The Ins and Outs of Book Reviews (Part Two)
We now come to part two on the subject of book reviews. Before I get into how to get them, I want to discuss the best way to deal with reviewers. If you are an indie or author with a small publisher, it is likely you feel you’re struggling to find anyone who will read and review your book. Your name isn’t out there yet and it can feel like a frustrating process. The biggest thing you need to remember is when asking for reviews not everyone is going to like your work. No one likes every single book they read (not even you). This is human nature. Yet now you are going to ask total strangers to read your novel and provide their opinion about it in a review. This could be a rewarding and/or frustrating step in promoting your work.
The following advice may or may not apply to you, but I’m going to say it anyway. If the shoe fits, please listen, if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. I have to get this off my chest before I tell people the best way to get reviews so as to try to prevent future abuse of the system.
First and foremost, the best reviews come from those who write them often because they are more trusted by readers and reviewers. There are people who rely on those reviewers to give them the best advice possible on what novels to read. They aren’t going to risk their reputation to please you or avoid hurting your feelings. Ask them for an honest review and do not be angry if it’s not what you hoped for. They are under no obligation to give five stars, even if you provided your book for free. Attacking a reviewer, whether you solicited from them or not, is unprofessional. It will be seen that way by anyone who views your public comments and any down votes you and your friends/fans place on it. There are many readers who are afraid to review indie books because the attacks have become so common. I know this myself because I was attacked on this blog for a three star review by the author’s friend (also an author) and it was not even all that critical. They also hit my Amazon review with negative votes. Every time a reviewer is attacked, it makes people afraid to review anymore and ruins it for all other writers. Please do not perpetuate the problem.
I served in the military for eleven years and it really pisses me off when a person’s freedom of speech is questioned, especially mine, but also others. Do you think myself and other soldiers who have served got the luxury of saying a damn word when anti-war protesters hung around outside our gates? No, we did not. When people from our own country yelled at us, calling us baby killers, murderers and rapists, and threw rotten vegetables at our private vehicles over a war we had no say in, we kept our mouths shut and remained professional. Former President Bush did not come and ask me “Mistress of the Dark Path, do you think it’s a good idea to invade Iraq?” Of course he didn’t, but myself and other military members got a lot of flack over it anyway (this probably applies to the UK and Australia as well since I worked with their troops over there).
A soldier knows when they join that they are putting themselves in a position where they will be a target for political opinions and dissension. Yet they also know they are the last bastion between freedom of speech and the loss of it. They will DIE to protect that right for the people mistreating them. So they grin and bear it through all the criticism. They don’t get to make public comments or vote “no” on things people say that they disagree with. When you publish a book, you are putting yourself out there for criticism and have to remain just as professional if you want to be respected.
Remember, reviews are not for authors, they are for readers (the consumers of the product you put out). It’s the readers’ hard-earned money that is at stake. They decide how to spend it and they want to make an informed decision on where it goes with honest and reliable reviews. Just like the last time you watched a movie you didn’t like and told everyone it was a waste of your time and money. Maybe you went on to list all the reasons it sucked. Did you think about the writers who slaved over that manuscript and how criticism of their work would hurt them? I doubt it. We all have a right to our opinions. Yes, you get to look at reviews for your books and feel happy when they’re positive, but they aren’t meant for you. They are meant to draw readers to your books, whether they are good or bad. Stacia Kane (an author) says it better than I do if you want further insight into the matter.
The next thing I want to explain is who my advice will work best for. If you have a niche book and there isn’t much of a market for it, there may be nothing I can do to help you. Unfortunately, there are some genres and subjects that just don’t gain a lot of interest by readers. It is probably something you knew when you wrote it. Don’t be disappointed that this factor probably won’t change. Part of being a writer is knowing who your target readership is. If you want to sell many books, you have to cater to what the masses want (of course creative license should still be used, but know your audience’s preferences). If you wrote within a popular genre that has a large readership, my advice should make a difference. Do keep in mind that the perceived quality of your work will still factor in. Simply put, some authors (whether they are indie or trad) write amazing stories and some do not. After you have a large enough sample of reviews by unbiased readers, you should know where you stand.
Now, for my advice on how to get reviews!
First thing I want you to do is make a list of at least five to ten popular books that are most like yours (this should be indie and trad). You should have had an idea of what those are or else you didn’t bother to study your target audience before writing (always do that).
After you have the list written, look at it hard and really think if these books target the same audience as your book does. If they do, go on Amazon and look them up one by one. This works best on novels who have many reviews which is why they need to be popular. The next thing you want to do is look at who gave the book favorable reviews. Click on their names and check their profiles to see if they regularly read more books like it (and check for an email address or website where you can contact them or else this does no good). Sometimes readers will branch beyond their normal genre once or twice, but don’t make a habit of it. Don’t bother them if most of their reviews are in something else that isn’t like your book. I get review requests all the time because of only two YA reviews. That is not my preferred genre and those novels were a rare exception to the rule. With my current TBR list and limited time, I am only able to accept books in my favorite genres. Even then, they must have a premise which interests me. Most other reviewers are the same way.
While you are checking reviewer profiles, also look to see if they have guidelines on what they will review. Some of the serious ones have them listed. Do not contact them if you fall short of their review requirements. It will just annoy them. If you are still certain after checking their reviews and profile information that they should be receptive to their work, then send them a polite message. Don’t bother mentioning your book is like the ones you put on your list because some people find that presumptuous and it will turn them off unless they specifically ask for that detail in a follow-up email. Instead, give them a brief description of your novel (including the length) and tell them you want an honest review and will be happy to provide your book for free. If they are like me, the first thing they will do is look your novel up on Amazon to see what has been said about it already.
Remember all those things I mentioned in part one of this topic series? They can come back to haunt you if you were guilty of any of any of them. Many (though not all) of the serious reviewers will not even consider you if there are a lot of suspicious reviews on your work. They will also pass you up if it appears, in any way, as if you have harassed previous reviewers (why should they risk being treated badly if it turns out they don’t enjoy your novel?). Your odds increase of them accepting if they see no red flags. I’m more likely to accept an author’s request when they have zero reviews over one with ten five-stars and nothing else. Same goes if I see all their critical reviews have many down votes and/or argumentative comments. No way am I going to put myself in a position to be harassed if my opinion isn’t what the author likes. Sometimes, though, I’ll admit to taking the risk anyway just to see if those reviewers were right. It is subject to my mood at the time. I wouldn’t have served in the Army if I didn’t like a little conflict.
The next thing to remember is you will need to send many of these emails out. You may only get one affirmative response for every ten you send. This part of the process is partially luck and partially whether your story really is something that can spark curiosity from the target audience. For those who reply that they are not interested, thank them for their taking the time to respond and do not argue with any reasons they gave for their decision (ugh, but I hate the arguers). If they ask further questions, answer them, but do not go into long, drawn-out details. Keep it short and to the point. Once a reader accepts your request, ensure you send the book to them very soon after (whether this is by gifting it to them on Amazon as an ebook or mailing them a paperback copy). It can be annoying if there is a big gap after you promised to get the novel to them soon.
Try to get at least five to ten reviewers who are willing to look at your work. More if you can. Do not be surprised if a couple of them don’t ever post a review. Maybe they had a family crisis or some other problem that caused them to not review your book. They are human, after all. There is no way to know why they didn’t follow-through, but don’t bother them about it. There may also be one or two who choose to email you about your book and discuss issues they found in it. I am known to do this myself. Accept their feedback with grace and try not to argue, no matter how much you may not like the points they make. If they didn’t care and want to be helpful, they wouldn’t bother to message you at all.
It could take weeks, or months, before some of the reviews are posted. Patience is key. Once they do show up, my best advice is to not comment on the reviews, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Instead, send a private email thanking the reviewers for their time (you don’t even have to do that much if you don’t want). In the case of positive reviews, feel free to share with your friends. Of course you are proud of someone appreciating your work and it is natural to want to show it off.
In the case of negative or mediocre reviews, do not go on public forums (anywhere) and complain. This almost always causes your friends to rise to your defense and go down-vote the review or even comment on it. Readers will blame you for this behavior. It happens with the big, successful authors where their fans will rise to their defense against anyone who doesn’t like their work. Those authors have less control, because of their large fan base, but it is still annoying then as well. Despite what loyal fans do, you will find few best-selling authors complaining on their blogs (or anywhere publicly) about negative reviews. Those who do are considered unprofessional and often lose readers because of it. Just like indies.
As a final note, once you have received a substantial number of reviews for your book then there is more chance readers will consider it. This also means those reviewers who liked your book will spread the word. I’ve seen novels that have incredible sales while not having many reviews. Word of mouth is certainly key, but first people have to know your book exists! There are other sites you might consider looking at for reviews. Find book bloggers who specialize in your genre. They tend to have followers who are more likely to check your book out if it is reviewed on their site. Do know that it will be more of a hit or miss thing if a blog covers a large number of genres. Also, consider sites like LibraryThing.com which cater to a large number of readers and provide opportunities for authors to do giveaways (often with the opportunity to gain a review). I haven’t used it myself, but have heard good things about it from both authors and readers.
Beyond all else, remember that many factors effect the success of your book. The quality of your writing, the editing it has undergone, and how marketable it is will make a difference. If you have something readers want, and find the right ways to get the word to them, they will eventually take notice. Remember to have patience. The really good stuff does get discovered with time. I wish the best of luck to all authors :)