Getting Reviews

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigDyeing Shame Reviews

I’ve noticed that my books with the highest number of reviews usually tend to be my top sellers.  Not always (there are a couple of Penguin books with a couple of dozen reviews that still tend to sell well), but most of the time.

I’m not sure how it works—it’s either because Amazon’s algorithm favors books with more reviews (they show up near the top in searches or in the “customers who bought this also bought” section) or because readers think “oh, everyone is reading this” and they jump on the bandwagon too.

Whatever the reason, sales do tend to follow reviews.

I’ve been asked, in the last couple of interviews I’ve done for bloggers, how I’ve gotten reviews for my books.

The only thing I’ve done with my self-pubbed books to garner reviews is to run sales.  I didn’t advertise the sales in any way…not on my blog, newsletter, Twitter, Facebook…nothing.  I just ran them.  The free promos tend to garner more reviews than the $.99 promos.

Pros with this approach are that your book finds its way into the hands of new readers.  Many of these readers tend to write reviews (expect them usually a month or so following the sale).  It’s free, unless you’re counting the cost of the lost sales (I like to think of that loss as a form of unofficial advertising). I put books out for free by making them free on Smashwords and then Amazon price matches.

The only con with this is that you sometimes hook readers who don’t read your genre and, perhaps, don’t even like your genre. They will sometimes write reviews too.   I think that most readers are savvy enough to realize that these types of reviewers simply don’t care for those types of books.

In the past, I’ve more actively courted reviews for my Penguin books.  Oddly, however, they have a very low number of reviews compared to most of my self-pubbed books…I’m convinced this is due to pricing and volume of readers.  I’ve contacted Amazon’s top reviewers for my genre (see this article by Laura Pepper Wu for Joanna Penn for tips with how to do so), I’ve connected with book bloggers who review my genre, and I’ve signed up for Goodreads giveaways to give free copies of either ARCs (advance reader copies) or finished copies of my books. The idea was to try to get some reviews out there soon after the release to jumpstart sales.

The Amazon top reviewer approach was time-consuming.  But if you are eager to try something new and need to move some books, it’s definitely worthwhile to check into.  These are not guaranteed good reviews, obviously.  I’ve found, though, that it honestly doesn’t appear to matter if I have bad reviews…it seems to be the number of reviews. And, no, I’m not sure what to make of that.

Goodreads worked well.  You can’t really count on a review, but the chances are that you will receive a review (good or bad) if you give away at least a few books.  It definitely also helps to increase awareness of our books on a site that’s popular with readers.

Have you actively courted reviewers for your books?  How have you done it?

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43 thoughts on “Getting Reviews

  1. Hi Elizabeth!

    Thanks for this post. I definitely can use help getting reviews for my books. I tried the Amazon top reviewers – which is INCREDIBLY time-consuming – but didn’t get any responses from that attempt. I’ve had some better luck with Facebook groups such as cozy mystery readers and honest indie reviews, but just a few from those. Ditto Goodreads. I haven’t tried making it free. I don’t know why, but free scares me. How long would you run a book for free? How long does it take Amazon to see that it’s free somewhere else, and how do you get them to restore the price after you’ve changed it back on Smashwords?

    You’ve given me a lot to think about, Elizabeth – thanks again! :)

    1. Hi Kathy! I’m with you….not sure the time involved in the top reviewers was worth it. And I’m not crazy about Goodreads, although I’ve had good results there. It really is the sales that worked best.

      Free is scary because you don’t have control over it. You can’t go into your KDP dashboard and change it. *My* experience has been that Amazon’s bots notice (sometimes within 12 hours…I’ve never had to “report” a lower price elsewhere to them) and respond to the free books on Kobo, Apple, etc through Smashwords and that they quickly remove a free listing when it’s removed from Smashwords (usually within 48 hours). But others haven’t had that experience. It does seem to be the most helpful way of getting reviews, though, that I have seen.

      For anyone who wants complete control over when a sale starts and stops, $.99 is also good.

      Kathy, I’m embarrassed to admit that I usually *forget* my books are on sale. I have to put a reminder on my calendar about it. I do usually always have one book free or $.99, but I have a good number of books out there and can afford to have one making nothing. I like to shift the freebie around, since my books don’t have to be read in order–most writers with continuing story arcs like to only keep the first book in the series free or cheap.

      So, tips from me here would be:
      Consider whether you have enough books for a free or .99 sale…that will also help you determine the length the sale should be.
      Choose a special weekend as a sale/free experiment (maybe Thanksgiving weekend since all those Black Friday sales will be going on)
      If you have a good newsletter list and this is a first freebie, maybe consider sending a newsletter about the sale, for this first instance
      Set yourself a reminder to remove the .99 listing or the free price on Smashwords
      Know that reviews may trickle in a month later and they may be mixed
      If it works, consider juggling the free/cheap title around to other titles (particularly if you don’t have a continuing story arc series).

  2. I’ve put out calls to people on social media and forums, offering free copies in exchange for reviews. I actually have a standing offer; anyone who doesn’t feel they can afford my books, and can’t get them in a library, who might otherwise try to pirate them, can get a free copy if they write a review after reading it.

    What I’ve found is a steady drop-off in reviews as I’ve gone on. My first book, Locked Within has just under 30 reviews, most of which I got in the latter half of the year following the book’s release. But I still got close to half a dozen Amazon reviews from review copies I’d sent out, and still more on blogs.

    For my second, Silent Oath, I only got 2 Amazon reviews from the 6 advance copies I sent out, and a trickle over the next year, which brought me up to 10.

    With Memory War, I got only one review from the review copies I sent out. Since then, I’ve had only one more, and it was a one-line comment.

    And, I should mention, most of the people I sent copies to are people I’ve known for a while, either fellow authors and bloggers, or friends of mine. There seems to come a time where the novelty of what you do wears off, and a free book just doesn’t spur the same excitement in your friends.

    Now, almost all of my reviews are excellent (except for one who simply didn’t like urban fantasy, and another who read the second book without reading the first), but sending out copies of books is definitely a gamble. And when it’s physical copies your reviewer wants, it can end up costing more than just a lost sale. There’ve been a few times I’ve mailed books to review sites, after they’ve asked for a copy, and I’ve never heard from them again.

    When I released Lady Raven, I wasn’t in a position to afford the cost of postage on hard copies, not given the lack of response to review copies for Memory War, so I’m not entirely sure how to get any reviews at all.

    1. Paul–I can be very cheap, and it almost physically hurt me to pay the postage for my giveaways on Goodreads or to top reviewers who didn’t read Kindle books. :( It was a *lot* more money than somehow I’d expected and I know our postage in the States is cheaper than yours. I probably paid about $50 for it and kept my receipt for my taxes as a write-off. I’m not sure I felt the investment was worth it, although it’s probably the best way to get reviews for trad-published books (as those were) since authors have no price control. But there’s a guilt aspect for me since I don’t do the promo that Penguin would probably prefer me to do (no tours for me, no ads, no active promo…everything very passive from me) and I usually feel I should do *something* to try to get those books sold/reviewed.

      So…back to the sales. The sales cost me nothing out of pocket (I just won’t think about lost income) and the reviews they garnered have definitely proved worth it in the long run. That’s what I’d recommend, for sure, if you’re looking for more reviews. My reviews aren’t as good as yours, but the stinky ones get lost in the others.

      1. it’s about €2.50 ($3.10) for one of my books to be sent anywhere in Ireland, and €5 ($6.20) for most overseas destinations. Add to that the cost of ordering in stock (or whatever I’d end up paying to order someone a copy from Amazon), and it can be a big investment. Plus, writers can’t claim anything like that as an expense, partly because we have an exemption on paying income tax for up to €50,000 of our yearly income from writing.

        I’ve priced Lady Raven quite low, but I’ll have to get onto Smashwords and plan for free promotions.

        1. Paul–Ouch! That’s expensive for postage sent over a relatively short distance. No such exemption for taxes here. We can claim we’re hobbyists up to a certain income level, but after that, we’re paying (a lot) for being self-employed.

          Just see how it goes for Smashwords. You can always go back in and change the price or scrap it as an approach altogether if it doesn’t pan out.

  3. My latest book, a futuristic thriller (Gateway to Forever) is currently free and into it’s 4th day of promotion – tomorrow, Saturday 8 November, is the last day. And I’ve learned a lot about free promotions and what to expect from them.

    They do get you reviews, you’re right about that (though they worked MUCH better 2 years ago than now, I’ve got half the downloads I used to get!!). And you’re right, using ads or promoting in social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads etc, I’ve done them all) does not work at all nowadays (assuming they ever worked which I doubt – I know I’ve never bought a book on a Tweet!)

    In this case, I’ll have to see whether I actually reached new readers, and I’m certainly looking forward to that, and I gather from what you wrote here, that it takes about a month before reviews turn up…Right? But I have a further question for you: how were you able to tie those reviews to your book promotions? Are you sure, in other words, that the added reviews were the result of promotions and not of something else? Just curious!

    1. Hi Claude–Free absolutely worked better a couple of years ago than it does now…no doubt about it.

      It usually takes about a month, I’ve noticed, although some speedy readers will leave them sooner.

      As with everything in this business (heaving a big sigh here) there is not enough data on what works so my analyses on what works have been purely observational. Here’s the evidence I’m working with (and I’ll use a recent example, since it’s freshest in my mind). The book that has been free most frequently is Dyeing Shame and it’s at 617 reviews right now. I’d “gone off” free mentally for a while last year (read a bunch of anti-free blog posts that influenced me) and I never put a 2013 release, “Death at a Drop-in,” out as free…it had only 54 reviews (which is pretty staggeringly low for that series).

      Realizing I needed to do something (it was selling poorly), I decided in mid-October to run a free promo on it. Now it has 27 more reviews (already…although I’m expecting more for later in November, since it does usually take about that long for folks to read and review).

      And…I’m realizing it’s still free. :( And I even put a reminder on my calendar…will have to go in now and change it. But getting it to 81 reviews is worth it.

      1. As a note to anyone curious how long it takes for Amazon to notice something is no longer free…I just removed the “free” listing on Smashwords at about 5:50 a.m. ET on 11-7 for “Death at a Drop-In.” We’ll see how long it takes Amazon to respond to that (since the free listing price has to be removed from Kobo, Apple, etc. through Smashwords first, I’d imagine it would take 48 hours or so for it to hit Amazon).

        1. And…I’ve been very busy this weekend and haven’t had a chance to check in, but the book is now *not* free and it’s Saturday 11-8 at 7:46 pm ET. Probably went full price at some point earlier. Hope this helps.

  4. I think the amount of reviews does make a difference. My first two have a decent amount of reviews on Amazon and I hope the third catches up one day. (Especially as I feel that is the best of the three.)

  5. I was not very successful at getting reviews for my first two self-published books. For the first, a novella, I sent out a free Smashwords coupon to anyone who wanted it among my friends and acquaintances. Results? One review. Later on, I gave away review copies through a Goodreads group and this summer I ran a LibraryThing Member Giveaway. I gave away 50 ebook copies and so far I’ve gotten 5 reviews.

    For book 2, a Regency Romance, I sent out about 25 requests to book review bloggers just after publication, even though I knew I should have done it before. Only one of them reviewed the book. I also got a couple of friend-and-acquaintance reviews. I’ve gotten a couple of organic customer reviews for that book, too, but still not many.

    For my current book I’m doing Netgalley through a coop, a Goodreads giveaway, and a LibraryThing giveaway, in addition to contacting a bunch of book review bloggers. My response rate from the bloggers has been much better this time, probably because this is more my home genre (epic fantasy). The book, a first-in-series, will come out on December 1st and I’m thinking of doing a few free days, too, to get the ball rolling.

    It’s been a lot of work, and for future books I’m probably not going to do as many different things.

    1. Amelia–I haven’t tried coupons but I have a feeling I’d have the same experience as you have. I’m thinking that your Goodreads/LibraryThing giveaways were about right in terms of reviews…I’d think about 5%–10% of readers would review. I seem to remember that some sort of call to action associated with those giveaways can help: “Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or other retail sites.”

      Netgalley would be easier than shipping copies, for sure. Although it sounds as if you’ve put a lot of time and work into all this…but as you mentioned, it takes time to figure out what works. The next time will be easier since you’ll already know what works best for you and you can streamline the process.

  6. Elizabeth – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on reviews. I think you’re right that reviews and sales are related. I don’t know if this has happened to you, but I’ve found that when I’ve been interviewed or something like that, there’s a slight ‘bump’ in the number of reviews of my work. I suppose it’s the publicity, if that’s the word. And I do think that people are more likely to read and review a book if other people they trust have done the same.

    1. Margot–I don’t know if I’ve noticed it when I’ve been interviewed, but I’ve definitely noticed it when I’ve put another book out (even in a different series). So that’s another thing that could lead to reviews of older books…releases. I definitely agree that if readers see other readers reviewing that it prompts them to buy (must be a bandwagon mentality).

    1. Diane–And you’ve got a good point in that…one that I missed in my post. It’s not that those readers who got the book for free are more likely to review than other readers. It’s just that the sheer volume of sales means that we’ll get more reviews. The percentage of readers who review will remain the same.

  7. I always write reviews for books I’ve received as part of a promotional effort. I feel obligated. I write the honest review … but I write it.

    I suspect it is the sense of participatory obligation. I know how much effort went into the production that I feel the pull of consideration when I am “gifted” something either through a contest drawing or an association.

    I have academic friends who have given me copies of their books (which to me is an extremely generous gesture knowing that they paid for it an kept their own two copies at home in the closet!). How can I not take the time to offer a couple of public reviews? it’s the least I can do. Least.

    I’m am waiting to offer “I loved it. I loved it better than Cats. I want to read it again and again” when I’m super-selling author and a relative needs a blurb for a tell-all book about my fantastic life and times.

    I try to think of what Hunter S. Thompson would have done in that situation, divide it by ten, and do that.

    1. Jack–Guilt is a powerful motivator! And, like you, I know how much work and thought went into both the writing of the book and probably the promo effort, as well.

      I have a feeling, though, that most readers don’t have the insight that we do…since they aren’t writers. And the way that I pop books out, they might think it comes pretty easily to me (when really…each book presents its own challenges).

      Hunter S. Thompson offers quite a yardstick to measure up to!

  8. I know the number of reviews influence me. Just this morning I was looking at two books, and one of them had a good average rating with 30 reviews and the other one had a slightly better rating with 1,000+ reviews. Even though I was equally interested in both books’ premises, I went with the second one because it seemed like a safer bet.

  9. Garnering reviews? I feel like I’d have a better success:effort ratio pushing rocks up hills in Hades. I don’t think most people get their minds around just how crucial they are to us. I can give plenty of free books away, get hundreds of site views to my blog daily (haven’t broken a thousand in a day yet, but I keep typing), contacted blogger/reviewers to limited response (either those who said they’d review, then didn’t or those who said they were backlogged and taking on no new material), and have made material available on various reader sites. Reviews are slow in coming for me. I have no suggestions on how to make it rain.

    1. Phoenix– Ha! Perfectly put. :) They’re *so* vital to us. Only other writers understand, I think. For me it even permeates into other areas…I’ll leave reviews on TripAdvisor and Angie’s List and other places where they really make a difference to the businesses.

  10. Holding steady with 12 reviews, I’ve donated, gifted, give-awayed, etc. nearly 150 books, maybe more. Always asked for an honest review. Also ask for the same in the back pages. Sold almost that many more. Still holding steady at 12 reviews. This is one secret I have yet to crack.

    1. Dean–The only other thing I can think of…purely thinking as the commercial writer…is that we target a popular genre. Not maybe as satisfying from an artistic standpoint, but from a financial standpoint…it could subsidize our other work.

  11. Elizabeth, interesting perspective about reviews! I hustled to find early readers for my first release but didn’t bother as much with the second book. I’m kind of chill about it. If someone mentions that they enjoyed the book, I just ask if they’d mind writing a review.

    1. Adrijus–Yes they are, unfortunately! Although they don’t seem to affect sales, which is weird, I know. Many of them are from people who say they don’t care for the genre (but got hooked into reading it because the book was free).

      1. Yeah, that is weird! I do sometimes check out the negative reviews to see what the person didn’t like and you can often see that they are nonsense… or an emotional attack etc. So those get ignored by me. Maybe most people do it! :)

        1. Adrijus–One time I noticed that a reader thought 1-star was the *best* rating to give a book. :) I guess sort of like saying “this is #1″…just judging from the glowing review she gave. But it sure didn’t help my overall rating, ha!

  12. Hi Elizabeth – interesting to read … authors have to work hard and keep up with all things possible – it’s great you’re here to offer us help and point us in the right direction …

    I hope people are perceptive enough to read between the lines: I’m sure most of us are … cheers Hilary

  13. I have been courting reviewers almost completely without success. I gave away 20 paperback copies of my book during a Goodreads giveaway and got not a single review. Tried the top reviewers in my genre and couldn’t find any who actually gave contact information who were willing to take on new books. So I need to find new avenues that I haven’t tried yet.

    1. Faith–I would *try* a free sale, if you can swing it. Add up the cost of the Goodreads postage and the time spent with top reviewers and see how long you’d be willing to run it. Then, if it works out (you probably won’t see reviews for a month), then you could make it a regular strategy.

  14. If you find it painful to put your books on sale for free because of lost income, think of it this way: Most of the people who pick the book up for free probably wouldn’t have bought it. They are willing to take a chance on it because it is free. So, no real lost income and the possibility of hooking new readers.

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