Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step 7: Reviews: How To Get Them, And How To Deal With Them

This is the seventh part of my continuing series INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, a step-by-step guide to getting your stories into (digital) print. I’ll be doing each step with you, learning as you do, because I’ve never done this before either. I will be compiling all these steps into a free e-book for my blog-readers when I am done.

Step 7: Reviews: How To Get Them, And How To Deal With Them

Some people are sceptical about the power of reviews and whether they have any significant effect on sales. However, I think this is a very short-term view.

While some people might ignore a book that only has a couple of positive reviews, assuming they have been left by a mother or lover (or in some cases, the author themselves), there is no doubt that a book with, say, 50 or 100 overwhelmingly positive reviews will have an effect on sales.

So instead of weighing the possible effect of one positive review, you have to start looking long-term and consider how you get to the point of having lots and lots of positive reviews.

If you are serious about making a career out of writing, you have to take your nose out of the day-to-day. Stop looking at each little bump and dip in your rankings and trying to divine reasons for each. Instead, start planning for the future.

Reviews should be part of the marketing plan for every indie writer. Today we will look at the different kinds of reviews, how to get them, and how to deal with them when you do.

Paid Reviews

There are a number of venues out there where you can pay for a review. Some are respectable, some are not. Either way, I think paying for a review is a huge mistake.

There are a huge number of places where you can submit for genuine review – that accept indie books – and this is where you should focus your energy.

Paying for reviews is a waste of money, and people rightly question the integrity of any such review. I’m not going to waste time talking about this, but it should be obvious why going down this road is a mistake.

In short, if you are thinking about doing this, don’t.

Amazon Reviews

Anyone can leave a review on Amazon, whether they have bought the product or not, which has led to abuses in the past, leaving some customers not to trust them – especially when there only two reviews from people who have reviewed nothing else.

To avoid getting tarred with the same brush, I recommend you ask your friends (and especially your mother or lover) not to post reviews. If they insist, there’s not much you can do about it, just ensure that they know their review has to be genuine or it could do you harm.

Readers are savvy, and false reviews can be spotted a mile away.

To avoid getting lumped in with the sock-puppets, you want to move past having just one or two reviews as quickly as possible. One simple way is to offer a limited number of free copies for review on a forum such as Kindle Boards.

(Just note that reviews from Amazon US don’t get posted to Amazon UK (and vice versa) unless the reviewer manually does it themselves. To cover the UK, consider the Kindle Users Forum.)

Make your announcement enticing (and do it in the appropriate place, there are strict rules). Remember, while you are giving your book away for free, you are asking people to donate their most valuable resource: time. Never forget that they are doing you a favour, and act appropriately.

Start off by limiting the amount of review copies to five. This makes it seem exclusive and that you are not just handing out unlimited copies to anyone willing to say something nice. You can also host a giveaway on your site, like I did last week.

This can be great for generating interest, and you can ask winners to leave a review if they enjoyed it. Also, those who lose may buy the book anyway (and review it).

When someone expresses interest in reviewing your book, there are a number of ways of handling it.

First of all, you can simply email the file to the reviewer. This is simplest and easiest, although there is a piracy issue that some worry about (I don’t – I believe obscurity is a far greater threat), and costs you nothing.

Second, you can go to your listing on Amazon and just under the button to purchase, there is a button to “Give as a Gift”. Problem is, you have to pay for this, full price (including any applicable VAT/sales tax).

If you choose this option, it will count as a “sale”, and you will receive royalties. Essentially, it is costing you around two thirds of the price of a copy to “gift” it. I do this sparingly for a number of reasons.

It artificially inflates your sales figures, and gives you a false picture of how your e-book is doing. This makes it difficult to track genuine sales, because it doesn’t add to your figures right away, it’s only when they actually “accept” the gift, which could be days or weeks later.

Also, they don’t actually have to redeem it for your book; they can purchase something else with it. I believe this happened with a couple of copies I gifted – it’s quite common, and there’s nothing you can do about it – no point getting worked up.

Third, you pay for it. Not a sustainable sales strategy!

However, it is useful in very limited circumstances. If there is someone you want to impress, for example, it looks far, far better (they get a fancy email from Amazon), than merely sending the file.

There is a third way – a Smashwords coupon – which is probably best of all. In your Smashwords account, you can generate a coupon giving someone a percentage of your choice off the price.

You can set this percentage to 100%, giving them a free copy. The advantage of this is that it looks good, the piracy worries (if you have them) are lessened, and they are able to review on Smashwords too (who only allow reviews from those who purchased there), as well as Amazon (who don’t have any such requirement).

The only drawback with the Smashwords coupon is that they might just post their review there, and not on Amazon, which is where you really want it.

Overall, if you are only gifting five or ten Amazon copies for review, that’s fine. If you are going beyond that, or are doing a large giveaway, stick to Smashwords coupons. If the only sales you can get are from buying copies of your book yourself, you’re not going to be in this game very long.

In time, the reviewer will (hopefully) post the review. Don’t chase them, this will only annoy them. Remember, they are doing you a favour. Also, they may have decided not to review your book at all because they didn’t like it – another reason not to push them.

Book Blogs

Since the rise of blogging, book review sites have become popular ways for readers to find books. Getting mentioned on some of the most popular blogs can have a huge effect on sales.

Amanda Hocking said that one of the factors in her success was getting to know the book bloggers and getting lots of reviews for her books.

There are so many sites that it can seem daunting, at first. But there are a few handy lists out there which break them down by genre.

Check the submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. Be professional in your approach. Tailor each email. Make it brief, addressed to the reviewer, with all the information they require presented neatly.

Most blogs only select books that interest them. Describe yours in an enticing manner. Make it sound like something they want to read.

Their guidelines will tell you which way they prefer to receive the book. Very few want it “gifted” on Amazon, or even a Smashwords coupon; usually you just email them the file.

Some of the more popular sites have waiting lists over six months. Get in line. There’s a reason why they are popular – they have lots of readers. Wait your turn, e-books aren’t going anywhere and they don’t have a shelf-life.

If you’re lucky, sometimes your description will catch the eye of the reviewer and you can skip some of the queue.

Other sites are closed for submission altogether. Bookmark the site and check back (or follow them on Twitter).

How To Deal With Reviews

Everyone gets bad reviews. Everyone. You just have to suck it up. The first time it happens, it will piss you off. Get over it.

If someone paid money for your story, they have every right to say if they thought it sucked.

Even if it was someone who got a free copy, they didn’t like it, you wasted their time, they have a right to express that view. Deal with it.

You will be tempted to respond – especially if there is something incorrect or unfair in their review. Don’t. This can lead to an internet pile-on that you can only imagine.

If you suspect you are being targeted unfairly, and people are leaving reviews who haven’t even read your book (this happens), you can contact Amazon and ask them to remove it.

Some people may disagree with me, but I think that even when you get a positive review, you shouldn’t respond either. My reasoning is this: there are plenty of trolls out there who just love to cause trouble.

If they see an author who always responds to reviews, they will leave a stinky one-star just to get a reaction. They are trolls, this is what they do. Don’t play into their hands.

Besides, if you have a few positive reviews, and a couple of negative ones, and you have only responded to the positive ones, it will look weird. Don’t do it.

The only time you should respond to a positive review is when it comes from a book blogger. In this case, a simple thank you by email, Twitter, or in the comments of their blog is appropriate. Keep it brief.

It’s also no harm (if the review was positive) to tell them you have something else coming out soon – you could skip the queue that way.

When you get a nice review from a book blogger, tell the world. Put a link to the review on your blog and tell people to check it out. They appreciate that and it’s good for you too. Tweet the link to the review, put it on your Facebook page.

It’s far better to send out “news” like this about your book than to tweet or post the same link to Amazon every few days – it’s less spammy and more effective.

At the time of writing I have eight reviews on Amazon US, six on Amazon UK, four on Goodreads, one on Smashwords, and one by a book blogger (with more to follow). Not bad for two weeks in.

Don’t panic if you don’t see a bump in sales straight away. You are building something bigger. Remember that.

If you would like to read the earlier steps in this guide to self-publishing, including beta-readers, editing, covers, formatting, blogging, and social networking, please go here.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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30 Responses to Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step 7: Reviews: How To Get Them, And How To Deal With Them

  1. Great post, Dave! I’ve been thinking a lot about this the closer I get to release date. I’ve especially been thinking about the review blogs.

    The one problem is that it hasn’t been through the professional editor yet (she’s starting this week), so I can’t just fork over a finished manuscript yet. Melissa over on WereVamps circumvented this problem by spotlighting me as an author and letting everyone know I have a book coming out. Then when I have a decent ARC, I’ll send it to her to read and we’ll a review and interview for the release date.

    She’s a fairly new blogger, though, and thus quite flexible. So, I was wondering when should I start trying to get reviews on blogs? Should I wait until the book comes out at the end of June? Until it’s edited and formatted (mid June most likely)? Or should I start now?

    • When you have a print version of your book that you want reviewed (or if that’s all they accept or what they prefer), then things are a little different, and you should contact them as soon as you have an ARC (and a release date). They can be quite helpful in scheduling the review appropriately if you let them know the situation.

      With digital, I don’t really see the point of contacting reviewers in advance. First off, your file is probably only going to be properly formatted and ready just before you release (unless you are holding things back to do a simultaneous release with the print version). Second, most reviewers want a link to your book on sale on Amazon.

      While you have to wait for some reviewers, sometimes they have a free slot on review you right away.

      The last thing you want is a review to go up before you are on sale. This is a different model to New York Publishing. They try and pump everything for a massive first week, because that will have a huge influence on how long the book stays on the shelves (and in what quantities).

      With e-books, you have an infinite shelf life, and it doesn’t matter if those sales come tomorrow, next month, or next year. In fact, it can be good to spread some of the promo out.

      In your case, I would draw up a list of the bloggers that only accept ARCs, and hit those when that’s ready (and you have a firm release date). Hold off on the e-book bloggers until you are up on Amazon and you have tested the file for no typos etc.

      • I think I’m still partially using the wrong mindset.🙂

        I’m publishing my ebook first. You’re right, that’ll go up as soon as it’s formatted. I don’t think I’m going to release a print version right away. I’ll probably wait a couple months.

        So, I guess I’ll dray up my list and wait until the book is out, THEN I’ll start chasing.

        Partly I’m overeager.🙂 And partly I’m still in that “release week” mode. You’re right, this baby is for the long haul. No need to rush about like a headless chicken. Not a pretty look. lol

        Thanks!

      • Dean Wesley Smith has written lots on what he calls the “Produce Model” of traditional publishing. There’s some here: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=4019 if you scroll down a little – under the first heading about three paragraphs down.

        Basically, indie publishing is different, you don’t need to storm the charts on the first day, a small build is just fine.

        I didn’t even tell people my book was available for three days while I tested it, tweaked the description, and removed a couple of typos that had slipped in during formatting.

  2. Lots of good advice just when I need it. I will probably be finished with the editing process this week, then there’s nothing (but me) stopping me from learning the formatting I need to and getting the story up there.

    Quick question, though. Have you found many book blogs willing to do single story reviews? I’ve found one, but it seems to be a rare event even for them. (Need to go see if it’s the same one that reviewed yours.)

    • I think I was commenting on your blog while you were commenting on mine. I’m pretty sure that kind of thing can break the internet.

      I’ve got four or five blog reviews lined up (out of 10-15 emails sent), so that’s great. Maybe because it’s short story month, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be a barrier. I think if you present yourself professionally, if they like the sound of your book, and you have a nice cover, you always have a shot.

      I would say unless the blog specifically says they are closed for submissions, they don’t do your genre, or they only do full novels or collections, it’s worth a try.

      A couple of reviewers actually said they would slot me in sooner because it was a short piece and they could do with something different.

      I think – like agents – a lot of these guys see a lot of crap – cliched themes, stuff that isn’t ready for prime-time, poor covers, no editing, bad formatting, and so on, that if you follow the simple steps I laid out, you will stand out from the crowd and you have a good chance of nabbing a review.

  3. Lot of good advice as always, and just as Margo said, when it’s needed. Thanks Dave!

  4. mesmered says:

    Goodness I AM GLAD I discovered your blog. Simple, easily described assistance that is highly valued by authors like myself. I’m due to have my third book published in print and e-book by end June and a fourth at the end of the year and I want to give them their best chance: everything you’ve said has enormous potential. Thank you.

  5. Tony Slater says:

    Nice one Dave, I dunno where you keep coming up with all these goodies! Seriously, do you ever eat or sleep? I’m off to check out the list of book bloggers, as I’ve been building one myself by copying lists of links and blogs every time I find a site with a decent blogroll – but somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that the list you’ve linked to, will be better!
    Cheers,
    Tony

    • It’s not the longest list in the world, but it’s the most up to date I have found. I have a couple of others, but this seems to be by far the best, and has the most reviewers who are still reviewing and don’t have too long wait time.

      There are 40 or so on it, which is a good start.

      Sleep, now there’s an idea.

  6. Thanks for this, David!

    Excellent information when I really need it.

    Not only am I seeking reviews, what can you tell me about getting interviews?

    See you on IWU

    Dave Cleinman

    • It depends what kind of interview you are talking about.

      A lot of the blog review sites will ask a couple of questions to go along with the interview. Other sites will just “feature” your book along with some questions. Others again will do longer interviews. Also, if you guest-post somewhere, they will often ask you questions too.

      But if you are asking about Oprah, that’s a secret.

  7. mesmered says:

    Oprah! Now there’s a thought!!!

    • First thing this morning when I read that, I thought you said Opera. You had me pottering around in my kitchen pondering the usefulness of Opera as a promotional tool.

      • mesmered says:

        No reason why not: i-tunes song as promotional tool for novel? Such things have happened.

        When the Youtube trailer was made for The Stumpwork Robe, I fell in love with the music from exceptional Wikimedia Commons composer Kevin Macloud.

  8. Simon says:

    Thanks for the mention Dave, and nice blog. Speaking of interviews, you’re welcome to do an IndieView over at my place – let me know.

    Your advice on reviews and getting reviewed is excellent.

    Have a good one🙂

  9. Aonghus Fallon says:

    Thanks for all this, David. This issue was of particular interest to me, and you’ve obviously made a lot more progress than I did. I searched for people who had reviewed books similar to my yet-to-be-published novella and divided potential reviewers into (a) professional book-reviewers with their own website/blog & (b) people who review similar books on Amazon. My intention was to send these people a free copy of my own work, but of course Amazon reviews are by their nature anonymous, and even if somebody uses their real name, they don’t seem to leave an e-mail address. More’s the pity.
    I found one professional book reviewer who reviewed books similar to my own. Funnily enough, his most recent article was about how he never reviewed self-published books! I guess that means e-books would definitely be out!
    Out of curiosity I checked Amazon’s top 100 (their UK site) and there were no kindle books listed. Make of that what you will. I’m guessing e-books must be outselling hardcopies in terms of sheer volume – I mean as opposed to a handful of best-selling e-books storming up through the charts. Still, it’s early days yet.

    • Hi Aonghus,

      The UK market is about a year behind the US – e-books only represent 10% of the market, but that’s rising all the time.

      In the last available figures, e-books had captured 29.5% of the US market, making it the most popular format (in dollar sales).

      All of those figures are only for commercial publishing. If you include self-publishing, the proportion of the market for e-books is larger.

      In any event, when it comes to the Top 100 Chart, Amazon separates out print books and e-books.

      The e-books get lumped in with everything available for the Kindle, so in the Kindle Top 100 you will get a few things other than books (newspaper subscriptiosn, computer games etc.), but it’s still good for a general picture:

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bestsellers/digital-text/ref=zg_bs_nav

      Indie writers holding 5 of the top 10 spots btw – amazing.

      Dave

  10. theaatkinson says:

    I like the content of this post. very thorough and very useful. I’m impressed at the amount of reviews you have generated in a couple of weeks. Keep at it, David. I’m subscribing to your blog as I only just found it. grin

  11. Pingback: The Long Haul « Shéa MacLeod – Author

  12. Pingback: Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step 9: Discounts, Competitions & Blog Tours | David Gaughran

  13. Chaz Young says:

    Thank you for sharing such helpful information, David, and breaking it down in such an easily understood way. I am going to start working on my Amazon Author Page today and plan to refer to this blog often so that I can get my next book off on the right path!

    • The Amazon Author page is great – and they have just redesigned it a little since I wrote that post, and it looks even better. A photo is very important, that gets displayed in Amazon searches for your name, as well as on all of your book pages. It just makes it all look that bit more professional.

      Plus, I have got quite a few Twitter followers and some good blog traffic from the Amazon Author page – a great way to capture your readers so you can message them about new releases.

  14. Reviews are my next step. Not knowing exactly how to go about it however had me blocked and without much interest in starting. But with this post, I don’t have that excuse any more.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks Alex.

      I’m releasing a e-book based on all these blog posts called “Let’s Get Digital”. It will have all this stuff from the self-publishing guide – all rewritten and updated – plus lots more. It’s going to be around 50,000 words, and I will be giving it away as a free PDF here on the blog (and charging for it on Amazon). I hope to release at the end of the month.

      Dave

  15. Pingback: Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step Ten: What Happens When The Sales Just Stop? | David Gaughran

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