When you hop onto Amazon and see a book (or any product) with a lot of reviews, how do you think they got there?
Most people assume that the book is popular – if a lot of people are reading it and enjoying it, they must be leaving reviews. Right?
In fact, most of the time this isn’t the case. Most of the time, authors who wait for reviews to trickle in don’t see many results. I should know – even before my recent relaunch with Morgan James Publishing, there were over 1,000 copies of Book Blueprint in circulation, and hardly any of those sales and giveaways led to reviews.
(Having said this, if you’ve read Book Blueprint and it helped with your writing journey, I’d love it if you left a review on Amazon.)
Yet I still managed to relaunch with 28 reviews.
I asked for them.
In most cases, when a book has more than a handful of reviews, those reviews have been solicited.
Is soliciting reviews ethical?
One of the most frequent questions I get when it comes to soliciting book reviews is, is it ethical? Is it ethical to ask people to leave a review for your book?
If you’re approaching friends and family who haven’t even read your book (or random people on the street who also haven’t read your book) and are asking them to leave a vague comment with a 5-star rating, then yes, I believe that is unethical.
However, if you are asking people to read your book and then share an honest review, then that is ethical. You can even request that they mention that you they received a free copy of your book in the review itself.
The key here is asking for honest reviews. When I reached out to my reviewers, I made this very clear, and was open to negative reviews, if they were their honest thoughts. Fortunately, if you have written the best manuscript you can, and have engaged an awesome team to turn it into the best possible book it can be, this shouldn’t be an issue. Even if there are one or two people who don’t ‘get’ you or your content, the good reviews will balance them out.
It's also important to note that the free copy cannot be dependent upon the recipient leaving a review, which is also strictly against Amazon policies. Rather, provide the free copy first, make the request, and trust that many will in fact leave a review.
Is it worth it?
I can hear what you’re thinking – it seems like an awful lot of work, doesn’t it?
Yes, it is a lot of work. In fact, of all of the people you approach for reviews, less than a quarter will actually leave them. So is it worth the time you’ll spend crafting emails and social media posts, or submitting your book to review sites?
My thoughts? Absolutely. Soliciting reviews is worth it, for three reasons:
1. Reviews establish your book’s credibility
When we’re looking for products, choosing between restaurants, searching for a hotel room and even shopping for books, we all look at reviews and ratings.
A product that has a lot of positive reviews and an average rating of 4-5 stars looks like a better deal. It looks like it will deliver on its promises. In the case of a nonfiction, how-to book, it looks like it actually teaches readers what it says it will teach them.
This is especially true if we’re comparing two similar products – if one product has dozens, or hundreds, of 5-star reviews and in-depth feedback, while another has no reviews (or worse, an average rating of only 1-3 stars), which would you choose?
2. Reviews are another weapon in your book’s marketing arsenal
One of the most challenging pieces of marketing anything is trying to think of new things to say.
You’ve shared a behind-the-scenes look at your publishing journey. You’ve shared all of the benefits your book can offer. You’ve even shared excerpts of content to entice people to buy. Once you’ve done all of that, what else is there?
Reviews give you a reason to continue talking about your book. Every time a good review comes in, you have something to share on social media and with your email list. And if you’ve built a genuine relationship with your followers, they will be genuinely excited on your behalf, which leads to likes and favourites, comments, and clicks through to your book’s listing on Amazon.
This brings me to the third benefit of soliciting reviews…
3. Reviews help drive traffic to your Amazon listing
When you share your good reviews on social media or with your email list, not only does it remind your followers that your book exists – it reminds them to visit its Amazon listing.
On top of this, some reviewers have other channels where they publish their reviews – on their own blogs, on Goodreads, on review sites where they are members – all of which helps your book get in front of more people.
Finally, there are a number of book advertising sites out there where you can promote your book if you’re running a special discount (some examples include BookBub, Kindle Nation Daily, and The Fussy Librarian), and some of these sites require a minimum number of reviews before they accept books. Once you break through that threshold, these new marketing opportunities become available to you.
How do you do it? 3 tactics to launch your book with 20+ reviews
So how do you do it?
There are several roads to reviews. Here are the three that I’ve found to be the most effective.
1. Ask your beta readers
If you have time, a great way to ensure you write the best book you can is to enlist a team of beta readers in the publishing process. Beta readers are simply trial readers who read your book before it is published to give you feedback on how you can improve your book. If they like it, why not ask for a review at the same time?
Here’s how you do it:
a) Find your beta readers
Because you want people who can give meaningful feedback, your mum probably isn’t the best choice. Instead, look for other people in your industry (who can give feedback on the veracity of your content) or people who meet your target reader demographic (who can give feedback on how engaging and useful they found the book).
You can make a shortlist of specific people, or reach out to communities (such as Facebook groups targeting certain demographics) asking for volunteers. I targeted a business Facebook group where a lot of the members want to write a book.
b) Make your pitch
Like when you’re making any pitch, you want to focus on the benefits for the person you’re approaching. In my case, the benefits were a) learning how to write an awesome book, and b) get their testimonial featured in my book, along with their name and business name. Here’s the pitch:
I’m looking for volunteers!
My book ‘Book Blueprint: How any entrepreneur can write an awesome book’ teaches entrepreneurs how to create a blueprint so detailed that their book will write itself. While I’ve done this work with clients and used the process to write my own book, I’m looking for someone who can test the process in book form.
What’s in it for you – if you’ve been struggling to get your book out, this will teach you how to write it fast while avoiding the big mistakes many entrepreneurs make when writing their first book. You’ll also get a signed copy of the book once it comes out and, if you’d like to write a testimonial, that testimonial along with your business name and book (if you already have one) will be featured inside the front cover.
Caveat – I’m on a very tight publishing deadline, so need feedback in the next week (i.e. by next Tuesday). Because of this, please don’t volunteer unless you can read a 37,000 word book and do the exercises (these include mind mapping, brainstorming and answering questions) in the next week.
Thanks in advance :)
The results? I had 37 people volunteer to read the book (though I stopped taking on volunteers at 20). I sent out the book to the first 20 of them and ended up with 13 testimonials I could use before the one-week deadline was up.
When it comes to timing, I recommend sending the draft to beta readers after you’ve had an initial structural edit, as sometimes this can lead to significant changes in your book, making it hard for them to give good feedback on earlier drafts.
It’s also important to be clear about when you need them to come back to you with their feedback. If you have a tight publishing schedule, you don’t want it to get put on hold because they don’t have time to look at your book. Instead, be clear about your deadlines up front and only send your draft to people who agree to have feedback back to you in time.
c) Get their feedback
Review their feedback, and look at how you can address it in your book (if you want to, of course). If their feedback is positive, ask if they’d be willing to leave a review on Amazon once your book is published – they could just copy and paste what they’ve already sent you.
d) Remind them to leave the review
If they are happy to leave the review, copy and paste their feedback somewhere safe. Once your book is live on Amazon, send them an email (or Facebook message) asking if they’re still happy to leave a review, including the text that they’ve already sent you. Most of us are busy with a lot of our own things going on, so it’s your job to make it as easy as possible for them to leave you a good review if they can just copy and paste what they’ve already written.
2. Reach out to reviewers on Amazon
Beta readers are fantastic, but if you don’t have time to engage beta readers in your publishing journey (or if they don’t get around to leaving a review – remember, people are busy), where else should you look?
Amazon has over 300 million users, who have collectively left hundreds of millions of reviews for books and other products. When it comes to those reviews, other shoppers can vote on whether or not they found the review helpful, which then contributes to the ranking of the reviewer themselves on Amazon.
If you look at Amazon’s top reviewers, you’ll find that not only have they reviewed a lot of products (often in the thousands), but their reviews tend to be balanced and go into a lot of depth, which is why they have so many ‘helpful’ votes.
Why should this matter to you?
Because Amazon gives you free access to reviewers who not only have the ability to read your book and provide a review quickly, but who will put a lot of thought and energy into your review to ensure it is of value. This makes the review more helpful for your potential readers and (in the case of positive reviews) a more powerful endorsement for your book.
But how do you do it?
a) Find relevant reviewers
I’ve found the best way to find reviewers is to find people who have already reviewed books like yours. After all, this demonstrates that they have an interest in your subject area, which means they are more likely to read and review your book.
This is how you find them:
- 1Search on Amazon for books like yours. In other words, you want to find other books in your genre that are targeting a similar audience. In my case, I looked for other books on writing, self-publishing and book marketing that were targeted at an entrepreneur audience, such as Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl and Published by Chandler Bolt.
- 2Make a list of people who have reviewed that book. Because time is precious and I want the best return on the time I invest, I restricted my approach to:
Keep in mind that not everyone will respond, not everyone will agree to review your book, and some of those who do agree might not get around to it, so I’d aim for at least 50 names on your list. You can also compile a new list in a few months’ time, when more books like yours have been released, and when more reviews have been added to the old ones.
- 3Compile their information in a spreadsheet. I created a spreadsheet with columns for the reviewer’s name, the book they reviewed, a link to their profile and their contact details. (Note: If you come up with the initial list of books, a VA can be a great help when it comes to building the list of reviewers and tracking down all of their information.)
b) Make your pitch
Next pitch them! Ideally via email, using the contact details you’ve sourced (though I’ve also approached reviewers over Facebook Messenger and via contact forms).
Here’s a template you can use for your own pitch:
Dear [Reviewer Name],
I saw your review of [Book Title] on Amazon and, when I clicked through to your profile, I noticed that you’ve reviewed a number of other books like this in the past.
[Explain why you like this person’s reviewing style. Is it that they go into depth? Is it their honest criticism and feedback? Is it that they summarise the main learnings of the books they review?] Because of this, I wanted to reach out about my book.
[Tell them about your book, including the title with a link to its Amazon page, as well as what it will help your readers achieve.] I’m happy to send you a free copy of the paperback and/or a PDF and would love it if you could share your thoughts.
I understand you probably get a lot of requests like this, so if you could let me know either way, I’d appreciate it.
c) Follow up
Again, people are busy, so if you don’t hear from someone after a week, don’t stress. Instead, follow up to confirm that they got your email and to check whether they’d be interested in reviewing a free copy of your book.
If they agree to review your book, then be patient. These reviewers are reading and reviewing your book as a favour to you – someone they probably don’t even know – so be patient. If you haven’t heard anything in 4-6 weeks (allowing time for postage), follow up again.
3. Submit your book to review sites (paid and free)
There are also a range of book review sites where you can submit your book, some of which will republish their review on Amazon. For those that don’t, you can republish the review yourself as an editorial review through your Amazon Author Central account.
The submission process can vary depending on the site (or publication), with some being paid while others are free; some requiring physical copies while others are happy with a PDF, Word doc, .mobi or .epub file; and some being guaranteed listings while with others you just send your book out into the ether and hope for the best.
However, here are some common steps involved.
a) Online submissions
- 1Compile a list of review sites: There are a lot of these sites out there, so vet them based on the types of books they cover (do they cover other books like yours?) and the size of their audience. Let me know in the comments if you’d like a list of the different sites where you can submit your book!
- 2Gather information about your book: Most review sites require a standard suite of information – if you have all of this ready to go, you can easily submit to a range of sites in a single sitting (or ask a VA to take care of it for you). This information includes:
- 3Submit! Once you have all of the information together, gather it into a Word or Excel file and simply copy and paste the information into your submission forms. Note that many of these sites have a lot of traffic, so it might take a few months before your review goes live.
b) Paperback submissions
As mentioned earlier, some reviewers prefer paperback submissions to eBook ones. Some of these review publications and websites include the Barnes and Noble Review, Booklist Online, BookPage and Foreword Reviews.
Unlike online submissions, where you’ll receive a submission confirmation by email and will be alerted when your review is live, paperback submissions are much harder to track – you probably won’t get told if your book arrives, if it will get reviewed or if it has been reviewed. However, the only cost to you is a copy of your book and the cost of postage, so why not?
The steps are:
- 1Compile a list of reviewers and review sites: Again, let me know in the comments if you’d like a list of the different sites where you can submit your book!
- 2Write a cover letter to go with your book: Most review sites require a standard suite of information, which they will list on their website. You can then write a standard cover letter and add, remove, information as is necessary. Here’s a sample cover letter you can use:
Dear [Contact Name],
Please find enclosed a copy of my book, [Book title], for review consideration in [Publication].
The details of the book are:
– ISBN: [If your book is available in multiple formats, include all ISBNs]
– Publication date:
– Publisher: [If applicable]
- 3Submit! Post a copy of your book and cover letter to them. Note that many of these reviewers require books 2-4 before their publication date, so you’ll need to be looking into this well in advance of your date of publication.
And there you have it – three simple ways to collect reviews for your book, even before you launch.