Ah, the land of reviews. Now that your book is either freshly out or about to come out, it’s time to get reviews. We will cover the ethical and unethical ways of doing this, but the unethical focus will be ethical-unethical. It will make sense once we get going. First we must learn what the rules are, the right way to follow them, what constitutes breaking them, and then the ethical-unethical bending of the rules. 

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First off, if you have a publisher producing your book, they will contact reviewers. On average for a first-time author, for every 75 reviewers contacted only 1 will actually review it. So for you Indie authors, be prepared to die of exhaustion, it is a numbers game. And even if you have a publisher, you should know who they are contacting and be prepared to contact your own. However, for those of you with an agent, always check with your agent to see if they have a list of reviewers they have established relationships with, that may circumvent a large chunk of this work.

One last note before we get into the steps of getting ethical and effective reviews: be prepared for the worst, hope for the best. This is your baby, but a reviewer may shit all over it. Often, if it is due to a technical issue that is your fault it will be clearly noted. Sweeping negative statements tend to be opinion. I’d say about 70% of all humans are assholes, and this goes for reviewers as well, and some will be mean just to be mean, or because they skipped breakfast that morning and their dog shit on the carpet. Be prepared to thicken your skin.

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There are two kinds of ethical reviews: effective and ineffective. Effective are established magazine critics, established website critics, top Amazon reviewers, and award-winning blogger/critics. Ethical but ineffective are friends reviewing on a sales website who did actually read the entire book, and paid “honest reviews” again on product sites like Amazon- ethical, but almost never effective.

To find the effective critics (mostly for you self-published writers) you need to just do a simple Google search. Search for critics that specialize in your genre, visit their sites, read their magazines, get familiar with their tastes. Make a list of the ones you think would most enjoy your work (if, for example, you wrote a comedic-sci-fi don’t choose the reviewer who loathes Douglas Adams with a passion). Try to stick to those with a history, with lots of a page views, with wide circulation and an established reputation.

Once you have that list, now try a Google search for the bloggers who review. Make absolute certain before choosing a blogger that their blog is linked to by reputable sites and/or publishers, that it is well-written, and that there are large numbers of page views. 

The last names to add to your list are the Top Reviewers of Amazon. Start by looking for the best-selling books in your genre. There you will spot usually as the first one or two reviewers, a top reviewer. Look for the ones you know enjoy your genre, click on their names, and see which ones provide contact info and state or allude that they are open to review requests. Add them to your list.

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Once you have a list (try to make it as large as possible, aim for 100!) here is where you might consider ritual suicide from the coming workload: DO NOT USE A FORM LETTER. NOPE! NO! NEVER! Do you like getting form letters? Do you like getting bulk emails? NO! We all like something personalized. So do not EVER copy & past, or email more than one reviewer at a time.

However, you can have a style, but it must be tailored to the individual. A style is a plan (such as compliment, expound, query) but the specifics must be different for each. Here is an example:

Dear A,

I have greatly enjoyed your blog. I intended to contact you and lost myself in your humorous and insightful book reviews. Your reviews are always very deep, and the theories you represent remind me of Pajiba, albeit with a greater dose of intelligence. I particularly enjoyed your review of D.M.’s Thief Of Yesteryear, and your theory on Sebastien’s motivations blew my mind.

I am so happy that your blog is easily searchable and you have become my go-to reviewer. I know your work is very demanding and you are very busy, but I was wondering if you might share with me what brought you into such a deep, psychologically-oriented review style?

Yours most sincerely,

That is a first letter format. It has their name, it shows you had a reason to contact them (that is not stated…that will incite curiosity on their part), it has a compliment on their medium (compliment), it has real examples that are complimented (expound), and it ends with a question (query). What does it NOT have? NO REVIEW REQUEST. That will come later.

This is the best approach for the bloggers, Amazon Top Reviewers, and the critics who are open. If someone has a submission page and form, that is what they prefer. Simply follow their directions and submit. When they don’t have a form, use this approach: it’s sales 101.

  • STEP ONE: Make a list of reviewers of those accepting submissions or possibly accepting them, who enjoy your genre
  • STEP TWO: Find something in their body of work you may compliment honestly
  • STEP THREE: compose a letter and offer lavish and honest praise. End with a question NOT RELATED TO YOUR REVIEW that will encourage them to reply.
  • STEP FOUR: They will reply, and likely ask you a question or offer more information. Reply and keep the conversation going. When it is appropriate to do so mention you are a writer.
  • STEP FIVE: Let the other party either ask if you wish them to review your work, or ask what your original goal in contacting them was.
  • STEP SIX: Give the quick description of you book, word count, and genre and ask if they would be interested in reviewing it. Be exceedingly humble and gracious.
  • STEP SEVEN: Be prepared for them to say no, but if they say yes send them the exact format/documents they request. If they say no, send them a thank you, and if you have struck up a friendship keep it going. They might say yes to your next book.

And there you have it, the steps for contacting someone out of the blue. It also helps if you take the time to know what they want. And what do they want? Page hits, links backs, being quoted in large-scale publications. Can you offer any of this? Does your site get many hits? Do you have a large publisher with a large reach? Do you have a huge social media following? If you have any of this, at STEP SIX you want to bring this up. Frame it in terms of you would be doing them a favor.

Remember This But Not Until Step Six!

How would you feel if someone struck up a conversation about your business, hobby, or passion, listened to you, asked good questions, and then offered an opportunity that would benefit you as much as them? You would be happy to at least discuss it. Remember to always put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes and think about what they want, what demands are on their time.

Remember, most of those in magazines, or anything old-school, are going to have a form to fill out, and will give preference to publishers over indie authors. So keep it polite, short, and to the point following their directions, tat’s what they want. Beware those who specialize in Indie Authors, it’s a scam 100% of the time, that’s not where the money is in advertising, so they get the money….b y charging the Indie Authors.

Now for the ineffective but ethical…you have the paid reviewers who are contractually obligated to be honest. Think of reviews you’ve seen on Amazon where someone says “I WAS GIVEN A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW.” Now, it’s never free. Reviewers expect a free copy AND $5-$60 once their review is posted on Amazon (typically). I won’t even link to them, it’s a bad thing for Indie authors, and Legacy authors don’t need to worry about it. If you’re desperate and have money you can go this route, but it is frankly a waste of time and usually the books you see with these types of reviews are put out by small boutique publishers.

Let me save you time: YES THEY ARE when they are "honest reviews"

There is an alternative, but here we get into the ethical “unethical” method: having friends and family honestly review your work. What this means is you give someone you know well, and know is interested in your book, a free copy and ask them to leave a honest review as thanks. Typically it is considered unethical to enlist friends and family, but here we are making it ethical by insisting it be a 100% true, honest, unaffected review. It’s bending the rules, not breaking them. Just make it clear to your family and friend they are not to pull any punches.

Yet that is another sales trick, I admit: the more you insist they must be honest, that you are certain there must be flaws that they must discuss, the more they will naturally try to compliment you.

Remember how I said 70% of people are assholes? Well, all of us naturally want to argue with other people, that’s a large source of this assholery. This is a trick of sales, again, where you swiftly lay it on thick apologizing for an honest mistake. People naturally want to argue with you, which means they pull to absolve your sins. A good part of this is because people want to stop hearing your lamentations, so they laud you. So use this for good or evil, it works. The next time you try to buy a large ticket item like a car, look for a mistake or error, bring it up, and watch the salesman use this trick on you.

No, a GOOD SALESMAN, not this guy!

Remember, for every 75 of all these kinds of reviewers you contact, you will get 1 review. So push for 100 critics, Top Reviewers, and review bloggers, and then try to get as close to 20 friends and family. You might end up with 2 or even 3, and hopefully that is enough to get readers interested and leaving their own reviews on the various sales websites.

You should add a note at the end of your book (for self-published authors) asking for reviews, or hope that people who buy your legacy published book leave a review, but be prepared: they largely don’t.

I have sold about a two thousand books in five years, and the only reviews I have are from family/friends who write honest reviews. Why? Because humans are inherently lazy, selfish, and inconsiderate. ALL OF US, me included. I write this with the shame of knowing I have probably read over a thousand books since 2005, and I have probably written maybe 100 reviews. Even I have a 10% rate and though I am working to change that, it seems to be a good number. Like most people, that 10% are the books I love, love, love, and the books I hate so much I want to find the author and punch them in the nose. So as you go through the process of getting reviews join me in trying to review the ones that rate 2-4 on a 1-5 scale. 

The review game is stacked against you, at your first one or two novels. Pros accept your request for a review about one time out of every seventy-five. And apparently it is zero out of two thousand for the world at large. Hell, even with friends/family I only got two out of fifteen.

Start this process as soon as possible (but only when you have a finished product and publishing date). However, remember that it is to your advantage to have something to offer (lots of blog hits, a large publishing house behind you, or a social media following of large, active numbers). This means you may want to wait until you’ve gone onto blog tours (the next step, and only if you choose to do it). Still remember, most reviewers will NOT be open to reviewing your work. For those that are…be polite, be complimentary, and be patient with them, and most of all, be aware that you are imposing, and be humble, lavish in praise, and patient.

In our next lesson we come back to marketing where you have total control: Blog Tours, Contests, and Giveaways. Until then, happy letter writing, and best of luck garnering reviews!