If you’ve published a book, you probably already know that reviews are essential to sales: having a bunch of reviews on your Amazon page should be your #1 pre-marketing goal. But recent book review scandals have made everybody skeptical and overly prejudiced against paid book reviews.
Paid book reviews – it is assumed – are automatically untrustworthy, false, fake, misleading, and just pure evil.
So instead, tens of thousands of indie authors are sending out copies of their books to everybody and begging, pleading, cajoling and possibly bribing friends, relatives, strangers and online book reviewers to review their books.
But why should anybody review your book for free?
Let’s assume you have a medium sized book and it takes a few hours to read. With writing and posting the review, let’s say it takes an average of 5 hours to review your book (you don’t want them to just skim, do you?)
So when you’re asking someone for a book review, you’re asking for five hours of their time.
That’s not a small favor.
At minimum wage that’s about $40.
If you sent out a bunch of emails to people you didn’t know and asked, “Hey I need a favor, can you give me $40?” how many replies would you get?
How many friends or relatives would folk over the cash, or 5 hours of their time?
I’m lucky to have a bunch of people I can count on to support me, but I’d never ask them to do me this big a favor. If I needed five hours of someone’s time, I’d pay for it.
Asking friends or family is pretty rude and selfish; it also puts them in an awkward position. Firstly, their reviews don’t count, because they may not be honest to spare your feelings.
Also, not everybody is going to feel comfortable summarizing a whole book into a finely-tuned paragraph and publish it publicly. On top of the five-hour theft of their time, you’re probably pushing them out of their comfort zone. Why put that kind of strain on your relationships?
And it’s no better to ask for free book reviews from total strangers.
Sure, some book review blogs make money from ads or services, and they review your book for free because it gives them content, which means more traffic, which brings in more money. But why should anybody else?
Offering them a free book? Who cares, they probably don’t want it.
Offering a $10 Amazon card? That’s nice but not really enough.
I just had someone ask me for a book review – I said sure, want to review mine in exchange? They wrote back saying they weren’t really interested in my book. Why the hell would I give away my time doing a stranger a favor when they aren’t willing to do the same for me?
How to get more free reviews
Sure we’d all like to get natural reviews from the people who buy our books, but only about 5% of book buyers leave reviews, and many people only leave reviews if they either love or hate the book. And the majority of browsers these days ignore 5 star reviews and go straight to the negative reviews, which they deem more authentic. That means that you’d have to sell 100 books to get 5 reviews, and when you’re just starting out, it’s tough to get that first 100 sales – especially if you don’t already have some reviews!
So unless you have an amazing, life-changing book, natural reviews that sell your book are really hard to come by.
Waiting around isn’t a solution, you need to be proactive.
In How to Get a Truckload of Amazon reviews, Penny Sansevieri says to pitch top amazon reviewers or reviewers who reviewed similar books, and use the following Google search string to track them down:
“Top 500 reviewer” + Romances + E-mail site: http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile
Her other tips are to personalize each email, write thank yous, and keep active on sites like Goodreads.
The way I get free book reviews is to offer a huge prize (like a one week resort vacation) to the review voted most helpful on Amazon by a certain date (which gets lots of people to leave a review, and then tell their friends to go and vote their review ‘most helpful’.
Paid reviews sell books just as well, but getting them is tricky
But personally, I’d rather pay for book reviews. I think it’s completely possible to get honest, genuine reviews from people and reward them for their time. In John Locke’s ebook about selling a million ebooks, he neglects to mention his secret weapon: 300 paid book reviews from www.paidbookreviews.org
I’ve used fiverr.com to find book reviewers. I tell reviews I want them to post a 100% honest review, even if it’s critical or negative, not be fluff or rave, and not be long or scholarly. A simple, one or two sentence, honest opinion is better for sales than a lengthy, in depth book review. Paying for honest reviews is the responsibility of the author.
In an ideal world, there would be a perfect online platform/system for buying reviews (and yes, I’m planning to build it myself, with $10,000 in startup capital). Actually I started it as a system for authors to trade reviews, but it may have a paid service also: www.blurbtrade.com.
But Amazon now is removing anything suspected of being a paid review, and they are also deleting reviews from competing authors (which is frankly ridiculous):
Hugh Howey, in a Kboards discussion about reviews, suggests a multiple choice test for reviewers:
“It might also be fun to include a multiple choice question or two that only someone who read the book would get right the first time. I think there’s a lot of worry about reviews from people who skim or don’t even read the work, and I haven’t seen any site tackle this appropriately. I think with the mental muscle of this group, we could (by that, I mean you all) come up with a clever solution that serves as a model for the future.”
Definitely a cool idea I’ll add into BlurbTrade.com, once I start building it.
I know this is a hot topic, please share your views in the comments.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.