Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Seeking Reviews. Cold-calling (emailing) Reviewers
This section is long, so I’ve divided it into the following three parts. Soliciting Reviews, Goodreads Giveaways for reviews, and what I’ve found to work the best so far. Don’t worry, I’ve released all three parts at the same time.
So, you’ve written the next bestseller and have decided to self-publish for whatever reason? Maybe those New York agents just didn’t get it. Or you’re not as good at writing query letters as you are at novels. Or you simply like the idea of self-publishing and don’t mind a little hard work. Whatever the reason, congratulations are in order. Writing a novel is hard hard work and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. The fact that you’re brave enough to put it into the world is commendable and I hope you sell millions of copies.
What I want to do with this blog series is tell you some of the things I’ve learned when self-publishing in hopes of helping you avoid some of the more costly and time-wasting mistakes.
Before we begin, I need to tell you a little about my writing because it's relevant. I’ve had four books published by a small publisher between 2011 and 2014. When the publisher went out of business, I stepped away from writing for a while. When I returned, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. My second self-published book releases on October 19, 2021. I tell you this because it will help put some of my comments in a better perspective.
Last thing before I start. Everything I write about here is my own experiences. You may have different experiences. I’m just telling you what I’ve done and what I’ve seen after a bunch of years in this business to help you make an informed decision on various topics. This series will cover requesting reviews (what works and doesn’t work), navigating Amazon advertising, whether to use BookBub or not, getting local PR, and Amazon’s five-day free promotion to name a few. I will be honest in giving you my results of these endeavors, even if they aren’t very flattering. So, let’s dig in.
My first topic is reviews. Reviews are critically important and highly difficult to acquire. Just telling your friends and family to review your books on Amazon and Goodreads and wherever else isn’t enough. In fact, if Amazon realizes a review is from a friend, they consider it a manipulated review and can lock your book from further reviews as punishment. And here’s the pisser. They don’t tell you they’ve done it either. The only way to know is from the review side, and to find out if a reviewer received the message that the book is unable to be reviewed is if you knew the reviewer. And that takes you right back to “manipulating reviews.” My first piece of advice, as hard as it is to hear, is to let the reviews from your friends and family come organically.
“But wait a minute, Doug. I thought you said we needed reviews.”
We do. By organically, I mean, if you sell books to your 15 brothers and sisters, don’t press them to give you a review. Those who are of the book reviewing type will review your novel and it will be a more natural review coming from them. Those who don’t review books regularly simply won’t. If you ask them to, they’re likely to talk about how they know you or that “nobody beats my son’s writing,” or whatever.
It’s the same with the general public as it is with your family. Only those who review books are going to review your book. It’s why you can sell a hundred books and only get five reviews. Or ten. Or whatever. But it won’t be a hundred. Or even fifty.
But after saying all that, there are ways to get more reviews. And that’s what this three-part section explores.
So, that begs the question—how do we get reviews? The obvious answer is to sell a lot of books. Easier said than done, right? The more books you sell, the more organic reviews you’ll receive. Pretty obvious. I’ve sold the most copies of Tamed out of all my books and that directly relates to why I have way more reviews than any of my other books. I have 104 reviews on Amazon last I checked (two seconds ago), while the rest of my books are in the twenties or below. Sells equal reviews.
Here’s where I’m going to try and save you some time and money getting reviews either prerelease or without thousands of sales.
First rule of requesting reviews: Never pay for a review. You can pay for a service (Reedsy, Netgalley, etc.) but not for the reviewer to actually review your book. We’ll talk about those services in the next parts.
Also, don’t review swap with other authors. It's tempting, I know. If you put out enough books, you’ll have people approach you about the opportunity. Politely decline. For one, it’s immoral. But even if you don’t care about that, it’s against Amazon’s rules and can get your book pulled if they find out. Lastly, it’s not really helpful. It’s going to be a positive review and it’s going to mean squat. Most of the time the person you swap with won’t even read your book and will simply BS the review. Sometimes they might even tell you to write what you want it to say and they’ll submit it. Again, Amazon has ways of figuring this out sometimes and they will ban your book if you’re caught. Amazon is vehemently against review manipulation. Don’t risk it for a worthless review. One review isn’t going to make or break you anyway.
Now to the meat of this blog. The first thing you might think to do, or have been told to do, in order to acquire reviews is to contact review blogs and offer free copies in exchange for their reviews. There are countless sites out there willing to give you lists of reviewers who fit your particular genre. They'll recommend you simply go through those lists and create your own list of reviewers who accept your genre, are accepting review requests at that time, and accept self-published work. After you do all that, follow the reviewer's guidelines to a “t,” research what books they like and dislike while getting to know their blog, and then personalize an email to them (or fill out their form). Creating your list and submitting to one reviewer alone is going to take a bit of time. Now, do that for 30, 40, 50, 100 reviewers.
I have tried this approach a few times, both as a published author and as a self-published author. Several different genres, too. I’m here to tell you, it is a waste of time. Over the last year, I’ve attempted this for close to a hundred reviewers over two different genres (horror and dystopian). Each email sent was personalized, considerate, in-line with that reviewer’s guidelines, and professional. I’ve also offered to send them their desired format (PB, Epub, Mobi, PDF, whatever).
Here are my results: For the dystopian fantasy, I sent out about sixty requests. I received one rejection … And that’s it. One. So, I hear what you’re saying. Maybe it’s a tough genre. Or my querying sucks. Or the book isn’t interesting. All right. Maybe. Let’s move to my current horror (actually psychological with a supernatural twist) endeavor. To date, I’ve sent out thirty requests. I’ve had one rejection and one reviewer accept an e-copy. But then he/she became very adamant that I donate to his/her site just to “help keep it up and running.” Ugh.
It’s not that the reviewers are lying to you about accepting your books for review. It’s just that they are so inundated with requests that they can be extremely picky. Maybe your book is exactly what that particular reviewer is looking for at the exact moment you send it, but good luck. This approach is worthless. Don't waste your time. Spend it on other avenues. I have some ideas and will touch on them in the coming parts.
Next up: Goodreads Giveaways. Good for review gathering? Let’s see.
Update 10/6/21: I sent out another roughly 30 requests for the horror collection and received one more yes from a blogger who has agreed to review the book for December. Between the two books, over 120 emails sent with two rejections and two accepting. (Remember one of the accepts was followed by a strong push for money.