We can cut to the chase: There is no magic answer. Reviews for any book—from a new author or one who has published a hundred books—traditionally published or self-published, come from 3 sources:
- Contacts: people the author can contact.
- Money: from the author’s marketing budget.
- Sales: as in sales of their book, be it free or paid sales.
Let’s take each one of these and look at the options for the new author.
I always have my eye out for advice to authors about getting book reviews. Invariably the advice is “Ask your fans!” Or as one I recently came across said, you need to have a strong team behind you. He then went on to describe his beta readers. Other authors talk about their street team.
But what if this is your first book, and maybe your only book? Chances are you don’t have any “teams” or previous readers to rely on. Even if you are willing to give your book away, who do you give it to?
So how does the new author achieve this?
- By telling everyone they know about their new book.
- Connecting with readers who like similar books.
- Creating a mailing list.
Therefore, it is important to begin building and tracking relationships early and before you release your book. It’s why authors with mailing lists, and to a lesser extent a social media following, get more reviews (and sell more books). I call this an Addressable Audience—people you can contact directly.
TIP: Also read my post on Jane Friedman’s blog, The Essential First Step for New Authors: Book Reviews, Not Sales.
Your ability to accumulate reviews quickly, in the first thirty days of release, is directly related to the size of your contact list. This pays off for you in 2 ways:
- Your network is most likely to leave the first reviews a book gets.
- These reviews are more likely to be positive reviews. Why? Those who know you and don’t like your book will be less inclined to leave any review, especially a negative review.
There is no shortage of helpful advice about building a social media following, if that’s your cup of tea. Personally, I prefer focusing on a mailing list of email addresses. Research has repeatedly shown that members of mailing lists are far more engaged than social media followers.
Ideas for starting and building an email list
There are all sorts of courses, books, and articles available on this topic. I’ll share a few ideas to get you started.
- Collect the name and email address of everyone you know.
- Tell them about your book at least a month before its release date. (Use an email service such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, or similar.)
- Keep adding names to the list. Do this manually or automate it by connecting your email service to your website so people can add themselves to your list.
- Ask your mailing list if they want an advance reading copy, or ARC. If your list is large, set limits.
- Don’t be concerned if all you have at the beginning is a list of friends, family, clients, or customers. You can always ask them to share your offer with their friends. (Obviously use your judgment about encouraging immediate family to write reviews. Read my post on AuthorImprints.com: Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors.)
- Remember, you are trying to get book reviews at this stage, not sell books.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. I also hear a few groans from authors wondering, “Wait, if I’m only seeking reviews from my contacts, when or how am I going to sell books?”
The majority of people reading this do not have an email list or certainly a large mailing list. In my experience, it is better for authors in this situation to use their list to solicit book reviews than to sell books. For those that do have larger lists, those lists can surely be segmented such that you solicit reviews from a subset of your list—those most willing and able to help you—and ask the remaining list members to buy it.
TIP: There are lots of resources for setting up a mailing list but I have created one specifically for new authors. Find it here: Getting Started Using Email Marketing
I consider reviews part of book marketing and as such they are something to budget for. In fact, for those with financial resources this can be a good investment.
As noted earlier, there are 2 primary benefits of asking your contacts to review your book.
- Contacts who know you are more likely to leave the early reviews.
- Contacts who know you are more likely to leave positive reviews.
Here are a few ways to spend your budget.
- Buy copies of your book for reviewers.
- Give prospective reviewers gift certificates.
- Hire someone to research and contact potential reviewers.
- Pay a service like Hidden Gems, NetGalley, Booksprout, or Goodreads to offer your book to their mailing list.
- Hire a blog tour service to conduct a review tour. (I profile 40 blog tour organizers in my directory: The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages.)
- Pay a service to advertise your book (more on this below).
A few months ago, I was contacted by a small publisher on behalf of their author Dan Janal. She found my review of Ryan Holiday’s Perennial Seller and decided I would be a good fit to review Dan’s book. I agreed and she mailed me a free copy. (It’s a good book; read my review here.)
Someone had to pay her to research and contact potential reviewers. They also had to pay for the book and postage. My point is that paying someone to do this is a worthwhile investment for any author who can afford it.
Did the author lose a sale? Probably not since I wouldn’t have heard of the book otherwise. That’s what leads us to the third way to get book reviews.
It’s axiomatic; if no one is reading your book, how can you get any reviews? The obvious solution is to get your book into the hands of readers. If you have few contacts, and aren’t willing or able to invest money, the next best thing is to give your book away or at least put it on sale.
If you believe you can simply list a book with no or few reviews on Amazon at a price comparable to competing books, and expect readers to gobble it up, you are mistaken. Listing a book for sale on any website is not marketing.
This point was driven home for me after I started using Amazon Advertising (formerly AMS) to promote Register Your Book. After two years the reviews had stopped coming in and the book was stuck with 22. After about 8 months of advertising it had 32 reviews. (I also make more money now since every dollar I spend on advertising returns about $3 in royalties.)
Selling books is clearly everyone’s goal. But at the early stages of its release, when getting reviews is most important, there are only 2 ways to increase “sales” for the purpose of getting reviews:
- Give your eBook away for free. Join KDP Select and give your book away for up to 5 days.
- Run a promotion at a low price, preferably 99 cents. (You don’t need to join KDP Select to do this.)
Keep in mind that using free or cheap eBooks to get reviews is not as effective as it was a few years ago. But if you have few contacts and no or little money, it’s your best option. Otherwise you are relying on prayer and luck.
Summarizing your options
Recapping: the order of these 3 options—contacts, money, sales—is intentional. They follow my Book Review Journey:
- Your contacts are the easiest to leverage and will yield the highest-rated reviews.
- Spending money to target reviewers is the next best option. You at least have some level of control over whom to approach.
- Getting the book into reader’s hands via sales is the third option. If discounts and promotions are all you can do, it’s better than nothing.
This an excerpt from The Book Review Companion: An Author’s Guide to Getting and Using Book Reviews. Learn more here.
Photo by Jean-Frederic Fortier on Unsplash