Fact: Reviews are essential to your book's success. Fact: Getting them is a challenge (as our members have often shared). We have tackled this topic before in a series that explored ways to obtain both reader reviews and professional reviews. (Catch up on Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3, if you missed them.)
Professional reviewers often work for large publications or companies (like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews) but many others write for independent websites, such as those covered in an an earlier BookWorks post.
Today, we'll focus on the other set of reviewers who are at least as critical to your book marketing: The individuals who submit reviews to places like Amazon.com and Goodreads. The more reader reviews posted for your book at online retailers, the more confidence buyers have in your book, and the more prominence you receive overall. But these reviews don’t simply appear because your book is published. Amazon disapproves of authors bringing in friends and relatives, or of paying for customer reviews. (It will allow reviews from people who receive a review copy of the book, however, as long as that is noted in the review.) As Penny Sansevieri wrote here last year, Amazon has become more aggressive about yanking reader reviews it deems dodgy.
Finding Independent Reviewers
So how can you get those precious reader reviews? The answer is to obtain, and then curate, a data dump: Find or create a list of people who review books, isolate those likely to be interested specifically in your book, and then get in front of them. You can either hire this out, or do it yourself.
The biggest commercial name in the field of finding reviewers is NetGalley, a division of Firebrand Technologies, and whose slogan is “Feed Your Readers”. Started in 2008, NetGalley found a niche in distributing to reviewers and to many libraries digital copies of books not yet released. Big 5 publishers including Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster use them, but so do many indie publishers.
NetGalley's services are not cheap. Its basic plan, called Marketing-Plus-Title-Listing (including some marketing services in addition to reviewer outreach), has a standard price of $599. There are lower-cost options and membership in some organizations can bring discounts, but NetGalley should be considered a higher-end venue which in some ways works more efficiently with larger publishers.
Pay attention to this quote from their website: “We cannot guarantee any reviews or requests for your title, since the NetGalley service primarily provides a platform for publishers/authors to connect with professional readers.” That’s true of all such services.
A newer and highly popular option, sought out by many indies, is Hungry Author, founded by novelist Rebecca Hamilton.
Its review service (HA offers others as well) is relatively inexpensive, at $25, it will get your book in front of “a team of reviewers who will read your book and post honest reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. Generally, you can expect 5-20 reviews, though some titles have garnered as much as 30-50 reviews.”
In January, a writer speaking for HA (but using a pseudonym) said on Kboards, a forum for authors, “my review list started with my personal arc [advance review copy] readers, and of course my arc readers are people who love books! They read to escape, not to critique, and they do have a positive review attitude. But that does not mean their reviews aren't honest. We have seen 3 star reviews from my team as well, but as we ask that since they are getting these books for free (and therefore opening themselves up to books they normally wouldn't read) that they only review the books they finish. This allows them to be honest without putting the author at risk for the kind of reviews common with freebie downloads.”
Author and book consultant Bryan Cohen said in August, in a podcast report on his own experience launching a novel, that he used HungryAuthor successfully and was pleased with the reviews he received. HA has become popular enough that it is now booked months in advance. Its website cautioned, “Some books may be passed over if they do not meet our quality standards for editing, design, and formatting. Please submit your best product.”
Specialized Book Razor
A third operation, aimed even more specifically at reaching reviewers, is Book Razor: “You write ... we look for potential reviewers”, they say.
They provide a list of carefully-chosen reviewers: “You want to email as few people as possible while getting as many reviews as possible. That’s why we only browse through the reviews of similar books you provide to us, and not through the entire genre and/or related genres. While it limits the number of potential reviewers we can find, we've found it greatly increases the response and review rate.” They charge about $30 for 50 potential reviewers, with increasing rates topping at $250 for 500.
How well does it work? Author Kevin Kruze reported last year that, “For my newest book I tried out Martin Meadows’ BookRazor.com service. Basically, this is a service where they’ll research the names and email addresses of people who left Amazon book reviews on books that are similar to yours. Then it’s up to you to reach out via email to see if these active reviewers would be interested in reviewing your book.”
However, Book Razor like other services is explicit in saying they cannot guarantee a specific number of reviewers, or eventual reviews.
DIY Reader Reviews
You could do the same thing these services do, with less financial expense. It’s time- and labor-intensive, but the process will be more fully in your control if you do it that way, and you will learn a lot about your book’s market.
Look for books on Amazon that are similar to yours, in subject and approach and then scroll down to the customer reviews. (If the book has none or very few, move on to another book.)
Scan the first review. Does this sound like someone who would like your book? If so, click on the reviewer’s name. If you can easily spot an email address for that person, put the name and address on a list. (If you can’t, bypass this reviewer.) Then move on to the next reviewer, and then the next most-similar book.
How many reviewers you collect this way is up to you; remember however that only a fraction are likely to produce an actual review. Focus on those providing what look like proper names (as opposed to “Amazon reviewer” or “anonymous”). Similarly, select those with higher reviewer ranks, preferably within the top 100,000, because they’re more likely to generate a review. (The overall number of Amazon reviewers runs into the millions.) When you have your list, send each person on it a note reminding them of their interest in the book they reviewed, along with the details about your new and similar book, and the offer to send them a for-review eBook copy. Then see what happens.
You may also get some reviews through book giveaway programs, free book download events and other activities. But approaching people accustomed to reviewing books online, is the best way to get the solid, well-crafted reader reviews you need.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.
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