How Do You Get Reviews for Your FIRST Book?

| Posted in Book Marketing |


I don’t have to tell you: getting reviews is invaluable when it comes to selling books (just try to get a Bookbub ad without a bunch of positive reviews, I dare ya). It’s something I’ve talked about before (and I do mean talked… here’s a podcast from earlier in the year: Getting Book Reviews and Building a Relationship with Readers), but it’s something I get asked about a lot, so I thought I would cover it again.

A lot of my previous advice on getting reviews has been tailored to authors who have a few books out, so I thought I would write a post for those who are trying to get more reviews on their first book. Starting at ground zero sucks (what, you didn’t want me to be blunt?), but you’re not alone. I’ll even be in the same boat again soon — I just sent my first “pen name project” manuscript off to my editor. I’ll talk more about that book launch this fall, but for now, here are some tips for getting reviews on your first book, based on my own experiences and also based on what other successful indie authors are doing right now.

Setting Yourself up to Succeed (or get reviews anyway)

Before you even publish your book, I suggest adding an afterword to the end of the manuscript. Ask the reader to leave a review. You can phrase it however you want (if you enjoyed the novel, please consider leaving a review…), but you’ll get a lot more reviews if you ask. Some people even include the link back to the book’s page, to make things super easy for the reader.

You can also ask the reader to sign up for your newsletter (and give them an incentive to do so), but be careful about how many requests you make in the back of the book. I’ve seen people who have a whole list of things they want readers to do (like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and Google+, follow my blog, share this book with a friend, enter my raffle, etc.), but I would keep the call to action simple. Not only can asking for a lot seem pushy, but most people are going to do a max of one thing anyway. If you’re starting out, reviews may be the most important thing to focus on. You can always change the afterword later on.

Offering Incentives to People Who Leave Reviews

Some people will leave a review simply because you ask (thank you, good readers). Others may need a little motivation. You need to be careful with what you offer because Amazon’s ToS has some strict rules in regard to reviews (i.e. you can’t offer gift certificates or payment). Here are a few things I’ve done:

  • Let people know that whether or not you continue the series (if this is a Book 1) depends on how many reviews it gets and how many readers want to see more — Now, if you’ve already sent Book 2 off to your editor and this isn’t true, I wouldn’t recommend doing it, but if you’re basically writing pilots at this stage to see what has potential (I did a lot of this last year, after finishing my first series), it may be completely true. If the reader wants to see the adventure continue, he or she may be more motivated to leave a review.
  • Offer a spot on a special reviewers’ list — It doesn’t hurt to cultivate a list of proven reviewers (this means never having to start over at ground zero). Ask readers to send a link to their review at Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever in exchange for being put on your list to receive review copies of future books.
  • Offer a prize — I haven’t done this, because I’m always slow about getting my paperbacks out there, but I’ve seen authors offer signed paperbacks to the first 10 or 20 people who review their ebooks.  I’ve also seen people offer a chance to win a bigger prize if they send a link to a review (Becky White gave away a $100 gift certificate when she did a big free push). I’m not personally a fan of lottery prizes as an incentive, since more people lose than not, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work. (Though if you’re angling for Amazon reviews, in particular, you might want to double-check their ToS for that kind of thing.)

Getting People to Read Your Book

I know what you’re thinking: okay, incentives make sense and asking makes sense too, but how do I get people to read the book in the first place? Nobody can review it if they don’t know it exists.

You’re right. It’s hard to get people to buy a book without any reviews, and it’s even harder to get reviews when nobody’s read the book. So what’s the answer?

Giving away free copies. People will try a free book that doesn’t have a load of reviews, especially if it’s got a stellar cover and blurb. Now, you can go out and try to hand sell X number of free review copies (I did this with my first book, using the Mobile Read forum, Kboards, and the Nookboards (not that active anymore, alas) to get in touch with people who might be interested), but it’s probably easier just to make your ebook free everywhere for a few days. If you’re in KDP Select, you can do this through a Countdown Deal. If you’re not exclusive with Amazon, you can make your book free at Smashwords, Kobo, and Apple, and hope Amazon matches it to free.

It’s up to you whether you want to make it a free-for-all or hand select potential reviewers. If you do go free everywhere, this doesn’t mean you have to go permanently free. Maybe you just want your book to be free until you have X number of reviews, and then you’ll put it up to its regular price. It’s basically just giving away review copies en masse.

Note: some people say that you’re more likely to get 1-star reviews when you make your book free (possibly a reason to be more selective with who you give the book to). Getting some 1-stars is probably worth it if your average doesn’t get too low and if you’re getting good reviews at the same time. Believe it or not, some readers don’t trust books that have only positive reviews, thinking someone might have been gaming the system.

Sending off Review Copies to Book Blogs and Review Programs (meh?)

I did some of this when I first released The Emperor’s Edge and Encrypted back in the day (it used to be a lot harder to find sites that accepted self-published books!). I did get a good review or two out of the deal (and a nice write-up on a fairly big genre book blog), but bloggers tend to be pretty backed up.

You also might not get as good of reviews as you’re hoping for because you’re foisting these books on people who are already inundated rather than having readers self-select, based on their interest in the blurb. I’m not quite sure how the Vine program works on Amazon, but I’ve seen traditionally published authors get some of the crummiest reviews through it, ones that start off, “I don’t usually read X genre, but…”. It really is best to get reviews from people who saw the book, thought it looked like something up their alley, and were excited to read it from the start.

That’s probably enough from me on the subject. What are your thoughts and experiences?

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Comments (17)

Getting enough good reviews can be important too, if you’re trying to qualify for some of the book promo sites. I’d probably try to get as many self-selected reviews as possible right at first, get the book into a promo, and then cast a wider net.

I’m one of those readers who don’t always trust 5 star reviews if there aren’t lower ones as well. I’ve heard too much about paid reviews, and I like to read the negative reviews, because the thing one person complained about could make it the perfect book for me!

I’ve reviewed for friends before, so asking friends can be a good way of getting reviews for a book. I can be honest and kind though, and I would choose carefully out of friends I asked.

One reason I’ve joined Wattpad is to ask people who are already enjoying my work to review it for me on Amazon etc. when it’s up.

If you have a blog, you could ask your readers there, as well.

Count me as one of those readers who likes to see a few negative reviews, too. No book is perfect, and a 5-star review isn’t likely to tell me what I’m getting into. 1- and 2-star reviews can be pretty useless, too (“I loved it!!! Squee!!!” and “I hated it. I hate everything,” carry about the same amount of information).

I am following your pen name experiment with interest. I am going to try about a dozen things (Netgalley, giveaways, maybe a blog tour, etc.) to get my next book reviewed pre-release, but I don’t know which of them will work yet, if any.

I buy all my books through amazon, and in my opinion there are three types of reviews:

The Love/Hate ones that Amelia mentioned above are the first type. In short, if you as an author didn’t learn anything from the review, neither did your readers. Those I discount, regardless of stars.

Second is a new type of review that seems to becomming more common: The Blurps. Essentially these will relay the plot to you without adding any extra information. A good example is this:

“Diner waitress Allie lives the normal life in the human race category. She loves Jaden, her boyfriend of six years, and is enraged when she catches him cheating on her. Allie goes a bit over the edge and slashes the tramp with a broken bottle. But hey, people lose their tempers, get tossed in jail, psych evaled, and forced into community service and a GPS ankle shackle. Er, maybe not everyone.

The incident is a significant event not only because Allie gets in trouble. It’s also a pivotal moment because it draws attention to her. A man is following her. He’s Mr. Monochrome: a study in black and white.

Seers were discovered in caves in Asia. An ill-fated rebellion against humans ended in defeat. Now, seers are kept as pets by the wealthy or exploited in fetish shops. The seers wear collars to neuter their abilities.

On the radar and in trouble, Allie’s life spins out of control.

XXX is beautifully written and wonderfully imagined. ”

And no, a review like this will not sell me your book. It tells me nothing about the readers *reaction* to the book – again, if you learnt nothing new, neither will the reader.

Now, the third type of review is where the reader tells me something about their *own* reactions to the book. E.g. I remember one reviewer bitching about the author using difficult words. I was sold on the spot, and have bought all of Ms. Burokers works since. One mans medicine is another mans poison. These are the ones that for better or worse will make or kill a book in my eyes.

“Blurps” Love that! I’ve seen those and some were written by book review bloggers. I just assumed they didn’t really care for the book and didn’t want to say that. OR they didn’t really read it. OR the book had no emotional impact on them.

Thanks, Lindsay for that tip regarding leaving a link to the book’s page at the end of the ebook! I ask readers to consider leaving a review, but I don’t provide a link to the book’s page. The reviews are trickling in though.

I don’t know why I didn’t provide a link at the end of the novel. I do have a link to the book at the end of a short story that includes the first two chapters of the novel though.

I’m going to make the change now. I’m eager to see if I get more reviews by making it easier.

As a reader, I agree with A Traveler’s characterization of reviews, and I’ll add a fourth one: pro forma, e.g., “I got a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review of this book. It’s good/okay/not my cup of tea.” The reviewer met his/her perceived obligation to leave a review, but may as well not have bothered.

In September, I’ll be publish the first novel in a science fiction-action-romance series, and plan to solicit friends (local and online) to leave reviews, and to submit it to targeted review blogs, knowing I have to be patient. I figure it’ll take time to build up reviews, but that’s OK, because meanwhile I’ll be working on the next book or novella, whichever I think I can tackle first. My long-term plan is to do a much more serious marketing push once I have three titles out. Since I’m not anywhere close to the amazing speed that Lindsay writes at, that’s probably not for another year.

Great post, Lindsay! Contests can be another good way to go. There are a few contests for indies out there that have several judges who leave reviews if the books gets into the final round, which is super helpful, plus the added cred of being a contest finalist. The Kindle Book Review has one, but that’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

Hi Lindsay, thanks so much for writing this concise article. I have yet to publish one of my comedy children’s stories, but the advice you’ve written here looks invaluable. I’m sure it will save lots of people, including myself, a lot of agony. Keep up the great work! By the way, I retweeted this on Twitter! Cheers!

Book review bloggers have big backlogs, and it might be six months or more before they can get to you. Still, I think they are worthwhile. Reviews from book bloggers give your novel “street cred” that reviews from friends and family just can’t match. I put blurbs from the reviewers in the frontmatter of my books. It seems to help sales.

This was just what I needed to hear right now. I published my first book a few months ago (getting ready to put out my second) and it has been agony trying to get reviews. I’ve tapped out my family and friends, though most of them seemed to prefer emailing me / texting me their opinions of the book rather than reviewing it (which I suppose was fine, since it was encouraging to hear their opinions whether they made them public or not).
The only other reviews I’ve managed unsolicited were from people who started reading the book on Wattpad and went on to purchase a copy. I’m still trying to find new ways to reach potential readers without it sucking up my desperately needed writing time. I suppose the best cure is to put out the next book 🙂
Lindsay, I’ve been secretly reading your blog for a while now. Thank you for all your wonderful insights and advice! Sometimes us newbies just need some encouragement not to give up and keep on typing away. 🙂

Definitely going to try some of these techniques with the pilot urban fantasy I’m looking to publish–esp. the “making it free to get reviews en masse.” I agree that sending books to individual blogs (God bless the book bloggers, though) is a tedious process unlikely to yield terrific results. But that’s just my opinion, of course.

Thanks for re-visiting this topic! 🙂

Thanks for commenting, and good luck with the new book! 🙂

Good article, Lindsay, I’ve actually found myself referring to your blog quite often lately. My first novella, was a follow up to my feature film, The Ark of the Witch, and I really threw myself and book out there without any forethought, editing, marketing etc.. Needless to say, I’m using a slightly different approach this time, kindle instituted the preorder thing, so I’m giving that a shot. I issued a formal press release using prlog, 350000 impressions so far. The giveaway, I set up a kindle fire giveaway using rafflecopter. And last but not least, posted the first two chapters on my blog. We’ll see how it goes! You’re welcome to take a peek,

Thanks for the great blog, and books btw…


Thank you, Robert. Good luck with the new launch!

I’ll keep you posted! 😉

Thanks for this, Lindsay, and some great info in the comments as well. I’ll share something that didn’t work. I put my first novel on Kindle about 6 weeks ago, specifically in time to participate in Digital Book Day with 400 other authors. I got about 500 free downloads that day and hoped to convert a few reviews from it. So far, I’m pretty sure I haven’t gotten a single one. (With so few reviews to date, it’s easy to tell.) Participating in DBD was still the right decision for me. Most importantly, the deadline was the kick in the pants I needed to go live. I also picked up one or two people on my newsletter, and maybe someday a few more people will get around to actually reading my book along with the other 20 books they downloaded for free. But I would not recommend participating in a free book orgy as a way to garner reviews. 😛

Thanks for sharing, Judy. With an event like that, it sounds like readers might have had an opportunity to download lots and lots of freebies at once, so it might take them a while to work their way through the pile. There’s my glass-half-full thought. 😀

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