Book Reviews: An overlooked path to Author Success

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Imagine this scenario: You’re browsing through Goodreads, looking for a book to keep you entertained this weekend. You’re in the lists, under the Sci-Fi tags, checking out Best Steampunk Books. You could just go with the top of the list, but there are those star ratings. A 3-star book at the top of the list? No thanks. I’ll scroll down to number 17, with 4.5-stars thank you very much.

Why? Because user ratings matter. A lot. Amazon, the shopping behemoth, is basically just a shipping subscription service and product review site. Think about it. How do you decide between a stupendous number of products to fill any given need? Reviews.

A World Connected

Modern shoppers make their decisions largely based on reviews and recommendations. We’ve always relied heavily on the recommendations of others to inform our buying decisions—that aspect of our consumer activity hasn’t changed.

But according to Invesp’s 2015 research, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (see the full infographic).

Let that sink in. We overwhelmingly accept anonymous online reviews with the same weight we accept the recommendation of someone we personally know. That’s a staggering amount of faith to have in a stranger. But the fact remains; we’ll open our wallets based on the advice of unknown consumers like us.

Books are no different

Readers treat books the same way they do any other product. When we don’t know precisely what we want, we rely on reviews.

The more reviews your book has (and the more positive those reviews are), the better a chance it will be picked up by someone who knows nothing about you or your book.

That is just a fact. The chance may not be huge, but it is an improvement. And the better the reviews, the more useful they become. If you’ve got a highly-reviewed book in a niche genre, other readers in that genre want to find your book. Right?

I certainly am no different. I’ve discovered amazing books by browsing a genre I like and pausing on books with numerous 5-star reviews. This is just the way we shop. So why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of the same system?

Types of Reviews

Before we get into how to get reviews for your book, let’s step back just a little and look at what a review entails.
Basically, you can think of there being two types of book review: a reader review and a reviewer review.

Reader reviews are going to be your most common kind of review. You’ll be asking for these reviews from your friends, family, and beta-readers. We’ll circle back around to the reader review in a moment.

But first, let’s take a second to talk about reviewer reviews. You might hear them referred to as trade reviews too. These are reviews you’ll pay an established organization to provide for you.

The most widely known example of a trade reviewer is Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus is a long-standing and well-established organization specializing in providing content reviews. Their lowest level package runs about $425 for a single book review.

Kirkus advertises their service as both a marketing tool for getting the attention of readers and as a tool for attracting potential agents or publishers. It can also help with the crafting of your book. Getting a dismal review from Kirkus should indicate a major issue with the manuscript that can then be addressed before going any further with the publishing process.

They’ll also publish the review on their site. So, for $425 you’ll have a professional review from a very recognized service you can add to your cover or use in your marketing.

I’m not going to make a statement about the value of spending that money on a review. In general, I think most self-published authors won’t realize the full value they invest in a paid review. But for some it will be a boon, helping push their book into the hands of more new readers.

In general, though, self-published authors are better served focusing on their reader reviews.

Acquiring Reader Reviews

Now we’re going to get into the tricky part.

Let’s accept the data out there indicating that reviews are influential to consumers for all sorts of goods and that numerous positive reviews have an even greater impact.

So how do you get those reviews?

You have to ask for them.

Much like the examination of Budgeting, you need to start by setting reasonable and attainable goals. Remember that the long-term goal of a book review is to draw in new readers without you (the author) having to commit time or money to marketing efforts.

So, to get your book off the ground with some reviews, you’ll need to look to the folks you know and ask them to help. Let’s consider a scenario:

You’re four months from your book’s release date. You’ve got 100 people on your mailing list—this includes your friends, family, and beta-readers. You assume 50 of those 100 people will buy a copy on release. What if you reached out to a few of these people (either those you’re relatively sure will buy the book or otherwise) and offered them a free copy of the book if they were willing to provide a review?

If I know an author, either personally or because I’ve opted to join their mailing list, and they reach out to me offering a free advance copy if I review it, I’ll jump on that offer.

Giving away a few copies to your dedicated followers and friends is a great way to kick-start your book. But you want to avoid having just people you know reviewing your work. That can lead an appearance of inflating your reviews with “friendly” readings of your book.

Fortunately, Goodreads and other reading community sites make it easy to connect with readers. I’ll stick with Goodreads as an example because so many know about this site already, but they are hardly the only author and reader community on the web.

A quick look over at Goodreads Community pages, you’ll find dozens of groups from genre-specific ones to publishing and writing focused groups.

What it amounts to is that you need to use these online tools to expand your network so that you can solicit reviews from outside your existing circle. You can even use these networking tools to incentivize new readers without specifically soliciting a review. Consider doing a giveaway on Goodreads or Facebook. If you give ten copies of your book away for free and even only two of those readers leave a review, you’ve bought two reviews for an incredibly low price!

On top of that, you’ve expanded your network. This means even more readers and potential reviewers for your subsequent books. Each connection you make accumulates to make your future releases more successful.
The last idea I found from this article on Entrepreneur – add a page at the end of your book asking for a review! It’s deceptively simple and I can’t I personally know any authors who have done this successfully. But it’s a great idea. If someone got to the end of your book and enjoyed it, I can see how a gentle prompt to leave a review might be just the thing to inspire them.

Using Reviews

Reviews are one of the most important and efficient means of expanding awareness for your book. The reviewer can easily be incentivized to leave a review, the effort to do so is low, and as countless studies show, amassing reviews is almost a necessity for acquiring new buyers.

You’ll want to be sure to post the best reviews of your book on your website and social media. You can also use them on your cover—I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of traditionally published books featuring reviews on the cover. I would caution that putting the reviews on the book is less potent for a self-published author. The reader actually has to buy the book before they can really see those reviews, and at that point, it’s not convincing them of anything because they’ve already made their purchase.

Online reviews are the key and featuring them in your own advertising and social media is the route you’ll probably want to take. Then you’ll let those reviews do the work for you, giving a potential reader the final push they need to just buy your book.

17 thoughts on “Book Reviews: An overlooked path to Author Success”

  1. I don’t agree with paying for reviews at all. A review should have the look of objectivity. I receive books to consider reviewing. If they are in my areas of interest and expertise I try to find a way to place reviews or comments. The simplest thing is to offer reviewers a pdf attachment in advance of release. Happy New Year all. Nancy Shiffrin

    1. I completely agree. Feedback of any kind should never hv a price tag. Verbal judgements are not encouraged when there are imposed fees attached. What’s next.. varying prices for varying levels of opinions?

    2. Hi Nancy,
      I agree too. Getting honest opinions from interested readers is always the best way to go.
      But paid reviewers exist in the market, and it’s vital that authors know that.
      There is weight to a statement made by a reviewer with a reputation like Kirkus. Essentially that is what an author is paying for. Still, as I mentioned in the post, I would encourage self-published authors to look for reviews elsewhere.
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I review in the area of poetry, culture, fiction, literary non-fiction, women’s issues, Judaica. Right now I don’t have a regular outlet, so I can’t guarantee reviews. I do offer comments and blurbs. I do not charge for this.

    1. Nancy I have a book that is very poetic written by my grandpa about LSD he wrote while he was a professor at the University of Utah he has 3 phds 2 masters let me know Prints in 3-5 business days
      Eugene Seaich’s LSD Experience is a gem of a book which is short enough to be read in a day and with enough substance to feed the reader’s head and soul for a lifetime. Written over 50 years ago, this little known work is now seeing the light of day and has all the attributes of becoming a classic of psychedelic literature. Connecting with eloquent style and sensitivity the portals of psychology, philosophy, cultural anthropology and spirituality, Seaich discusses and brings closer to our access an awareness of a “far-off land” whose essence is both dream and primal human identity. Poets and religions only offer a small glimpse of such a place while our psyche thirsts for its often forgotten nurturance. We are fortunate that Eugene’s grandson Eric Hendrickson has surfaced the FAR-OFF LAND and I invite everyone interested in understanding a higher calling to reflect on the text which also can be of expansive help in navigating to those ports of our long lost

    2. Hi Nancy,
      Glad to see there’s a real live reviewer with an interest in poetry. My book, “HUMANS and other ANIMALS” is available on Facebook.com and came of the presses in October 2017. It’s availabe in Ebook and paperback.
      What’s the best way to bring it to your attention and ask you to consider reviewing it?
      Paul Edward Gainor

  3. Nancy
    How would I go about getting a review from you? I’ve gotten several for my debut novel, American River: Tributaries that was released in June 2017. The second book in the American River trilogy is due out in April. I’m really eager to get more reviews for book one and advance reviews for book two. Advice?

  4. Are you able to clarify the Amazon rules for reviews. I am a self published author and have friends who read my books and I read theirs. Some of them I am following on Facebook but recently their reviews have been removed from my book – I have heard this is because Amazon somehow knows they are Facebook friends and so have decided the reviews are not allowed. How does this work and how can I get round that some friends read the book and leave reviews that Amazon removes. SO FRUSTRATING when you know the review id genuine.

    1. Hi Izzy,
      That’s not something I was aware of Amazon doing.
      Unfortunately, they don’t like to share their policies on these kinds of things freely. I would send them a support ticket and ask, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t provide a clear or helpful answer.

    2. As I know, Amazon delete reviews from reviewers who doesnt buy books through Amazon Kindle and get them for free not using Amazon Kindle as well, through author’s male or by other method.

  5. Thanks for the article Paul.
    I have been working on that very thing lately. I was successful in collecting some reviews by putting out personal email invitations to my blog subscribers. You’re right, they need to be asked. I don’t thing it donned on them until they got an invitation.
    Keep these informational articles coming. They are so valuable to us newby, self-published authors.
    Thankful,
    Syd Murray

  6. Sorry but I dont support your point of view.
    Only naive people think that bestseller writers get reviews for free, specially 1000 reviews. Wake up! No one will leave review for free if he doesnt know a book from huge promotion that was made by TV, internet and etc wher agency paid a lot of money. Ask anyone on FB, but only honest people will reply that they wont leave review because they are busy or just lazy to do it. This is a human nature. And you cannot do anything about it.
    People hire a promotion company who gather reviews for books positive and negative. This is simple like 2×2=4
    Stop to believe in a myth that writers get free reviews just because their books are good. I talked with authors who said that this is impossible to get 100 reviews for free. This is reality and I do believe.

    1. Hi Dina,
      I wouldn’t start out aiming for 1000 or even 100 reviews. If you’re publishing your first book, try to get 10-12 reviews as quickly as you can. Those initial reviews will encourage new readers and more reviews will trickle in.
      I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that people won’t review due to being busy or lazy. In fact, one thing the Internet has done for consumers is driving us to be even more focused on reviewing products and services. Entire services like Yelp exist strictly to provide consumers means of reviewing. Goodreads and other author/reader communities is another example.

  7. Thank you for this helpful information.
    I am also self published and would like to find out if it is wise to get Bookshops to distribute ones book and how does one go about it?

  8. Pingback: Standing out from the Crowd: Discoverability | Lulu UK Blog

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