Reviews, reviews, reviews. They are something an author both craves and fears. We are desperate for reviews, both as confirmation that what we’ve produced is liked – though I’ll let you into a little secret here, no matter how many great reviews you receive, you’ll never get rid of the thought that people are just being kind and not really telling you what they think – but also as a means to attract new readers. At the same time we’re terrified of reviews, especially early in our careers, in case they confirm our darkest fears that what we’ve created is illegible rubbish.
In my case, about a week after I published my first novel I became afflicted by a kind of desperation as I waited for somebody, anybody, to review my book. I couldn’t understand why everyone was taking so long. What was the problem? Didn’t they know how important reviews were? I ended up doing something I really don’t recommend you do: I hassled my friends and family in the hope they would write a review. Most didn’t – thankfully – but I used up a lot of good will during those early days which in some cases I’ve still yet to regain.
So, in order to help those of you who have either just published or are about to publish, I’m going to give you tips on how to increase your chances of receiving honest reviews of your work, activities I would advise you avoid, and then finally the one guaranteed method of generating reviews, although I’m not sure you’ll like the answer.
Before I get there though, I need to mention one thing. Nobody owes you a review. If somebody has bought you book, or even if they got it for free, the only expectation you can have of them is that they received it. If they read it, that’s even better, and if they review it, that’s fantastic. But don’t get angry if the vast majority of people don’t review your book. They don’t have to and are under no obligation to do so.
Ways to increase the number of reviews
1. Contacting book reviewers
Book reviewers are the most wonderful people in the whole world, as I mentioned in a previous blog post here. They take the time to not only read your work but to then review and promote it afterwards, all out of the kindness of their hearts. Most, however, are inundated with requests so don’t be surprised if they don’t take you up on your review request. It’s not personal, it’s just that they only have a limited amount of time and with so many people approaching them, they can be choosy about what to read.
This approach isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work investigating each reviewer, making sure they like the type of book you’ve written and reading some of their reviews before getting in contact. However, what you do know is that if they agree to read your book, you are guaranteed a review.
2. Offering a free book in return for a review
You’ll see at the end of this post that if you sign up to my mailing list, you can get one of my books for free. All I ask is that I receive an honest review in return. Again, this isn’t a guarantee of a review – but some of those who receive the free book will uphold their end of the bargain and write a review.
3. Leaving a message at the end of your book
At the end of each of my novels I’ve written a polite message thanking the reader for reading, explaining the importance of reviews, and asking if they would be so kind to leave an honest review. I’ve seen a small uptick in reviews since doing this, not huge, but it has made a difference.
4. Reviewing other books
I’m not talking here about review swaps – which I’ll come to in a bit – but one of the side results of me reading other self-published authors’ books, and recommending the books I’ve enjoyed, is that some of those authors, and even the readers of these recommendations, have read my books in return. And some of those who read my books enjoyed them enough to reviewed them, not because I’ve asked, implied or demanded them to do so, but because they understand the value of reviews and are happy to do so.
5. Running free book promotions
I know some authors hate the idea of giving your work away, but when you are starting out the biggest challenge is not writing or publishing your book but being heard. I run occasional free promotions on Amazon and every time, within a few weeks, I receive new reviews. There is a down side to this approach. The best reviews come from people who have researched your book and like the genre or subject matter. Free promotions are picked up by all sorts of people, so your book could reach the wrong readers and receive low scores because the book wasn’t to their taste.
Ways I wouldn’t recommend to generate reviews
1. Pestering friends
I’m not talking here of politely asking a friend when told they’ve read your book if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review when they get a moment. I’m talking about asking them every time yo see them, boring them with how important it is to you, leaving whiny, passive-aggressive posts on social media, and generally being a pain in the arse. As I mentioned earlier, nobody owes you a review. You need your friends for many better reasons than as a personal review factory. Leave them be.
2. Paying for reviews
Really, don’t pay for reviews. I can see the attraction – trust me, I’ve been tempted, especially early on. A simple google search reveals a number of ways to gain reviews. Any service that offers X number of reviews for X dollars should be avoided like the plague. They are against Amazon’s T&Cs and could lead to your book getting banned. Some book reviewers offer reviews for money. I can understand it from their perspective – they’re spending time and effort reviewing the book, why shouldn’t they get rewarded? But as a writer what you want are honest reviews, and even though the final review could well be impartial, there will always be a suspicion that the rating was bought, which will tarnish the rest of your legitimate reviews.
I wouldn’t even recommend paying for your book to be reviewed via a well-known legitimate source like Kirkus, not because I believe the review would be dishonest, but because there are better ways to spend the $400 it costs to promote your book.
3. Review swaps
At some point you will be asked by an author to review their book and they will review yours in return. It’s very tempting, I mean, what could go wrong? The problem with review swaps is that no matter how honest either party is, there is a pressure on you to be more positive than usual because you know that they will be reviewing your book in return. Even if you both write honest reviews, there will always be the suspicion that you haven’t. This is why I never take on reviews and only recommend books I’ve paid for and enjoyed.
And the one guaranteed method of receiving reviews is …
Time. If your do some or all of the things I recommend above over a long enough period of time, you will get reviews. They may not come as quickly as you wish or be as many as you’d like. They may not be as nice, or as in-depth, as you were hoping for, but the longer your book has been published, the more reviews it will receive.
I long ago realised that while I could take action to encourage people to review my books, I had no control over whether they did or not, so I stopped worrying about it. And do you know what? I’m a much happier writer because of it.
So what about you? Do you agree with what I’ve written? Are there any other methods you’re aware of that help generate reviews, or are you not bothered in the slightest? I’d love to hear from you.
Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here.