How to Get Those Needed Reviews

Reviews can make or break your book and having advanced reviews can help sell more books as pre-orders before your book’s official release. But many authors, especially independents, expect reviews simply to materialize on their Amazon sell page. It doesn’t work that way. You must go hunting for them.

The number of large traditional publishing houses is dwindling. Smaller publishers often don’t provide the kind of marketing and publicity efforts the Big 5 used to do. As a result, even traditionally published authors are often forced to do their own marketing, and getting advanced reviews is part of marketing.

As an indie author myself, I am more than a writer; I am a publisher (I have a business license as M. R. Hill Publishing), marketer, and press agent. After publishing nine books in eight years, I have developed my own technique for getting both advance editorial reviews (i.e., those from newspapers, magazines, etc.) and reader reviews, though I think the former is more important at the time of publication.

Once one of my books has gone through the entire editing and production process, I set my release date at four to six months out—the longer the better. Reviewers need time to read and review a book, so I give it to them.

I create a marketing package for each book with a sell sheet, author bio, a sample author interview, and cover images. I also create an Excel file with spreadsheets for media reviewers (newspapers, magazines, and websites), reader reviewers (which also includes other authors I know), book promotion sites like Goodreads, and advertising sites—everything I need for marketing my book. The spreadsheets for media and reader reviewers includes the name and email of each publication or person, plus a column for the day I offered them a review copy, the day they responded (if they do), whether they agreed to the review, the day I sent them an ARC, and the day the review was published and the URL where the review appeared.

I’m not shy about asking for reviews. I shotgun it. I send dozens of requests out to even the largest reviewers using a mail merge app that personalizes each email. I send out so many because I know at best only ten percent will agree to do a review. Of those, I expect only ten percent will actually do so.

I use the electronic and print draft copies I get from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing as my Advanced Reading Copies, or ARCs. Since many reviewers will only accept e-books in epub or pdf format, I use a program called Calibre to convert the Kindle mobi files.

Some reviewers have online submission forms to request reviews. With independent publishing becoming more accepted in the industry, many of the premier review sites and publications are providing access to indies. Publisher’s Weekly, for instance, now offer indies an opportunity to showcase their books on its Book Life website, where PW reviewers can choose books to review. Submitting my latest Peter Brandt thriller, The Fourth Rising, to Book Life resulted in the novel receiving a very positive review in Publisher’s Weekly.

I also offer review copies to readers who have reviewed my previous books, and will offer free ARCs to thriller and mystery lovers on sites such as Goodreads. I avoid pay-for-review sites and, unfortunately, I find NetGallery is too expensive. In the past I have used web services that distribute free ARCs to readers, but the results were not impressive.