By Iola Goulton
How to get honest book reviews
Post updated 30 December 2016
I’ve recently seen a few authors online asking either how to get more book reviews, or how many book reviews can they expect. My (unstatistical) research suggest authors can expect around one review for every 1,000 copies sold. That’s just 0.1%. Even a bestseller might not do much better: John Green has reportedly sold nine million copies of The Fault in Our Stars and has almost 30,000 reviews on Amazon—a review rate of less than 0.4%.
Yet some authors seem to have dozens, even hundreds, of reviews, out of all proportion to sales. Is there some secret? How do these authors manage to get so many reviews?
It’s easy enough to get dishonest reviews. Earlier articles in this series have covered several less-than-honest ways to get reviews, including buying reviews, reviewing your own books, asking family members to give your book a five-star review, and swapping reviews with other authors.
So how do you get honest reviews?
Yes, ask for reviews. Many readers don’t realise the importance authors place on reviews. Positive reviews provide social proof for potential customers, they influence Amazon’s book popularity ratings, and a certain number of reviews are required in order for authors to advertise on sites like Bookbub. Yet most readers don’t know or understand how useful reviews are, to authors and other readers.
Almost anyone who has an Amazon account can review on Amazon (and an Amazon US account holder can also review on other Amazon country pages, such as Australia, Canada and the UK). All a customer needs to do is open an account and spend $50 (this spending requirement was introduced during 2016, to combat the "coupon club" reviewers who would give anything a five-star review in exchange for free samples).
Who do I Ask?
Ask your readersMarketing advisors such as David Gaughran advise authors to ask for reviews at the back of the book, and that’s something David does himself: “Word-of-mouth is cruicial for any author to succeed. If you enjoyed the book, please consider leaving a review at Amazon.”
This tactic is now being adopted by at least one of the big-name publishers: I’ve recently read Journey of Hope by Debbie Kaufman, a Love Inspired Historical. At the end of the book, it says, “Love the Love Inspired book you just read? Your opinion matters. Review this book on your favorite book site, review site, blog or your own social media properties and share your opinion with other readers!”
Does this work? In July 2014, Tim Grahl shared on his blog that he had just sold the 10,000th copy of his book, Your First 1000 Copies (including one copy to me). Those 10,000 sales have netted him over 180 reviews—a 1.8% review rate, which is still low, but is almost twenty times more reviews than my unstatistical ‘normal’.
The other thing to do at the end of your book is ask readers to sign up for your email list, so you can let them know when your next book is due to be published (and perhaps even offer your email subscribers a discount, or ask if anyone would like a free review copy …). If you want to boost your email list, try offering your book at NoiseTrade Books: people can download your book free (or leave a tip) in exchange for providing you with their email address.
Ask Amazon reviewersWhile many Amazon reviewers are simply providing random reviews on books or products they’ve used and liked (or not), a growing number are reviewing books or products they’ve been provided with in exchange for a review. Note that reviewers are required to disclose they have received a free copy of the book for review (as per Federal Trade Commission regulations). Not all do, but they are supposed to.
How do you find Amazon reviewers?It’s time-consuming, but worthwhile. Some people recommend starting with the Amazon Top 10,000 Reviewers list, as these are the most prolific and helpful reviewers and are therefore most likely to accept review requests. However, I believe this is a waste of time for most authors, and especially for authors writing in a niche genre like Christian fiction. Why? Because many of those reviewers either don’t review books, or don’t read Christian fiction. (The easiest way to become a Top 10,000 Reviewer is to review the Free App of the Day, as it’s guaranteed to get you a lot of votes, and votes are more important than total number of reviews in improving reviewer ranking.)
Rather than focusing on Top Reviewers, focus on people who have reviewed books similar to yours, especially if they have also reviewed self-published books. Click on the reviewer name, and see if they have a website address or email address on their profile. If they have an email address, it’s safe to assume they are open to receiving requests via email. If they only have a website address, check that out to see if they are open to review requests.
Many Amazon reviewers also have book blogs, which is even better: the more sites a review is posted on, the better for your book. To find out if an Amazon reviewer will accept requests for reviews, simply click on their name, which will bring up their personal profile. If you find an Amazon reviewer who agrees to review your book, you’ve got a 50% or better chance of getting a review (personally, I review over 95% of the titles I accept for review, but I know some bloggers review as few as 30%. However, they make it clear that sending them a book doesn’t guarantee a review).
Ask bloggersThere are several organisations which specialise in organising blog tours for Christian novels, including the Australasian Christian Readers Blog Alliance, Book Fun Magazine, Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, First Wild Card Tours and Litfuse Publicity. Visit their website, find some books similar to yours, see which reviewers have reviewed them positively, visit those reviewer websites, check out their reviewing guidelines, and contact those who are open to unsolicited requests. Be warned: as with Amazon reviewers, many bloggers already have all the books they can read through sources such as NetGalley or publisher blogging programmes.
The advantage of using bloggers from these networks is that you already know they are open to reading and reviewing Christian novels. If they have a review policy or similar on their blog, you will know they are open to receiving review requests, so go ahead! As with Amazon reviewers, if you find a blogger who will read your book, you have an excellent chance of getting a review.
Ask on a review siteSites such as Facebook and Goodreads have groups for people seeking reviews. However, some of these offer unethical review swaps. Check out any potential reviewers before sending your book off to them, to ensure they are the right reviewer for your book. You can also check out sites like Story Cartel, which offers your book free to readers who promise to review.
Ask social media followersRayne Hall recommends asking social media followers for reviews in her book, Twitter for Writers, by tweeting that your book is available for review. She asks every eight weeks, with a post like this:
“Would anyone like one of my ebooks for free for posting a review at Amazon?”
Hall likes these reviews, as she finds they are honest reviews from people who are interested in her and her books, and she reports that most people who request a review copy via Twitter do follow up with a review. Note that she is staunchly against automated DM tweets, such as those some people use for new followers: “Thanks for following! Please download a free review copy of my book here: xxx.com”.
I’d add one proviso: don’t ask for reviews on your regular Facebook page, as your objective is obtaining reviews from people you don’t know in real life, not an Amazon page full of “friends and family” reviews.
Next week we will look at how to ask for reviews. Meanwhile, do you have any questions? Have you ever asked for reviews?
By Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.