Authors know the importance of getting book reviews. The more reviews you have, the more books you sell. And the more books you sell, the more reviews you get.
It’s a virtuous cycle you want to repeat because the opposite is also true.
The fewer reviews you have, the fewer books you’ll sell. And if you don’t sell books, you won’t get reviews.
Getting reviews is especially important for indie authors who sell most of their books through Amazon. That review count and ratings are displayed on your book pages where everyone can see it.
But how do you get more reviews?
Why won’t readers leave book reviews?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: A lot of authors struggle to get book reviews, why is it so hard to get book reviews?
Jim Kukral: There are a bunch of reasons why it’s hard to get reviews.
- People who read books are reading for entertainment. They’re not in it to leave book reviews. They paid for the book. They read it, and they’re done.
- People don’t know how to leave reviews. It’s a foreign concept to a lot of people. They don’t know which button to click because they’ve never done it before.
- People don’t know what to say, or they’re not interested in leaving a review.
- People don’t think of leaving a review, so you have to prompt them.
Readers are not necessarily writers, so when you ask Joe Plumber who just read your nonfiction to leave a review, it is a major task. He doesn’t know how, and he doesn’t expect he needs to. Plus, he has no idea how to write.
That’s a big barrier to entry for leaving reviews, and that’s why most people don’t do it.
Thomas: A handful of people leave a lot of reviews. But that is a tiny fraction of readers. I would imagine most book readers have never left a single review.
How do authors help readers leave reviews?
What are your strategies for helping readers overcome those obstacles and write that first review?
Jim: You must ask people to leave a review. If you don’t ask, only 1% will do it. Make a personal plea and ask them to do it. Your response rate will increase a few percentage points because you asked personally, and it can make a world of difference.
I write nonfiction, entrepreneurial books for small businesses, and at the end of every book, I nicely ask them to leave a review.
I write, “Did you enjoy what you just read? Well, reviews are the lifeblood for people like me who write books like this. Would you leave a review?”
When you ask nicely and explain why reviews are important to help you continue getting your work into the world, you will see an increase in reviews.
Thomas: You write nonfiction, but novelists can also write a letter to their readers in their own voice. It might be an interesting experiment to make the plea for reviews in the voice of one of your characters if you could do it without making it sound contrived.
How to ask readers for reviews?
Jim: Here’s what I wrote at the end of my latest book Unskippable.
“If you love this book or even just liked it a little, now is the time when I would ask you to please go and leave a review wherever you bought it, or if you got a free copy, please do the same. Reviews are the lifeblood of books like this. And I would consider it a personal favor. I’m on a quest to get 500 reviews of this book, and I can only do it with your help.”
Then I ask them to share the book on social media, and I even give my cell phone number in the book so they can text and tell me what they thought.
Ask for reviews. Be nice about it. Don’t beg for it, but tell them how important reviews are.
Thomas: That’s a powerful technique that doesn’t require a lot of work. You write the letter once. If you’re making different versions for each bookstore, you can customize a letter for each. If you hunker down with a typesetting program like Vellum you can make your “request for review” letters in a day. I consider this non-negotiable for authors. There is no cost to you, and it makes a huge difference in the number of reviews you get.
Why do book reviews matter?
For the author who’s just getting started, what advice would you have to help them get their first 25 reviews?
Jim: I don’t think you should do any marketing on a book until you have at least 15 reviews. That’s my number. Twenty-five is a better number because reviews provide social proof.
Here’s my best example of the power of social proof.
Imagine you traveled to an unfamiliar city. You were walking down the street looking for a place to have dinner. You see an Italian restaurant with six people dining. It looks good and smells good. You could walk right in and sit down.
But just as you’re about to enter, you notice another Italian restaurant across the street. There are 150 people trying to get into the restaurant, and you automatically ask, “Why are 150 people trying to get into that restaurant? That one must be better.”
That’s social proof.
The same thing happens when people go to Amazon or any other retailer. Customers are looking for validation from other people.
If there are 1,000 reviews that show everyone else has already validated the quality, your brain tells you it’s a better choice. It’s easier for customers to make a purchasing decision if there are reviews. That’s why the social proof from reviews is powerful even in Amazon’s physical bookstores, where reviews are posted on the physical endcaps in the store.
Often, we just feel safer with the crowd rather than standing on our own. No one wants to be the guy who read the book and got snookered because it was a bad book. Even a handful of reviews make the book feel like a safe bet.
5 Tips for Getting Your First Reviews
Thomas: What are your tips for getting those initial reviews?
Jim: We used to simply ask friends and family, but Amazon has sniffed that out and cracked down on it. They comb your social media accounts, and if they think your mom left the review, it’s probably going to get removed. A friends-and-family approach is no longer an option.
Tip 1: Create an Advanced Reader List
The best way to get initial reviews is to work with an Advanced Reader List. Curate a list of your readers to whom you can offer and Advance Reader Copy (ARC) version of your book in exchange for a review when the book releases.
I did this with my book Unskippable last summer. My goal was to get to 100 reviews in three months, which is very difficult even for a great book. I currently have 102 reviews, and it took eight months.
Here’s how I did it. I created a book funnel page. A book funnel is a way to distribute your book to people for free so they can download it without having to pay for it.
Then I told my friends on social media that I was offering the ARC of my book in exchange for a review.
You must be clear that you’re making an exchange. And this does not violate Amazon terms of services. You are just saying, “I’m giving you a copy of my book. If you would like to review it, I would appreciate it.”
But here’s the key. You must set a deadline. Do not ask them to leave a review whenever they can. People respond to deadlines. Communicate your goal of getting 100 reviews, and then give the timeframe and the deadline.
In my experience, 14 days is a reasonable amount of time for someone to finish your book and review it.
Tip 2: Create an Event
Courtney Kinney, who is a prolific book marketer, gave me a fantastic tip. She had me create a Google calendar event for it. I created an all-day event called “Review Unskippable Day.” Every single person who agreed to read an advanced copy and review was added as guest to my event. By adding them as guests, it added “Review Unskippable Day” to their Google calendar. When the two-week deadline came, it showed up on the calendar of 180 readers that day and reminded them to go leave a review. There was a link to the Amazon page in the event, and that really helped.
Thomas: I love that strategy. If you use this strategy, it’s important to be selective about what kind of reviewers you get. This is a challenge for traditionally published authors. I observed one traditionally published author whose publisher gave him a cover that didn’t quite match the genre of his book. Then, they gave ARC copies to readers of the wrong genre. Those readers were expecting one thing and received another. His first reviews were two and three stars because the wrong readers were reviewing his book.
This goes back to the importance of cover design. The cover makes a promise about the genre and content inside. An ARC reviewer has expectations and will leave reviews based on what the cover tells them to expect. The cover of your book even impacts the kind of reviews you get.
Tip 3: Ask in Response to Fan Mail
Thomas: Another easy way to ask for reviews is after someone sends you an email thanking you for your book. We all love getting that fan mail, so write a response. Engage their questions or comments and then add a P.S. saying, “Glad you enjoyed it. Would you please leave me a review on Goodreads or Amazon?”
That personal response given to someone who is already a fan will have a great rate of return for your effort. I’ve had about a 50% success rate when I ask readers who contacted me to say they loved the book.
When I ask, they say, “I’d love to.”
Tip 4: Give Readers Your Phone Number
Jim: Here’s another guerrilla tactic that has been working well for me. I put my cell phone number at the end of every book, and I literally ask people to text me.
People think I’m crazy. But just because it’s in there doesn’t mean everyone texts me. Some people do, and you wouldn’t believe the notes I get at all hours of the day from people all over the world saying they finished the book and thought it was awesome.
Then I have a conversation with them, and before we sign off, I ask them to leave a review right then. They are happy to do it.
A lot of authors are afraid of putting their phone numbers out there because they’re afraid of people calling them. But if they call, that’s a good thing.
Who cares if they call you? Who cares if they text you? I have no problem with it. Everyone should call and text me right now at 216-236-8294. I respond to those texts when I’m sitting at a stoplight or in a doctor’s office, and I’m building relationships with readers.
That’s what readers want. They want inside access to communicate with the author. When you open yourself up that way, you create true engagement, and that’s a great way to get reviews. And lifetime readers, by the way.
Thomas: One-on-one engagement consisting of four or five texts makes a huge impact. You’ve moved them from casual fan to a hardcore fan. If you do that every day for a year, that might be 300 hardcore fans. Do it for several years, and suddenly you have 1,000 true fans. Just try it and see how often you get a text. I’ve seen it in nonfiction, but it’s rare, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in fiction.
Tip 5: Cultivate True Reader Engagement
Jim: I started writing a newsletter this year called, “Stuff” You Can’t Skip. I send it on Sundays at 9:00, and only the people who text me after reading it are allowed to remain on my list. When they text me, we have a conversation about what I wrote.
I’m building engagement and fans by communicating with people one-to-one. People rarely talk on the phone, but they are open to sending a quick text. Texting works great because everyone texts. Email is fine, but it’s still cumbersome. I highly suggest you give this a shot and see what happens.
Thomas: If you’re scared to give your actual cell number, you can always create a free Google Voice number that redirects the text to your cell phone.
Jim: That’s exactly what I did. I just created a business line through Google Voice. All the texts come through the Google Voice app. There’s a web interface too, and sometimes I respond through the webpage.
Thomas: When Novel Marketing listeners call our listener helpline (512-827-8377), Google Voice turns their voicemails into MP3 files that I can play on the air. Google Voice is still a free service for personal accounts. There is a fee for business accounts.
What should authors avoid when seeking reviews?
What are some mistakes authors make when they seek reviews?
Jim: One mistake is not asking enough and not being personal enough. This is a problem for authors because they’re not typically marketers or salespeople. A lot of writers are introverted, and they don’t like asking.
But authors need to get that mindset out of their heads. You’re merely saying, “I wrote something I think you’ll enjoy and find helpful. Would you help me?”
Write a personal note. Ask more often. Set more deadlines.
Are Amazon or Goodreads reviews better for sales?
Thomas: What are your thoughts on Amazon reviews as opposed to Goodreads reviews? Do you push good reads reviews as a part of your process?
Jim: I don’t bother with Goodreads reviews. I ask people to leave a review wherever they purchased the book. I want everyone to review at Amazon because the Pareto principle says that over 90% of my sales come from that retailer. That’s why I want most of my reviews to appear there. When I tell people to review where they bought the book, that’s usually Amazon.
What tools help authors get more reviews?
Thomas: What tools do you recommend for getting more views?
Jim: I own AuthorMarketingClub.com, and we’ve got a tool called “The Reviewer Grabber.”
You can search for other books in your genre, and The Review Grabber looks for people who have left positive reviews on similar books. It looks for social media contact information for that person so you can contact them.
Thomas: The Pareto phenomenon, which is also known as the 80/20 rule, applies to book reviews as well as purchase. The reviewers you’re identifying are the 20% of reviewers who leave 80% of the reviews. It’s easier to get reviews from people who know how to write one than it is to convince someone who’s never done it to leave their first review.
Jim: Ronald Reagan said, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” It’s the same thing in any type of business. If you must explain how to do something, it’s much harder to convince them to do it.
Thomas: Where can our listeners find out more about you?
Jim: BeUnskippable.com takes you to my website, and all my information is there. Soon my audiobook will be available there also.
Thomas: I have an audiobook-only policy, so I’m looking forward to listening to Be Unskippable.
Jim, do you have any final tips or encouragement?
Jim: Have a personal conversation with your readers. Stop being so walled off. You’re not Stephen King. You’re not Patterson. You’re not going to get a million people contacting you. If you’re getting started or if you have a successful speaking business where people buy your books, let your readers be part of your world. Give them an easy way to build a connection with you, and that will pay off for you in the future.
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