Each month, the Nonfiction Authors Association asks a burning publishing question of the industry’s best, brightest, and most innovative experts. Here’s what they have to say for February!
NFAA: What strategies have you used to generate book reviews? Are there any practices you would suggest authors avoid?
I’m the CEO of Voices and a Wiley published author. As the author of a Dummies® book, we’ve generated over 135 reviews on Amazon with a current rating of 4.5.
To generate reviews, my wife and co-author did a book-signing for friends and family at the local book store. Naturally, we snapped a few pictures. With those pictures, we announced the book to our email list of blog readers that at the time was around 10,000 subscribers. We received a couple boxes of books provided by the publisher and sent signed copies to as gifts or prizes, often as a thank-you for watching and staying to the end of a webinar or other online event.
Speaking of events, I worked to secure speaking engagements at industry conferences and always mentioned that I was a published author in the bio. That often prompted questions afterwards about which book I wrote and a fruitful conversation followed.
In those rare times that we sponsored events, we also gave away books as a thank-you to promising leads who stopped by our booth. When we gave away a book, we politely asked if they learned something new in the book, would they kindly leave us a review on Amazon. Many people did, a phenomenon we know as the law of reciprocity.
It goes without saying, however I feel compelled to mention that reviews shouldn’t be paid for. A gift without expectation is very different from a financial transaction with an expected outcome. Avoid paying for a review and instead deliver value through speaking engagements, podcast appearances, and other book giveaways. Follow up with those who you gave your book to and let them know you’d appreciate it if they could leave a review. Keep your request open-ended and avoid being prescriptive in what you’d like them to say.
I have a few self-published books on Amazon, and I’m the owner of The Blogging CEO.
I will start with tactics to avoid, and there is a lot to avoid. Amazon is smarter than most people would like to admit. If you are doing anything to go against their terms of service, such as buying reviews or review services, your reviews are very unlikely to stick—in fact you will be lucky if your account doesn’t get deactivated!
Here has been my best way of getting reviews:
- Have a product that is going to help the reader achieve whatever it is they want, in as fast and easy a way as possible. If you give a lot of value upfront, naturally they will want to reciprocate that with a positive review.
- Ask them to leave a review and make it easy to! Say something like “If you’ve found something helpful in this book, please let others know by sharing your thoughts here…” Have a shortened link for them to go to that will take them straight to the page to leave a review. The less resistance the better.
- Have a launch team or email list. This will be loyal fans who will buy your stuff and leave a review.
Don’t try to game the system, just give a ton of value and ask for the review.
Kaden Coziar: thebloggingceo.com
I published two nonfiction books at Amazon.com. My first book had many reviews. There are many strategies I’ve seen. First of all, give free copies of your book away in exchange for a review. That is the most common practice I’ve seen. Also, I’ve seen people ask for reviewers on Twitter and other social media sites. Next, ask your friends who you know bought the book for reviews. Offer to review their books if they review your books. If you have a publisher, let them help find beta readers to review the book Finally, join Goodreads. Goodreads is a social media site devoted to books. People on the site write reviews of books they recommend. Then, the reviewer links to the book on Amazon.
Practices to avoid: I didn’t always have time to read and review other authors’ books. Therefore, I couldn’t ask my friends for reviews since I didn’t have time to reciprocate. Don’t commit to reviewing in exchange for a review if you can’t keep the commitment.
I’ve independently published six books on Amazon, so I know the struggle of getting reviews for your books all too well. For my first book, Man in Command, I was able to get more than a dozen legitimate reviews from real users who passed muster with Amazon.
This might not be a popular answer, but the number one review-building strategy I would recommend to authors is to put in the hard work to build an email list of fans, who you can tap for reviews whenever you have a new book to publish.
In my case, I spent years building an audience on my blog, IrreverentGent.com, where I capture email subscribers who are interested in the topics I write about. When I have a new book coming out, I tease its upcoming release to my email audience over the course of a few weeks, then offer them the opportunity to download it from Amazon for free for a limited time. After that, I follow up to ask that if they enjoyed the (free) book, they leave a review on Amazon.
This method certainly isn’t fast or easy, but it’s by far the most effective. It also has the added advantage of driving a surplus of users to download your book during its first week of release, which signals to Amazon that it’s a book people value, and leads to increased visibility in their search algorithm.
I would strongly suggest you avoid pretty much any service that involves you paying money in exchange for reviews. Buying reviews is a strict no-no, but a number of intermediaries have sprung up that essentially offer you the opportunity to pay money for the chance of a potential review. But most of these services are ineffective, and end up being a waste of money. Better to direct those dollars into building an audience of your own, who you can continue tapping to leave reviews for future books.
Founder, Irreverent Gent
When I first began writing, I had no idea where to begin when looking for people to review my books. Now, 5 years later, I am a self-published author with 10 books, thousands of reviews, have a dedicated ARC Team, a PR rep, and a diverse network of fellow authors who help me get the word out when I have a sale or new release. Though I write fiction, if you’re struggling to know where to start when it comes to gathering reviews for your nonfiction book, I’ve included a few suggestions below on what worked for me that I think will translate across genres:
FIND PLACES WHERE YOU CAN GIVE YOUR BOOK AWAY: The very first thing I did was give away free ebook copies in Facebook reader groups. Some authors discourage this practice, but I look at it this way: I can give my book away for free to X amount of people, which might lead to sales in the future, or I can hold onto it and have nobody buy it. Looking back, I actually wish I had given away MORE copies of my debut novel. I recommend finding places online where you can give away your book to interested readers. Seek out groups on Facebook for nonfiction authors where you can do “takeovers” (i.e., share about your book and give away copies in exchange for social media and newsletter likes and follows). While this does not always lead to a review, it definitely can, and has an added bonus of adding readers to your social media following, which ups your exposure.
CONTACT BLOGGERS WHO READ AND REVIEW NONFICTION: I compiled a spreadsheet of over 200 bloggers that accept books in exchange for reviews in the months before my first release. Then, I contacted all of them to share about my book. I heard back from around 45 of those bloggers, and around 30 of them ended up leaving me a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. That’s when actual sales started happening—people were reading blog posts recommending my book. It is a time-consuming process, but on your second book release, you’ll be glad you took the time to compile all those names. Several books later, I switched from asking bloggers to choosing bloggers—I now have a sign-up form where interested readers and bloggers can request a book to review and promote.
CREATE AN ARC TEAM/STREET TEAM: This is something I wish I had done earlier, but didn’t. Reach out to friends, family, and everyone you think might be interested in helping you share about your release. Everyone who participates will receive your book in exchange for an honest review. You just have to be clear that when they write a review for your book, they should mention receiving a copy in exchange for a review, and ask them NOT to state anything that connects them to you as a cousin/best friend/brother—Amazon will delete those reviews (which is unfortunate, but it is what it is).
HIRE A PR COMPANY TO HELP YOU GET YOUR BOOK OUT THERE: I didn’t do this until I was 8 books in, but I’m so glad I did it. Not only does my PR company help me promote my book prior to and during my release, they also send out advance copies to readers who are excited about reading and reviewing your work.
DO NOT PAY FOR REVIEWS: Sometimes you’ll get emails from “professional reviewers” who will offer to review your book for a fee of $15-$50. They even offer to use part of those funds to buy your book so it shows up as a “verified” review on Amazon. Run away from this. All you have in your life as an author is your talent and your reputation. If your reputation grows as someone paying for reviews, your talent will be called into question. Avoid at all costs.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love this book: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan by Nonfiction Authors Association CEO Stephanie Chandler!