So, we all know that reviews are critical to a book’s success. The more reviews a book gets, the more action there is on the book’s Amazon Page, and the higher it appears in Amazon’s mysterious “search algorithms.” The rumor is that 20 reviews is a benchmark, and that after 20 reviews, the book gets a bump in discoverability in the Amazon search engine. The rumor continues that you get another bump at 50, and another bump at 100. I have no idea if this is true, because I don’t program search engines for Amazon’s site, and the people that do aren’t talking. So anything anyone says (unless they can specifically tell you “I worked for Amazon and know this to be true”) is pure speculation. And even if they worked there, if they left more than six months ago, it’s probably speculation.
But anyway, reviews are important to a book’s success, regardless of whether or not they affect the ranking in the Amazon’s searches. Reviews from consumers are more and more how people make decisions in purchasing items. With so many things out there, and so little time to fuck around with figuring out what the best fit for you will be, user reviews of everything from washing machines to books are critical. Word of mouth is still the best way to sell a book, period.
So how do you get reviews? Especially if you’re self-publishing or working with a small press, it can be tough. Your marketing budget may be small or non-existent, and you may not have enough name recognition to get people excited to read your book when it first comes out. So what are you going to do?
1) Build an engaged and excited fan base – This isn’t easy, and it isn’t quick. But it is the best way to get a bunch of reviews on your books. You need to find your fans, and you need to tell them how important reviews are. Eric Asher has released two awesome novellas for Falstaff Books this year. He’s writing a spinoff series to my Bubba the Monster Hunter books, featuring a Monster Hunter based in Missouri named Mason Dixon. The books are great, and you should totally buy them. The first book, Mason Dixon – Monster Hunter, has 45 reviews after an April 21 release. By comparison, my book that released in February, Calling All Angels, has 16 reviews. Eric kicks my ass in soliciting reviews. Eric also has about triple the number of people on his newsletter list that I do, and has worked very diligently in building his email list and his street team over the past few years.
The Past Few Years. I wasn’t joking – it takes that long to do it right. Eric does it right. He promotes other people, does newsletter swaps with people, and builds his list. Sometimes these newsletter swaps result in a bunch of people getting free ebooks and then instantly dropping off the list. That’s fine, because out of every ten people that sign up, you’re probably only going to get one superfan, and that’s if you’re lucky. And those superfans are who you convert to your street team, and your ARC team, and you engage with them. A lot.
How do you engage with your fan base? You talk to them. You don’t just send out a newsletter when you have a new book. You send out a minimum of one per month. I’m building up to twice a month, but I’m also terrible about staying organized, so I end up doing them whenever I or Falstaff has new releases. That’s been a lot lately. A LOT. But you have to stop thinking of a newsletter as spam. This is something they have signed up to receive. Something you have probably given them a free book to lure them into your lair. They may have signed up for your list because they bought your ebook. They WANT to hear from you. So talk to them.
In addition to newsletters, you can blog. You know, that thing that I’m doing here. This series of blog posts was originally created in my role as Publisher of Falstaff Books (yes, we are open for submissions. Yes, the guidelines are on the website), but it’s open to anyone. So this is another way that I’m talking to potential fans. I try to post a minimum of twice a week here. On Mondays, I put up a chapter of a book that I’m serializing, called Amazing Grace. I do these posts on Tuesday. On Friday, I have an underutilized marketing opportunity for other writers to write a blog post about where their idea came from and promote their book. Not many people take advantage of this opportunity. But you can start a blog. Yes, it feels like screaming into the void at first, but that’s okay. Your writing is screaming into the void, until someone reads it. So anything that points someone to your books is a good thing.
2) Blog tours – There are a bunch of services that will send your book out on blog tours, where you can write on a shitload of book blogs for a month and hopefully get some traction. This worked great in 2011-2012. I don’t think it’s worth a flying shit now. Save your money.
3) Solicit Book Bloggers – This is still very good. But you have to pick the real book bloggers, and preferably book bloggers that will cross-post their reviews on Amazon, BN, Goodreads, Apple, somewhere. But you really want Amazon.
4) Solicit reviewers – Look at the reviews that other books in your genre have gotten. See if any of the reviewers have “Vine Voice” by their name. These are the top reviewers on Amazon, and they review a shitload of stuff. You can click on their name and hit them up, ask them if they’d like a copy of your book to review. Frequently, they’ll say yes. After all, they already are in the habit of reviewing a shitload of stuff.
These last three are good, but the first one is the best. You have to get out there and chase down fans. Get them on a newsletter list, then make a separate list for your ARC (Advance Reader/Review Copy) team. Send them the book for free before it comes out, so they can review it. Once the book is out, send out another newsletter a couple weeks later reminding folks if they’ve bought the books and enjoyed it, to leave a review. You have to ask. You have to remind people. You have to get out there and solicit reviews. People will only review a book if they either love it or hate it, the 4-star reviews are the ones you have to go get.
I hope this helps. Leave questions in comments, and I’ll try to answer them. And if you want a shot at joining my ARC team, first you gotta subscribe to my newsletter. If you want to know about awesome books by a ton of other great authors, sign up for the Falstaff Books email newsletter, too! You’ll get free shit just for signing up.