Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Marketing 101: Reviews

If someone were to ask me the number one aspect of marketing for a new author to focus on, without question I would answer, reviews.

I break down reviews into three categories

  • Professional industry giants
  • Internet bloggers
  • Readers

Professional industry giants
The first group includes sites such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Foreword Magazine and the like. These organizations require galleys or ARC’s (Advanced reading copies and generally need them 4 – 5 months before release date as they are still produced in print and the magazine closes 2 or more months before the issue is to hit the street. These publications have limited space, and so for the most part focus on releases from large publishers. If you are published through a big-six, you don’t have to worry about submitting to these organizations as the marketing and public relations department will handle this for yourself. If you are from an independent press, or self-published your chances of getting reviewed are slim. For the most part Ridan does not delay the release of a title for these. On a few occasions, when authors have asked us to we’ve submitted. For instance Leslie Ann Moore received (from her previous publisher) reviews by both Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. Midwest Book Review is known for being more small press friendly” and if you follow their submission guidelines to identify your works as such you have a good chance of being reviewed by them.

Internet Bloggers
Internet Bloggers are extremely influential, and getting a review from them will result in many people hearing about your book since they are in the business of telling others what books are good to read. I attribute a great deal of Ridan’s success in our ability to obtain reviews for our authors. I suggest the following approach. Compile a list of bloggers that write reviews for your genre. The list will grow quickly as most bloggers have a blog role of sites similar to their that they also follow. I personally have a spreadsheet of nearly 800 reviewers that lists their sites down the left side and in each column I record information such as whether they tweet or not, how many posts they had in 2010, how many in 2011, Number of followers, date added to the spreadsheet, date of last post, and on and on. One important aspect I check is “cross-pollination” between the sites. For instance Floor to Ceiling Reviews is followed by sites such as Fantasy Book Critic, A Dribble of Ink, Bookworm Blues, Stopping on Yeti, and many others. This shows me they are writing reviews that peer reviewers read and respect. When I first started out getting reviews for Michael I started with some smaller blogs. Many of these sites do reviews from books they buy themselves so they are delighted when someone offers to send them a free review copy. (As mentioned in my last post you never pay for a review but you should send a book in whatever format the blogger requests (printed or ebook) at your own expense.

Even smaller bloggers have huge demands on their time as everyone these days have huge TBR (to be read) piles. In order to get your review to the top of the list you need to query them professionally. I use Google Docs to make an Ad for the book with a headline, picture of the cover and teaser copy. For instance this is what the email looks like for my husband’s first book: The Crown Conspiracy:

The above is just a template, but I individual the introduction for each person I send it to. You should approach querying bloggers, just as you would agents. Don’t send mass blasted emails for requests. Check their website to determine their submission requirements, personalize to them, and let them know you value your time by researching their stated preferences. Once you get a few solid reviews under your belt, you can start querying larger and more influential sites, you’ll even find that if you generate enough buzz reviewers will start seeking you out.

Some bloggers specifically say they won’t accept books that are self-published. They have been burned by books of low professional quality which have little to no editing. Assuming you’ve put out a good book, and have gotten others to review it, they will often bend that rule for you. One of the things I’ve added in my redesign of this site is a great Reference Page. On it you’ll find a list of review sites (and links to lists of sites) that welcome reviews from self-published authors.

With sites such as GoodReads, Library Thing, Shelfari, and Amazon, readers love telling others about the books they’ve read. Many blogger mention on their sites that they not only post the review on their site, but also Amazon and Goodreads as well. Targeting these people is important as you get three reviews from a single reading.

The biggest obstacle for new authors is establishing third-party validation and the number of reviews on sites like this establish a following and give new readers the confidence to give someone that they’ve not heard of before a try.

Here are some numbers from two of Ridan’s most well reviewed authors: Michael J. Sullivan and Nathan Lowell. With over 2,000 ratings for Michael and 1,100 ratings for Nathan, they have established themselves as quality story tellers.

Don’t be afraid to ask your readers for assistance. When you receive a fan mail singing your praises, or see someone give a high rating of one of your books via Goodreads mention that you’re glad they enjoyed the work, and if they would like to help others to take a chance and give your stories a try to please post a review on Amazon or add commentary to a ranking on Goodreads. Explain that they do not have to write full reviews – just a few sentences explaining why they liked the book. Also be sure to mention that any reviews helps and good, bad, or indifferent all you really want from them is a fair assessment.

While we’re on the subject, a bad or so-so review will actually help you. When readers see only 4 and 5 star reviews they come away with the impression that the posters are friends or relatives of the authors. Having a variety of opinions helps to ensure that the sampling reflects real reading habits. No book is universally liked by everyone, and a few detractors that make the overall number higher are better than less reviews which are all singing your praises. Not everyone is going to find your book “their cup of tea”.

That being said, you can improve your changes by finding people who like books similar to your own. In the past, I’ve used Amazon to find “first readers”. Many of the reviewers post their email addresses as part of their profile. Since you already know they like the type of book you’ve written your chances are better of receiving a positive review.

What not to do
As mentioned in yesterday’s post. You should never pay for a review. It completely undermines your credibility. Again, as I mentioned I found a book similar to Michael's that had a good review by someone called Geri Ahern. When I goggled her to find an email address, I found a blog where she reviews book for a fee. I immediately felt less of the book, not only because I couldn’t trust the review, but it exposed the desperation of the author.

Speaking of desperation, don’t post a review of your own work when you have only a few reviews. It is seen as a blatant attempt to bolster your numbers. Once you have many reviews you can go post on your book – not so much for review – but to give you an opportunity to talk to potential readers about the story behind the book. What your motivation was, were you looking for light and fun, dark and gritty, realistic, fantastical, etc. etc. Use it as an opportunity to show a bit of yourself. Readers want to connect with authors.

Along that same line, my standard response was never to comment back on a review. Awhile ago, as Michael’s following grew, I encouraged him to start posting comments to thank people for helping to spread the news. Many came back completely amazed that an author would take the time to respond. It impressed the heck out of them, and you can be sure they’ve mentioned it to a friend when recommending your book. But of course it goes without saying that you should never, ever, berate someone who gives you a bad review. Take the high ground. Thank them for taking the time to share their opinion and tell them that you’re sorry the book didn’t resonate with them. NEVER try to convince them their opinion was wrong or unfounded.

One last thing to avoid is the exchange of reviews with other authors. Again, in the beginning you are so desperate for numbers you might think doing so would be a great win-win for you and the other author. The reality is it is a land mind of problems. What if you don’t like their book? What if you don’t like theirs? Do you risk your own credibility by saying something that is junk is wonderful? Do you refuse to post and get the author mad such that he leaves a negative review in response? Many authors form friendships with other authors through networking. As such, they sometimes read someone else’s book either out of curiosity or just in a desire to support their writing. If you do this, and you like it then certainly post an honest review to help them out. But don’t ever do it with the expectation of reciprocation.

Well, that’s my little lesson 101 on reviews. I hope you founding something in here that will help you in your own writing. And in keeping with my statements above, if you have read any Ridan book and enjoyed it, then please take just a minute to stop by the author’s Amazon page and leave a comment. Again, even if you didn’t like the book, adding another “count to the tally” and expressing an honest opinion is always appreciated.


Christopher Wills said...

I agree with eveything you say and I would certainly never pay for a review. However when one is not selling many it is very hard to get reviews - catch 22? If any commenters have any ideas on how to get more reviews, I'm sure they will be well received by more than just I.

E.C. Belikov said...

Thank you for sharing. Another great post and a great way to high-light something I find myself slacking on.

When I did my first push I visited a fair number of review sights and read a lot of "...swamped with submissions...currently not accepting anything for review...may not get to it for XX months..." it was a bit discouraging, but I know I should just push through it.

After all, I suppose with ebooks having an indefinite shelf-life, it isn't too important if the review doesn't happen for months.

I do really like the press-release style review query you put together. Do you put that in the body of the email?

Robin Sullivan said...

@Christopher - go to Goodreads and find people who have positively reviewed books that are similar to yours. Send them a private message offering them a free book with the hopes they will review it. Tell them they will be under no obligation to say nice things, or even review it if they don't want to. But you are a new author and are trying to find some feedback on your work. You'll get many people taking you up the offer. not everyone will post a review but keep doing this until you get some seeds planted. Focus on those on ereaders as it costs you nothing to give them an electornic version.

Robin Sullivan said...

@E.C. - yes that is in th ebody of the email - not an attachment - and as I mentioned I change the intro and add a closing to customize it.

Layton Green said...

Well said Robin, and this has been my strategy as well. I have far less of a platform than Ridan, but as the number of reviewers grew, it seemed to exponentially help my ability to gain new reviews. Thanks for the post and the stellar advice!

Stephen T. Harper said...

This is an excellent post. Bottom line, I think, is take the time and expend the energy to do the leg work - find the right people and places and reach out in a professional manner. Book bloggers in particular are so enthusiastic in their love of good books. And there are so many that you can also start small(new blogs w/ 100 or so followers) and they will help you build momentum. They also generate great quotes to use in advertising.

I have become distracted with other writing projects and dropped the ball on this in the last month or so and it shows. Writing is the most important thing, of course, but if you also do your own marketing... can't drop the ball.

Anonymous said...

Some very good suggestions here. And the template is a great idea.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@Robin: go to Goodreads and find people who have positively reviewed books that are similar to yours. Send them a private message offering them a free book with the hopes they will review it.

This is a great idea, Robin. I tried the shotgun approach, and it didn't work very well. I got reviews, but many of them were unfairly critical I thought. Maybe it's just me. ;)

But it's understandable. A reviewer who only enjoys literary fiction may hate your lighthearted whodunit. And vice versa. So it's smart to approach readers from your target audience.

I'm going to try it with my next book.

Anonymous said...

@ Robert Burton Robinson

Not to nitpick, but how can a reviewer, or a reader for that matter, be 'unfairly critical'?

Surely a reader is a reader, and their views and opinions are just, because they are, at the end of the day, their opinions.

I mean, not everyone will like a piece, some will slate it while others will place it on a par with the Bible. Both opinions are valid.

I don't feel that a review can be 'unfairly critical' because a review is just that, a review, and if they have found things to be critical about, then you can bet that your readers will too.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@clairewriteswords: Not to nitpick, but how can a reviewer, or a reader for that matter, be 'unfairly critical'?

When someone posts a review that says something like, "I don't care for this type of book," and gives it one-star, they are hurting your book by lowering your rating---which is not fair in my opinion, since they are giving you the one-star because of their own preference, and not because there was any particular problem with the book.

The rating system should be about whether readers enjoyed the book or thought it was well-written, not about whether a reader is a fan of a particular style of writing. Or, at the very least, they should give details about why they gave the one-star.

If a book gets enough of these type reviews it can lower the overall ranking to the point that people will not even click on the book to look at the reviews. So they never see that perhaps some of those one-star reviews should not carry as much weight as the more thorough reviews.

I know---it's not a perfect system. But sometimes, you just wish it was. ;)

Bri Clark said...

As a reviewer I have found my reputation in that aspect has done nothing but help my author platform. I've been able to establish connections and support from not only other authors but reviewers who are anxiously awaiting my latest novel. Thank you Robin for consistently providing quality information.

Alex F. Fayle said...

Perfect timing. I'm at the point now of looking for reviewers in my marketing plan and this post is getting bookmarked for reference.


Robin Sullivan said...

@Robert - as I mentioned, even a "not so good review" is worth having - don't let it get you down.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Alex - great - glad it has been helpful.

SM Johnson said...

Another friendly marketing strategy is to offer to write a guest blog. Regular bloggers need materiel, and your offer might come at the perfect time. You'll get to post words, a headshot, a link to your book, and maybe even your book cover. Offer yourself to bloggers you already follow or people you admire. And, if you have your own blog, ask other writers if you can showcase/interview them and pimp their books on your own blog. You don't always have to promtote yourself to promote yourself :-)

Splitter's Blog said...

I have two reviews coming from bloggers but we all know how long that can take. What your post points out is that I need to be waiting on ten or more blog reviews.

The terrible truth is, sales and marketing is what I do! Yet, I have been terrible about getting word out on the first book in my series. As Michael pointed out, self promotion is daunting.

I love answering the email questions and talking about the characters and story, but all that does is (hopefully) guarantee a sale on the next book. Those interactions do not help the sales of the current book unless the reader takes the time to participate in “word of mouth”.

I feel like banging myself in the head with a large hammer lol.

I also wonder what percentage of readers takes the time to post reviews. Is it one review for each hundred copies sold? Is it more? When is critical mass achieved? What is the magic number of reviews that attracts more readers?


Melissa Douthit said...

Hi Robin,

I disagree with your take on paid reviews, but of course you know that by my previous comments. If you want to see the reasons why I disagree, I wrote a blog on it, in case you are interested to read it:



David Gaughran said...


There is absolutely no need to pay for reviews - I explained why in the comments of the last post, so I won't repeat that here.


This is excellent advice, and I recommend anyone to do the same.

With regard to some of the people saying it's difficult to get book bloggers to review your book, I wonder if you are using the right approach.

First of all, yes, some of the bloggers are closed to submissions and others have queues stretching into 2012.

However, there are plenty out there who don't. Have a look at the lists that Robin provides (Resources tab). I used many of the same lists myself, and I got six book bloggers to review my book in the space of a month (with more on the way).

These guys might not have the same readership as some of the more popular blogs, but they will still cross-post the review to Amazon, Goodreads and often Smashwords too.

In addition, you can then use favourable quotes from them in all your promo (especially your blurb).

Finally, look at the email you are sending book reviewers. Is it as professional as you can make it? Do you describe your book in an enticing way (that makes them want to read it)?

I think if you write a professional, enticing email (like Robin's example above), you can even skip some of the queues (as the reviewer will want to read your book ahead of the one with the poor cover, or unprofessional email).

If you get a nice quote from a book blogger with a short review queue, you can then use this to attract a book blogger with a higher readership (and a longer queue).

Don't forget that book bloggers are doing you a favour. Make them want to read your book. Make them really, really want to read your book.

Don't forget you are marketing to them as well. Sell it!


Robin Sullivan said...

@S M Johnson - good point - bloggers rely on the constant feeding of content to their fan base. This can be exhausting for them so lending a hand and providing some exposure to you and your writing is a great suggestion.

Michael recently wrote a very entertaining guest blog about collecting great opening lines. Making your guest blogs more "general" and less "about you" makes them even more compelling.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Splitter I don't have any hard and fast rules of # of books sold to # of reviews. But in the future I'll do some analysis of this for authors that are in Ridan. My guess is it is VERY VERY small - certainly much less than 1% maybe less than .1%.

Robin Sullivan said...

@David, I've seen your books reviewed several places recently. It proves that with the right approach and by pounding the pavement you can get get reviews. Bottom line -- the more line and hooks you have in the pond, the better the likelihood of getting someone to bite.

David Gaughran said...


And it doesn't even take that much work. I spend an evening or two at it. That's all it took to put together a professional email template (which you personalise for each submission), to draw up a list of reviewers, and then send it out.

Most of the submission guidelines are pretty similar, and most of the hard work has been done already by you and people like Simon Royle who have put together lists of reviewers and broken them down by genre.

One more tip. I think it helps if you follow, or subscribe to the blog. Also, when you are reviewed, you should do your best tp promote the review on Facebook, Twitter, and your blog.

You should try and send them as much traffic as possible. It's common courtesy.

In any event, a promo message saying "I got a great review at X" is far more effective than a "buy this book message".

With a regular stream of reviews, you can regularly promote your book this way in social media without it being viewed as spam (because it's not).

People are always looking for the "magic bullet" in things like Amanda Hocking's success story.

The truth is it's nothing radical. A big factor was that she built up relationships with book bloggers. This means submitting for reviews, but also sending them traffic, following their blogs, and helping them out where you can.

I've had a couple of reviewers who just went out and bought my second e-book because they liked the first. So I get 2 reviews for the "price" of one, plus a sale, plus a book blogger that is looking forward to future work (and someone that will help spread the word).

This is just one example of how you can promote your book without spending a single penny. There aren't enough hours in the day to explore all the free promo opportunities available to writers.

I'm a firm believer in exhausting those before considering shelling out on anything.


Robin Sullivan said...

@Melissa - go read Mine and David's comments on the other post regarding paid reviews. I'll be going out to your blog now to see what you had to say.

Robin Sullivan said...

@David, great point about first becoming a follower - and even a contributor (through comments) of the review sites you are thinking of approaching. If you start by showing you appreciate what they do, they will more likely to look into your book.

David Gaughran said...


I think a lot of people forget that reviewers are doing you a favour. It's only fair to give them something in return.

It's not a quid pro quo and shouldn't be viewed as such, it's just common courtesy.

Abigail Hilton said...

That is invaluable information. Thank you, Robin!

I've never created an email with interior images that aren't attachments. When I go into Google Docs, I see the Templates. There seem to be millions of them. Do you just pick one and start manipulating it until you get what you want? Do you use the "Presentation" option or is it a "Document?" Or something else?

Thanks again for sharing so much knowledge.

Abigail Hilton said...

Also, I have a lovely GIF that's a moving banner ad. It doesn't flash or do anything alarming, just scrolls through words and images. Would including something like that be too much?

How much bling before it's annoying? :)

Melissa Douthit said...

David and Robin,

I responded to your comments in the previous post if you want to read them. Thank you for the comments! I enjoy talking about these topics with people who are experienced in the business.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! I was trying to figure out on my own how to get my work reviewed and I wasn't getting very far. This post has been so helpful!

Melissa Douthit said...


Guess what! I think I've found a solution to the indie book review problem. I just recently wrote a blog on it, in case you have time to read it:


David Gaughran said...


I only have time to make a quick comment today and then I have to run.

I think you missed the most important point from that email. The book blogger said:

"One final thought – most bloggers are not reviewing books for money. They do it for the love of reading and have other jobs (for example I am a licensed physical therapist – I could never give up my job to review books because no one would pay me enough to do that)."

I'm not making a living wage from writing (or blogging!) and I have no right to demand it. That's life.

People can't just pick any career they like and demand a paying job out of it. That's not being realistic.

For most people, book reviewing is a hobby, just like most forms of blogging are. That's not to say they don't have a professional approach or their efforts aren't appreciated, but it's a hobby.


Robin Sullivan said...

@Abagail - I never use the "templates" - I just start by making a single row/column table. Then inside that I put a multiple row/column table and then combine them as necessary. So I guess I have my own template which basically consists of.

- 1 Box around all
- Book that takes whole left side"
- Headline and copy on the right
- Information Stats about book under title (ISBN, # pages, price etc)

I think its worth "playing" with the templates - though as I've said I didn't

Robin Sullivan said...

@Abagail - how much is too much? Hard to say as everyone has their own tolerance for that sort of thing - I'd be more concerned about download time. So if the image is big (from # of bytes perspective) I'd proceed with caution.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Anonymous - Glad it was helpful

Robin Sullivan said...

@Melissa - I read the post - it's an idea that has been tried many times - and not with much success (unfortunately).

The problem is the potential revenue streams (If you don't take money from the author - which I think would have to be a requirement to make sure it is is unbiased) is really from ads and affiliate clicks - that only make any "serious" money if you have lots of eyeballs. To get "lots of eyeballs" requires a HUGE marketing investment. All in all it's an idea that "sounds good in theory" but in practice is very difficult to pull together (at least in my opinion).

Barbara Fillip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara Fillip said...

Trying again. For authors looking for book blogs & book bloggers, try the book blogs search.

Lisaacka said...

@Abagail - I never use the "templates" - I just start by making a single row/column table. Then inside that I put a multiple row/column table and then combine them as necessary. So I guess I have my own template which basically consists of. - 1 Box around all - Book that takes whole left side" - Headline and copy on the right - Information Stats about book under title (ISBN, # pages, price etc) I think its worth "playing" with the templates - though as I've said I didn't

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