How I got great reviews for my self-published book

I’ve had some people asking how I got so many quality reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for my first self-published novel, Monsters All the Way Down. It took a long time, so I’m not sure my approach was the most effective. But I’m happy to share, and I’d love to hear your own advice and comments.

I got reviews from three primary sources:

  • Word of mouth
  • Book bloggers
  • Amazon reviewers

Word of Mouth

If you’ve ever written anything, you know how flattering it is when people tell you they enjoyed it. Whether it’s in person, on Facebook, or on Twitter, it makes my day every time. I try to follow up my heartfelt thank-you by asking them to review the book on Amazon and Goodreads.

Don’t be a jerk about it; no one wants to be annoyed into reading your book, and that goes double for posting a review. Even if they loved your book, there are countless reasons they might not feel comfortable reviewing it. In the event they take time out of their lives to review your work, it’s time for another of those heartfelt thank-yous.

I also had a few folks contact me directly about reviewing the book. If an active reviewer is already excited about reviewing you, go for it. Since I was new to the game, I didn’t have anyone doing this to scam a free copy, but I guess it’s always possible.

Book Bloggers: The Unsung Heroes of Indie Publishing

Book blogging is a tough gig, especially if you’re willing to accept indie reviews. I’d imagine they can quickly become overwhelmed with requests from writers who aren’t ready to publish. I’m not surprised many close their gates or start charging for reviews.

I decided to go with bloggers who didn’t charge. I spent several days at my desk looking at lists of reviewers who accept indie books. Here are two example lists, and you’ll find more reviewers if you google a bit. Most of the people on the lists have their own blog, but some only do reviews.

I made a spreadsheet and went through the lists, recording all the ones currently open to submissions in the right genre. My spreadsheet listed the blog site (if applicable), the name of the reviewer, the contact information, and the submission requirements. I also had columns for whether I had sent them a request yet, if they had accepted my request, if I had sent them a copy, and if a review had been posted.

I finished compiling my spreadsheet before I sent out submissions. I would recommend just sending them as you go, because many of the reviewers were closed to submissions by the time I got back to them.

Submitting review requests felt like querying agents or publishers. Every blogger had a slightly different process. Some had weird things like mentioning the word “boomerang” in the email so they knew you read their requirements. It was a lot like that story about Van Halen having a contract that said they got a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown M&Ms removed. That way they knew people actually read the contract.

candy

So I had a form email which I plugged reviewers’ names into, but I would also have to change it up based on their requirements. Like I said, they probably get an avalanche of requests, so be understanding that they need a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Some reviewers ask upfront if you’re willing to do an interview or giveaway. I always said I would be up for either one, as long as it was an eBook giveaway. I love doing interviews, since it’s a chance to talk about all the things I’ve been thinking about while writing the book. The occasional interview saves me from talking the ears right off of my loved ones.

Keep in mind, some reviewers only accept physical copies of a book. That’s fine, but the cost can add up for a self-publisher, and not every physical copy you send turns into a review. Just prioritize physical review copies, and pay attention to where reviewers are located. Sometimes it’s easier to send copies through Amazon, especially if they’re international.

Amazon Reviewers

I repeated the spreadsheet process with the top Amazon reviewers. These are folks probably get even more requests than the bloggers. Not just about books, either. From reading their profiles, they get asked to review way too many weight loss supplements. After I went through the top reviewers, I contacted a few folks who posted positive reviews in books similar to mine.

Here’s a link to Amazon’s top reviewers. Only contact the ones who say they review self-published books in your genre. I don’t remember how far down the list I went, but I had a decent return.

Paid services I haven’t tried that worked for others

I’ve heard good things about Net Galley, a service for sharing advance reader copies. It’s not cheap, but apparently returns on the investment.

There are plenty of book bloggers who offer paid services, including reviews and blog tours. Let me say up-front, I have nothing against these folks. As long as the reviews are honest and the reviewers make it clear they were compensated, more power to them. Just remember, it’s against Amazon’s TOS to pay for reviews.

Bottom Line: It Takes Time

I won’t lie to you. I was glued to my desk for a couple of weeks to send out over 450 requests. About 5% of those turned into reviews. This probably had as much to do with Monsters All the Way Down being my first published novel as it had to do with there being fewer reviewers willing to read horror. Your mileage definitely may vary.

It was tough work, but remember we’re on the same playing field as publishers who send out thousands of review copies to professional reviewers. You’re going to need to invest some serious elbow grease to get noticed.

Be sure to follow up with a thank you to anyone who posts a review, and retweet/share/plus the positive ones. Helping publicize each other is a big deal, especially for folks working with indie authors.

Hopefully this is helpful for some of you out there. And for you reviewers: thanks for all your hard work. Indie authors are lucky to have you.