A few months ago, I started a new pen-name and have kept it secret in order to avoid ‘pollution' of the also-boughts. But it has been SO hard because I have basically started from scratch – with no email list, no street team, no reviews, no platform, no social media.
The pen-name is slowly gathering steam, but it reminds me how hard it is starting out and getting those first reviews can be one of the hardest things.
In today's article, Jason B. Ladd, author of Book Review Banzai gives some tips on getting reviews as an unknown author.
As an unknown author, getting Amazon reviews for your book is crucial to unlocking its full potential. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
You might think that downloads lead to Amazon reviews.
You might not know if Amazon has restrictions on reviews.
You might think reviews will eventually start rolling in with enough time and word of mouth.
It’s easy to get discouraged. You might think it’s impossible for an unknown author publishing their first book to get any traction with Amazon reviews.
A Tale of Four Books
During the 2015 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Summer Institute in Atlanta, I met the renown scholar and Christian apologist Os Guinness. He had just released Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.
Also in attendance was author and apologist Ravi Zacharias whose book Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense was released in October the previous year.
And in October of 2014, John MacArthur, one of the most influential preachers of all time, released Parables: The Mysteries of God's Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told.
So how is my first book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview—self-published as an unknown author around the same time–different from the traditionally published works of these three powerhouses in the field of Christian apologetics?
Mine has more Amazon reviews.
I’m not trying to brag. These men are my heroes, and their books are a million times better than mine.
So how is that possible?
Today I want to share with you exactly how I did it.
Isn’t It Simple?
See? Wasn’t that simple?
No. It’s terribly difficult for the unknown author without the right knowledge and tools.
After the initial launch of One of the Few, I had thousands of downloads but under 30 Amazon reviews.
And I know how important it is to get reviews. They’re one of the most influential factors in whether or not someone is going to decide to download your book. They might mean the difference between getting a BookBub or not. And they’re definitely part of the formula for tripping Amazon’s algorithm—the ultimate arbiter of the Amazon author have and have-nots!
What I Didn’t Know
During the pre-launch phase, I tried to reach out to as many people as I could to provide them with a free copy for review consideration, but I had three problems:
- I didn’t know whom to look for.
- I didn’t know where to find them.
- I didn’t know how to connect with them.
What I Learned
Then three things changed when I joined a mastermind group for authors.
- I found out how to identify the perfect reader for my book.
- I discovered new tools to help me find them.
- I learned how to connect with them effectively.
I decided to re-attack my campaign for seeking Amazon reviews, and in a matter of months, my review count surpassed 150.
The new technique worked so well, I decided I had to write a book and share it with other authors.
Every Author Starts Out Unknown
You might be a rockstar writer with a rockstar past writing rockstar books. But the book review scene might have you head banging.
You might have a PhD and teach at a university with peer-reviewed articles. But your Amazon reviews aren’t making the grade.
You might be the former CEO of a million-dollar company. But in terms of book reviews, you’re bankrupt.
Unless you’re no-kidding famous, everyone starts out as an unknown author.
And when you are an unknown author, reviews do not come on their own! At least not in significant numbers. You must be extremely intentional about getting them.
Following Amazon’s Rules
Amazon “will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”
However, “Book authors and publishers may continue to provide free or discounted copies of their books to readers, as long as the author or publisher does not require a review in exchange or attempt to influence the review.”
Additionally, you cannot offer a review in exchange for:
- a free or discounted product
- a gift certificate
- a discount off a future purchase provided by a third party
- entry into a contest or sweepstakes or membership in a program
What Can You Do?
You can provide a free copy and ask readers to consider leaving a review, including that fact that you’re willing to accept both positive and negative reviews and that they will be under no obligation.
So in order to get a significant number of reviews, you must identify large groups of people interested in reading your book, connect with all of them, make them want to leave a book review, and do so without requiring a review or attempting to influence the review.
Sound impossible? It’s not.
It's an art that I've been working on for some time, and I want to share what I've learned.
Steps You Should Take
I've broken it down into a 5-step process. This is what you need to do when planning your book review campaign:
- Identify your perfect book reviewer
- Find large groups of them online
- Find their personal websites
- Prepare a spreadsheet
- Connect with them personally
Step 1. Identify Your Perfect Book Reviewer
You've probably heard about contacting book review bloggers about reading your book for review consideration. But there are some specific things to look for that will increase your chances of having your book received and reviewed.
You want to make sure they enjoy reading books in your genre.
Even better, you should look for reviewers that have other things in common with you. For instance, you're both from the northwest. Or you both love a good Netflix binge on the weekend. (Keep this information handy. You're going to use it later.)
Step 2. Find Large Groups of Them Online
With a bit of creativity, you can find large groups of your perfect book reviewer online. A Google search for “book review bloggers” is good, but a search for “search by blogger” is even better. That's because what will benefit you the most is not to find a book review or blogger website–it's to find lists of book reviews or blogger websites.
Sometimes instead of a list, you might find links to book review blogger websites on multiple pages. These can be turned into a list with web extraction tools like Import.IO.
[From Joanna: You can also use Author Marketing Club's automated Book Reviewer Grabber Tool]
Step 3. Find Their Personal Websites
Sometimes a search will lead you to a single website with many book reviews. If that's the case, find out if the reviews are by a handful of reviewers or many reviewers.
If it's the latter, search for a link back to the review blogger's personal blog. You want to visit their website so you can learn about them in order to make a personal connection later on.
Step 4. Prepare a Spreadsheet
You're probably working on a timeline. Maybe you've set our book launch date and want to start contacting potential advance readers a few months prior. If that's the case, you can front load all your review blogger research and then connect with them all at once at the desired time.
You'll want to keep careful track of your research, and one way is to use a spreadsheet. Make columns for the review bloggers name, email address (or other platform contact details), and date contacted.
I also recommend including a column for you to record a bit of personal information you learned from visiting their website.
A spreadsheet will help you keep track of everyone who has responded and how long it's been since your last contact with them. It will also help you avoid contacting someone you've already contacted before.
Step 5. Connect With Them Personally
Once you have your spreadsheet loaded with your perfect book review bloggers, it's time to reach out.
There are many ways to do this including connecting on social media, contacting them through their website, or sending an email. Before you email, make sure you know and adhere to your country's SPAM laws.
If you choose email, there are tools like GMass that can help you merge your spreadsheet data with your Gmail account making it easy to send individual personalized emails in bulk.
Once bloggers start responding, take note of your most common responses to them and create a few Gmail “canned responses” to save you time responding in the future.
Before you know it, your inbox will start filling with “yes” emails.
You Can Do It
This might all sound like common sense, but it's easier said than done, especially if you've never done it before.
But there are tools and techniques out there to help you connect with book reviewers on the scale you need to make a difference.
This kind of connecting is done by experienced authors and publishing houses alike. You can do it too.
And as an author with any hopes of getting a meaningful number of Amazon reviews, you must.
Do you have your own 5-star techniques for getting Amazon reviews? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Jason B. Ladd is an author, apologist, and entrepreneur writing from a cabin in Alaska. He's the author of Book Review Banzai, as well as One of the Few, founder of Boone Shepherd, and creator of Indielisters. He and his wife Karry are the parents of seven children.
You can learn more about Book Review Banzai at www.BookReviewBanzai.com.