If you want to sell books online, book reviews matter. With the majority of books now purchased online, reviews provide what marketers call "social proof." The actual content of the review is less important than the fact a review exists. It's my experience that books with a handful of reviews sell exponentially more than those with none, and there is no such thing as too many reviews! I identified three major kinds of reviews you can get for your book, why they are important, and how to get them.
Reviews in Traditional Media
These are the coveted reviews in the mass media in major newspapers like The New York Times, popular magazines like Entertainment Weekly, and popular cultural blogs like Refinery29. Traditional media also includes book trade reviews in industry journals such as Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus.
These reviews are highly desirable, and twenty years ago getting them were considered essential for the commercial success of any book. While I'd still argue that these reviews are important for books that are heavily supported by publisher advertising in the same publications, they probably offer more prestige than sales for most titles. A New York Times reviewed book does not necessarily become a New York Times bestseller. Trade reviews, however, do make a significant difference in whether or not a book will be picked up by Indie bookstores and libraries.
HOW TO GET BOOK REVIEWS IN TRADITIONAL MEDIA
If you have a traditional publisher, your in-house publicist should be pursuing these outlets. If not, there is no reason you can't send a copy of your book yourself. Galleys (pre-publication review copies) are generally sent out 3-6 months in advance of publication, and most traditional book reviewers won't consider a book that has already been published. If you are sending a galley or finished copy, I recommend rubber-banding your cover letter and press release to the book and stickering it with your contact information and a link to your online media kit. (You wouldn't believe the towers of books that loom in reviewers offices!)
The guidelines offered in the help section of the Times are worth heeding for any publication you send your book for review consideration.
All publishers are welcome to send material for review consideration, but please be aware that we review only a very small percentage of the books we receive and the odds against a given book receiving a review are long indeed. So before you send galleys or books you should familiarize yourself with the kinds of books we do and do not review.2
If you are an indie publisher, it's not so likely that big publication will consider your book for review. It's perfectly legitimate to pay for a Kirkus review3 (paid) or to submit your title to Publisher's Weekly via Booklife (free).4
REVIEWS BY BOOK BLOGGERS, VLOGGERS, AND INFLUENCERS
If mass media no longer have sway over the sales of books today, most of that power has been shifted over to book review bloggers, vloggers (video bloggers), podcasters, and other social media influencers. These are individuals who have nurtured specialized, niche audiences by delivering special-interest content. These audiences are much smaller than newspapers and magazines, so you'll need many more reviews to reach the same number of potential book buyers.
HOW TO GET BLOGGER/VLOGGER/INFLUENCER BOOK REVIEWS
If you're short on time, you can a hire a publicist or blog book tour specialist to reach out to bloggers on your behalf and to send review copies.
You can also post an electronic galley of your book on NetGalley, a service that gives bloggers controlled access to e-copies of new books for review. It's worth noting that like pretty much every paid book promotional service, you'll get more out of NetGalley if you opt to spend more on the site's promotions.
This post by Luke Gracias, an Australian Indie author recounting his experience with the service is worth reading if you are considering NetGalley.
To date, my horror-thriller/historical fiction book has been downloaded by approximately 1300 NetGalley members. It has received feedback from 272 members, including 237 reviews.
More than 90% of the 200 plus text reviews on Goodreads, 150 plus reviews on Amazon.com (USA) and 50 plus reviews on other Amazon marketplaces have all come from NetGalley. Over 50 blog posts have been written on the book by NetGalley readers and I have collaborated with six NetGalley members to date, to run promotions of the book on their websites.5
And then there is also the DIY route of approaching book bloggers. It involves Googling book bloggers and reaching out to them via e-mail offering a free copy of your book for review. It's not a bad idea to create a list of book bloggers who write about books similar to yours. This method is a lot of work, but if you put in the time it definitely pays off. Two super-charged approaches to this are Jenny Blake's 15-page book promotion spreadsheet (see the "AdvDistrList" tab) and Jason Ladd's Book Banzai that recommends using web data scraping services to reach more reviewers. I have to say, both of these approaches make me sweat though I'd definitely attempt them!
Reader reviews are the bread and butter of selling on Amazon and visibility on Goodreads.com. A rule of thumb is that about 50 reviews will tip your book into "the algorithm" on Amazon, which means the site will deliver your book in search results more often, but I'm certain this number varies by genre and subject. Some bloggers and Netgalley users will post their thoughtful reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads, but you'll also want as many consumer reader reviews as possible.
HOW TO GET READER BOOK REVIEWS
Start with your friends, family, and your email newsletter list. Plainly ask for reviews, and explain to your top fans how important reviews (even if they are minimal) are to the success of your book. When asked, most people will be happy to help!
Do frequent Goodreads (paid) and Amazon giveaways (cost of the product) as a way to boost reviews. You don't have to do this only when the book launches. Do a few giveaways every year to keep reviews coming in. Not every person who receives a free copy of a book will write a review, but many will.
Finally, Contact Amazon’s top reviewers.6 Amazon's top reviewers get as many requests as the media. Be sure to approach only those reviewers who have demonstrated an interest in a book similar to yours. Unless you're published by an Amazon imprint or publisher has invested in paying for Amazon Vine reviews, reviews will not show up on Amazon until after a book was published.
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