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.
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.
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.
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.
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.