Each time I launch a book, I focus on getting several positive reviews. Positive reviews increase a book’s marketability, click-through rate, and sales. Marketability, by way of social proof, speaks to the attractiveness of a product or service. Social proof is a psychological phenomenon in which people rely on the feedback and actions of others to determine what is right and what is wrong in each situation.
Suppose you are comparing two books that appear in search results; Book A has a review average of 3.5 and Book B has 4.5. All else equal, social proof and the actions of others suggest Book B is the better book.
Matt Moog, CEO of Power Reviews, says, “Just going from zero reviews to one increases the rate at which online window-shoppers actually click the “buy” button by 65%.” Authors are helped by positive reviews, but they don’t all have to be glowing five-star reviews. Moog continues, “Negative reviews, surprisingly, can be beneficial. Research shows that if all the reviews are uniformly good, nobody will believe them. On Amazon’s 5-star rating system, it turns out that between 4.2 and 4.4 is optimum.”
Authors should aim to get ten to twenty reviews within 90-days of launching. Moog estimates that “20% of sales are driven by reviews and one-third of online shoppers say straight out they won’t buy a product that hasn’t been positively reviewed.” Keith Anderson, the strategy officer at Profitero, supports my assertion and says, “You need to get 20 reviews, and you’re golden.”
Don’t Game the System
Amazon monitors reviews very carefully, and they have strict comment and review policies. For example, they prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program. Also, Amazon has been suing fake reviewers and sellers since 2015.
Authors who abuse the review process risk being terminated from the Amazon marketplace. That said, Amazon isn’t likely to remove an author who solicits a few inorganic reviews because many fake reviews would be needed to establish a pattern and case for dismissal. For example, an author who gets her friend to leave a positive review isn’t likely to be noticed or contacted by Amazon. However, with each fake or biased review an author gathers, he or she is one review closer to getting flagged and e-mailed by Amazon’s policy team.
Authors must be smart and strategic about how they pursue reviews, and not every action qualifies as gaming the system. For instance, emailing my subscribers and asking them to leave supportive reviews, if they like my book, is perfectly fine. Tim Ferriss has gone even further to send free book copies and emails marked “urgent” to solicit reviews. Ferriss is still publishing on Amazon, so it appears his actions didn’t attract consequences (or Amazon is willing to turn a blind eye because he is a top seller).
Organic Reviews vs. Paid Reviews vs. Verified Purchase Reviews
An organic review is an authentic review that is usually posted without encouragement. For example, someone I’ve never met or barely know submits a review for my book.
A paid review can be an authentic or fake review that is given in exchange for money. There are several legitimate paid book review services including IndieReader, Kirkus Indie Reviews, BlueInk Review, and Self-Publishing Review. As this article states
The biggest benefit of purchasing a book review through a service is that indie authors know exactly what they’re getting. Review word counts, turnaround time, and any additional features—links on the review site, options for posting the review to bookselling sites, etc.—are all built into the package. Paying for reviews, in other words, removes a lot of the guesswork that comes with pitching book bloggers. On the other hand, most review services don’t guarantee positive reviews. It’s a factor worth considering before shelling out the hundreds of dollars that some review services charge.
Paying for a review that is guaranteed to be positive is what concerns Amazon. This type of review would be considered fake and could get you in trouble. For instance, some authors purchase reviews from Fiverr. Amazon has retaliated by suing reviewers on Fiverr.
A verified purchase or review means Amazon has confirmed that the person who wrote the review purchased the product at Amazon and didn’t receive the product at a deep discount.
Reviews Matter, But Sales Matter More
Amazon is in the e-commerce business, and they care about selling. While reviews support product sales, Amazon is likely to lean on sales and conversion rates in their search algorithm before anything else including customer feedback. For example, if a book is attracting decent sales without any, very few, or many bad reviews, it can still rank high in search results. Therefore, authors should focus on selling and reviews second. Bear in mind that sales beget reviews, but reviews don’t beget sales.
How to Get Reviews
Before you start to solicit reviews, define your target market/audience so that you know who to approach (you should have done this before writing your book). A target audience is the demographic of people most likely to be interested in your product or service. Also, consider how you will track your activities, for example, using a spreadsheet.
Many authors make a mess of the review solicitation process, as I have in the past. One way to fail is to make your requests all about you. For instance, “Hi Joan, I’ve published a book and would like you to review it. Thanks!” Alternatively, your requests should focus on the people you contact and relationship building. For example
Hi Joan, I read your post about traveling tips, and it was very insightful. Great job! My new book is available on Amazon, and I’m spreading the news. If you do purchase my book, I hope you can leave a review (a review from you would make my day). If there is someway I can support your activities/business, let me know. Thanks!
The goal of your outreach program isn’t to overdo it, sound desperate, or be verbose. Keep it simple, be confident, and tailor your review requests. Also, don’t overpromise and underdeliver. If you offer support, only agree to exchange what seems fair. For instance, in exchange for a purchase or review, you purchase a product from the reviewer’s online store for roughly the same price as your book.
Finally, request a review on the last page of your book. Many authors ask readers to leave a review and state why reviews are critical. Some authors provide their email addresses to receive feedback and connect with readers.
Who to Ask for Reviews
- Network and Social Circle
Contact your friends, acquaintances, and colleagues about your book. Along with your book’s details, mention something about reviews. If you ask family and close acquaintances, be mindful of your approach.
Notify your email and YouTube subscribers. You can create an email campaign for your launch. A book announcement on YouTube can be useful if you have a large following.
If any group of people appreciates reviews as much as you, it’s authors. Contacting authors for honest and constructive reviews is not against the rules.
- Top Amazon Reviewers
Amazon’s top customer reviewers are favorite targets of authors. I imagine these folks are constantly bombarded with review requests, so, I haven’t pursued this angle. Still, it might be worth the effort.
Bloggers in your genre might review your book. Getting a positive review and post on a high-traffic website would be fantastic for marketing and exposure.
- Facebook Groups
There are many Facebook groups that bring together authors for self-promotion and marketing activities. These groups are excellent for building relationships, getting support, and soliciting reviews.
- Book Clubs
Book clubs are everywhere from offline local groups to online groups on Goodreads. While getting Oprah’s book club to read your book would be challenging, contacting book clubs in your genre could produce favorable results.
- Goodreads Members
Goodreads now charges to giveaway books, but there are several free book giveaway sites worth exploring. Giveaways have the potential to attract reviews because of the “reciprocity rule.” According to Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, “if someone gives something to us, we feel obligated to repay that debt.” Hopefully, readers will repay you with reviews.