It’s no secret that reviews are vital to an author’s success. They provide the much-needed social proof for readers that other people have read the book and reveal a little about what they thought of it.
Consider your own buying behaviour: how likely are you to buy a book that either has no reviews on the retailer, or that hasn’t been recommended to you by someone you know?
When you visit a book’s sales page on Amazon, or Kobo, or wherever you buy books, the star rating will be prominently displayed near the title. This is because the retailers know how important this social proof is in the buying decisions of their customers. Full reviews will usually be further down the page, but can usually be skipped to quickly by clicking a link attached to the rating.
When you make a purchase, have you noticed that some retailers email you shortly afterwards asking you what you thought and to leave a review or rate your purchase? eBay does this, but so do other places where you’re more likely to be buying books.
Again, this is because the retailer knows how important reviews are for driving sales. It’s in their interests, as well as the author’s, to get those reviews.
That’s all well and good, Holly, but how is an author meant to get reviews on their books?
Well, there are several ways to go about that and I’ll try to give you a comprehensive breakdown. First of all, I’ll just quickly outline a couple of different types of review.
Editorial reviews are the sort you see on the covers of traditionally published bestsellers. Authors and publishers seek these out by sending the book to notable names in the niche or genre and asking them for a comment.
“Gripping!”says New York Times.
“A must-read new horror author”Stephen King
You can pay for these, and they are the only form of paid review that Amazon accepts. They have a special section on a product page for editorial reviews. However, I still don’t recommend you pay for these as your money will probably be better spent elsewhere. But if you have a good network in the author community, then you may be able to ask friends who have established themselves as authorities in their field to give you an editorial review.
This is what most people will think of when thinking about reviews and this is what I’ll cover in detail. It’s quite simply: a review from someone who has read the book. They don’t have to be a critic, or famous, or have a platform. They can be anyone – although not family or employed by you, Amazon has rules on this.
So let’s get into where to find customer reviews.
The first and most obvious means is to not worry about it and just allow them to accrue organically. Some readers will completely voluntarily and without prompting, head on over to the online store that they bought the book from, or Goodreads, and leave a review once they finish the book. SImple. Easy.
Yes, but this is a tiny proportion of readers. Statistics vary, but from my research, I’d feel confident stating that less than 5% of buyers regularly leave reviews. However, this number soars when customers are asked to leave a review! According to Search Engine Land, around 70% of consumers will leave a review if asked by a business they buy a product or service from.
So to increase your organic reviews, you can simply add a note to the end of your book giving readers the call to action to leave a review. It may not be 70% that do, unfortunately, in my experience, as I think online buying behaviour is a bit different to local services that are the subject of that research. However, many authors report an increase in review rates simply by including that CTA in the back of their books. Including a link in an ebook directly to the book page on the retailer will increase this yet again.
This is slightly complicated if you publish wide, across many retailers as you need to include different links for each retailer. If you use an aggregator, like Draft2Digital or Smashwords, then this isn’t possible. But if you upload directly to a retailer then you can make this small change to your file and have multiple versions with different links. It’s a little extra work, but can be very effective. Alternatively, you can use universal book links. This adds an extra step for the reader, which may reduce click-through, but it will save you time and hard drive space.
Ask your readers
A related avenue to reviews is simply to ask your readers to write a review! This would be in the form of a call out on social media, or in your newsletter asking people who have read your book to go and leave a review. This can be very effective if you have good engagement as people who follow or subscribe to you actively like you and want to be involved. This can be particularly powerful if you place the emphasis on them and their experience, rather than making it about you.
So rather than saying “Hey, can you help me by doing this?” try to tap into their emotions with something more about them. For example “You can have your say by leaving a review”, or “You can help other readers by leaving a review”.
It should go without saying that it’s generally good practice to thank your followers for reviewing your books as well.
There are also more active ways to gather reviews as well. The primary one being to develop a review team, otherwise known as an ARC team, or Street Team, although there may be variances in how these are perceived or how they function. But in essence, they form part of your launch strategy, which we talked about in Episode 79.
You recruit members from your mailing list, your social media following and from sites such as Book Sprout and Net Galley. You may want to gather those people all in one place for ease of administration. Ideally, you’ll need their email address and to collect them in a segment of your mailing list.
People who sign up recognise that they are being given a free copy of the book, often in advance of a launch, in exchange for a review online. It’s up to you where you ask them to leave their review, but at a minimum, you’ll want them to review on at least one retailer. They can also review on Goodreads, their blog, their social media or wherever else they choose.
If this is a Street Team, they may also be encouraged to cheerlead you online, sharing your social media posts and recommending your books in groups with other readers.
Ideally, you’ll give your review team a little extra attention than your general email list or social media. These people will feel as though they know you personally (sometimes they really might be friends or family, but be careful there as Amazon doesn’t allow reviews from people who are directly connected with you – so don’t connect your Amazon and Facebook accounts!). You may share cover reveals with them first, ask them to vote in polls, ask them to help you choose between two covers or two blurbs and other things to harness this relationship and help them to feel involved in your writing.
You may also want to monitor the list and ensure that members are filling their side of the deal by leaving those reviews. It’s a good idea to have ground rules, however informally you enforce them. I have a rule that if someone gets three of my books without leaving a review, they get cut from the team. I give them at least 3 months to review and will always be open to exceptions for difficult life circumstances. But if they downloaded the book (which I can track using BookFunnel email campaigns to deliver the files), then I assume they are agreeing to review. Some authors don’t police this at all and hand out free books like Halloween candy! That’s absolutely fine if that’s what you want to do. I’m not here to dictate how you run your review team. But personally, I would feel taken advantage of if I gave a reader all of my books for free and they never left a single review. This is my business, it’s how I make my living.
Anyway, It can be a lot of work but is often well worth the effort.
Finally, we have book tours. This is where you send your book to established book bloggers and reviewers and they review your book on their corner of the internet. These reviews won’t usually be copied onto retailers, they will be on the reviewer’s blog, YouTube channel, Instagram and so on. It’s an alluring option as some of these influencers have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of followers. It can be a pretty quick and efficient way to get your book in front of a lot of readers.
There are paid companies that organise this for you and I highly recommend using such a service rather than organising it yourself. It can be extremely labour intensive and costly (if you send physical copies) and a lot of these influencers are inundated with requests and may simply ignore yours. The book tour companies will already have relationships with influencers and can get your book past the unsolicited chaff.
These services do come at a cost, however, and there are some scams around. So make sure you ask other authors for recommendations and do your due diligence.
It’s worth noting that the benefit of a book tour is hard to quantify. You won’t know how many people saw the review or responded to a CTA to buy your book. You have no control over the content or reach. It may be hard to attribute sales to this exposure. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, it may be, but go into it with your eyes open. It may be a better use of your money to run ads to your book, rather than paying for a book tour. But it’s undeniable that the pretty Bookstagram pictures of your book will give you something interesting to share with your own followers! With an attributed link to the original post, obviously.
What to do with the reviews?
That just about covers how to get reviews, but what can you do with them once you’ve got them?
Well, there are two basic schools of thought on this: one is that reviews are for other readers, not the author, and so the author shouldn’t waste their time reading them. The other is that reviews are useful to the author and worth reading.
Some authors claim to never read their reviews and almost look down their noses at authors who do. I see it in groups all the time. Comments like “I used to read my reviews early on, but I grew out of it.” That’s fine, you do you. But I won’t ever judge someone for doing things a bit differently to me.
Reading a bad review can be challenging. It can be hard not to take them personally, especially early on when you’ve poured so much of yourself into that first book, or three. But you have to develop a bit of a thick skin in this business. Criticism is par for the course, I’m afraid.
The key, if you’re choosing to read your reviews, is to take the constructive elements and learn from them, and to ignore the rest.
I have one one-star review that just says “Meh, I didn’t like it”. I had to laugh when I saw it. I’m not entirely sure what the point was in leaving the review, as it doesn’t exactly help other readers to make a decision, does it?
So that didn’t bother me at all. Not everyone will like my books or any book that’s published. It’s all a matter of personal taste. Find the biggest, most popular book in the world and go look at its reviews. I guarantee it’ll have some bad ones, probably quite a few, actually. Because the best, most successful books often get that way by dividing opinion.
If you try to make every reader happy, you’ll end up with a pretty bland book that satisfies no one.
So that’s the other point about reading your critical reviews – don’t try to adjust your writing in an attempt to satisfy every reader who disliked an earlier book. Try to take an aerial view. Look at your reviews and look for common remarks. If there are a few that mention the same sorts of flaws – poor character development, or inadequate world-building, or bad pacing – then you can incorporate that into the general development of your craft.
But it might take a while to gather enough reviews to make that kind of assessment. So don’t wait for that. Be improving your writing in the meantime! But you can also gather this kind of feedback from beta readers before publishing, which I highly recommend you do.
You can also learn from positive reviews. If readers say consistently that they love your main character or all the action, or the detail then keep doing that! Double down on it. Use those keywords in your marketing efforts!
That’s right, you can mine your reviews for positive attributes of your book and use them as target keywords in ads or as splash quotes on social media images.
I also read the reviews that my review team leaves. In part to verify that they have left the promised review, but also because I like to gauge opinions of my books. I like to see that I’m delivering on the promise I made with my cover and description.
I, or these days my assistant, create images for social media that quote these reviews to help me to promote my books.
I know of an author who does this exact same thing but with her bad reviews! She makes a selling point of them. Angeline has also suggested that she’d love to do a campaign like that some time and I like to encourage her to try it. I love the irony of it and embracing the polarizing nature of the creative endeavour.
It’s worth noting that negative reviews can actually help to sell your book to the right readers. For instance, if someone leaves a review saying “I’m livid! I thought this was going to be clean romance, but it’s absolutely filthy!” then someone reading who is looking for something more risque may just pick up the book to see for themselves!
Negative reviews help guide the right readers to your book as much as positive reviews do. So don’t worry about them or get upset by them. Accept them as inevitable and a rite of passage and maybe even use them to your advantage.
But if you decide that you’d prefer to leave your reviews for other readers only, then it’s absolutely fine to never look at a single review. You may not benefit from them as much, but it’s your call.