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?