As an author, the importance of book reviews is often not understood. Marketing your book needs as much thought from an author as writing your book. I know most writers don’t want to hear that, but there are ways to do it. Most book marketing plans emphasize getting book reviews. In this article I dig into the importance of book reviews, how they help sell our books and how to get them.
What is a book review?
A book review is a form of literary criticism in which a book is merely described (summary review) or analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review may be a primary source, opinion piece, summary review, or scholarly review. (Source: Wikipedia)
What is the importance of book reviews?
90 Miles per hour – that’s twice the speed of a metro train.
Don’t take our word for it. That’s Stephen Hawking saying so, in his Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
Cut to the chase back home, and it gets no better. Best-selling writer and author of India’s first self-help book How to get published in India, Meghna Pant says, “Almost 250 books are published every day in India, of which 55% are in English”.
Let’s count yours as the 251st on any given Thursday.
With 250 new-book authors scrambling over each other every single day, to out-shout the next new kid on the block (you), we’d say it is pickling time. What this means for you, dear writer, is for you to go to town on your book!
“I have written a book – that takes effort and courage. Why should the marketing of it be a four-letter-word – aren’t artists allowed to sell their work?” says Kanchana Banerjee of Nobody’s Child. We couldn’t agree more!
The world is switching from brick-and-mortar to online sales. That means an impersonal algorithm is replacing a personally curated experience of book-buying. Add to this, the self-publishing revolution, and the haystack got ten times bigger. Your reader is a smartphone-addicted reader with the attention span of a goldfish. Her phone has twenty apps competing with your book for attention. This reader cannot waste time on the wrong book!
Now, you see where we are going with this? Enter the review engine. Reviews are a necessary part of every writer’s marketing arsenal. More reviews translate into more book sales. Because reviews mean “discoverability”.
Platforms for book reviews
Reader reviews are Social Validation. The two popular platforms available for reviews are:
How do you get book reviews?
Any reader worth their salt will usually stop over at Goodreads, re-fuel their virtual book-tank, and go on to Amazon to shop.
This means that you need to have reviews popping up at both Amazon and Goodreads.
Importance of book reviews on Amazon
Sure, there are friends and family! But you need to appear authentic, and besides, tallying up book reviews is also a numbers game.
How many is too many?
A critical mass of say 20-25 reviews on Amazon will do the trick, to make the algorithm work in your favor. A larger number of reviews (good as well as not-so-good) works better than a much smaller number of 5-star reviews. The rule of thumb here is that you need to pitch at least 100 reviewers, to get to the magic number of 25 who will write those make-or-break reviews. So go ahead and ask away!
This is an Amazon-curated list of the top 10,000 reviewers on Amazon, selected by Amazon for their consistent and high-quality reviews.
Point to note: Not all are book-reviewers, though. The only way to know is to start making your way down the list of names – clicking on their names will tell you what types of products they have reviewed. Also, do look for an email address linked to their profile. After filtering each reviewer in this manner, you will need to check whether they are interested in book reviews at all. Next stop – check for genre compatibility. Shoot them an email and ask away until you get a positive response.
Rachel Straub, a certified physiologist, and nutritionist used this approach for her book – “Weight Training Without Injury” – and her success rate was roughly less than 1%. She trawled through 3,000 Amazon Top reviewer profiles, sent out 1,000 emails, and received only 25 reviews in the end, after 80 of the 1,000 accepted her review request!.
Gisela Hausmann – an Amazon Top Reviewer – has actually penned an entire 75-page book on “Naked Truths About Getting Book Reviews.” It’s that big of a deal.
Find your Amazon book-cousin(s) and their corresponding reviewers
Or, you can take the simpler route. Find books like yours, or in the same genre. Research the reviewers who have reviewed those books. Next, look up their profiles to see how many books they have reviewed, their review content, and their style. Try and get a sense of the genre they like. Once you have a large enough list of such reviewers, go ahead and start pitching your book to them!
How many stars must you aim for? One might say “more the merrier”. Yet, oftentimes, the review content may trump the actual stars. Evidence from review-length data suggests that customers pay attention to review text as well as stars, for 3-starred (or more) books. Even so, a 1-star review can be more damaging to potential book sales, than the positive impact of a 5-star review. So make sure you are appealing to the relevant reviewing audience.
Out-gaming doesn’t pay
Keep the over-eager family and friends out of this. Uninterested or otherwise coerced F&F may end up writing 2-sentence reviews with 5-star ratings. Trust us – it would take Amazon’s intelligent bot and algorithms no time at all, to figure out if these are indeed genuine or otherwise. An honest but not-so-glowing review may actually generate more interest than a contrived 5-star review by friends and family.
Importance of book reviews on Goodreads
Goodreads makes life a little bit easier for a writer because Goodreads by itself does not have a Click-to-Buy option. Less commercial, more community. So, pitching your new book to readers and reviewers is not as nerve-wracking a process as at Amazon.
Goodreads hosts various Goodreads discussion groups, which are reader-moderated. This makes it relatively easier to tap into, for requesting reviews. Many of the discussion groups have programs that allow authors to offer a free eBook copy of their book in exchange for an honest review. These programs are usually called R4R (read for review), or ARRs (Authors Requesting Reviews). One such discussion group on Goodreads is Making Connections. This specific group has over 3,000 members and the broad guidelines state that members who sign up to review a book should finish it in 4 weeks’ time. That is much better than what you may find with Amazon’s Top Reviewers.
Detailed rules and guidelines for Authors Requesting Reviews are mentioned on the group homepage. Authors can keep their book’s listing up for 12 weeks at a stretch for sign-ups by potential reader-reviewers.
Another alternative is to find Goodreads groups by genre and search for ARR discussion threads or programs. Look for active moderator-run groups. These are easier to manage, as you will end up dealing with one or a couple of moderators at best. Also, the chances of readers actually leaving a review are higher in such groups.
One word of caution, though– Goodreads reviews tend to be on the harsher side, as compared to Amazon reviews. So tread carefully, dear Writer – for you know not, what lies ahead!
Who can review your book?
Book Bloggers are basically bloggers who write extensively about books. Their blogs feature books they read with reviews, excerpts, and also author interviews.
Reedsy has a very useful list of book bloggers, categorized by genre, so you may sort them by the number of average monthly visits per blog. Reedsy Discovery allows you to submit your indie book to over 150 reviewers in their community!
The book blogger directories at Blogmetrics and WordPress are another useful starting point. Blogmetrics ranks the top 50 book blogs by 20 different factors in any category, making it easy to filter through to the right genre.
BookSirens has a captive base of 10,000+ readers ready to read and review. BookSirens boasts a very high review rate of around 75%, spread across many genres. In other words, of all those who sign up to review a book, 75% or more actually do so! And you can even leave your book up there for reviewing with no end timer ticking, which means that new reviews can keep trickling in all the time.
The business model is simple. Writers can sign up for a US$10 initial fee, and US$2 per review, after that. This gives them access to BookSirens’ entire readership. The reader gets free books and ARCs in return for honest unbiased reviews. Everyone wins.
NetGalley is a site where book reviewers and other professional readers can read books before they are published, in e-galley or digital galley form. Members register for free and can request review copies or be invited to review by the publisher.
Closer home, Writers’ Melon is an Indian-born-and-raised book blogger community. Not only first-timers but also established writers, like Kanchana Banerjee, continue to use Writers’ Melon. Writers can choose to outsource the entire book promotion activity, for a fee to Writers’ Melon, or opt for the book review service only.
For book reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, the fee structure is flexible. It starts with variable access packages, starting from 20 bloggers, followed by 30, and tops up at 50 bloggers.
A book club is a reading group, usually consisting of a number of people who read and talk about books based on a topic or an agreed-upon reading list. While a majority of book clubs meet in person and are specific to cities or areas, due to the pandemic we have seen a recent surge in online book clubs as well.
For a more relatable experience, we prefer the Himalayan Book Club with its carefully curated list of readers and writers. This reviewers’ forum is free to all aspiring writers for the time being, whilst in its Beta phase. Chetan Mahajan, a passionate writing coach, runs this forum.
Like-minded writers and readers gather here, with the idea of elevating the quality of Indian writing in English. His popular writing retreat – The Himalayan Writing Retreat – is the glue that holds it all together, guiding a first-time writer into the big bad world of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.
Social Media Platforms
Social media is a double-edged sword but played well, it can be an artist’s largest billboard. Anangsha Alammyan of “What did Tashi Do says “While I did not reach out to Amazon or Goodreads to ask for reviews, I did connect with reviewers on Instagram and Twitter. Bookstagrammers on Social media played a big role in publicizing my book.”
#sidreviews by Siddhant Agarwal has a large following of 2,000+ and endorses new Indian writers; #the bookreporter; #marketmybook are a few others meant for Indian audiences. Like Instagram, Anagsha is also active on Twitter in new writers’ review-exchange groups such as #Indieauthors.
Salini Vineeth who recently published Everyday People: Tales of People you Know – echoes similar sentiments. As a first-time self-published author, a well-planned social media outreach played a very important role in generating visibility throughout her entire book journey.
“I was very active on all my social media handles. I got in touch with most of the reviewers through Instagram and asked for honest reviews. I posted extracts and quotes from my book, frequently. Most of the reviewers I connected with via #bookstagram tended to leave reviews on Goodreads, and on their Insta feed. Some of the #bookstagram reviewers do ask for a fee in return for an honest review.”
Besides, Salini also worked with Facebook reading groups, which helped her liaise with active communities of book bloggers.
How to choose a reviewer for a book review?
Before you start sending out ARCs to book reviewers, do a little research on the reviewer(s). A good review should appear a little distanced from the writer (no gushing “bestie” feels!), whilst quoting compelling extracts from the book. It should aim to personalize the experience for the reader and offer a glimpse into the “mood” of the book.
Knowing your Genre (“KYG”)
Social media outreach should be an anchor point of the book campaign trail. Here, do make sure that you are appealing to readers of the same genre, that you have tagged your book under. This way, you are subliminally connecting with an audience that is “primed”.
Kanchana Banerjee (Nobody’s Child, Harper Collins India, 2019) sent out most of her ARCs to thriller-genre-specific bloggers. Besides approaching Writers’ Melon in India, Kanchana filtered every book blogger who approached her for ARCs. She says “I cannot overstate the importance of appealing to the relevant book bloggers for the genre one is writing for”.
Conclusion on the importance of book reviews
In summary, unbiased reader reviews bump up the credibility ratings, as well as the discoverability factor. Higher visibility leads to more online chatter and from there, on to higher online sales.
Time to load up your new-book guns and start aiming! Yes, it is work. Then again, you wrote an entire book – that was work! And as Wally Lamb says “If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.” – so get out there, and find yours.
They’ll never find you if all you did was write a book, and hid it out in your little writer’s cave. The internet was invented for a reason. Make good use of it. The time is now, dear writer.