How to Get Your First Book Reviews
Debbie Drum is an author, speaker, coach and product developer. She has been marketing online since 2010 and loves working with marketers to better their business, get more exposure, and sell more of their products and services online.
This transcript has been (lightly) edited for clarity.
I've been working and publishing books actually since Kindle got popular around 2010 or 2011. I was working a full-time job at the time and I realized the power of book publishing right away and actually started publishing a book a week. I had never made money online before but I took a course, I learned how to publish a book and I was actually making money. I was like, "Oh my God." Every time a four dollar and 29 cent royalty hit my account I was like going out for steak dinners. Because I just couldn't believe that it really wasn't that hard to put viable content out there in the world and start to make money.
My background is in sales so I was like "Ooh, now I have to go and kind of teach this to other people." That's how this world opened up. I was actually one of the pioneers in teaching people how to publish to other platforms other than Amazon.
Why are we putting such great importance on reviews?
Oh my gosh, it's so funny because I was talking to my friend just before this call and he's an author. He's a great author. I got an email from [Canadian motivational speaker] Brian Tracy the other day, because I'm on his list, and he was actually saying "I will give you this thing for free if you give me a testimonial." Now, this is Brian Tracy. Needing testimonials for his products. That means that it's important for every single one of us who wants to sell anything online.
Not just a book, if it's a product or a service, reviews and testimonials are a significant and crucial component of that sales process and it's been that way for a long time.
As the world gets even more social, we will look for opinions and feedback from perfect strangers before we take out our credit cards, before we pull out our wallets, before we invest our time into buying something like a book. Think about your process and when you buy something like on Amazon whether it's a book or a product or before you even watch something on Netflix, you're probably getting a recommendation from somebody.
Think about the effort you've put into your book. How much time and money have spent? How many little details you've gone through, with the editing process and going "change this color to this color on the cover." You've put so much energy into your book, and now when you actually publish it, your job isn't done yet.
You need to start getting that social proof that you need to actually say yes. This is the credibility behind my book, so buy it because all these other people are saying, giving me that thumbs up. That gives people the go-ahead, the green light, to invest in your book.
Think about it too, from an author's point of view: with the limited funds that a lot of us have, why would we invest in advertising if we don't have any reviews to begin with? If that's a significant importance of book sales and we're running around with our advertisements in all these places with no social proof, we're pretty much just throwing our money out the window.
In the last few years, what have been the biggest challenges in getting reviews? Especially on Amazon...
It's always been a challenge and it's always been a struggle because when you're an author especially if you're not a well-known author and you don't have much of a following, you have to make some effort into getting those reviews. You're not just gonna publish a book and get reviews. It just doesn't happen unless you really have a tonne of publicity behind your book or unless somebody endorses you — somebody huge like Oprah or Tony Robins. You need that affiliation to make that jump to get that publicity.
If you're just a normal person and you published a book (and provided you did something right and created really, really, really great high valuable content inside of your book) you need to make some kind of effort into getting those initial reviews because then you'll get those initial sales.
Then the thing that you should be doing in every single book that you have is asking for people to write you a review. That's how you get organic reviews. You ask people inside of your book. (If you don't have this inside of your book I would recommend un-publishing your book and putting this in.)
People in general — especially if they have a good experience with your product — they're not going to go ahead and just organically write you a review. If you think about it, most people write reviews when they have a negative experience. That's when it's unsolicited. But if you say something like inside of your book, you say, "Hey I would greatly appreciate your feedback. I'm always listening to my readers and I would love for you to write a review," and then you link to wherever you want them to write their review. That's gonna prompt that reader to write your review.
Another thing that will prompt the reader is if you have somehow have the ability to get that person on your list and then you can prompt the reader that way too. "I see that you haven't left me a review I would love for you to do that, this is what encourages me to write, this is what inspires me." Be genuine in your request. But if you don't ask, you don't get, okay?
We're self-publishers, right? We can kind of really do whatever we want. We can do unconventional things, we can even request a review right at the beginning of the book. You can leave a golden nugget and then say "Hey, I know that you're maybe a quarter of the way through, would you like to leave me a review?" Because I've written reviews just based on a page of somebody's book and that's how good it was. I was like "You've got to buy this book because it's already good and I'm already just a couple pages in," Right?
I would definitely, definitely request the review at the end of the book as well, because obviously that's when the person finishes it and what you want to do is when it's a digital version, you can't do this in the print version, but if it's the digital version you say, to swipe right or swipe left actually, it's that way. "Swipe left and write me a review," because when you're reading it on a Kindle app on your phone, the very last page if you swipe, Amazon actually asks the reader to write a review.
You don't have to send them anywhere you can just tell them to swipe and then they'll get prompted to write the review right then and there. Unfortunately, you can't incentivize reviews, you can't do anything like that but you can certainly request it.
You're going to have to make some effort and in the beginning, you're going to have to kind of use your resources — what I call your close resources and then your warm network.
Your close network is your family and your friends. You have to kind of be careful with this because you can't abuse this and you can't be asking your mom and your dad and your brother and your sister if they live under one household. Amazon catch on to this, trust me: every single trick in the book, authors have tried and Amazon knows them. This is always using real people and saying, "Hey, can I get your feedback?" Get four or five of your close friends and family members to actually read and write a review for you. That's the very, your close network but again you have to be careful with this because you don't want to reach out to the wrong people and then Amazon just removes the reviews anyway, right?
Then you hit your warm network. Your warm network are the folks that you've connected with on social media. Hopefully, you're on social media by now. Hopefully, you're in some kind of group by now whether it's on LinkedIn, whether it's on Facebook, whether it's here or there, you're hanging out somewhere as an author. This is where you also want to reach out.
You cannot do review swaps anymore. Those don't work. You review my book, I'll review your book. We used to do them as authors all the time. Amazon has caught onto that and that is a no-no because they have algorithms that will track that. I have suspicions even about the street teams that are all reviewing each other's stuff. Let's say you have person A and they reviewed a book on organic gardens and then they've reviewed book on, oh I don't know, bodybuilding, and then you have this whole network of people just reviewing each other's books. They're gonna kind of catch on to that as well, so you have to kind of be careful with the street team stuff as well, okay?
That's your close network and that's your warm network reach out. Between those two groups already, you should be able to get a handful of reviews to start with.
How do you get some reviews and fast?
Yeah, before, the most successful author these days has everything on a timeline, right? Everything is planned out. You have to start early and compile your list and get out review copies before your book is published. However, the reviews can't be published until your actual book is published. That's the rule that Amazon has so we kind of have to follow it.
But once your book is up, you can go ahead and ask them to post the review. Now there are ways that you can get that review beforehand and then say "Hey, can you post this on Amazon? It's ready, let's go, let's do it."
A lot of people who have supported you will probably do that. You might have to nudge them one or two times, it might be uncomfortable for you, but you need to do it. That's another reason why people struggle with reviews: because they don't like to ask for favors. And asking somebody to read your book and write you a review is a favour. Okay? And it's a pretty big one because you're asking them to commit their time and their energy.
Most people if they're not writers, they have a big, big, big, big problem writing two to three hundred words. A very big problem. I can write a thousand words in probably ten or 15 minutes. But asking somebody else to do that? It's like climbing Mount Everest. I have some ways that I overcome that but I don't know if we have time for all that today.
Is there a danger of getting a lot of reviews on your launch day and none afterward?
As long as they come in, they're gonna come in gradually no matter how many review copies that you've given out. Nobody's gonna post them on day one. That's why, your job as an author, in the beginning, is challenging. But you have to kind of stay on top of it to make sure that those reviews are posted.
We talked about today to get your first five to ten reviews quickly. I have a cool way that I pretty much can guarantee reviews. It's called my beta reader strategy, and if you want that in detail, I think it's a less than five-minute video, you can definitely check that out in the link.
There's a right way of reaching out to somebody that's a stranger [and getting them to review your book] and there's a wrong way of doing it. These days everybody playing on a level playing field and we have to kind of know how to talk to people to get what we want and we have to play by Amazon's new rules but it's totally doable and that's one of the biggest changes that I wanted to kind of share throughout the years in regards to what's Amazon showing, what they're not showing anymore in reviewer profiles.
Any tips for asking strangers to review your book?
The biggest thing that I see people doing wrong — not even talking about reviews, just if you ever want to ask somebody for a favour — is you ask them in such a way:
"I'd love for you to read my book because the more reviews I get on Amazon, the more they're gonna show my book to people and reviews will really help me make sales and I just, I see that you read this other book, I know you're gonna love my book and it's gonna really, really help me. Can you please write a review?"
Here's how you, should do it:
"Hey I saw you reviewed the book XYZ. My book is on a similar topic: it shows you how to get six pack abs and it also shows you five other ways of getting those six pack abs where it shows you the foods that you can eat, it shows you different exercises. I've used them, I know that it's gonna definitely benefit you. I've had so many other people tell me that these strategies work and I know that if you're interested in your health and how to look hot for the summer, I think you're gonna love this."
See the two different ways? Nobody cares about "me, me, me, me, me." You always have to bring it to how is it gonna benefit that other person, okay? You do that, then you'll get what you want.