The guaranteed way to gain reviews

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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.

 

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54 thoughts on “The guaranteed way to gain reviews

  1. I agree, the wait is agonising! I felt your pain through those first few weeks. And I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve written, particularly regarding friends. I was surprised by who read, and who didn’t read my book. Friends I thought would read it, didn’t, and acquaintances, and friends of friends I never expected to support me read and then left lovely reviews. The ones which delighted me quite absurdly though, were those reviews which have popped up from nowhere – actual readers I don’t actually know, of know of, who actually enjoyed my book!

    I suppose the best way to get great reviews… is to write a great book. And you should know, Dylan, because you’ve managed that three times in a row 🙂

    • Thank you, Jools. You’re right about being surprised which of you friends do or don’t read your book. I was very surprised, and disappointed in some cases, by the response of some friends but then I’d not really learned at that point the first maxim of writing: nobody will care as much as you do and most not at all.
      I completely agree that the best way to receive good reviews is to write a good book, although that in itself is not a guarantee to receive reviews.

      • I say to my friends – just because you have the misfortune to have a friend who writes a book, doesn’t mean you’re under any obligation to read it. It doesn’t stop me feeling let down when they don’t though! But to be fair, most did, and were most kind to their poor obsessed friend.

  2. Yes and no. I think paid reviews are ok, like paid betas, but I would say that.
    Only real answer to getting a review is … write a good book.
    I really dislike the cheesy message. Yuk
    And the expectation of having to provide a review is so annoying. Bought the book? I don’t have to do anything. At all. Authors really need to lose that attitude.
    I always say what I think though 🙂 No worries there.

    • You always say as you think which is why I love your comments.
      I did think of you as I wrote about paid reviews – a paid beta read for me is the same as a paid edit and a good use of an author’s money.
      For me, with paid reviews for promotional purposes (rather than getting a professional opinion on the work) there are two things an author needs to consider. Will the review be impartial and above board? Will I get value for money? In other words, will this give me either more book sales than simply running a promotion or will the status of the review open further doors for me in the long run.
      You’re right about author expectations and it’s a hard lesson to learn!

      • You sweet talker. I think.
        I also think it’s fair to say that Kirkus and Entrada are impartial. At a cost, although with added value/status, if that’s your choice.
        I like it when people say, ‘I worried about what she would say so was pleased with what she wrote because she is a PITA critical reviewer’.
        On paid betas, I am surprised more and more people are opting for that. I see a split in the market right now, with people who are still producing works that are unfinished, and self-pubs becoming ever more professional. At a price? Yes, but I think this sort of author will take the lead.

      • Sweet talker? Possibly, but honest as well!
        I agree that Kirkus and Estrada are impartial (I know some don’t agree) and hope that my post doesn’t imply otherwise.
        Can you tells more about being a PITA critical reviewer. Is it an accreditation?

      • No, you didn’t but, I think it’s important to point out there are decent paid-for reviews if you have the dosh. Personally I think $400 is excessive.
        Yes, a PITA critical reviewer needs certain skills and er characteristics. They need to be able to destroy a toshy novel (? Novel, what novel?), spot every single spelling and grammatical error, oh, and point out if it is a good/bad story and whether or not it is written well.
        I can start issuing certificates 🙂

      • I was excited because with all the scepticism surrounding reviews (paid or otherwise) having some form of trust mark style independent accreditation for reviewers could help get over this.

      • That’s an interesting one. How about, accredited journalist, NCTJ, 30 years experience, that sort of thing? But seriously having little badges and shields and stars means zilch. It’s a credibility issue surely? The big sites have it, and some small reviewers do too. I’m sure getting a decent review from you is no small achievement. Not started GR yet, but will do at some point. 🙂

      • I agree, having badges and shields mean zilch unless they are backed up by an independent, formalised accreditation. That’s what I thought you meant.
        I hope you enjoy GR when you get the chance to read it! 🙂

    • I agree some messages can be cringeworthy.

      However, I know a reasonable number of readers who didn’t know that reviews were so important to authors until I mentioned how grateful authors sometimes are for my reviews. So, I feel that a polite message at the end suggesting a review would help – rather than hinting one is owed – can get people who don’t object to posting a review but just hadn’t thought of it to do so.

      The one key thing I do want to see if there is a request in a book, though, is a clear statement that the review should be an honest opinion.

      • Maybe intellectually, many readers are aware on some level; but that doesn’t always translate into “I should post a quick review”.

        And I don’t know if it needs to be a complex and nuanced review. I write multi-paragraph analyses because I like to; but even a one-line review saying the book had, say, great characters will improve the situation for an author slightly. So, I suspect most authors would be happy with even a generic comment if it meant they had more reviews.

        Some theories of advertising even suggest customer comments that don’t seem “intelligent” are more valuable; people might see a slightly rough comment as being more like them than something they perceive as coming from an expert – however untrue their assumption of nuanced analysis = expert might objectively be.

  3. Well, this could not have come at a better time for me, Dylan. In two months time, I’ll be publishing my first book. I love the tip about leaving a message at the end of your book asking politely for a review. I’ll be adding that in!
    I’ve been told never to publish a poor review once you’ve published a book yourself. I guess that could be added to your list?
    Hope all is well with you?

    • I wouldn’t agree with never publishing a low-starred review once you’ve published a book yourself. I know a number of authors who are happy to keep writing positive and negative reviews.
      That said, I also understand why authors prefer not to. There have been some stories of vindictive authors (although I’ve never had this myself) and it can be especially worrying if you’ve just started out.
      I personally won’t write a negative review but I don’t see myself as a reviewer. I just recommend books I like.

  4. Very good and thorough posting on a subject which obsesses many a wordsmith including me. I love writing. I’m happy to admit I’m passionate about it, but I also freely admit I find self-marketing both a drudge and embarrassing. I used to hate people who “networked” because of the inference that they were smiling at you because you might be useful to them, and I find self-marketing arouses similar emotions in me. My aim, however naïve it is, is to aim to get accepted by one of the larger publishing houses who might help you market the book and yourself. This aim may be based on delusion, but its keeping my morale afloat as we speak.

    • You’re not the only one who struggles with this, Peter. I’m a marketing professional by trade yet I feel uncomfortable with the self-promotional aspect of indie publishing – it’s that damned imposter syndrome again.
      I wish you luck in finding a major publisher!

      • In the “good old days” which even I am too young to recall, artists of almost any genre had “Patrons” who used to put the word about for them. That world has vanished and now I’m always haunted by the “Mute inglorious Milton” syndrome, but we can only be who we are. Thank you for always being so helpful and driving on the worst of your pupils to have another go 🙂

      • The system of patronage hasn’t died, although it has changed. Many writers and musician now use Patreon https://www.patreon.com as a means of developing a steady income. It uses the crowdfunding model, so rather than having one wealthy person spending large sums of money to support an artist, many people donate small amounts per month. For a lot of mid-range authors, it has saved them from having to take other jobs so they can concentrate on their art.

  5. Some of the writer types here on WordPress declare they never post a review unless they like the book enough to give it a 4 or 5 star rating. If the book is just OK or has serious problems, they don’t review it, although some say they contact the author privately to point out the problems. I suspect this is an aspect of the “positive opinions only” school of thought, but I don’t care for it. Writing a thoughtful critical review isn’t evil, and authors may even find such reviews useful in the long run.
    Thanks for an informative post.

    • I’m a contact by email your book has problems person. I was asked to do a review of one book and it was dire. I wrote and told the author I wouldn’t review it and couldn’t finish it. But I had a change of heart, thought I should persevere and complete it. A few wasted hours out of my life. Then I reviewed it with a generous two stars. Ouch. Why did I hate his book? Hate? This person is/was a graduate and the grammar was appalling. ‘He text me.’ Huh? He sent me a text, he texted me, possibly, but not he text me. The (non) plot was banal and so were the characters.
      The book hadn’t been edited or proofread and I won’t recommend tacky books to other people. But it’s a pain being criticised for being honest about tat.

      • I’m trying to think what I would have done. If I hadn’t finished reading the book because of the problems, I think contacting the author, or doing nothing, would have been the only logical options. But having finished it, I believe I would be in a position to write a negative review, if only to alert potential readers that this is not a great book. One doesn’t need to wallow in negativity; it’s enough to say something like, “This book contains typos and other errors, and I thought the plot and characters were dull.” Of course it’s awkward when the author asks you to read and review, and you agree. That makes it personal.
        I think a lot of people avoid writing negative reviews in fear of how the author may react. Or overreact. I’ve never experienced that, but there have been some instances that became internet sensations.

    • It’s a difficult one, especially when you’re starting out as an author. I think it’s important we encourage reviewers to write the full spectrum of reviews, both for their credibility and as useful feedback to authors. I also understand when authors prefer to only write reviews of books they enjoy. The problems start when people feel they ought to give higher ratings than a book deserves. That’s when people lose faith in the ratings process.
      Personally, I think a well written, constructive, negative review is worth more to an author than 100 bland “loved it” reviews. Any serious author is always looking to improve their craft and to do that you need to understand what needs improving.

      • Agreed. Enthusiastic, from-the-heart positive reviews almost write themselves. Critical reviews are more work, unless one is a thoughtless troll, but that’s another story.

  6. I heard the message at the end of the book was a good idea – I shall certainly be doing that too.

    You are the reason I started reading and review ing indie books – I read your pay it forward posts and it triggered something in my head. Now I try to balance, 50/50. 50% of books I want to read that have been on my TBR pile for ages but night not be indie and 50% of book that are indie and likely someone I know so I can leave them a review.

    Aways an inspiration Hearn 😀

    • I used to read 95% indie but realised I was missing out on a load of books from some of my favourite authors, so now I go through phases, sometimes indie, sometimes trad. I wouldn’t necessarily mandate reading a certain amount of indie books, but if somebody isn’t reading any indie work, changing that to a book or two makes a real difference.

      • Yeah agree – I was just giving u an arbitrary figure really. What I mean is, thanks to you, I try to make sure I balance it out a bit. Ive just read a handful of indie books some non fic some fiction, there’s 2 more I want to read and then I have a cue of books from some authors who happen to be trad so will be reading them next.

  7. Great post, Dylan. I’ve put it on Flipboard so I can refer to it again in the future. Hopefully the not too distant future as I expect to be much more focused on writing and publishing next year. I have taken on your point about the gentle reminder for reviews at the end of a book, and Ravens Gathering is being amended even now… Let’s see if it makes a difference.

      • I seem to have been writing in fits and starts, but some plans in relation to work are starting to come together (at last!), so I’m expecting to have more time at the end of this year, and even more by next summer. Only down side to that is I’ll really have to put my money where my mouth is.
        Hope all is well with you and yours

  8. Those are very wise words. I have opted onto a coop and paid to put a book on netgalley for a month. That worked quite well. I have never tried a KIrkus but it’s American, so like indie rag, they’d probably hate my stuff. I got a couple of reviews from Netgalley and I submitted to awesome indies and indiePendents for quality endorsements. Awesome indies has got too complicated though and I don’t really understand their submission process anymore and they’ve taken down the best review my book had (which is a pity as I’ve quoted it at length) so I’ve kind of given up with them.

    Usually, I just ask at the end of my books and I give advance review copies away in return for a review. Folks can sign up for a list that gets them free copies of everything from then on in return for a review on the day the book does live. They also have to write a review to get onto that list because the first time I tried it a lot of folks took the book and forgot to review. But that’s kind of, a formal system that folks who are already on my mailing list sign up to.

    I think not letting it affect us is good advice. Not always easy but I’ve found it definitely gets easier with time!

    Like you, I think you just have to write the best book you can … and get a decent editor!

    Cheers

    MTM

    • Hi MT, thanks for the really interesting feedback. I’ve been tempted to use Netgalley so your experience with them is really useful. I also remember looking at awesome indies when I started out but I can’t remember why I didn’t go ahead.
      I like the idea of prescreening those that have given reviews and then sending them free pre-releases of any further books in return for a review. That’s a great way of generating a buzz for launch.

      • Glad the info was useful. There’s a thread on kboards where you can pick up a netgalley slot for a month to see how it pans out. 🙂 also, blummin auto correct, it was indie brag who refused to endorse my book. I sent them a polite note asking if there were any pointers as to why they refused it and got a very arrogant and unpleasant reply. So, I certainly shan’t be bothering with them again, or taking much notice of any of their endorsements.

      • Awesome has changed recently. (I assess for them.) Priority now is giving approval rather than reviews, and feedback to authors. I would have thought your books would gain approval (I’d give them approval) if you want to submit any of the trilogy. That’s an objective comment rather than a recommendation, I might add.

  9. Some great advice – thanks! I really struggle with reviews (you might remember that I planned to nick your Pay it Forward idea… then I sat down to write some reviews and croaked!) I think maybe because I know what it’s like to get them – I just can’t critique books (already published ones that is, I’m a great beta reader!) so end up writing bland nonsense. Then I thought I would only review books I adored so I could gush with abandon… until I realise that writer friends might notice if I never reviewed their books! All of which is a really long way of saying that I cringe at asking for reviews as I’m so useless at returning the favour!

    • Hi Claire, I understand your trepidation but the one thing I wouldn’t recommend is reviewing books because you feel obligated to return the favour. For me, the paying it forward part of Pay It Forward is the buying of the book. It gives the author a little income but also a visibility and ranking boost. If you then read it, like it and review, that’s a bonus.
      I wouldn’t worry about writer friends noticing you haven’t written a review. If they are experienced writers they’ll know that everybody’s tastes are different. I have some very good writer buddies whose books I’ve loved and reviewed who have never reviewed a book of mine. It may be because they haven’t read any (there are a lot of books out there and only so much time) or it could be they read one or more and didn’t like them. It doesn’t change my opinion of them or their work.
      I also have a good writer friend whose first book I loved but I wasn’t so keen on their second. This hasn’t stopped me from looking forward to reading their next book when it comes out.

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