Getting book reviews can be challenging, especially if you're just starting out with no audience or email list. But there are ways you can make it easier.
In today's article, Craig Tuch from Hidden Gems review service gives us some tips.
When I started an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) review service back in late 2015, the main question authors had about reviews were whether they were worth chasing at all.
Turns out they are, and anyone still unconvinced need only read the latest research on the subject. So now the big question has turned to how to get them in the first place.
Most options fall into one of two categories – either setting up your own team of reviewers, sending out copies and tracking results on your own, or hiring a company like ours to do it all for you.
As there are already plenty of articles on both of these options, I think the focus for authors needs to shift towards how to optimize the whole experience, whichever way they go.
There are a number of factors to consider in order to get the most out of your reviews – both in terms of increasing your odds at getting positive ones and getting maximum value. A solidly written book is the first step, of course, but there are a number of other questions that don’t often get the attention they deserve.
- Even though your book is free, how do you get readers interested enough to read it? (not as easy as it sounds)
- Are they the right readers for your book in the first place? (it’s not just a question of genre)
- Are you sacrificing too many sales for too few reviews?
The answers depend, in part, on how you’re distributing your book (on your own or through a service), but regardless they should all be considered before you send out a single copy for review.
So let’s make sure you get the most value out of all those free copies.
Getting Readers Interested in Reading Your Free Book
It may seem like a slam dunk that if you’re offering a free book, readers will line up to read it. While that may be true for authors using their already established list of fans as their source (not always a good idea – but more on that below), for everyone else it isn’t quite so easy.
Take if from someone that sends out the book details of multiple books a day to a list of about 10,000 volunteer reader/reviewers across all genres – if a book isn’t appealing, readers won’t sign up to read it – even though it’s free.
Fortunately, getting free readers interested is very similar to getting buyers interested – which means focusing on fundamentals like a solid cover and enticing blurb.
As much as we’re taught not to, readers really do judge books by their covers. I’ve seen it time and again – an otherwise solid book with a lackluster cover gets almost no interest from reviewers. You have to catch their eye first, before anything else, so make sure your cover fits your genre and doesn’t look like it was created using MS Paint (or even Amazon’s cover creator).
Once you catch their eye, the next thing they see is your blurb or sales description. Make sure it hooks readers in through taglines, cliffhangers or whatever else may entice them to want to read more.
An important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be the same blurb as you use to sell the book.
In fact, in a lot of cases, it shouldn’t be – a critical point that I’ll be diving into in the next section.
The point is, although most authors understand the importance of covers and blurbs when it comes to sales, they don’t always give them enough attention when preparing them for reviewers. Don’t leave them to last minute. There is a glut of free content out there, all of it competing for a limited number of eyeballs.
Put as much polish into selling your book to reviewers as you would to potential buyers.
Delivering Your Book to the “Right” Readers
You don’t just want reviews, you want positive ones, right? Of course, the best way to get those is to write an outstanding book that everyone loves and no one can say a bad word about. Books like….
Oh wait, those don’t exist.
As of this writing, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has 177 one-star reviews and an overall average of only 4.1. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird fares better with a 4.7 average but still has 211 single stars.
Even more modern day commercially successful books haven’t fared much better. Harry Potter may have made J.K. Rowling the first billionaire author, but the first book in the series has an average of 4.3 and over 1600 one star reviews.
The good news is, a few negative reviews can actually improve sales – but that doesn’t mean you should go out looking for them. Trust me, they’ll find you.
The best chance you have at positive reviews is to focus on delivering your free copies to the “right” readers.
But what do I mean by the “right” readers?
Ideally, you want readers that are already pre-dispositioned to enjoying the type of book that you write.
If your reviewer pool is made up of existing fans of your work, you’ve probably already got that covered and can skip ahead to the next section – but I urge you to read that section carefully, as it may give you some second thoughts about why that may not be the best strategy. For everyone else, let’s dig deeper.
Blindly sending books out to random readers can lead to very unpredictable results. After all, you wouldn’t want to send your latest SF Space Opera to someone that only enjoys erotic romance novels, right? Most likely they wouldn’t even read it, but if they did they’d likely hate it. Not because it’s a bad book in general, but it’s a bad book for them.
Still, sending your books to readers that regularly read your genre is only one factor to consider and is one that most services take care of for you. Where you can potentially improve things is by narrowing the field even further with a customized reviewer-focused blurb.
While some books can get away with using the same blurb for both buyers and reviewers, there are a few key exceptions and it’s vitally important to know if your book is one of those.
To understand why, you have to remember something else that is very often overlooked by authors. Buyers and reviewers might be made up of the same types of people, but as an audience for your book, their purpose is very different.
When selling your book, you want to cast as wide a net as possible in order to appeal to the biggest possible audience. A blurb with very broad appeal will attract the most buyers and earn you the most money.
For reviews, it’s the opposite.
You want to only attract readers that are most likely to enjoy your book, which means a blurb with a much narrower focus.
Sure, you want everyone to enjoy your book, but we’ve already established that isn’t going to happen. That’s why it’s best to weed out certain people from reading your review copy with a blurb that calls out anything controversial, any triggers, or areas where your book goes against conventional genre norms.
For example, if you’re writing a romance and you don’t have an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending, it’s best to mention that in the blurb. Many readers will be fine with that, but MOST romance novels do have an HEA which means it’s expected in books of the genre. By not calling it out, you run the risk of a reviewer being left unsatisfied and possibly leaving negative feedback.
Same with triggers – things like suicide, rape, domestic abuse, child abuse, etc. Of course, depending on your genre some of these may be expected and thus unnecessary to mention. If you’re writing a horror or a murder mystery, you wouldn’t need to warn readers about gruesome or graphic scenes, but put those same scenes into a YA book and you may end up shocking or upsetting your audience. Best to warn them ahead of time and avoid the potential negative reviews that may result.
Will this lead to less people signing up to read your book?
Probably – but that’s okay. Because the ones that do sign up will be the “right” readers. Ones most likely to enjoy your book.
That’s why being honest and transparent with reviewers is so important, and why your sales blurb doesn’t have to match your reviewer blurb. Not all books have issues like these, but if yours does you should definitely call them out.
Weighing the Hidden Costs of Free Copies
Many authors send free review copies to an existing mailing list which is most likely made up fans that bought previous books. While that may seem like a good source – especially given that you already know the readers are predisposed to enjoying your work – there is one big factor to consider.
That list is made of proven buyers of your writing. They signed up because they wanted to hear when you were going to next publish a book, so that they can buy that one, too.
Do you really want to flood that list with free copies and completely dilute your pool of proven buyers?
For those with a big enough list, and who only send free copies out to a small fraction of them, it may make more sense – but is still not the best strategy. Especially if you’re looking for more than a handful of reviews.
Even when given a free book by the author directly, most readers won’t leave a review. Authors I’ve heard from commonly report only getting reviews for about 20-30% of the copies they send out – and that’s at the high end. That means for 50 reviews you need to send out a few hundred copies… to readers that were likely going to buy it anyway!
All of a sudden those free copies are costing you a lot.
Best case scenario, sending 200 copies out at 99 cents earning Amazon’s 30% payout means a loss of $66. Not too bad, right? But what about the ranking boost that those 200 sales would have given you? 200 sales would have put you high up in the chart in almost any genre – leading to even more organic sales.
Free copies lead to no money and no ranking.
And that’s to say nothing of the time you have to spend managing the whole process. That’s time you could spend writing your next book instead.
That’s why many authors, even ones with their own big mailing lists, turn to an ARC service. Not only because it saves them time and allows them to continue selling books to their existing fanbase – but because of the potential revenue boost they can get by being exposed to new fans. A service that sends out your book to their own list means a new set of readers exposed to your work – readers that may in turn become fans and join your mailing list directly, maybe even buying your future books.
Still, like anything else there are good and bad review services so make sure to do your research first. Choosing the wrong one can cost you far more than the service itself. Things to watch for:
- How many copies does the service send to get your reviews? Some send thousands and only get back a handful of reviews – flooding the potential market with free copies and giving little value in return
- Do they make guarantees that they can’t possibly deliver on without doing something shady? Remember that Amazon has specific rules that reviews have to be voluntary, honest and uncompensated (beyond the free book). It’s impossible to guarantee a certain number of reviews or a certain star rating without breaking those rules
- Are they following review rules in general? Some rules apply everywhere, like the FTC rule about how reviews based on free product should disclose that fact, while sites like Amazon have rules of their own and a history of cracking down on services or individuals that break them. You don’t want to be caught up in any of that, so understand the rules and ignore the rumors – and make sure the service you’re using is doing the same
Just remember that you’re either spending time or money on getting reviews – do you really have enough of either of those resources that you can afford to waste them?
Optimize your review experience and get as much value out of the whole experience as possible.
Do you make an effort to get reviews for your books? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Craig Tuch had been involved in the writing community for many years prior to starting Hidden Gems Books in 2015. Since then, the author services company has gone on to help over 2000 authors improve their books, reach more readers and sell more copies.
[Money photo courtesy Christian Dubovan and Unsplash]