For writers: how to get reviews on your books in 2016

When I first started writing and publishing, it used to be that you got your first reviews from a few author friends, and then you might run a giveaway at LibraryThing and you might contact some book bloggers to see if they would review the book.

However, Amazon has clamped down on the first option. Reviews by what Amazon considers friends (including Facebook friends!) are routinely removed. I used to get a decent (meaning: about 10%) response at LibraryThing, but lately, that site seems full of people who just want the free book and don’t review. Many book bloggers have closed their doors to submissions, especially by self-published authors, after some deplorably stupid author behaviour and also because they’re just over-booked. The sites that are still open are usually the smaller ones that don’t have a big audience. Besides, writing to book blog sites and waiting for their non-replies is time-consuming and frustrating.

Often, too, those reviews will end up sounding like they’ve been written through clenched teeth. It starts off with “I received this book in exchange for an honest review”, which is a mandatory declaration.

The review will often continue with “This is not my usual genre…”. Many reviews will be a dry summary of the plot. Sure, it helps to get your review count up, but do you really want too many reviews like that? Also because these reviews will show up as “unverified purchase” on your Amazon page.

My thought to that is: No. Not really.

What sort of reviews do you want? Well, ideally, they would be reviews from people who read the book, and who, afterwards, felt passionate enough to want to say something about it.

The solution, then, is easy: put a lot of books in readers’ hands. Run specials, make the book free, advertise it like hell. You get on average 1 review per 100 copies sold or 1000 copies given away. For some people might sound like an insurmountable number, but when your book cover and sample are doing the job, all you really need to do is throw some advertising at the book.

Freebie and announcement

If you are wondering what the Icefire Trilogy is all about, you can read the story that inspired it for free, at Smashwords. It will go up on other sites, just give me a week or two until Smashwords approves the premium status.

Download it here

Also, I’d been thinking of a self-published book site away from this blog or my website, so I started a book blog Have Kindle, Will Read which will feature self-published books I’ve enjoyed and I can recommend. Yes, you see that correctly, I have a “suggest a book” form. ZOMG! I shall be drowing in the great unwashed torrent of teh awful self-publisherz! Sure.

Did I ever tell anyone that I am the Queen of Ignoring Email?

Reviews and the writer

Much as the internet has been beneficial to many people, it has also brought some uneasy consequences. Before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, writers used to write books, and reviewers used to review them, the reviews would be published and that was the end of that. Well, I’m sure it wasn’t always that simple, but you get the gist.

Now that everyone is on Facebook and Twitter, people of the SF/F writing community are all living in each other’s pockets. We’re all friends with authors on Facebook, Twitter and goodreads. This is, for the most part, a good thing, until the time comes to review books, and you find that there is something deeply uncomfortable about writing a review for an author you’re friends with in several places on the internet.

If your review is really good, the author might be pleased, but you might be accused of cronyism. If your review contains critical elements, you might feel that your relationship with the author might be damaged by it. It’s a no-win situation.

Reviews, what do they mean?

As reader, I don’t look at reviews. I don’t buy from Amazon, or any places where books have reviews (I’m a Book Depository gal), and I don’t check out books on goodreads to see what people have written. I have only once bought a book after reading a review. It was a dreadful review, and I bought the book out of curiosity. To me, reviews are white noise. The only thing reviews mean to me is that people are reading the book. I often read unusual books, so I don’t mind if there are no reviews.

When I do look at reviews, the books with a complete range of reviews (including some really bad ones) appeal more to me than the books with the gushing reviews. Somehow, readers are more able to describe why they didn’t like a book than why they did like it. When they’re giving reasons for hating the book, they’re telling me what sort of book it is. And hey! I may actually like that type of book, or at least not mind whatever the other person found problematic.

As an author, I like reviews because it means people are reading my stuff. I don’t really mind what people are saying or how they rate the book. I looked at average ranking of my favourite books on goodreads. It was between 3 and 4. In fact, almost all well-known classics or popular books have an average rank between 3 and 4.

As author, I tend to leave reviews and reviewers alone. Reviews are for readers, not for me. I once had a well-known author post a review I’d written on goodreads on his blog. Aargh!! Horrible! The embarrassment! I will never review that author again (I haven’t actually bought anything from this author since). I suppose when you write the review, you know that the author will probably see it, but you don’t expect (nor want) the author to butt in and look over your shoulder. To me, that constitutes a breach of trust.

For all the reasons above, I don’t embarrass my writing friends by asking for reviews, I don’t comment on reviews people have written, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them. They’re just not for me.

How you feel about reviews, as reader or writer?

Buying books: how do ratings influence you?

The other day there was a thread about ratings on a forum I belong to. Someone argued that a one-star review killed sales. Someone else argued the opposite. In combination with a survey reported by Dean Wesley Smith on what influences book buyers, people wondered how much rating influences someone to buy a book.

I only ever once bought a book solely based on a review. It was not a good review by any stretch of the imagination. But the review made me so curious about the supposedly bad ending that I wanted to see for myself. I read the book and saw where the reviewer came from. The ending was unusual, in that one of the characters made a decision that would not have been mine (neither would it have been the reviewer’s, I guess).

The funny thing is–because of that very negative review, I bought the book, and to date, I still remember the book, whereas I’ve forgotten countless other books I read around the same time. I spoke about the book at home, and my daughters read it as well.

So, yeah, one bad review, and three reads. Mostly, I don’t care about ratings at all. Sometimes I read the reviews. What I’m looking for in reviews is more setting and subject matter related comments, and much less what the reviewer thought about them. I find the bad reviews a lot more interesting than the good ones.

Do bad reviews stop you picking up a book?

I did some very unscientific research. I looked at the Amazon reviews of a number of my favourite big-name authors. By far the majority of books averaged 3-3.5 stars, sometimes over hundreds of reviews, including many one-star reviews. Obviously, bad reviews do not stop buyers.

How do you decide what to read?

This is the flipside of book marketing. If you understand why people read what they read, then you have a better handle on where and how to market.

For me, it looks somewhat like this:

I buy my first book by a particular author book because I have heard of the author, and I’ve heard that he/she writes what I enjoy, and I’ve heard that other people have enjoyed this author’s books. This ‘hearing’ of an author happens informally, usually in cyberspace. The author might be part of a forum, the author might write an interesting blog or I might have attended panels by the author at a con, or other such interactions.

I rarely (almost never) pay attention to reviews (don’t read them). I target the books I buy, regardless of the book’s ranking on Amazon or elsewhere.

What about you?