Reviews Matter: Why & How To Get Them

by Molly Greene

LOON-150x_OptimizedIn 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 …

for free.

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?

All original content by Molly Greene is copyright protected – did you enjoy the article? You can show your support by checking out Molly’s Amazon Author Page – and hey, buy a book while you’re there! Or, subscribe to this blog and you’ll never miss the weekly posts. Your email will NOT be sold, shared, abused, or rented – that’s a promise. If you’re not already, follow @mollygreene on Twitter. Mwah! Thank you so much.

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37 Responses to Reviews Matter: Why & How To Get Them

  1. MM Jaye September 14, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    Great post! One thing I’d like to add from personal experience (and from watching you!) is not to spend too much money on promo on your first book. In fact, a piece of golden advice from you was not to spend until you’ve published at least three books.

    I have only one book out there, but it’s my testing ground, and I’m still revising. Ten months after its launch, I have a version that’s a lot more readable, and I’m thinking, if I had strived to get loads of reviews when I published (I didn’t) they could have been negative. I’m waiting to do my first free promo when I’m done revising (which could be when my 5-year old goes to college) and I have my second book out.

    In terms of asking for reviews, I’ve never so far had a negative reply from a Goodreads reader/blogger I approached. I choose them through reviews they’ve left on books that are similar in genre or trope as mine. Not all ended up reviewing, but most did.

    200 reviews? Woot woot!

    • Molly Greene September 14, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      Thanks, Maria! LOON was out for a year and a half (and gathered 25 reviews during that time) before it went free. And although I thought it was fabulous (lol) when I published it and the reviews were pretty good, I still put it under the knife and made a major edit before I started promo’ing. I did another (minor) edit this past summer, mainly removing what I’d come to think were excessive dialogue tags. We improve as writers, I think it’s a good thing to bring our older titles along as we navigate the learning curve. THANKS for the tip about Goodreads, I haven’t spent much time there but I SHOULD!!

  2. Annie September 14, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    Like your other commenter, I am editing/revising my first book. I recently released a new series (3 books) but I am enrolled in Kindle Select which means I can’t offer free books. I can only do a few free days per quarter. Although there appear to be authors who can somehow offer perma-free books on Amazon, I haven’t learned how they pull it off.

    People who have read the books have promised to write reviews – but that hasn’t happened. I’m just really at a loss.

    Thanks for the post, good info.

    • Molly Greene September 14, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

      Hi Annie, I’m in KDP Select as well, so BookBub and other free promos must happen on the 5 free days per 3-month period Select allows authors to offer a book for free. If you have three titles, you can offer one free every month. As for perma-free books, only non-Select authors who publish on multiple online sales sites can go perma-free via Amazon’s price-matching policy. Hope that makes my post more clear!

      • Annie September 14, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

        Hi Molly,

        Thanks for the additional info. I just published two weeks ago and am trying to get my bearings. Also, a while back, I looked at Bookbub reqs andI think you needed a certain amount of reviews to begin with to promo with them. I do aspire to use them but I don’t think I’d make the cut right now.

        My plan was to republish the first book and offer it for free for 2-5 days, then drop the price to 99 cents, since I can’t make it permafree. In the hopes it might at boost the visibility of the new books.

        Probably in the 2nd enrollment period I will be more prepared to do as you suggest.

        Thanks for the advice. Much appreciated.


        • Molly Greene September 14, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

          Yes, almost all book promo sites have review requirements. BookBub says they don’t, but what they DO say is to check the # of reviews other BookBub book offerings have in the genre you want to appear in. You might have more success starting with smaller sites first and working up to BB. Good luck!

          • Annie September 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm #


          • Molly Greene September 14, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

            My pleasure!

  3. Julie Stock September 14, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    This is a really useful post for me right now, Molly, thank you. I have the one book out and have now expanded to the main platforms apart from Amazon. I have 26 reviews after 6 months. Could I ask whether you have stayed exclusive to Amazon or not? And also, would you recommend doing free when I only have the one book out there as yet? I really want more reviews, as sales have virtually dried up now but I’m not sure if I should go back to KDP exclusively and whether free is worth doing with just one book available. Any advice would be greatly appreciated 🙂

    • Molly Greene September 14, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

      Hi Julie, congratulations! I am KDP Select (exclusive) with Amazon right now, and have been for almost a year. I decided to go that route because scheduling promos is easier. I’m not sure if I will stay exclusive for the long term, we’ll see. One good reason to offer a freebie on a single title is to rack up reviews, but as Maria commented above, if you plan to re-edit, you might consider waiting. If you have made sales on other online retailers, it might be best to stay there – you can price-match to free on Amazon by going free on Kobo or iTunes. Overall, price promos are most effective when you have multiple titles to benefit from more readers picking up a discounted book, but YES! reviews on even one book are important. Hope this helps!

      • Julie Stock September 14, 2015 at 11:07 pm #

        Thanks for taking the time to reply, Molly, there’s so much to learn all the time and I really appreciate your advice. Good luck with everything 🙂

        • Molly Greene September 15, 2015 at 7:17 am #

          My pleasure, Julie, and best to you in all you do!

          • Julie Stock September 15, 2015 at 9:46 am #

            Thank you, Molly 🙂

          • Molly Greene September 15, 2015 at 10:58 am #

            My pleasure!

  4. Suzanne Vince September 14, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Great post, Molly. I’ve done the Goodreads giveaways several times and find that about 10% people who take your books leave reviews. I have three books published (all are stand alone women’s fiction novels), the first came out a year ago and has 38 reviews. It’s been a long, slow process.

    Question. Do you think if LOON hadn’t been part of a series that you’d have still gotten the BookBub ad with only 25 reviews? I haven’t tried to get an ad with them yet, but I’m so very happy for you that you did!

    • Molly Greene September 14, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

      Hi Suzanne, huge congrats on your 3 books and thanks! Yes, it is a very slow process, enormous patience required. As for BookBub, the first 5 books in my series have all been accepted for FREE promos with only 25-35 reviews. I just submitted #6 with 29 reviews in a new category, “Supernatural Suspense,” and it was rejected. *Shakes head* they’re tough to figure, I think so much depends on genre, time of the year, and timing of your submission, which is impossible to pre-determine. Their Mystery category is the largest, but I find Women’s Fiction readers are more complimentary with reviews. Makes sense!

      But – ooops – I didn’t answer your question. Yes, I think LOON would have been accepted if it was stand alone. Hope this helps!

  5. Brian Basham September 14, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    This! So this! I’ve noticed that reviews push sales from my observations watching other authors. I’ve seen books that have an overall ranking of 2.5 with 50+ reviews outsell books with 5 reviews of 5*. I just wrote a blog post about how important it is to review books. That is the single most important thing a reader can do to help support an author.

    • Molly Greene September 14, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

      Hey Brian, so true. One of my favorite books ever, Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife, has an overall 3.4 rating on 1165 reviews. Readers, please, please, please review books!

  6. LIsa Maggiore September 14, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

    Thank you Molly, for your generous information. And to all the commenters, I always learn from you too. I have a trad. pub picture book out but am about to launch a self-pubbed novel. I AM SCARED! I’m scared because every time I read something about how to market, how to publicize, how to get your book in the hands of readers, I feel that the hill keeps getting taller. That there are not enough hours in the day to read, learn and apply everything I read. I finally had to sit back and remind myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint, that I can only do a few things well, so stop stressing about all the things I can’t. SO, after much research I decided to do these things: 1) Offer book to 15 people free for HONEST reviews (got my 15 already, a few of whom I do not know) 2) Scheduled a blog tour but will not publish book until November so that gives bloggers time to review my book 3) Will publish on KDP and POD through Ingram Spark. Many comments from previous posts suggest starting small, build brand and audience, then branch out. So, I’m hoping that my plan to used KDP will produce more reviews. I also LOVE the idea of asking for reviews at the end of the book. Plan on adding that to the eBook, which is in the formatter’s hands as I type. Anyway, I will keep you posted on my results. Thanks again Molly and to everyone who commented! I wish us all success!

    • Molly Greene September 15, 2015 at 7:26 am #

      You’re right, Lisa, there is a ton to learn and differing opinions re: how to go about each step complicate the learning curve. Your best route is exactly what you’ve done – read material, weigh your options, determine the best course for you, review & correct periodically if what you’re doing hasn’t gotten the results you’d hoped for. Add patience, persistence, and writing the next book to the mix, and you’re on your way. Good luck!

  7. Kathy Perow September 14, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

    I hadn’t realized I’d gotten so lazy – and so limited – in my reviews. I’ve only written 25 or 30 reviews even though I’ve read hundreds of Amazon purchased books. At that, I generally only review books I love, unless a title has a glaring problem I think could be corrected to improve the book.

    Having read all your comments, I’ll certainly be more conscientious in the future. I’ve also often limited myself to one review of an entire series. It sounds like that’s a disservice to authors, too. I’m also a Goodreads user, but I don’t know if I’ve ever done a review there.

    Time for this reader to make some changes – and I love writing reviews!

    • Molly Greene September 15, 2015 at 7:22 am #

      Thanks so much, Kathy. In my opinion, Amazon reviews are the most important because that’s what book promo sites are interested in, and even a single review is very, very helpful. We would all, of course, wish for only 5-star reviews and glowing reports, but it doesn’t always happen 🙂 THANKS!!

  8. Iola September 14, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    Thanks for the reminder about Amazon’s rules. They haven’t changed, but I see they have clarified that “compensation” includes bonus content etc. It’s an argument I’ve had with more than one author, so it’s good to see Amazon have clarified the situation.

    • Molly Greene September 15, 2015 at 7:19 am #

      My pleasure, Iola.

  9. Sue Coletta September 15, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    As you know, MARRED hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting prepared. I’ve got my list rockin’ of who to send ARCs to and recently, an excerpt was accepted into an anthology, Murder, USA. I’m so excited. Don’t know how many reviews I’ll rack up from it, but it’s still nice. 200 reviews? That’s fabulous, Molly! I really have to read one of your books. Which one do you recommend for a die-hard crime fan? I’ll add it to my Goodreads list. Hey, did you know if someone adds your books to their “want to read” list on Goodreads, even if they never read the book, it raises your rank? Yup, just learned that too. Have you heard this?

    • Molly Greene September 15, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

      Thanks, Sue – I bet you’re excited and I bet you’re prepared! You seem like the type. Someday we must laugh over wine and kick around ideas about how to kill characters (lol!) My book are women’s fiction – crime + relationships – with no gore, no graphic sex, no murder onstage, so they honestly might not appeal to you hardcore crime writers, which I would totally understand! As for Goodreads, I am clueless about the platform, find it clunky and slow and a challenge to use and navigate, so I haven’t spent time there, and THAT is a bad thing. Why don’t you write a guest post for this blog and tell us all the benefits?? LOL. MWAH!

  10. Sue Coletta September 17, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

    Hahahaha. I saw how you snuck that in, Molly. 🙂 I’d love to, just as soon as I find out if what I’ve learned really works. To be continued?

    • Molly Greene September 17, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

      You’re more than welcome any time you’re ready – no pressure! I excel at putting others on the spot.

  11. Karen September 18, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    I always leave a review or at least a quickie for any book I read on Goodreads. But I often forget to post it on Amazon or B&N. Too bad there isn’t a link to do this automatically on Goodreads–or is there?

    • Molly Greene September 18, 2015 at 9:03 am #

      Hi Karen, I doubt if there’s a link from Goodreads to Amazon for reviews, but I could be wrong, and there should be, shouldn’t there??

  12. Karen September 18, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    Yes! There should be. It would help readers and authors almost effortlessly.

  13. Laura Zera September 24, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

    Always good advice, and I just keep filing it away for that day (2017? LOL!) when I have another book out there. And congrats on your 200th! That’s AMAZEBALLS!

  14. Angelo Marcos November 7, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    This is a really great post Molly!

    The ‘free’ issue is certainly a contentious one – I remember writing a blog post on free books and it was only when reading the comments that I realised how polarised everybody’s opinions are on this!

    I used to feel that free wasn’t a good idea, but I recently made a short story collection free on Amazon and got some really nice reviews from that promotion. I’ve also started giving away a short story to all new subscribers to my email list, and since doing that I’ve seen a real boost in people signing up.

    So ‘free’ does seem to work, although I do feel that targeted free copies (for instance, offering individual readers free copies in exchange for reviews) may be more effective than giving away free copies to everyone (for instance on Amazon).

    • Molly Greene November 7, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks, Angelo! Yes, free is a polarizing issue, but retail has always used heavily-discounted and free as consumer incentives, and I frankly think it’s up to the individual author to decide what’s right for them, then live and let live. I’ve used free promos throughout 2015 to gain reviews for all my books, and I will continue to do so. Congrats on your experience with free!

  15. Lauren December 17, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    Molly, this was such a helpful post! I’ve just published a novella as a permafree prequel to a novel that releases in March. (My publisher’s idea–can’t take credit for that!) But they’ve told me I need to beat the bushes and get some reviews, so I was happy to see your ideas and success stories here and in the thread. Good luck to you!

    • Molly Greene December 17, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

      Thanks Lauren and best of luck to you!