Creative Ways to Get Book Reviews
by Dan Parsons
Books that get good reviews are more likely to sell. The more, the better. However, getting a handful of reviews to start the ball rolling for an unknown author can be a challenge.
Decades ago, traditional publishers used a set of reliable methods to generate them on an author’s behalf. There was no internet or social media, just personal connections and print. Publishers approached celebrities for endorsements and wrote to culture editors at newspapers with whom they had established rapport. Any snippets of the praise they collected they used in traditional print marketing campaigns like this:
★★★★★ “Thrilling!” – Stephen Fry
★★★★★ “Best fantasy book of the decade.” – Terry Pratchett
★★★★★ “An enchanting adventure.” – The Times
Since publishers had a reliable infrastructure that enabled them to create the buzz they needed to launch books effectively, many authors were happy to let them handle that process. After all, they had no way to instigate and capitalise on reviews themselves.
Nowadays, however, authors have more options. Not only can we harvest reviews ourselves from anyone on the planet due to the internet, but we can also use those reviews in scalable ad campaigns that don’t require the upfront backing of a huge publisher budget. We can control the whole process, which has allowed entrepreneurial writers to explode their careers and even rival the efforts of the Big Five publishers.
In today’s blog post, you will learn a few simple methods you can use to capitalise on this freedom and run a successful review-generation campaign for your books.
YOUR ARC TEAM
This isn’t the most original tactic, but most successful indie authors deem their ARC team to be among their most valuable assets so it makes sense to start here. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, ARC stands for “Advanced Reader Copy.” It’s a name given to the free copies of a book that get sent to reviewers in preparation for a launch. For most authors, their ARC team consists of their most avid fans who they give free ebook ARCs in return for online reviews during launch week.
Compiling an ARC team should be your priority as a new author because you can contact them as often as you want once you’ve built the list – a strategy that will save you time and money during future releases. It’s also a good way to keep your most avid readers engaged. A few freebie giveaways and a monthly newsletter is a small price to pay for having a personal army of superfans on hand to review your new releases. Start an ARC team today by inviting just a few people who read books in your genre.
Gathering reviews is a vicious circle for many new authors: you need fans and sales to get reviews but reviews to get sales and fans. And not everyone can rely on a huge ARC team in their early career. Thankfully, there are companies that have positioned themselves to help overcome this obstacle, including Author Marketing Club, Happy Book Reviews and Net Galley. They do this by offering access to databases of readers that they have built. So, if you’re struggling without an ARC team, this might be a good alternative.
They all operate in a similar way, albeit at different price points: working on behalf of authors, they contact readers that have at least expressed an interest in writing book reviews in exchange for free books. These readers aren’t obliged to write reviews but many do. Just remember that each database has different reader demographics, and your genre, cover and content will influence the outcome greatly. One person might get 30 glowing reviews for $50 while another might get 20 horrific reviews or none at all. Testing your options is the best way to find out which work for you.
TRADITIONAL MEDIA REVIEWS
It might be tempting to overlook editorial reviewers from established media outlets, especially when they cost time and money to instigate and can have less of an impact on sales than, say, 20 Amazon reviews for most genre authors. Having said that, they can be useful in the right context. Indeed, a single “worthy” line of praise from The Washington Post or The Guardian carries more weight with certain readers. Literary fiction, poetry and historical novels benefit most from these accolades, more so when they are also published in the newspapers that offered the endorsements because of the sway they have over their readers.
Not only that – traditional reviews can also prove beneficial in marketing campaigns, converting more browsers into readers because of the empirical sense of social proof associated with an endorsement from a recognisable brand name. You can use them in Facebook ads, of course, but also on advanced information sheets – a document that you can give to librarians and bookstore managers to help get your books stocked on their shelves. In this circumstance, it’s not the content of the review that carries the weight, more the name attached to it that proves invaluable.
SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS
You might think that getting a social media influencer to endorse your book is out of your price range after seeing YouTubers get five-figure sponsorship deals and Instagram stars charge an average year’s salary for a single photo. But that’s not always the case. Influencers come in many forms, all with different follower demographics and levels of reach. You don’t necessarily need one with a million followers to get in front of your target readership. Those with smaller audiences often work in more specific niches, meaning they charge less for a shoutout and deliver more value per follower.
Two good places to start when looking for reviews from social media influencers are Instagram and YouTube. Both sites have thriving communities of “Bookstagrammers” and “BookTubers”, many of whom have loyal tribes of followers who enjoy hearing their opinions on books. In most cases, you can contact them easily via their email addresses which they put in their social media bios for business enquiries. And while some expect to be paid, others will review books for free because their platform is just a hobby.
Before you start, though, remember that these individuals often have a reading list that stretches months into the future and they won’t guarantee to be positive about your book. Knowing this, you should plan ahead, ensure that your book is the best is can be and make sure you’re only contacting influencers that enjoy reading in your genre. As always, research is the key to success.
TRADITIONAL BOOK GROUPS
Physical book groups are usually bypassed by authors but reaching out to them can mean nurturing a community of fans all in one geographical area, which is great for reviews. Think about it: online reviews are useful but word-of-mouth recommendations still exist and there’s no denying their potency, particularly when they come from multiple familiar sources. No, you can’t quantify these but they are free and scalable once they start to snowball. Plus, they have a significant impact on long-term book sales.
Book groups are a good way to start the word-of-mouth engine, as is evident in schools where many children surge through the backlists of authors they were once introduced to in a classroom setting then voice their opinions to their friends. In this case, fusing the reading experience with the social aspect of the group gathering turns the book into a talking point and encourages word-of-mouth virality.
And the same is true for adults. Give them a book and they might never read a word but ask them to read it with friends and some will power through the whole series alone once they have a taste for the characters. Getting them to start an unfamiliar novel is often the biggest hurdle but book groups overcome that challenge. Indeed, their whole point is to help readers find the time to read more broadly and talk about books with friends.
You can even make this process frictionless by giving a few free paperback copies to a book group in your area and offer to make an author appearance to answer questions, either in person or via a video conferencing app. In the long term, the upfront cost will be repaid with both online reviews and real-world recommendations.
Gathering reviews can take a lot of effort but you should know that the work is frontloaded in your career. It gets easier as you advance and build an audience. While you might be burned by reviewers who simply want freebies or who aren’t the right match for your genre early on, over time the whole process will be worthwhile.
(Note: you can learn how to get more book reviews with our free book available here.
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