Making Books Starred Favorites

Occasionally I wish I’d done something differently in a book, but mostly I like what I write. Readers (and reviewers) seem to appreciate them, too. So why don’t I have 1,000 reviews for each book?

I don’t work hard enough to seek reviews. It’s a process that builds, and I need to make the foundation stronger.

With most emails to newsletter readers, I mention that authors love reviews and I would appreciate theirs. But, I rarely reach out to individuals.When I first published the Jolie series in 2011, friends, former neighbors, and work colleagues were quick to read Appraisal for Murder and many offered reviews. Perhaps it made me compacent.

If I had paid more attention the next year, I would have modeled my behavior on author Karen Musser Nortman. She emailed me to say Amazon indicated people who read her books also read mine.Would I consideer reading and reviewing one of hers? Sure. 

What I Do 

1) Offer review copies to those on my email list. 

2) Remind people they no longer need to write a recommendation on most book review sites. They can simply give a book the starts they believe it deserves.

4) Spend a little money giving away paperbacks or ebooks. 

5) Introduce readers to Smashwords, an aggregator, which lets me provide coupons for free books. I give newsletter recipients a short lesson in how to do this, because sometimes people worry they might still get charged.

6) Ask readers to leave reviews (or stars) on sites beyond Amazon, especially Goodreads. Millions of readers look to Goodreads for recommendations. (Note: Amazon bought Goodreads a few years ago, but review rules are less strict than on the retail site.)

7) Rotate books as freebies. After a book has been out for a long time, reviews slow or pretty much stop. This year, I began periodically offering books in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series for free for a month on Amazon and all sites. This can garner 50-75 reviews — from more than a few thousand downloads. A few are three stars, but most are four and five-star reviews (or simply stars). Again, these are older books. I want people to buy the new ones. Added reviews do lead to more sales later.

Some Things Not to Do

1) Don’t ask people in your household to write reviews, even if they are not relatives. Websites can tell you use the same Internet ISP, and the reviews will be removed.

2) Don’t ask the same people to review every book. Amazon may see patterns and remove what they believe to be “friend reviews.” Other sites do less of this.

3) Don’t imply people can give you a review even if they haven’t read a book. It is not a personal endorsement of you, it’s a way for potential readers to learn something. 

Things I Recently Learned

The Indie Author Project recently presented a webinar with James Schwartz who gave good advice on seeking reviews. While this was free, he also has a firm that (for fees) can help with many aspects of self-publishing.

1) For new books (or older ones with new editions) ask up to ten people per week to do a review. Schwartz suggests contacting people who have reviewed similar books or are in Goodreads groups that feature books like yours.

2) Develop a common “ask” note to modify for the requests.That will reduce the workload.

3) Track the requests and their results. Not everyone who- agrees to review can follow through, so you you may not want to send them a free book or coupon the next time around.

4) Recognize that a bad review is beneficial because it may keep some people from reading the book and leaving their own bad review. This was the most surprising point of the seminar (to me), and it makes sense.

Things I Should “Know Better” and Do Consistently

Sometimes I kick myself for not being more persistent, about many aspects of marketing. Make no mistake, bringing in book reviews is marketing. I want to write, not market.

1) Wait a few extra weeks before releasing a new book. I go through my wonderful critique group, work with beta readers, and pay a proofreader. But I don’t allow enough time to send advance review copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers. Doing this means more reviews the first week a book is released.

2) Use local media. I used to drop copies of new books with all local print media and send press releases to radio and TV stations. For some reason, I do less of this. (Chalk it up to working on new books immediately.) I’ve moved several times in the last few years, which means I have few personal media contacts. Too bad, just do it.

3) When people on a newsletter list ask for review copies, go to them for all other books. (You can ask if this will be okay.) I put these requests in an email folder, but have not always gone back to them.

4) Ask people who review similar books to review mine. It can be hard to find contact information, so if  I can’t, I’ll move on. People in sales say the most important perspective is “next.” 

Seek Reviews Even if You Work with a Publisher

A larger publisher will send review copies well in advance of publication. Yay! They may even pay the fees for review in Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus. Big yay!

However, you still need to work your networks and ask readers for reviews. Publishers have lots of authors and limited marketing budgets. At some point, they need to move on. Coordinate with the publisher, of course.

I’ll report back on results in a few months. Feel free to offer your own ideas.

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