Getting Book Reviews: A Self-Publishers Toolkit

What is the most important item in a self-publisher’s Must Have list?

After duly following all the expert advice, after spending years honing my writing skills and increasing my authorial toolkit, after successfully starting a blog and setting up and running Amazon Marketing Services Ad Campaigns, and after doing all that a self-publishing author is expected to do, I have discovered the one (1) thing that is absolutely essential. This is the one thing without which all your other hard work and education and improvements will be (for the most part) ignored.

This 1 thing is Reviews.

Reviews. Reviews. Reviews.

Preferably positive reviews.

Even with a fantastically written novel being marketed through social media and promoted with a bang-up AMS ad campaign, if you don’t have reviews to start, your book will not be bought up as much as it could be. Its e-book earning potential may be up there with Amanda Hocking’s Trylle Series, but if you don’t publish it with several four and five star reviews and a testimonial or two, then it might never reach its potential.

It could forever remain just another golden hag.

HOW TO FIND REVIEWS

So what’s a writer to do? There are many ways to buttress your work with reviews. The first and most obvious way is to solicit your alpha and beta readers.

Family and friends are often the simplest path to reviewed publication. Most people have family and friends who support their writing, enthusiastic readers who’ll gladly take a few minutes to drop a review at no cost. (Herein lies my problem: My friends are not readers and of the few members of my family who are, most do not read fiction and so do not understand what it is I write, and of those few who do read my fictional works, they share the same surname, and thus are not allowed to write reviews, according to the self-publishing powers that be).

Be careful how you approach your reader friends and family, though. You don’t want to make yourself wearisome to them by constantly asking for favors. Their reading your work is already a boost to you.

When preparing to post reviews from family on Amazon, you’ll need to be cautious; Amazon is finicky when it comes to reviewers, so here are a few tips on how not to get called out by the bigwig digital police at Amazon.

  • Don’t bother trying to post reviews from relatives with the same surname as yourself (even if you use a penname, Amazon algorithms will know by your sign-in info
  • If you have any digital connection to or internet history with the reviewer, Amazon will know and delete the review
  • Don’t ever pay for reviews (so long Kirkus; you’re way too expensive anyhow)
  • If Amazon ‘detects’ that some reviewer was paid or compensated in any way other than an exchange for a free copy of the book, Amazon will delete the review
  • According to Amazon Customer Review Guidelines, no one is allowed to provide biased reviews

Wait a second, hold the phone; no one is allowed to provide biased reviews? Aren’t reviews biased by their very nature? I mean, I know we live in an age where you’re not allowed to be biased except against Christians and the American president, but to review a book you must share your personal take on it. Personal means individual, unique, inclined by personal experience and opinion and taste.

Well, regardless, these are Amazon’s Laws . . . er, I mean guidelines, and what can you do? Protest? March? Not My Amazon!

It’s fine. We writers are nothing if not clever and dogged. We have a goal, and we will reach it, we will achieve our dreams, yes?

If your family and friends don’t or cannot come through with reviews, you’ll need to:

  • Work up interest for your book on social media, and writing communities like Goodreads
  • Ask politely for honest reviews at the end of your e-book
  • Cold-contact well-known authorities in the field of your work (especially for non-fiction), or fellow writers in your books’ genre and ask for an editorial review. Most will ignore you. But if just one agrees to take a look and sends along a positive blurb praising your work, that’ll do wonders for you
  • On book blogging site, sffer your book for free in exchange for an honest review

Kindlepreneur wrote a post on finding reviewers without having a blog, an email list, or using family or friends. Be warned: this technique—even with his software program—is time-consuming and inefficient, with no guarantees.

Here is a fascinating post on Amazon’s creepy review policy. Big Brother, anyone?

At the end of the day, it cannot be denied that reviews are vital to your sales numbers. How often do you buy things on Amazon without looking at the reviews first? Do you ever buy anything that is promoted without reviews?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

However, there are those who may claim that book reviews ‘ain’t all that and a bag of potato chips’ and that you can make plenty of sales without reviews. Now, my non-fiction has received some reviews, and despite a dearth of reviews for most of my fiction, I’ve certainly made sales, but if I want to make a career out of this thing, at some point I’ll need to get me some reviews.

If you believe in your work, as I do mine, then do yourself a favor and hit those communities and groups, online and off. Ply your wares. Push yourself out of your comfort zone—or rather, expand your comfort zone. Self-publishers must be entrepreneurs and marketers as well as writers. You’re probably more sociable than I am, better equipped to promote your work. Your stories deserve to be read. You deserve to earn from your hard work. You’ve done the writing, now go out there and get the reviews!