How To Get Reviews When You’re Just Starting Out

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You’ve written a seriously awesome book – it’s well researched, insightful, and compelling. Not only that, but you’ve had it edited to death and then back to life again. It’s a masterpiece, it’s ready, it’s available for purchase, and people are buying it! In fact, they’re loving it… and yet they’re not leaving reviews. Readers keep coming in dribs and drabs, but you were expecting a snowball effect. What gives?

What gives is that, sadly, while reviews do equal readers, readers don’t necessarily equal reviews. Reviews may be one of the easiest ways to grow your market and make a splash, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to get.

That’s why, in this article, I’ll be taking a look at the methods you can use to attract online reviews when you first start out. I’ll mostly be talking about Amazon reviews, because that’s where the greatest potential lies, but most of these tips will apply across the board. Let’s get started.

Play by the rules

If you want to win any game, start by learning the rules. (And then following them – am I stating the obvious?) Amazon has strict policies against soliciting reviews through any kind of incentive – no free books, no discounts, no cash, no gift cards, no sweepstakes, no nothin’. You can give your book away, or sell it at a discount, but you can’t do so in exchange for a review. Neither can you kinda-sorta politely, discreetly suggest that they might leave you a nice review, since you were so nice and gave them a free book. You have to be willing to accept the good, the bad, and the total non-response.

Don’t think you can reroute through a third-party service, either. Once Amazon decided to get serious about monitoring reviews, they definitely got serious. Try circumventing the policy and you could get booted off of Amazon. No small penance.

Most online booksellers have strict rules about bribing reviewers, so don’t do it.Click To Tweet

Don’t lose heart, though. Free or discounted books are still the way to go if you want to rack up a couple hundred reviews and, trust me, you do.

The humility of ‘free’

Writing a good book is hard. It takes a lot of time and work. I’d like to offer a quick word of encouragement to anyone who’s still hung up on giving away their book for free: this truly isn’t a desperate, last-ditch effort.

In the digital world, you don’t stand to lose by giving things away (as you might if you paid for printed copies); you stand to gain everything. This isn’t just for new and unknown authors either. Neil Gaiman’s free distribution of American Gods led to thousands of webpage visitors, and sales of all his books went up 40% while the free American Gods was available.

Of course you want people to buy your book. The question is, where are you going to get those people? Once lots and lots of people have read your book (for free), lots and lots more will follow (for not-free).

Gaiman’s blog – which is delightfully accessible, by the way – goes into a little more detail on the philosophy behind giving a book away. For a riveting and thorough discussion of free in general in the digital age, take a gander at Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

Of course, as I said earlier, free can find you readers, but it doesn’t automatically guarantee reviews.

Find the right people

Giving your book away for free can help you find readers willing to review your work, but you still need to select for reviews that will help your book sell. That means finding people who a) know how to write a compelling review and b) will probably like what they read.

Often, the answer is review bloggers. Bloggers who offer up literary reviews as content are always looking for something to talk about, and they meet the vital criteria above.

Seek out reviewers who are likely to enjoy your work.Click To Tweet

So, where do you find these people? Research. Piles and piles of research. Probably not what you wanted to hear, but hey: you don’t come here for the fluff. You come for real, actionable advice. Here it is.

Step 1: Check blog search engines (like this one) for lists of blogs that do book reviews. Find as many book review blogs as you can, vetting them as you go. You can also check out GoodReads to build up your community. The types of blogs you want to compile look professional, write respectfully, and have a solid reputation among users. When you find a winner, put it on your (alphabetical) list. Take lots of notes in a separate column next to each blog – things like the blogger’s genre preferences, hobbies, previously reviewed books, reach, etc.

Step 2: Reach out. Don’t bug people – an introductory message and then a follow-up a week or two later will do. Send a friendly, personalized note to everyone on your list (which is hopefully several hundred items long by now). Personalizing a note means more than, “Hey, I noticed you like fly-fishing and so do I. I wrote a book about the Loch Ness Monster, will you please review it for me?”

Looking for common ground is a great way to launch the conversation, but there are three parties in question here, not two. It’s not ‘what do you and I have in common?’ but ‘what do you and I and my book have in common?’ Make it personal by knowing what they’re already interested in and tying your book to that.

Don’t force it – everyone can tell a phony pitch. If it’s impossible to find a connection, that person probably isn’t the right reviewer for you, but spending some time reading their work will usually turn up gold.

Step 3: Make it about them as much as you can. Though you can’t incentivize your request for a review, you can remind potential reviewers about the potential advantages to them. This is closely related to the above point about personalization.

If you notice the blogger has reviewed something very similar to your book and just loved it, tie into that. Let them know your book is on a similar topic or adopts a similar style as The Snail’s Diary or whatever it was on their site that made you think they’d like your work. Show them that you’ve thoroughly perused their work, that you appreciate it.

Any good reviewer regards their blog as for someone, so involve their readers. Why would your book make good content for their blog? Is their audience interested in a particular genre, or does your narrative offer a new way for the reviewer to approach ideas they’re fond of?

Finally, make their life easy. Keep messages as short as practical and don’t make them jump through hoops for their free copy. However you feel about contacting reviewer after reviewer, treat every interaction as if they’re doing you a favor – no ‘If you’re interested, let me know before the end of the week and I’ll attach the file, which is password protected.’

Early reviewers are doing you a favor, even when it doesn’t feel like it.Click To Tweet

Remember: people care about themselves. To get them to care about you, care about them first.

There’s an app for that

Once you’ve gotten people to review your work, follow up with them. Thank them personally; no form letters. Thank them even if their review is less than glowing. Thank them for their honesty and their time.

There’s no reason not to – bad reviews can hurt, but if they’re part of a build-up of critical attention, they may end up doing you more good than harm.

In addition, anytime someone downloads your book, contact them to say ‘thanks’ and to politely request a review. You can use Feedback Genius for this, which will save you loads of time and still allow you to reach out and ask for feedback. This isn’t the only area where technology has your back – correspondence with your review bloggers can be handled through an app like GMass. Just make sure you have your formulas set up correctly. Nobody likes receiving an email addressed to ‘Dear {Reviewer Name}’.

Getting reviews is a numbers game

At the end of the day, getting reviews is a numbers game – diligently pursue enough potential reviewers and you’ll get what you need. Time and effort are the currency here, but they’re reliable, and it’s definitely possible for authors who are just starting out to get the number and type of reviews that matter.

Want easy access to thousands of potential reviewers?

The Author Marketing Club Reviewer Grabber tool (Included in AMC Premium Membership) is a quick and easy way to find potential reviewers of your books.

Researching reviewer contact details on Amazon can take days of your time. This tool automates the process, giving you more time to focus on the things that are going to help you sell more books.

You can also download the reviewer information to your hard drive so you can keep a master list of reviewers for future books.

Click here to find out more about AMC Premium Membership.

What about you? How have you garnered reviews in the past, and what lessons have you learned along the way? Thanks for joining the conversation in the comments below!

Or, for more great tips on this subject, check out Influencer Marketing: Why You Need It And How To Get It, and BookBub vs BookGorilla vs The Fussy Librarian – Which Is The Best eBook Marketing Service?


6 thoughts on “How To Get Reviews When You’re Just Starting Out”

  1. Thanks, Rebecca. I intend to check our the links you provided.

    You mention review bloggers in this article, but not all blogs offer the same traffic or opportunities. For instance, has a good Alexa rank. A book review here would be worth more to an author than it would be on a site with poor rank.

    1. Hi, Kathy, thanks for pointing that out. You are absolutely right – it’s important to consider reputation and ranking when seeking reviews. Indeed, having your book reviewed on a poorly ranked site, might lead to loss of credibility.

      Best of luck to you!

      1. Those are the things we want to avoid but somehow we don’t have a control over it…getting a review of your book/product on a poor website. I considered buying either Feedback genius or feedback five. Prices are more or less the same and they both start with $0. What I like with feedback genius is A/B testing. Do you have any experience with it?

        1. Hi teodor,

          Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m afraid we haven’t dug down into this enough to give definitive conclusions, but we’ll keep it in mind for future articles.


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