The weeks just before and after you launch a book are full of to-dos, but few items on your list are more frustrating, stressful or essential than collecting an early round of book reviews.
Don’t be surprised that a whole industry has grown up to fill that need, or charge fees to people who think they need the help. But don’t be surprised either than this is a need you can fulfill on your own.
Your need for reviews begins soon after your launch. You need them to provide credibility to buyers, add heft to your book customer pages, and to qualify for various kinds of book listings and reports.
The reviews you want fall into two categories. There “institutional” or professional reviewers. Some of these work for large publications or companies (like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews) but many others write for independent web sites. I covered many of these review options in an earlier BookWorks post. Another post by Carla King discussed web sites where authors can get professional paid-for reviews (though the payment is no guarantee of a positive review).
The second group of reviewers, at least as critical to your book marketing, are the individuals who submit reviews to places like Amazon.com and Goodreads. The more reviews your book gets in online retailer sites, the better it looks to buyers and the more prominence you receive overall. But getting these reviews, because these individuals are so scattered, is not always easy. Amazon disapproves of authors bringing in friends and relatives, or of paying for customer review books. (It will allow reviews from people who receive a review copy of the book, however.) As Penny Sansevieri wrote here last year, Amazon has become more aggressive about yanking customer reviews its staff conclude violate its standards.
So how can you get those precious reviews up there?
The answer is to obtain, and then parse, a data dump: Find or create a list of people who review books, isolate those likely to be interested specifically in your book, and then get in front of them. You either can hire out much of the work of doing that, or do it yourself.
The biggest commercial name in the field of finding reviewers is NetGalley, a division of Firebrand Technologies, and whose slogan is “Feed your readers”. Started in 2008, it found a niche in distributing to reviewers and to many libraries digital copies of books not yet released. Big 5 publishers including PenguinRandomHouse and Simon & Schuster use them, but so do many indie publishers.
NetGalley also carries a hefty price tag. Its basic service, called Marketing-Plus-Title-Listing (including some marketing services in addition to reviewer outreach), has a standard price of $599. There are lower-cost options and membership in some organizations can bring discounts, but NetGalley should be considered a high-end option which in some ways works more efficiently with larger publishers.
Here’s a quote from their web site: “We cannot guarantee any reviews or requests for your title, since the NetGalley service primarily provides a platform for publishers/authors to connect with professional readers.” That’s largely true of all such services.
A newer and highly popular option, sought out by many indies, is HungryAuthor, founded by novelist Rebecca Hamilton.
Its review service (HA offers others as well) is relatively inexpensive. For $25, its web site said, “a team of reviewers who will read your book and post honest reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. Generally, you can expect 5-20 reviews, though some titles have garnered as much as 30-50 reviews.”
In January, a writer (possibly Hamilton but using a pseudonym) speaking for HA said on a forum for authors, “my review list started with my personal arc readers, and of course my arc readers are people who love books! They read to escape, not to critique, and they do have a positive review attitude. But that does not mean their reviews aren’t honest. We have seen 3 star reviews from my team as well, but as we ask that since they are getting these books for free (and therefore opening themselves up to books they normally wouldn’t read) that they only review the books they finish. This allows them to be honest without putting the author at risk for the kind of reviews common with freebie downloads.”
Author and book consultant Bryan Cohen said in August, in a podcast report on his own experience launching a novel, that he used HungryAuthor’s and received a number of reviews. HA has become popular enough that it is now booked months in advance. Its website cautioned, “Some books may be passed over if they do not meet our quality standards for editing, design, and formatting. Please submit your best product.”
A third operation, aimed even more specifically at reaching reviewers, is Book Razor: “You write … we look for potential reviewers”. They provide a list of carefully-chosen reviewers: “You want to email as few people as possible while getting as many reviews as possible. That’s why we only browse through the reviews of similar books you provide to us, and not through the entire genre and/or related genres. While it limits the number of potential reviewers we can find, we’ve found it greatly increases the response and review rate.” They charge about $30 for 50 potential reviewers, with increasing rates topping at $250 for 500.
How well does it work? Author Kevin Kruze reported last year that “For my newest book I tried out Martin Meadows’ BookRazor.com service. Basically, this is a service where they’ll research the names and email addresses of people who left Amazon book reviews on books that are similar to yours. Then it’s up to you to reach out via email to see if these active reviewers would be interested in reviewing your book.”
However, all of these services are explicit in saying they cannot guarantee a specific number of reviewers, or eventual reviews.
You could do the same thing they do, at more time and less financial expense.
It’s time- and labor-intensive, but the process will be more fully in your control if you do it that way, and you may learn a lot about your book’s marketplace.
Go to Amazon and look up a book as similar to yours, in subject matter and approach, as you can find. Go to the book’s customer page, and scroll down to the customer reviews. (If the book has none or very few, move on to another book.)
Scan the first review. Does this sound like someone who would like your book? If so, click on the reviewer’s name. If you can easily spot an e-mail address for that person, put the name and address on a list. Then move on to the next reviewer, and then the next most-similar book.
How many reviewers you collect this way is up to you; remember that only a fraction are likely to produce an actual review. Lean toward those providing what look like proper names (as opposed to “Amazon reviwer” or “anonymous”). Lean also toward those with higher reviewer ranks, preferably within the top 100,000, because they’re more likely to generate a review. (The overall number of Amazon reviewers runs into the millions.) When you have your list, send each person on it a note reminding them of their interest in the book they reviewed, your publication of a new and similar book, and the offer to send them a for-review e-book copy of yours. Then see what happens.
You may also get some reviews through book giveaway programs, free book download events and other activities. But approaching people accustomed to reviewing books online probably is the best way to get solid, well-crafted book reviews where you need them.