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March 9, 2023 by Guest Contributor 6 Comments
By Liz Alterman
You’ve written a book. Congratulations! Now for the next hurdle—gathering those all-important ratings and reviews.
When my novel, The Perfect Neighborhood, was released last July, I quickly learned how critical these are. Leading up to my launch, I reached out to a nearby library to see if they’d consider it for their book club. Before I could even offer to donate copies or attend the meeting, I was promptly told to call back when I had more than one hundred, four-star ratings. Ouch!
For many authors, myself included, knowing that people took the time to read your words feels like a gift in itself. Can you really ask them to take more time out of their busy lives to write and post a review? Yes, you can, and here’s why you must.
First, reviews and ratings serve as a form of social proof. The more you have—especially positive ones—the more likely readers are to give your book a try.
As Scott Blackburn, author of the southern crime thriller It Dies With You, pointed out, publishers are doing less and less promotional work in an increasingly crowded market, making book reviews crucial—especially for debut authors.
“Even now, I often find myself scrolling Goodreads and Amazon, looking for new material to read, and more times than not, the quality and quantity of a book’s reviews will guide my decision on what to buy,” said Blackburn. “Do those criteria mean a book will be a guaranteed hit? Absolutely not. That’s all subjective. Did those reviews help the authors behind those books? Most definitely.”
Second, while having plenty of reviews and ratings may encourage readers to take a chance on your book, there’s another reason they’re important.
“In order to qualify for certain promotions on Amazon and BookBub, you need to have 50 or 100 reviews on Amazon,” explained Andrea J. Stein, author of the novel Typecast, and a book publicist by profession. “Also, the more reviews you have, the more the algorithm will promote your book.”
So, How Do You Make the Ask?
For plenty of authors, asking readers for reviews and ratings can feel awkward, almost like fishing for compliments.
“Many authors struggle with this aspect of self-promotion because they feel rude or pushy when asking for reviews,” said Blackburn. “If this is the case for you, keep this in mind: in a world where a majority of shopping is done online, people encounter reviews and ratings on a daily basis, which means they understand why those things are so important.”
So how does Blackburn handle it? Approach these requests with kindness and professionalism, he advised.
“Simply let people know how much reviews help and how appreciative you are to get them,” he said. “This could be done in a blanket post on social media or in a casual conversation with a reader.”
His go-to script? “If you have time, I’d really appreciate a review.”
“If the person you ask isn’t comfortable with—or simply doesn’t know how—to write a book review, it’s good to remind them that clicking a star rating only takes seconds, and those can be just as helpful,” Blackburn added.
Stein offered her strategy. “Whenever someone tells me they loved my book, my immediate response is to ask if they could post a review on Amazon,” she said. “If it’s in response to an email, I’ll tell them that they can just use the same text they used in the email as their review.”
You can also ask that they paste that same text on various retailer and review sites to boost your book on multiple platforms.
Stein added that she’s never had anyone say anything but “yes,” and most often, they keep their word.
“When I send an ARC to a potential reviewer, I simply thank them for their interest and wish them ‘happy reading!’” she said. “I then follow up to confirm they’ve received the ARC and to ask if they know when they’ll be able to read/review the book. I always point out that reviews can be short. I don’t want people to feel they’re expected to write an essay.”
Blackburn offered additional strategies, such as creating a social media post like: “I’m sitting at 97 reviews. If you read my novel, I’d love for you to help me reach 100 reviews.”
“I’ve had success with similar posts,” he said. “At minimum, it’s a reminder to readers to leave a review, and more than that, people love to be a part of a milestone. I’ve even seen authors host giveaways when they hit review milestones.”
Author and humorist Julie Vick shared an innovative, quieter but just as effective strategy.
To spread the word about her book, Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?): The Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Parenthood, Vick connected with stewards of Little Free Libraries (LFL) and also left her book in LFLs in her area. In each copy, she placed a sticker encouraging readers to leave a review. She shared the text she included:
“This book was donated to a Little Free Library for you to enjoy. If you enjoyed reading it, I would love it if you could leave a review on a retailer’s site or Goodreads (you don’t have to have bought a book there to leave a review).”
If friends or family haven’t had a chance to read your book yet, they can still give the work a boost by marking it “to-read” on Goodreads. How does it help? When someone checks that box, all of their Goodreads friends will see your book on their homepages, increasing its free exposure.
Vick said that as she asked readers to rate her book, she was always conscious to “not bombard people with requests.”
Blackburn agreed there’s a line between being persistent and being pushy and said there’s no need to publicly seek reviews daily, but if you’ve recently launched a book or your reviews begin to slow, don’t be afraid to ask.
“I’ve also tried to just be a good literary citizen in terms of reviewing other authors’ books,” said Vick. “So when I read a book that I enjoy, I try to review it on one of the sites. This can often lead to reciprocal reviews from other authors you know without you having to ask.”
Blackburn echoed the importance of returning the favor. “If you’re asking for reviews,” he said, “make sure you’re leaving reviews for your fellow authors.”
If you’re not seeing those reviews and ratings pile up, don’t panic.
“It’s also important to keep in mind that less than 15% (often less than 10%) of people review or rate the books they read, so there’s no need to panic if you’ve sold 500 books and you’re nowhere near 100 reviews,” said Blackburn. That’s totally normal.”
While asking for ratings and reviews may feel uncomfortable, much like writing itself, once you’ve done it you’ll be glad you did. Chances are, they’ll help your book find more readers and, ultimately, isn’t that what writers want?
Liz Alterman is the author of the suspense novel, The Perfect Neighborhood. the young adult novel, He’ll Be Waiting, and the memoir, Sad Sacked. Liz lives in New Jersey with her husband and three sons. When she isn’t writing, Liz spends most days reading, microwaving the same cup of coffee, and looking up synonyms.