If you’ve been reading these special reports for a while, it’s no news to you that book reviews are an important part of getting your books noticed, read, and sold. That’s easy to understand. The hard part is getting those reviews in the first place.
One of the things that makes this hard is the difference between your existing fan base, and the number of readers necessary to get a large number of reviews for your books. For people who are already famous (or even just popular among their friends on Facebook and Instagram), it’s a piece of cake…but that leaves the rest of us out in the cold.
How do we get our books reviewed without paying hundreds (or thousands) for book review and distribution services?
How do we make sure the people who say they’ll review our books actually leave reviews, and rate our books well?
What does Amazon expect for a valid review, and how do we avoid running afoul of their expectations?
We’re glad you asked. Let’s start with:
Amazon Review Rules
Once upon a time, anybody could leave a review on Amazon. You could. Your partner could. Your three best buddies and your kids could. So could anybody you paid five bucks to leave a great review, or anybody you gave a free book to under the condition they left a good review even if they didn’t read it.
About four years ago, Amazon put a stop to this, big time. They don’t allow reviews by your friends and family, nor do they allow reviews in exchange for any kind of payment or gift — including receiving a free book. According to Amazon’s most recent rules and guidelines about reviews:
- You may not pay anybody to leave a review. You may give a gift, or entry into a giveaway, for people who leave a review because they enter the giveaway instead of receiving payment.
- You may not offer a free gift if they review your book. You may offer a free gift for joining your mailing list, beta team, or similar group, then ask members of that group later to leave a review.
- You may not refund the reviewer’s purchase price for your book, or give them a free book, for leaving a review. You may give them a free Advance Reader Copy of the book and ask them to leave a review if they want to.
- You may not swap reviews with another author, or as part of a review and promotion circle. You may ask author friends to review your books, and review your author friends’ books as you see fit.
- You may not have your close friends and family review your books. You may ask people to review books in general, or even your books in particular, as a general and informal request.
As you can see, the rules are specific and the line between them a little hard to gauge. Also, Amazon is vigorous in enforcing and investigating potential review violations. If they catch you cheating, the consequences range between deleting the review, to removing the book, to blocking your entire account.
It’s best to play it safe with Amazon review rules, so stick to the ideas we mention in the rest of this article.
Editorial Reviews vs. Amazon Reviews
Amazon carries two different kinds of reviews associated with each book.
Editorial reviews get entered in your Author Central Account by you. You pull them from online book reviews, editorial comments, or things people say to you privately. Amazon then inserts them in your book description, the same way a publisher might put a quote from a rave review on a cover.
Amazon reviews get entered by readers, who take the time to give a star rating and maybe a description of why they liked or disliked the book. Amazon then automatically positions them near the bottom of your book description, and uses both the number and the rating as part of its search algorithm.
Each kind of review serves a different purpose. An Amazon review can help convince potential readers to buy your book, but is even more important for your book’s performance in its search rank. An editorial review shows up in your book’s description and has a more direct role in helping a viewer decide to give your book a try.
This article deals with Amazon reviews. Editorial reviews can also be helpful, but they’re less mysterious. You put them in yourself after soliciting rave statements, or finding kind words in Amazon reviews left by strangers. Amazon reviews are a trickier proposition. To get them, we’ll focus on three major sources:
- Free online services to get lots of reviews
- Techniques you can use to get reviews from friends, acquaintances and strangers
- Leveraging Amazon top reviewers
Free Services to Get Book Reviews
A variety of websites make their business model out of becoming a hub for fans of a genre (or reading in general) to read and review various books. If you put your book on these services, it will attract a lot of eyes. Some of them will leave reviews on Amazon. Others will leave reviews on the site (which still builds traction for your book). Some ask you to leave a free or discounted copy for review. Others put your book up for easy sale and download.
Which is right for you depends on your exact needs and writing situation. For example, an author with a long series benefits lots from leaving a free copy for review on the site, while a first-time author wants to focus on sites that pay for the book and get a review directly on Amazon.
Here are a few of our favorites:
- Affaire de Coeur – a bi-monthly newsletter that publishes reviews for historical fiction, contemporary fiction, paranormal fiction, erotica. YA/MG, and nonfiction
- Book Hookup – a genre fiction site for paranormal, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, historical fiction, romance, YA/MG, and New adult. They have a high barrier for entry, but lots of power
- Book Page – general fiction for most genres, with a 3-month lead time for ARCs
- Book Smugglers – lots of readers for his horror, science fiction, YA/MG, and science fiction blog
- Compulsive Reader – for literary fiction and poetry
- Crime Fiction Lover – exactly what it sounds like. High barrier for entry, but many readers if you get in.
- Crime Scene Reviews – also exactly what it sounds like
- Fantasy Book Critics – exactly what it sounds like, plus links to lots of other sites for fantasy writers
- Kindle Book Review – a meta-site that lists lots of reviewers you can contact individually, listed by genre
- Love Books Group – easy submission process, covers all genres. We recommend starting here first.
- SF Book – another meta-site with a list of reviewers you can contact
- Top Sci-Fi Books – exactly what it sounds like, with a preference for self-published writers
Bear in mind that this is a list of twelve out of hundreds of book review sites in the world. Pick the best from this list, then google “sites like (the site you chose from this list)” to get even more.
You can also find paid sites that distribute your book for review and promotion, but that’s a different subject we’ll tackle in a different report.
Easy Techniques to Increase Your Book Reviews
Beyond the sites dedicated to finding reviewers for you, you can also do a lot of work yourself to get individuals you know to review your book. Here’s a handful of reliable techniques:
Create Special Review Links
Leaving reviews takes work and steps. The smaller the number of steps it takes to leave a review, the more people will go ahead and leave one. That’s why it helps to navigate in your book page all the way to the point where somebody can click the stars and write a review.
Copy and paste it from there, then leave that link on your social media, in the backs of your book, and anywhere else you think is appropriate. This minimizes the steps a potential reviewer must take, and maximizes the number of people who leave a review.
Hold a Giveaway or Contest
We talk about the details of these in this report, and this one, (and will actually touch on it again in a couple of weeks over here). The bottom line is to hold an event that includes leaving reviews as part of participation. Be sure that leaving a negative review gives just as much credit as leaving a positive review, and that entering the giveaway does not require leaving reviews.
You can also do the giveaway in a manner that collects emails, then send emails later asking for reviews. This makes the whole thing a little less direct quid pro quo. Either way, it can net a surprising number of reviews overall.
Put a Review Ask In Your Books
We’ve written about this before, but three things to remember:
- Just do it already. We’re consistently amazed how many people know they should be doing this, but who keep not doing this. It will take you one day to make the changes and upload them to KDP. Get on with it already.
- Write a personal note telling people about yourself and talking about how much a review helps you.
- Promise that you’ll read all the reviews. This puts some subtle pressure to be one of the people you read, and also helps the reader feel like they’re part of your team
Set Up an ARC Team
Develop a team of 20-25 fans who are willing to read your advance copy and leave a review. Pull them from your superfans (see below), your writing group, and other populations willing to go the extra mile. About three months before launch day, send them your book individually (not as a mass email), and check in with them once a month until launch. Remind them they don’t have to finish the book to leave an honest, compelling review.
This is very close to the edge of Amazon’s rules, but so far they have explicitly allowed it. ARC teams are a common practice in traditional publishing, so our guess is Amazon is allowing this for self-published authors, too, even though outside of this context most of what it entails is against their general guidelines.
Track Your Superfans
You have superfans. You even have superfans who aren’t your mom. Set up a spreadsheet where you keep track of them, and also of how you make contact now and again to encourage their superfandom.
Think about the authors you love and admire. How much would it make your day to get a happy birthday wish, or a free ebook for no particular reason, or just for them to share a post you made on Instagram? That’s how your superfans feel about you.
If you track them and nurture those relationships, it’s easy to activate them once a quarter to review any books they haven’t already.
Leveraging Amazon Top Reviewers
Top Amazon Reviewers are people with a track record of on-point, trusted reviews that get a lot of those thumbs-up “did you find this review helpful” tags. Amazon gives them more juice when tracking book algorithms, and some people give their word more credit than a random reviewer.
Getting in touch with a top reviewer who likes your genre is a bit of a process, but can be super-powerful if you make it happen.
- Start by finding the Top Reviewers who are active in your genre. You can streamline this by checking the reviews of the titles you used in your keyword and category research.
- Navigate to those reviewer profiles. Amazon no longer includes their email addresses, but you can find their social media information near the bottom of the left-hand column. (Pro Tip: You can save yourself literally hours of work by using the Book Review Rocket to determine which profiles have contact information for you!)
- Contact the reviewer and ask if they’d be interested in reviewing your book.
Most Top Reviewers get several review requests every day. The good news is they’re used to it, so it’s not like you’re asking for a big favor. The bad news is you have to make a compelling request to bubble up to the top of their attention.
The even better news is, if they love your book, it will be easy to get them to review more books on your list. Just like any other relationship, if you grow it with favors, attention, and the occasional kind word, it will work better for you in the long run.
It’s That Simple…But Maybe Not That Easy
At the end of the day, getting more reviews is a matter of asking as many people as possible to leave reviews, in as efficient a way as you can find. That’s a pretty simple prospect. The trick is to do it consistently enough to get a regular stream of reviews flowing into your Amazon presence.
I recommend doing one thing each week from start to finish. At the end of a year, you’ll have committed 50 acts of review marketing, each of which will glean you a review or two. How would you like to start next year with 50 extra Amazon reviews working for you full-time?
Image by Mohamed Hassan.