amazon category lists where browsing buyers can find you organically. As I type this, the ebook is at 346 overall in the store, two days after its release (I’ll do another post later on that covers how the bundle went from my point of view, but it’s already been a cool experience; it’s great having multiple people with something invested and thus multiple people working on promotions.).

Note: I spent a lot more on the Facebook promoted post than I earned (about $10 in affiliate commissions; if I’d been the one to publish the book, I would have earned another $40 or so in sales), so in the case of making it into the black, it’s a money loser. Frankly, that’s going to be the case with any 99-cent title and a pay-per-click campaign: you just can’t ever make that work in your financial favor. That said, if it’s a loss leader and you have more books in a series for people to go on and buy, you may be able to end up ahead of the game, especially if you’re doing this in conjunction with other promotional pushes. Your mileage will vary, so track your advertising investments!

How about you? Have you tried Facebook’s promoted posts scheme? Good results? Bad results? What do you think?

Blood Charged Is out & Enter to Win a Signed Paperback of Republic

| Posted in My Ebooks |


The latest adventure with Sardelle, Ridge, Tolemek, and Cas is out, the third novel in the Dragon Blood series. You can grab it at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (Apple coming soon).

BloodChargedCoverForWebSardelle Terushan, sorceress and healer, should be lying low. Magic is forbidden in Iskandia, and magic users are drowned, shot, or otherwise slain. The problem? She’s fallen in love with ace fighter pilot and national hero, Colonel Ridge Zirkander, a man whom everybody notices, including the king. It’s not long before Sardelle has spies dogging her steps and people trying to blow her up. Worse, her presence is jeopardizing Ridge’s career. If she can’t find a solution to the nation’s centuries-old hatred of magic, the only way to protect Ridge—and herself—may be to leave.

Ridge Zirkander isn’t used to worrying about more than shooting down Cofah airships and keeping the officers in his squadron alive, but his world has gotten more complicated since giving his heart to Sardelle. It’s difficult to keep people from noticing a mysterious and enigmatic woman, not to mention her chatty sentient sword. He’s been passing her off as an archaeologist to his fellow pilots, but when the king calls him in to a private meeting, Ridge fears his secret has been discovered.

But the king—and the rest of the country—has a greater problem. Cofah military scientists have acquired something that shouldn’t exist in the world any longer: dragon blood. In addition to having countless mysterious properties, it’s a powerful energy source that can be used to create devastating weapons. Ridge, Sardelle, and their allies must travel to the empire as part of a secret strike force to steal the dragon blood. If they fail, the Cofah will finally have the power to destroy all of Iskandia.

In addition to having the new book out, I’m giving away some signed paperbacks of Republic (yes, I’ll ship anywhere in the world). You can enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Update: It looks like some people are having trouble responding to the Rafflecopter form (I didn’t want to require Facebook likes or Twitter shares or anything like that, but RC wouldn’t just let people plug in an email address to enter). You can also leave a comment here at the bottom of the blog post (favorite character from the EE series or anything you’d like to share), and I’ll pick some winners out of there too. I have ten books to give away!

Last Update: The contest is now closed, and I’ve picked winners, four via the Rafflecopter widget and four from the comments here: Lindsey, Gwynneth, Cath, Daniel, Natalie, Genevieve, Anna, and Joanna. Thanks for entering, everyone! 

Pricing Strategies for Ebooks in a Series

| Posted in E-publishing |


I’m about to release the third book in my Dragon Blood series (the opening chapters of the first book are here if anyone is curious), and I have some advertisements scheduled this week for the first. Since this is officially a series now, pricing is on my mind. Just now, you ask?

I originally wrote the first one as a stand-alone. I had an idea for a steampunk romance (stolen from inspired by another story), and I thought, hey, let’s do it. Then it turned out that I enjoyed the characters and the world and wanted to revisit both. Thus a series was born.

I released the first book at $2.99, lobbied for reviews (something I hadn’t bothered to do much of before), and sent an announcement out to the mailing list (they were more interested in the Emperor’s Edge book that was also coming out that month, but some people did give the new adventure a try). It turned out that it did well, hanging out at the top of the steampunk rankings for a couple of months on Amazon. I released a second one in late May, also at $2.99, and, as I mentioned, I’m getting ready to release the third.

After the first three months, sales on the first book dropped off some, as you’d expect, but the Amazon ranking was still under 10,000 most days, which isn’t too shabby for a more obscure category. I just dropped it to 99 cents for a Bookbub ad this weekend, and it’s had a nice boost again (Pixel of Ink mentioned it yesterday).

I’m deciding now whether I want to do a $2.99 release for Book 3 or bump it up to $3.99 (it’s nearly 100,000 words, so it’s longer than the first two). I’m also going to watch how Book 1 does at $0.99, because it may be worth leaving it there longer than the planned week if it does well after the ads have come and gone. That would fit into one of the main series pricing models I’m going to talk about below.

(I like to stay flexible and experiment, rather than committing to any particular pricing model, especially for more obscure niches like “steampunk romance.” Sometimes some books are just never going to be huge sellers whether they’re free or 99 cents, even when they have lots of good reviews, so in that case, it might make more sense to stick with a $2.99 price tag to at least get the 70% cut on sales that do come.)

I’ll update y’all on my doings later on, but I mostly wanted to write this post for others who are trying to price their books to get the most (earnings and visibility) out of their own series.

Common Series Pricing Models for Indie eBooks

Option A:

  • Book 1: 99 cents
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and subsequent books): 2.99 – 4.99

Option B:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and others): 2.99 – 4.99

Both of these options let you draw in new readers with Book 1 that’s priced lower than the rest of the series, in the hope that they’ll be more likely to try your work, like it, and go on to buy the rest.

My Emperor’s Edge series needs a facelift and some loving, but it’s earned me the bulk of my income over the last three and a half years (I published the eighth and final-for-now book earlier this spring). I’ve tried a number of strategies, but I’ve been pretty close to Option B for the last three years. I started out with the first two books at 2.99 and made some sales, but gained a lot more readers when I released Book 3 and made Book 1 permanently free (I also had some luck early on when, with two books out, I ran sales of Book 1 at 99 cents.)

In ye olden days, Amazon listed the Top 100 free next to the Top 100 paid in each category (no need to click over to free books to see the covers), and you got a lot of visibility if you were in the Top 20 free for your category. I’ve talked more about whether or not free is still a good strategy in other places, so I’ll just say here that, yes, it can be, but prepared to pay for ads and promote the freebie, because there’s less visibility for those lists than there used to be. Free still works very well as a series starter in iTunes and Kobo (people always ask how to sell books there, and I always say that I didn’t sell much of anything in those stores until I had a free Book there).

That said, I haven’t made anything else free of late. Part of it is because I’ve mostly been writing pilots this past year, trying to figure out what my next big series should be, but part of it is because 99 cents seems almost as viable, if not as viable, for enticing people to try a series. And, unlike with the free books, you show up in the paid listings alongside all of the other paid books — being 99 cents when the surrounding books are 2.99 and up can make yours look like as much, if not more, of a bargain as a free book surrounded by other free books. There’s also the consideration that people may be more likely to jump right into reading a book they paid for, whereas they might randomly download heaps of free books and wait until much later to check them out.

As I go forward with the Dragon Blood series and other new ones (I have my pen name project in mind here, too), I’ll probably stick with something closer to Option A. I may do free sales, i.e. permafree for a couple of weeks in conjunction with advertising, especially after I have 4+ books out in a series, but I don’t think I’ll do another permanently free book for a while.

With pricing a series (or anything), I think it’s useful to be flexible and try different numbers. Keep track of how much you earn from the series overall, rather than from any individual book, and see what works best. (I wrote a post on this last winter: What You Think Your Book Is Worth vs. The Point at Which It Will Make the Most Money.)

Other Series Pricing Models

What if you just don’t like either of the two options I mentioned? Or maybe you’re also writing a series in a less popular niche. Maybe you’re in an extremely popular niche where it’s hard to get noticed even at 99 cents. Here are a couple more models to consider.

Option C:

  • Book 1: 2.99
  • Subsequent books: 3.99+

This one keeps you in the 70% range for earnings.

There are a couple of reasons you might consider this. First, if you already have a fan base or your new series ties into an old one, you might not need to make the first book a loss leader, as they say in the biz.

Also, if you don’t have the rest of the books in the series out yet, running sale prices on Book 1 may not do much for you, in terms of your income. Yes, it can bring in more readers, but if you don’t have anything available yet for those readers to buy, will they still remember you when you publish Book 2? Maybe, maybe not (don’t forget to include a newsletter sign-up at the end of the first book!).

Lastly, if you’ve already tried 99 cents combined with sales and there just didn’t seem to be enough interest to give you the boost you were hoping for, you might as well go back to the 70% cut. That way, when you do make a sale, it’s at least latte money (or Americano money, anyway).

Option D:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 99 cents
  • Book 3 and beyond: 2.99 and up

I see this fairly often in the romance genre (especially with series). Giving away the first two books for nothing or next to nothing is hard to stomach, but it’s possible you’ll get a lot more visibility and readers getting invested in the series this way. You’re in the free lists for people who surf there, but then you’ve also got a 99-cent title (remember how this appears as quite the bargain next to more expensive titles) in the paid listings.

I’ve done sales like this with my EE series, and, for me, the second book never sold well enough at 99 cents that I was tempted to leave it there for long. If, however, you’re in a popular genre and have written books that really give people what they want, a pricing strategy like this may get you the attention you’re hoping for.

Okay, I’ve burbled on for long enough. Do you have any thoughts on pricing a series that you would like to share? Please leave a comment!