Monday, January 10, 2011

Using Reviews for Marketing

A few days ago a friend who's an excellent writer but new to promotion asked me a bunch of questions about reviews. How do you go about asking for them? Whom do you ask? Where do you get the books to send? There must be a tutorial on this, he commented.

Well - there may well be, but given the scattered nature of the web, it might be tough to find. Since I wanted to post to my blog today anyway, I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and talk about what I've learned regarding reviews and marketing.

Let me start with a caveat: in no way am I claiming to be an expert in this realm. I am just sharing what I've learned so far in my twelve years of publishing. I hope that commenters will add their own insights. I should also say that given the dramatic changes wrought by the Internet, best practices will undoubtedly continue to change. However the principles remain the same:

1. Get your book out and reviewed as many appropriate places as possible.

2. When you receive a favorable review, broadcast that news widely.

I've divided my comments into four sections: finding potential reviewers, requesting reviews, using reviews for marketing, and follow-up.

Finding Potential Reviewers

Where can you send your book for reviews? Clearly this depends on the genre. There are dozens of websites that publish reviews for romance of various flavors. I know a few for erotica (specifically the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, Erotica Revealed and Erotica For All). I strongly suspect that there are similar sites for mystery, suspense, young adult, chick lit, and other genres.

In addition to websites, many individual readers post reviews on their blogs. Some focus on particular genres while others read more widely. Some individual book blogs get as much traffic as the major sites.

Thus, your first step has to be research. Use the sub-genre or topic of your book to narrow the possibilities. For example, if you have an erotic story set in Japan, look blogs or sites devoted to Japanese-related topics. If you write speculative or science fiction erotica or romance, spend some time searching out sci fi reviewers. If you have a book set in Pittsburgh (as I do), maybe you can find some dedicated fan of the city who'd be interesting in reading and reviewing it.

Be somewhat selective. It won't do you any good to send your book to an inappropriate review site or reader. If a site focuses on gay erotic romance, don't send your heterosexual book. If a site does not review fantasy, or historical, or paranormal, and that's what you write - skip it, for now. Target the review sites in the same way you'd target a publisher. Look for a good fit with your book.

It can be dangerous to send a book to the wrong sort of reviewer. For example, a reviewer who expects romance will be upset by erotica that does not have a happy ending. He or she may still review your book, but express negative opinions because of lack of understanding or failed expectations.

What about print reviews? For most of us, a review in print is an unrealistic dream. If you can get a reviewer from your local newspaper interested, great. I've more or less given up on the New York Times! A digital review has some advantages in any case. Despite the volatility of the web, an electronic review tends to have greater longevity than print. You can link to it. You can tweet or share it.

And what about reader reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other bookseller sites? I know some authors and editors who solicit such reviews from friends and family, to the point that they'll give away a free copy of the book to anyone willing to do a review. Reader reviews do help book sales, from what I've seen. However, I find myself a bit uncomfortable with the notion of actively soliciting them. It's a slippery slope. At what point does it become unethical? At what point are you "paying" someone to give you a favorable review?

Your mileage may vary, as they say. I'm always delighted to get a favorable review on Amazon. I have had situations where a reader contacted me raving about a book he or she had already read and I gently suggested that they might share their opinions on Amazon. That's my limit.

Requesting Reviews

Once you have a list of target reviewers, you need to submit your book to each one. Read the instructions provided by each review site or blog. In some cases, they will have a special email address. In some cases they will provide a web form. Pay attention to the details. Do they want a blurb? A buy link? A cover? If so, what size? Sending a 1200x1600 JPEG to someone who wants 200x320 will not win you friends.

For review targets that don't use a web form, develop a simple, professional query letter that includes:

- Book title

- Author name

- Publisher, publication date and purchase information

- Genre/sub-genre

- Book length in pages or words

- A blurb - 100-300 words briefly summarizing the book (but not revealing the ending!)

- Your contact information (email at least)

- Your links (blog, website, etc.)

Do not talk about how your other books won awards. Do not discuss the other five star reviews this book has received. Really, the only message you need to convey is: I have a book with these characteristics - would you like to review it?

Don't beg or grovel, either. A review site needs books to review. Often they support themselves via ads. The reviews are the content that pulls visitors who will see the ads. The sites are not doing you a huge favor for which you must be eternally grateful.

Do you send a review copy with the query letter? That depends on the site. Some sites will want only print. In this case, definitely wait until you get a confirmation of interest. Mailing print books is expensive. Ebooks are great because they are so easy to distribute. Watch out, though. When you send out free copies of your book, you are definitely increasing your risks of being pirated. Weigh that risk against the benefits of a positive review.

Some publishers regularly send out review copies to a pre-determined list of sites. Find out whether your publisher does. Don't duplicate your publishers' efforts. But at the same time, don't just sit back and assume that they're going to do all the work. My publishers tend to send books to the big, general romance review sites. I try to find smaller or more specialized venues to complement their work.

Some publishers will send out review copies upon your request. Others require you to send some of your author copies. Find out the policy for each of your publishers and make sure that you follow that policy.

When should you request reviews? Ideally, you'd like to have reviews hit the cybersphere around the same time as your book is released. So lining up your reviews ahead of time can be useful. There are some potential problems with this strategy, however. If your release is delayed, the review may come out before readers can actually buy the book. Talk about frustration! Also, if you are soliciting reviews in advance, you will need to send what's known as an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) or "uncorrected proof". If this pre-release version of your book has too many grammar, spelling or formatting problems, the reviewer may react negatively.

One more thing: keep track of where and when you send out review copies. You can make a spreadsheet or just have a simple list. You don't want to send a book twice to the same place!

Using Reviews for Marketing

So you've received a stellar review of your book from Now what do you do?

First of all, how do you find out in the first place when the review is posted? The Google Alert service does a pretty good job of informing me of newly published reviews. Set an alert on your name (if it is distinctive), your title, or some other diagnostic phrase. Sometimes the review sites will also send you a note, but in my experience that is pretty rare. Some review sites (like Erotica Revealed) schedule their reviews months in advance, so they'll be able to tell you when to expect yours.

Once you have a review, you want to share it with the world. Post a quote and the link on your website, your blog, your Facebook page, or whatever. Talk about the review in your monthly newsletter. Tweet it to your followers. Announce it (with a quote and a link) on Yahoo groups or email lists that are relevant to the genre.

Oh, and make sure that you send a copy or link to your publisher. They will want to keep track of who reviewed you, and may want to add favorable quotes to your buy page.

What else? Is that it? I've used review quotes to develop advertising banners. "Edgy, dark and smoking hot..." one reviewer said of my vampire ménage Fire in the Blood. I've used that quote in two animated GIF banners so far.

You can use review quotes in a trailer. Include them in your email signature. Order pens or keychains or other promotional material with the quote included. Seriously, when you get a favorable review, flaunt it! Don't be shy. Wallflowers don't sell books.

What if the review is not so favorable? First of all, don't get discouraged. There's no book that every reader will adore. Sometimes a reviewer won't understand what you're trying to do. Sometimes a review will hone in on real flaws. View that as a learning opportunity.

Even reviews that aren't 100% positive can be used for promotional purposes. Focus on the complimentary things the reviewer says. You don't have to post the link to the full review. Does this seem dishonest, taking things out of context? Well, maybe, but as I see it, marketing is the art of accentuating the positive and de-emphasizing the negative. You should always cite the source of review quotes. If a reader is really interested, he or she can find the full review.

Follow Up

Once you've got a review and you're actively using it to promote, you're mostly done. Here are few additional actions that I recommend as follow-up:

1. If possible, write a quick note or leave a blog comment thanking the reviewer. Do not defend yourself, if the review had negative things to say. Don't gush if the review is positive. Just be polite, positive and professional.

2. Update your list or spreadsheet to indicate that the review was published. Add the date and the URL if possible. You might want to make a note of the specific reviewer. I definitely have repeat reviews from people who seem to like my work.

3. Make a local copy of the review web page if possible. I used to simply bookmark reviews, but I've found that over time, every site or blog needs to reorganize and to purge old content. Just choose "Save As" from your browser's File menu. Create a special place on your computer for storing copies of reviews. And be warned - they can take up quite a bit of space because the browser will normally save all the images and other content.


I know, I know. Writing is hard enough work as it is. All this promotion stuff just seems like a distraction from creating new books. It does pay off, though. Personally, I don't spend nearly as much effort as I probably should on promotion (including soliciting reviews) but I have increased my activity over the last year or two. My sales have increased, too.


Unknown said...

Great Blog post Lisabet. I blogged about reviews at Dishin' It Out yesterday...I think, because I'm wondering as an author myself with a very active internal editor, should I actually be reviewing the books of my peers. Am I coming across as someone who thinks she knows all there is to know? I certainly don't...I learn something new every day. I appreciated the part on peer reviews. Although I'm honest despite friendship with the authors of the books I review, I believe in honesty. If I feel I can't write a fair review, then I'll return the book and tell the author why. Lately, I've been noticing so many writing faux pas that should have been caught by a good editor.

Barbara Ehrentreu said...

These are great suggestions and I can't wait until my book is out and ready to be reviewed. I have been on the other side as a reviewer and I have left reviews for people on amazon. It's important as a reviewer to be objective, so if you don't feel you can do a good review it's better not to review this book at all.:)

Xakara said...

As soon as I learn how to do gif banners and book trailers, I'm all over that suggestion. *smile*

I always appreciate reviews and wish I was better at giving them. I tend to be too spoilery to make an effective review so I'm left rating on goodreads and leaving the rest to those with the skill for it.

I hadn't thought to save as the review page. I'll definitely add that to my to-do list and I step promo this year.

Thanks for posting!


Kaz Augustin said...

Great advice, Lisabet. I've been soooooooo slack about reviews and the follow-up thereof. Your post has just given me a well-timed kick up the arse! :)

Kayelle Allen said...

I copy the words, url, reviewer, and rating and paste it into MS Word.
All reviews are kept in one folder so I can grab them easily. By always naming them with the same style, it's easy to find the one I want. Example:
Surrender Love Literary Nymphs Review-5.doc
Name of book - Site - Rating. This saves a lot of time when I need a really good review.
I also have a reviews page on my website, as well as one for reader reviews. Very helpful blog!

Anonymous said...

Dear Lisabet, thank you so much for (again!) sharing your experience with newer writers. We appreciate it! :)

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Lisabet,
Very informative post. You have raised some very pertinent points.



Bianca Sommerland said...

Another awesome post, Lisabet. A lot of the newer authors I've spoken to have no idea where to start with marketing. Posts like this are so helpful when things get overwhelming. Some stuff I knew, but a few things I was unsure of were clarified. I need to find a list of where TEB solicits reviews. I found one good one of my own, but another informed me they’d already gotten the request. Felt a little silly.
Thanks for sharing your experience!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, all,

Thanks for your comments (and compliments)...

Ginger - I'm always very aware that reviews are opinions. Just because I have problems with a book does not make it bad. Reviewing for friends is risky, though. You might end up sacrificing either your integrity or your relationship.

Kayelle - thanks for reminding me - I also have a page of reviews/quotes on my website. I was thinking, though, that I should may be add the quotes to the books page, right next to the excerpts link. Unfortunately I don't have much room there.

Bianca - Nicki or Heidi maintain the list of review sites. I think, actually, that it might be available in the files section of the Yahoo group.

Rachel, Barbara - If I followed all my own advice, I'd be a best seller by now!!

Xakara - making animated GIFs is pretty easy - much more so than trailers. I use a very old piece of software called GIF construction kit. I'm not even sure it's still available. It's from a company called Alchemy Mindworks.

Jan Irving said...

This was a wonderful and clear post, Lisabet.


Kathy Otten said...

Thanks for taking the time to share what you've learned. You provided some great tips for me to take from this. I liked you key chain idea. Makes for a nice promo item. Thanks

Hales said...

Great blog. I use the tags that some reviewers give and their name.

One thing I've learned that can is an issue for reviews is that the rating at times doesn't match the tone of the review. Getting a great review and a average rate is disappointing but the review should speak for itself, so if you get one still blast it :)

Cynthia said...

Very good suggestions. I would add that I've found professional reviewers among my Facebook friends too.

J.Q. Rose said...

The thought of sending out my book for a review is quite frightening. But then, releasing it to the public for criticism is difficult too. It's like sending your beloved child off to face the cruel world on the first day of kindergarten. But I will toughen up and plunge on. Thanks for this important info, Lisabet.

Mary J. Dressel said...

Love this post, Lisabet! I usually find reviewers by reading other author reviews in my genre and see who the reviewer was. I also have a reviews page on my website, and always post a review on my blogs. I post a link on facebook and twitter, as well. Don't be afraid to blow your own horn!

Jude Mason said...

Hi Lisabet,

A wonderful post. I still cringe when receiving a review, even after all this time. Finding good review sites or bloggers who will do reviews honestly is getting harder and harder. The big review sites often have their stable of authors or publishers, so it's sometimes difficult to get in.

But, having said that, once you find a reliable reviewer or site, hang on to them. I always thank a reviewer, even if the review wasn't the 5 star I was hoping for. I think that's huge. Using the reviews in newsletters or on your own blog/Twitter/Facebook post is not only good for you, but for the reviewer. Always ask before posting the full review and often it's nice to use a snippet and link to the full article.

Okay, babbled enough. Extremely good post. Thanks so much for sharing your know how.


Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello to the latest crop of commenters!

Jan, I'm glad you found the post helpful.

Kathy - I've never actually used the key chain idea. At the moment I don't have funds to spend on stuff like that. But it seems as though it would work. You could put the quotes on bookmarks, too.

Hales - can you give more details about using tags? Also, your point about ratings is a good one. Although I recently had the opposite experience. I got what I thought wasn't a very favorable review, then I realized the reviewer had rated it as five stars. (Weird!)

Cynthia - I'm not on Facebook (I just can't deal with that) but I've recently started using Goodreads and I think there may be review possibilities there.

J.Q. - If you write - you've got to go get the readers! My friend who stimulated this post was complaining to me about how bad his sales were. I asked him - have you done any promotion? If not, how is anyone going to know that your book exists?

Mary - It's tough to be brazen about promotion,but you've got to do it. We just need to tell ourselves that readers will LOVE our book if only we can help them to find it.

Jude - Great points! Good to see you here at the blog, too!

Thanks again to all!

Anonymous said...

I'm late getting in to read your article, but appreciate I made it in time. Very good information - thank you for sharing. I'll definitely implement a good portion of your suggestions if not all of them.

Garceus said...

Hi Lisabet

I'm so glad you posted this. I passed the link on to Whisky Creek because I hope everyone can have a chance to get you guidance on this subject.

I've saved this blog post to keep handy, nailed it to my eyeballs and I'm going to print it out for my writers notebook as a reference. This is very useful. Thank you.

Margaret West said...

Great Post Lisabet xx

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