This article, by Michael R. Hicks, originally appeared on his site, KreelanWarrior.com.
The title of this article seems like a no-brainer: of course you want to get book reviews! But, at least based on my experience thus far, there are some interesting aspects to it, particularly for those of us who are engaged in that most subversive of activities: self-publishing!
Before we start off, let me caveat this by saying that when I talk about reviews and reviewers in this post, I’m limiting the scope to people who maintain web sites or blogs primarily devoted to reviewing books. I believe that periodicals such as newspapers and magazines would also fall into this scope, although I can’t say for certain since I haven’t – yet – submitted to them for reviews. Reader reviews, such as those posted on Amazon, are entirely different and very important, but for somewhat different reasons that we’ll get to in a bit.
So, let’s look at blogs and web sites that review books. These are often the most accessible sources of reviews, because many of the folks who run these sites find it a great source of free books, and will often accept self-published books (whereas more mainstream reviewers won’t). A lot of them clearly put a great deal of thought and consideration into their reviews, while others don’t.
But what can you honestly expect? What is one review or a dozen (or a hundred) from these sorts of sites going to do for you?
Let’s take In Her Name as an example. I submitted the book to a variety of reviewers, from SciFi.com to personal book review blogs – probably about a dozen in all in the initial round. I didn’t send out hundreds of copies to every possible reviewer because that would have been inordinately expensive, and I also wanted to evaluate how the reviews went, and what impact – if any – they might have on sales.
Small Following = Small Impact
Unless you can reach more mainstream review sites with large followings (think at least Google page rank 6 or higher), reviews will likely not have a significant (and in some cases, no) direct impact on sales.
This is largely a numbers game: you would have to get your book reviewed on dozens (or more) of smaller sites to equate to the exposure from a single more popular “mainstream” site (or periodical). But the trick here is not just effort, but financial: every review copy you send out has a cost, and if you can’t reach the more mainstream sites, the return on investment can be thin.
Remember: for every set of visitors to one of these sites, only a certain percentage are likely to be potentially interested in your book. And of those, some percentage will actively be in the market for a new book, and will take it upon themselves to check out your book in more detail. Finally, some number of those folks will actually buy it. So if you don’t have a lot of people checking out the review in the first place, you’re not going to have very many (or any) trickling out the bottom of the funnel to buy your book.
Four Stars or Better
Depending on the reviewer’s rating system – if they use one – chances are that if your book doesn’t garner at least a “four-star” rating (out of five), the review will probably have little or no direct impact on sales. A three is relatively neutral, and I suspect that the key for swinging readers toward your book would be in the reviewer’s synopsis, but I believe there would have to be something particularly appealing in it. Let’s face it: why would someone even bother to read a review of a book – let alone consider buying it – by an unknown author that only gets three stars? Three stars is “average” (no matter how you want to define it), and there are a million of those out there. People want to spend their money on “good” books. Three isn’t good; it’s fair.
Obviously, one- or two-star rankings aren’t going to help your sales! But let’s be honest: if your book has gotten more than one of these ratings (even the best book is bound to be subject to a fluke) from impartial reviewers who specialize in your genre, you really need to take another look at your work. They could be trying to tell you something.
The exposure your book gets on most review sites tends to be transient and very brief. Ironically, this is more problematic with sites that review a higher volume of books – the very sites that tend to be more popular.
What happens is this: the review of your book is initially posted on the front page of the site, right at the top. Let’s say they loved it and gave it five stars. You rejoice! You see an upswing in traffic to your web site, and – hopefully – some sales.
The next day, the review site has posted a review of a different book, bumping you down the page. By this time most of the folks who subscribe to the site’s RSS feed have had a chance to see your book’s review and have either checked it out or not (although this certainly can dribble on for a little while, as people catch up on their feeds). Meanwhile, the folks who visit the site directly have already seen your review and want to read the newest one. You notice web traffic plateauing, or even declining. Ditto with sales.
This continues until, at some point, the review for your book drops off the front page. After that, the game’s pretty much over: your book’s review has essentially wound up in the history books, and the only way that anybody’s going to find it is if they happen to be just browsing the reviews, or if they heard of your book and they searched for reviews about it.
So, depending on how popular the site is and how many reviews they post, you may have only a few days, at most, to reap any direct benefit from that review. And some sites post their reviews directly to an archive, as opposed to more of a blog format: in that case, it’s unlikely that your book will get much direct exposure at all!
It’s In The Quotes
Let’s make the assumption for a moment that my assessments above are correct. The picture looks pretty bleak, doesn’t it? If all that’s even close to being true, why should you bother sending your book out for review at all?
To me, the true value of reviews is in the quotable material. You know, those little blurbs like these that I received for In Her Name:
“Hicks blends fantasy, science fiction, and romance together to create a story that crosses genres, and will appeal to a wide range of readers…Hicks has created some of the most memorable, likable characters I have read about in a long time. Reza is the quintessential coming-of-age hero, starting as a young, scared boy, and ending up a strong, confident warrior. He is surrounded by strong, powerful women, who each have their own struggles…I highly recommend this novel to lovers of fantasy and science fiction, as well as anyone who enjoys an engrossing, fast-paced novel set in a new and fascinating world.” – BookLoons
“The author’s writing style is very engaging…which makes you keep turning page after page to find out what happens next, and in the process letting you live the book…Reza Gard is very interesting. Human by birth, alien by upbringing, Reza struggles to straddle two mutually incompatible societies: a scientific, more or less democratic and individualistic human one; and a fantasy-like society…which is communal, blood-bonded, hierarchic, and based on honor and place…In Her Name was an excellent book and I highly, highly recommend it.” – Fantasy Book Critic
[Publetariat Editor’s note: more reviews like these are available on Hicks’ KreelanWarrior site.]
Even if I didn’t get a single direct sale from any of the reviews, I’ve got some great ammunition to use for promoting the book through other means! You can use these with everything from press releases to queries for a radio interview, along with a fact sheet on your book, or as part of a complete press kit.
If you get good reviews at these sorts of sites, you can also try and get your foot in the door at the more mainstream reviewers where you might be able to score some real numbers. I can’t guarantee that, as I haven’t tried it myself (yet), but if I was an editor and somebody sent me a tightly written sheet on a book that had received some real praise from several impartial review sites, I’d be a lot more willing to at least consider looking at it.
Reviews from review sites and “professional” reviewers (e.g., from a local newspaper or magazine) will give you good marketing material that you can use in a variety of ways to help lead people to find out more about your book.
But I firmly believe that one of the most important factors nowadays to get people to actually buy your book is reader reviews. People interested in your book read those reviews when they drop in on its catalog page on Amazon or wherever, and in many cases the reviews make or break the sale. Let’s face it: if your book has positive reader reviews (at least three star equivalent), that tells others visiting the catalog page that it’s probably worth plunking down some cash.
On the other hand, if your book gets trashed (not to be undiplomatic here), the chances drop dramatically that future visitors will buy it.
Now, I’m going to make a personal observation here that hits on author integrity: I would recommend to any authors or would-be authors out there that you never, ever post reviews to your own book, or even ask relatives or friends to post positive reviews (in fact, I’d discourage them from doing so).
Why? For one simple reason: integrity. One of the major knocks against self-published authors is that some of them do silly things like creating several user accounts on Amazon so they can give their books a bunch of five-star reviews in the guise of fake “readers.” You need to let your work stand on its own with the people who count: the readers.
Now, I’ll also tell you that I don’t think it’s bad to ask readers if they’d consider writing a reader review, as long as they aren’t close friends or family (for example: folks who comment on your site or on a forum you frequent, or who send you emails about your book). There’s no potential conflict of interest there, and asking politely is certainly fair game (with the caveat that they are under absolutely no obligation to do so!).
Some other folks have asked me how you can get reader reviews in the first place. Again, part of it is a numbers game: the more people who read your book, the more likely it’ll be that someone will take the time to review it.
So that means you have to get your marketing and promotion plan in gear!
Please visit KreelanWarrior.com for many more posts on the subjects of self-publishing and Kindle formatting and conversion.