by Molly Greene
In honor of my debut novel receiving its 200th review, I’m blogging about book reviews, how to get them, and why they matter. For those of you struggling to get reviews or just starting out in the biz, be aware I was there once: a newbie with one (unreviewed!) title published, as were all the successful self-published authors who are light years ahead of the likes of you and me. Don’t give up.
Focus on reviews, not sales
The best book in the world could be for sale on Amazon for $2.99 – or wherever – and not get a second look from potential browsers. A lot of elements factor into a reader’s decision to buy, including title, cover, genre, keywords and categories that help the searcher land on your page, and, of course, reviews. And one of the fastest ways to rack up reviews is to give your books away …
Lots of authors are anti-free, which I completely understand, although free giveaways are almost guaranteed to sell other titles, especially in a series. This email (and subsequent review) from a reader illustrates that point: “I stumbled across Mark of The Loon through a [free] BookBub email listing, but as soon as I started reading…I was HOOKED!! I purchased the whole Gen Delacourt series as soon as I finished Book 1.”
I did my first BookBub freebie for LOON late December, 2014, when it only had 25 reviews, and the second last month, August 2015, when it had about 160. I haven’t done anything else to promote it. I decided on this path – marketing via free giveaways – after reading a post by successful hybrid author Steena Holmes, in which she said that as part of her path to success, she’d focused on getting reviews over getting sales.
Total reviews more important than score
At least one expert says it’s not so much the overall score as the total number of reviews a book has that helps readers decide to borrow or buy it. Ricci Wolman, founder and CEO of Written Word Media, which includes promo site Freebooksy, said this on Joanna Penn’s blog about reviews:
“What we’ve found … is that the number of reviews is actually more important than the overall review score. Ten 5-star reviews is actually less good from a reader perspective than 50 reviews with an overall review score of 3 or 3.5-stars … because readers are skeptical of reviews sometimes, so when they see a small number of high-rated reviews, they assume it’s the author’s mom and sister and daughter who’ve reviewed the book. Once you get to 50, 100 reviews, some of that skepticism goes. [Readers] know some people are going to like the book and some are not. There are Pulitzer Prize winners out there with overall review scores of 3-3.5.”
Interesting point, but I’m hoping to keep my own overall review scores at or above 4.2. Knock on wood!
Freebies are not old news
Author Toby Neal recently noted on Facebook that free book giveaways are NOT passé, and free promotions can lead to new readers and additional paid sales, especially when you’ve penned a series. Her recent freebie giveaway for Shattered Palms netted a total of 70,003 downloads. Yowza!
It’s pretty widely accepted that free giveaways net more reviews than other price promotions. Maybe readers who get something free feel more obligated to reciprocate in some way. Whatever the reason, freebies work. And a free download still shows as a “Verified Purchase” for these readers’ reviews, which is an added benefit.
Sometimes freebies garner poor reviews
For instance, I’ve relied mainly on BookBub free promos to gain reviews. My books are mysteries, but they’re really women’s fiction mysteries. I try to rank in Amazon’s Women’s Fiction > Detective category, and several of my titles have hit that list in both “top rated” and bestsellers. However, BookBub has declined to run my titles – other than my first – in their women’s fiction category; they prefer that my promos run under Mystery, regardless of what I request. This means readers who want standard mystery plots and characters might pick up one of my titles and – gasp! – not enjoy it, then leave a poor review.
Here’s an example from a review left for A Thousand Tombs after a BookBub giveaway: “Chick Flick story developed around a suspense mystery. In a nut shell, that’s my gripe. I like good detective mystery novels but this author tries to build her story around a budding romance. NOT WHAT I WANT TO READ.”
So be prepared, if you’re a genre-bending author. But you know what I say? Oh well. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. I still want to be part of BookBub’s massive email list and gain the subsequent reviews.
What if you can’t get into BookBub?
Start with the smaller sites and work your way up. For $14.99, Book Marketing Tools will help you submit your free ebook giveaway to multiple sites, many of which have low numbers for review requirements. I’ve written about BMT a couple of times, and they’re still my favorite. Check out this post for submission tips using the tool. In addition, Robin Reads is a relatively new player and Ereader News Today is still on the list of affordable sites with fair download rates. Many others exist.
Another way to gain reader reviews is to ask. According to Author Lindsay Buroker, “Reviews definitely make a difference, both in getting people to buy and in scoring ads with the big sponsorship sites. It may sound obvious, but my biggest tip for getting reviews is to ask for them at the back of the book. I don’t always do this, but on books where I have, I’ve gotten roughly twice as many reviews.”
You can add a line in your backmatter that says something like, “Please leave a review. Reviews make a difference. It only takes a few words and a few seconds, and it can help enormously. Without your reviews, my hard work might go unnoticed. I appreciate your support!”
Authors: reminder re: compensating for reviews
Authors, please keep Amazon’s review requirements in mind when you’re soliciting reviews from your email list or reader’s group. One of my readers gently reminded me of this the last time I sent out a request for reviews on a new title.
Paid Reviews: “We do not permit reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts. The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact [in your review].”
Authors, what have you done to collect reviews? What has worked, what hasn’t? Readers, do you leave reviews on Amazon or other sites when you’ve finished a great book? What can we do to encourage more reviews?
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