How to Get Book Reviews
Who Writes Book Reviews?
And are they worth it?
Do you check Trip Advisor before you choose a restaurant? Flick through the reviews on Amazon before you buy a book? Check out the comments before you buy that new kettle online? I do too. But we might not be reading what we think we are. And the flip-side, of course, is how does a lowly author persuade people to review their own books?
I recently saw a conversation on Twitter, where one author (well-known on Twitter, if not in bookshops) was laughing at authors who only have a handful of reviews. I kept very quiet, and hung my head in shame—I am one of those authors. It’s not that I don’t manage to sell books, I do. But however many people ‘promise’ to write a review, in actual fact it is about 1% of people who actually do. Therefore, when I see that Miss Twitter Author has 204 reviews, mostly 5* (and this is something often posted on Twitter by people advertising their books) well; why do I bother? It makes me want to curl up under the stairs with a Mars bar (which is not an uncommon feeling at the moment).
I belong to some Facebook groups for writers, and the people there are sometimes willing to read and review a new book. But even those people don’t always write a review when it actually comes to it! (Some do, and I am hugely grateful for the people who kindly gave their time to read my work and then review it.) But compared with 204 reviews? I am a worm.
However, all is not lost. I recently learnt that all these reviews might not be what they seem. It is possible that 204 reviews is not 1% of a LOT of sales, or that Miss Twitter’s books stimulate more reviews than mine, because it is possible to pay for reviews. I have been approached twice now, by different organisations, asking if I would like to pay to have my book reviewed. Maybe some of the books with a lot of reviews have paid for them!
It works like this: You agree to pay a fixed price (there are several packages to choose from) and then you send a digital copy of your book to a reader. The reader then posts a review, on either Goodreads, or Amazon, or both. They say they will be honest reviews, but I somehow doubt that an author will return to buy more from a site that has left them 1* reviews.
Is this fair? Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with paying to advertise your work, and I suppose that reviews are sort of advertising. But I think most people assume the reviews are honest, written by unrelated readers who are giving honest feedback about a book. If someone has paid money, it feels less authentic.
This buying of reviews is not just limited to books. I know of businesses who pay professionals to manage their online image. This basically means that people are paid to write good reviews for restaurants they have never visited, and products they have never bought. I understand why it happens. If a restaurant has a bad review, it can influence whether new customers will visit. It is therefore part of good management to watch out for nasty reviews from competitors, or unfair reviews from Mrs Moan-a-Lot. Many sites do not allow you to remove an unfair review, so the only solution is to flood the site with good feedback, so the bad review is buried, which is time-consuming, so they pay someone else to do that for them. There is no way for us, the consumer, to see whether a review is legitimate or paid for. Which makes trusting reviews bit of a gamble.
I don’t like the practice of buying reviews, and prefer to stick with my handful of genuine ones. They really matter to an author, so if you haven’t ever written one, please spend a couple of minutes scribbling one on Amazon. It doesn’t need to be long. Even the negative ones are useful—they show people have read the book, and sometimes I will still buy a book after reading a negative review.
Do reviews make a difference? Hard to say. I am influenced by them, and will scan them before buying a book on Amazon. However, I think they only count for a tiny proportion of the overall advertising push, and it depends where they are. My books have been reviewed in newspapers, and on the radio, and by magazines. I would say they have made no discernible difference to my sales. The reviews on Amazon have helped persuade people to buy (plus they are very precious to the author!) as do reviews on some social media—though my books have been reviewed on other people’s blogs, and I have not noticed any increase in sales.
The absolute best reviews are the casual, word of mouth, ones. If a woman at the bus-stop talks about a book she has loved, or if your friend mentions a book worth reading, then you are more likely to buy it.
I flicked open my Amazon page this week, to glance at the reviews of Sowing Promises. I planned to launch this book in the spring, but then lockdown happened, and hardly anyone has bought it. And yet, to my surprise, there were a couple of reviews, and they warmed my heart. I don’t know who wrote them (it wasn’t my mum!) and they cheered my day and made me smile. Which for me, is the most important thing about reviews.
Thanks for reading. If you have any tips for encouraging people to write reviews, do add them to the comments below.
Have a good week. Stay safe.
Love, Anne x
Next week, I will be reviewing a book written by a slave in 1745. There were some surprising facts!