Why the Right Book Reviews are So Important for Authors

Why the Right Book Reviews are So Important for Authors

When your book is released, it’s tempting to try to get as many reviews as you can.

You hope someone, anyone, will write an all-important Amazon or Goodreads review that will boost sales.

But authors and self-publishers who adopt a scattergun approach risk putting their book in front of the wrong audience — and ending up with lukewarm reviews.

As marketing expert and author Paul Youlten told me, “Bad reviews can simply mean the wrong person is reading your book.”

I had been complaining to Youlten about the reviews my second book had been getting. He’s a fellow member of the writing group I attend, and one of the few of us who works in marketing.

Which means I frequently ask him for advice.

And, apart from when he insisted I send my erotic novel to his sister to read and she was so offended she didn’t speak to him for weeks, his insight has been invaluable.

What happens when you get the wrong reviewers

I know Youlton is right that there’s a wrong type of reviewer, because my publisher sent out my graphic, choose-your-own-adventure-style erotica to its pool of romance-book bloggers.

Not only was it hard to get those bloggers to review my book at all; those who did inevitably criticized it for not having enough plot or character development.

Many missed the point: In a book where the protagonist is “You,” the writer’s job is to create a space for the reader to fill with themselves.

“Do we even know her name?” one reviewer asked.

Others complained the books weren’t long enough, noting they are essentially a series of interconnected short stories. It was pretty frustrating to be judged harshly for something inherent in the concept of what I’ve written.

My publisher’s approach to getting reviews

I relied on the publisher’s expertise to help market my book in the right way to the right people, and I supposed marketing would start with the book bloggers and reviewers they approached.

But they aren’t focused on my books. They’re putting out as many titles as they can and hoping some stick. As long as, overall, they sell books, a few misses won’t matter.

“It’s the World War One approach to product development and marketing,” Youlten said. “Writers are just cannon fodder. Are you 16? Sign here. Upload your book here. Charge towards those reviewers over there. Good luck …Next!”

If you don’t want to end up a casualty, you need to find people from your natural audience to review your books.

Finding your own potential reviewers

Women in a certain age group isn’t a specific-enough audience. Think about what those women buy, what their hobbies are, and, Youlton noted, what online forums and groups they might belong to.

“Crime fiction authors can join Reddit’s Protect and Serve forum where you will find experts they can ask to review their novel or Agathie Christie forums for detective story fans,” he explained to me. “For erotic fiction, seek out reviewers on Nerve.com or FetLife.“

I have to admit this is where I wish I wrote crime thrillers because I’m not sure exactly what I would have to say in a fetish forum. I might write erotica, but my real life reads more like a chaste romance novel crossed with a baby survival manual.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as writing your first post in a forum to ask for book reviewers. “Zooming into a forum as a stranger with a finished book and asking for reviews isn’t the most effective way to work with communities on the internet,” Youlten warned.

“The key is to get the community involved at an early stage. Ask for feedback on the characters and plot and use the expertise within the community for research,” he said. “When you’re ready to find reviewers, you’ll be recognized as an interesting and creative member of the community. That’s more or less what EL James did. It can work for you too.”

Should you ask friends and family for book reviews?

It’s understandable that at the crucial release stage, you’ll want to enlist the support of friends and family, petitioning them for book reviews — even if it’s just a couple of lines.

Again, it’s best to be selective and only approach people who already read the kind of book you’re offering.

Even better, ask writers in critique groups who might be happy to review a book they helped shape in its earlier incarnations.

In launch week, you’ll have fewer reviews than later on, meaning prospective buyers are more likely to read all your reviews. If they’re mostly five-star, two-liners about how fantastic the book and the writer are with no commentary about the plot or characters, they could sound fake.

And Amazon apparently has ways of finding out if the reviewer is a friend and might even delete their support.  

At this point, it’s not sales you’re after, it’s the metric that leads to sales: Reviews.

And while a lot of reviews is a powerful thing, a lot of good, genuine reviews is the real dynamite.

Authors, what’s your strategy for asking for book reviews that will drive sales?

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8 comments

  • Ben Oliveira says:

    Hi, Nicola!
    Nice tips. It’s very important to select the right book bloggers and check which books they’ve been reading lately – or the author may get frustrated with the review.
    You can’t offer a poem book, for example, to a reader that doesn’t read poetry.

  • Claus Martin says:

    Hi Nicola,

    I am more interested in reading books about scientific or technical topics, but now and then I read also classical literature.

    Therfore I am not an expert in erotic literature. But I wonder a bit, that still nowadays somebody can get shocked, to read an erotic book.

    This makes me a bit curious to read your book :- )

    Now coming back to your topic. Just some ideas:

    – publish the book at first in a journal; each week or month one chapter. Eventually in a shorter version, if the book should be too long.
    – give preprints of the book free of charge to book stores and ask them, if they would sell this book.
    – ask an artist, to prepare illustrations for the book. Some people like to see also illustrations. ( look at all the classical erotica books )
    – could you transform the content of the book into a comedy for the stage or for a film or musical ?
    – publish it in the Internet, each chapter with an open end, so that readers can go on to write themselves, how the story should go on. They would be very interested to read your book later.

    I wish you much success.

    • Nicola Jane says:

      Thanks for the tips! I couldn’t do anything involving releasing the text in chapters online as my publisher owns the rights to the work, not me. And it’s only in digital format so no possibility there either for putting it in stores. I did think of illustrations and know an artist who would be good but I can’t afford to pay him from book sales and the publisher has the last call on what goes in and I know they wouldn’t commission artwork. But for a self-published author with money to invest, it could work very well.

      I too, am surprised people are shocked by erotica, but there is a certain theme to my books that more romance-oriented readers didn’t gel with!

  • Nicola Jane says:

    My pleasure. I hope it’s useful!

  • Ross says:

    Excellent advice….what do you think about seeking newspaper articles and newspaper book reviews on a self published book….how to? … problems doing so? ….

    • Nicola Jane says:

      That’s a really good question and one I intend to find out as I have a self published (non-fiction) book that has been selling quite well but needs an extra push. I am going to guess that reviews on a self-published book are harder to get unless the book is a proven success or has already had some media. Though then the book is no longer new and newspapers etc like to review new books. Not sure what the way out of that Catch 22 is!
      Articles though is much easier. It is just a case of taking themes or ideas from your book and turning them into pitches for the relevant publications. The book itself is an incidental factor and will appear in your bio. Linking directly to it would totally depend on the publication and that it didn’t look like marketing. Editors are always looking for content, but they’re not interested in promoting your book. So just make sure the article itself can stand alone. Good luck!

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