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Imagine you’re walking down the street and seeing a restaurant with a huge crowd outside, straining to see and hear the live musicians inside. Across the street, you see a solo guitarist with a few coins in his open guitar case.
Which musical performance do you think is better? Most people would choose the performer with the audience.
Scientists have long studied this phenomenon called social proof. People want to do what they see other people doing.
They want to read what they see other people reading.
In a similar way, readers find out which books are popular by looking for social proof in the form of reviews. You’ve probably done it yourself. When you see one book with five reviews and another with 500, which do you lean toward?
But it’s not just readers who are looking for social proof.
Amazon also places books with more reviews higher in their search engine rankings. Reviews make securing a slot on promo sites like Book Bub easier. The Goodreads promotion engine only kicks in after a book has 300 reviews.
To paraphrase the Matthew Effect, we might say, “To him who has reviews, more reviews will be given. But to him who has no reviews, no reviews will be given.”
But how do you get those first book reviews that lead to more reviews?
I asked Derek Dopeker, who is an expert at getting book reviews.
He went from being a broke valet to a bestselling author and successful marketing strategist. He’s sold over 100,000 books using low-cost marketing strategies. Now he shares these strategies with fellow authors to help them to turn their passion for writing into a successful career.
How do you get more reviews for your book?
Derek: We can break it down into three main parts.
Find Ideal Readers
Connect with people who want to read a book like yours and are open to leaving a review.
Get Readers to Agree to Leave Reviews
You’ll have to reach out and ask people to review your book and get them to say, “Yes! I’ll leave a review.”
Get Readers to Write and Post Their Reviews
Often, readers promise to leave a review as part of an early reader team or launch team, but they just don’t follow through.
The weeks fly by, and you want to say, “Can you hurry up and leave that review?”
It feels awkward. You’re trying to nudge readers and follow up, but you feel like they’re doing you a favor, so you don’t want to twist their arm too much. By the same token, you need those reviews.
How do you get people to follow through?
As you might know, incentivizing people to leave a review goes against Amazon’s terms of service. For example, you can’t tell readers you’ll give them a prize or bonus if they leave a review. Besides being a violation of Amazon’s terms of service, you’d end up with biased reviews.
Ask Your Email Subscribers for Reviews
Thomas: The size of your email list correlates to the number of reviews you’ll get. Many of the tactics we’ll explore are dependent on the author being able to ask their readers for reviews in various ways.
To get more reviews, you need to ask the right person in the right way. If you can’t communicate directly with your readers, getting reviews is much harder.
Starting and growing your email list is critical for selling books, but it’s also important for getting book reviews.
Derek: Whatever you do to build your email list, make sure you connect with the right people. You want quality readers who are a good fit for your writing. As you communicate through email, they’ll get to know, like, and trust you and the material you’re writing.
Thomas: The right readers are more likely to buy your book, open your emails, and write a review. They are your real fans.
If you want to learn more about building your email list, start by checking out the following episodes:
- How to Build an Email List Before Your First Book Comes Out Using Short Stories
- How to Grow Your Email List Using Delicious Reader Magnets with Tammi Labrecque
- How Jason Porterfield Grew His Email List from 0 to 6,000 in One Year
- How to Use QR Codes to Boost Book Sales & Grow Your Email List
Send a Request for Book Reviews
Derek: When you’ve found someone who is an ideal reader for your book, then you make the request. You could ask the people on your email list, book review bloggers, or YouTubers who review books.
The key to getting any of those people to say “yes” is to personalize each email.
If you’re writing to a book blogger, you might say, “I checked out your blog and love what you’re doing. I like what you said about a particular book in that blog post.”
A tailored email lets the person know you are a human, not a spambot. Take time to learn about the blogger or podcaster and add a personal element to your pitch.
After your personalized intro, transition into the information and request by saying, “I have a book you might enjoy, and these are the reasons I think you might like it.” You want to hook them with why they’d want to read your book.
Don’t merely say, “Hey, I have a new sci-fi thriller book coming out. Do you want a free copy?” People can find tens of thousands of free books in every genre. A free copy is not an incentive. You need to hook them with a short little hook formula.
Hook Formula #1
For example, you might say, “If you’re a fan of X, Y, and Z books, you’ll probably enjoy this book too.” X, Y, and Z could be three similar authors, books, or descriptors.
Mr. Ballen has a YouTube channel where he tells stories. To find his ideal viewer, he asks, “Are you a fan of the strange, dark, and mysterious?” His fans know exactly what they’re in for.
Since I write personal development books, I might say, “If you’re a fan of Tony Robbins, Jack Canfield, or John Asraf, you might dig my book.”
Use descriptors, wording, authors, or books that clearly communicate the genre where your book fits.
Hook Formula #2
You can take a different angle and say, “If you hate X, you’ll love my book.”
I saw a review for the show The Expanse that said, “If you hate unrealistic plots and improbable dialogue, you’ll enjoy the show.”
You’ll need to use specific descriptors. You can’t simply say, “If you hate boring books and love entertaining books.” That’s far too vague.
Find out if there’s a trope people are tired of. One romance author student I talked to was annoyed by helpless heroines. She might say, “If you’re tired of helpless heroines and love a strong, empowered heroine, this book is for you.”
Think about what makes your book unique. What do you stand against? What are you in favor of?
Specificity Attracts the Right Readers
Thomas: Don’t worry about turning off the wrong readers. Not everyone wants what you’re offering. You want to attract only the right readers. The more specific your pitch, the more powerful it will be.
Derek: Remember, these formulas are simply prompts to get you started. You certainly shouldn’t use all of them in the same pitch.
The idea is to add specific elements so the right reader can identify whether your book is a good fit for them. At the same time, those elements will repel the wrong readers who won’t enjoy your book.
All your marketing will be clearer and simpler if you can identify the following:
- Who is my book for?
- Who is my book not for?
For example, I wrote a book on habits. In my marketing, I might say, “Now look, this book does not dive deep into scientific studies on habit creation. This is not hundreds of pages of in-depth research. If you want something that gets right to the point, this book is for people who are in a hurry and want actionable steps.”
I’d work to make that more concise, but I begin by considering who my book is and isn’t written for. It’s not for people who want to read in-depth scientific research.
I did the research and distilled it into the most practical action steps so you can immediately apply them.
Some people want all the research; others just want the applicable steps. By articulating who it is and isn’t for, I’m attracting the right kind of readers and preventing bad reviews from people who might be angry that I didn’t explain all the science behind it.
What should I do about a one-star review?
No matter how clear you are, you’ll probably always have one-star reviews.
One of my one-star reviews is from someone who thought I was Deepak Chopra instead of Derek Doepker. I don’t know what to do about that other than use it to get a chuckle from my readers.
If you get some negative or silly reviews where you can tell the person just wasn’t a good fit for the book, you can use it in your marketing.
Case Studies in Leveraging One-Star Reviews
Snowbird Mountain is a ski resort that has created a whole ad campaign from its one-star reviews. One ad features a gorgeous snow-covered ski slope and the text of a one-star review that says, “I’ve heard Snowbird is a tough mountain, but this is ridiculous. It felt like every trail was a steep chute or littered with tree wells. How is anyone supposed to ride in that? Not fun!” -Greg, Los Angles, CA
Their ad used a one-star review to show that they’re not trying to attract beginners. Snowbird is for advanced skiers who want the challenge of a tough mountain.
Thomas: A local movie theater in Austin called the Alamo Drafthouse has a strict no-talking policy. For years, they had an ad that played before the movie began. It was a voicemail from an angry customer who’d been kicked out of the theater for talking during the movie. After they played her voicemail, the screen said, “Talk. Get kicked out.”
That’s the entire ad.
They sent the clear message that if you like to talk during the movie, you should not come to that theatre. They know who they’re appealing to. People who like the Alamo Drafthouse like the no-talking rule. They’re also glad it makes the talkers mad enough to go to AMC.
Let Your Fans Defend You
The other advantage of sharing one-star reviews with your audience is that it can motivate them to leave five-star reviews, especially if you make it obvious. You could say, “If you disagree with this reviewer, be sure to leave your review.”
Some authors anticipate their first one-star review. They know it will provoke an emotional response in their fans, and if they share that review with their email subscribers, they’ll get a surge of positive reviews.
A strong emotional response will prompt people to leave a review. Their strong feelings motivate them to act and put forth the effort. If they have a powerful emotional experience at the end of the book that makes them angry, happy, or excited, they’ll be far more likely to leave a review.
Think about the things you’ve reviewed on Amazon. You’ve probably reviewed the things you’ve loved (five stars) and the things you’ve hated (one star).
Derek: This is a microcosm of the bigger marketing picture. When you understand how to get reviews, you learn how to pitch your book. You’re learning how to repel the wrong people, and attract the right people.
A negative review can activate your fans. Read some of the one-star reviews of one of your favorite books, and see if you aren’t emotionally motivated to leave a review.
You’re Not the Only One
I really like the book Made to Stick. It was such a great book I couldn’t imagine anyone would leave a bad review. One day, I got curious and looked to see if there were negative reviews. There were, and they made me angry. I wanted to let people know it was a really good book.
Sharing a negative review with your fans may cause them to come to your defense and leave a positive review.
Thomas: When your friend is insulted, you might take it personally and come to their defense. You want your readers to have that same passionate reaction to your book.
What do you do when people promise to leave a book review but don’t follow through?
Derek: I strategically do not ask them to leave a review. For example, before you ask for a review, you might just start a conversation and say, “How are you enjoying the book so far?”
Whether you ask in a one-to-one email, a group email to your list, or an early reader group, you’ll get written responses that might work as reviews or testimonials.
You’re deliberately not asking for a review, and therefore they don’t feel such pressure to write a certain kind of review.
Start a Conversation via Email
Sneak it in, so to speak, with a disarming question, “How are you enjoying the book so far?” You’ll probably get a variety of responses.
“I haven’t started.”
When you ask, they might answer, “I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet,” in which case they’re not ready to write a review.
“Couldn’t put it down because…“
Another person might answer, “It was amazing. I stayed up all night reading it. I love what you said about the topic.” In their answer, they’ve basically written a review without consciously thinking, “I’m writing you a review.”
When I get a response like that, I say, “Thank you so much for the positive feedback. I’m glad you loved it. Would you be willing to take seven seconds to copy and paste what you wrote here as a review wherever you purchase the book?”
It’s so easy for them that they do it. To reduce friction and make it even easier, you can link directly to the Amazon review page for that book if they bought the book from Amazon.
Thomas: Use caution, though. If you get too many reviews from a certain link, it looks inauthentic to Amazon’s system. Ask people to review, but if you send everybody to the Amazon review page, Amazon’s anti-spam system will catch that.
But I love the approach of asking what they thought about the book. It relieves the stress of staring at that blank white box on Amazon and trying to figure out what to write by perusing other reviews.
Your approach will yield good, unique, and authentic reviews. And if somebody says they hated the book, you don’t ask them to leave a review.
“I loved it but can’t articulate my thoughts.“
Derek: Sometimes, a reader will go on and on. I can see a review there, but it needs to be cleaned up a little. I might clean it up for them and say, “What I’m hearing you say is basically….” then I send them the cleaned-up version and ask, “If this is accurate, would you be willing to copy and paste it as a review?”
“It was good. That is all.“
Other readers might simply answer, “Yeah. The book was great.” That’s not really a review, but it’s a start. At that point, you can follow up with some questions.
- “I’m glad you enjoyed it. What specifically did you think was great about it?”
- “What would you say to someone who’s considering purchasing the book?”
- “Who was your favorite character?”
- “Which lesson was most practical?”
- “What element was most helpful?
- “What made you think differently?”
- “What did you like?”
- “What would have made it better?”
- “What did you disagree with?”
Thomas: Chances are they didn’t disagree with anything, but it’ll get them thinking about the book in a new way that will trigger more conversation.
Derek: I call this the bridge method because you build a bridge between reading the book and leaving a review.
How and Where to Incentivize Readers
Derek: Again, you should never incentivize someone to leave a review on Amazon, but there’s no issue with asking for feedback in an email.
Questionnaire for Feedback
You might ask readers to fill out a questionnaire just like a company might have customers fill out a feedback form.
You can say, “I have a book coming out, and if you’re willing to take five minutes to answer this questionnaire, I’ll enter you into a drawing.”
You’re not asking them to leave a review on Amazon. You’re simply asking them to fill out a questionnaire. You can incentivize them to fill out the questionnaire, and they often end up writing a good review somewhere in there.
At that point, you can say, “Hey, I love what you said here. Would you be willing to take seven seconds to copy and paste it as a review?”
Reviews as Testimonials
You can also ask permission to use some of their wording as a testimonial in your marketing.
You may want to put a deadline on the questionnaire, especially when you have a book launch coming up. When you set a deadline, you can follow up with a reminder, and it doesn’t sound like you’re hounding your readers. Instead, you’re saying, “I don’t want you to miss out on this cool prize.”
Thomas: Surveying your readers benefits you as an author, even if you’re not asking them to leave a review at the end. Getting a sense of who they are and what they want is helpful. You may discover that your readers are different than you think. They might not match the ideal reader in your head.
Derek: If you find someone who is passionate about your book and seems to be a huge fan, see if you can get them on a Zoom call for 15-30 minutes. Some people would love the opportunity to share their opinions and feelings. During the call, ask some of those clarifying questions. When you can see their face, you can observe how they respond and feel their energy.
I’ve done that before. Now, when I’m writing or marketing, I think of that real person I connected with and write directly to that person.
Include a Request in the Back Matter
Thomas: Include a letter to the reader at the end of your book asking for feedback and encouraging their review.
If you publish wide, meaning your book is available in marketplaces beyond Amazon, customize your letter to the reader. If you use Vellum to create your books, you can customize the letter for each platform. For the Kobo book, your request for a review in the back matter will link to the review page on Kobo. If you only link to Amazon in the back matter, you’ll lose reviews from all the readers on Kobo and iBooks.
If you link to the store where they bought the book, they can tap their device and go straight to the review page. That reduces the friction and will increase the likelihood of them leaving a review.
Provide Instructions for Leaving a Book Review
Derek: Leaving a review might seem easy to you, but it could be totally foreign to someone else. Maybe they’ve never done it before or don’t remember exactly how to do it.
To make it easy, record a video showing them how to leave a review on the various platforms.
Anticipate their objections or obstacles, and then consider ways you could help.
Ask for Referrals
If someone left a great review or sent you a positive message, ask if they know of anyone else who might be interested in the book. Your current fans can be a source of new fans.
It’s an easy offer for them. They do not have to sell your book for you. They’re just inviting a friend to join your early reader group. Leverage your existing fans to invite more readers.
Send a Personal Thank-You Note
Thomas: If someone left you a great review, send a personal message thanking them. You might say, “Hey Joe, I saw you left a review on Amazon. Thank you so much.”
Joe will be far more likely to leave you another review in the future. Imagine how you would feel if your favorite author sent you a personal note of thanks for leaving them a review. Remember that you’re building long-term relationships with your fans.
Ask Readers to Join the Cause
Derek: Since I write nonfiction, I might say, “If you enjoy this book, would you share it with others so they can get the same benefits?”
Give them a reason to share that allows them to be part of a cause or mission. When you do, sharing ceases to be a chore. Instead, it’s a way to serve their friends.
When I ask for reviews, it’s not purely self-serving. I’m thinking of ways to help more people and help the right people. When I think of it that way, marketing becomes a further act of service.
Thomas: Not every book is a good fit for every reader, but if there’s a religious angle, political angle, or cause that your book can connect to, then you’re not asking somebody to review a book. You’re asking them to join the cause.
Nonprofit fundraisers use the same method. They don’t ask you to donate money to a nonprofit. They ask you to help feed starving children.
Focus on the benefit the book is bringing about in the world. People want to be a part of that.
If your book is entertainment and not connected with a cause, it’s okay. You can still get reviews. But if it does have that angle, you may be tempted to be embarrassed about the angle.
Don’t be embarrassed that your book is religious or that your political feelings have worked their way into your story. Those are strengths. Other people who agree with you will rally to your book and leave reviews.
One Thing at a Time
Derek: Realize that you’re not necessarily making all these requests at once.
- Start a back-and-forth correspondence via email, and only ask one thing at a time.
- Don’t bombard readers with too many requests. Marketing is usually one particular call to action.
- Don’t send a long to-do list. Think of it as a conversation that begins with “How are you enjoying the book so far?”
Thomas: Agreed. Don’t put all your requests in one email. A good conversation goes back and forth.
Several years ago, L.A. had a 4th of July fireworks show where there was a mix-up, and all the fireworks went off at once. They launched 30 minutes of fireworks in one big boom, and everyone left disappointed. It was really sad.
Just as a good firework show has loud and quiet moments, interacting with readers involves listening and speaking. It requires patience and respect. Respect your readers and treat them like real people.
A Book Review Challenge
Derek: I’m offering a five-day Get More Book Reviews Challenge (Thomas’s Affiliate Link), where I walk you through the steps we’ve discussed here. In this challenge, you’ll learn exactly how to get reviews for your fiction or nonfiction book, whether you’ve yet to launch or been published for years.
Connect with Derek and learn more about his Get More Book Reviews Challenge (Thomas’s Affiliate Link), which comes with a money-back guarantee and is reasonably priced at $20.
What encouragement do you have for authors seeking book reviews?
Derek: I was working with an author who was having difficulty getting her opt-in page to work. As we dug deeper, I realized she was hesitant to ask for reviews because she didn’t want it to be a burden.
She had published multiple books and worked as an author for years. I talked her through it, and she sent the email requesting reviews. In the responses she received, her readers were so excited. They didn’t see it as an annoyance but as an opportunity. They were happy to leave reviews.
That shifted her mindset from one of intrusion to one of service. Whether you’re requesting reviews or offering your book to the world, remember that you have a gift, and you’re offering a service. Not everyone’s going to get it, and that’s okay. The people who need your book will be so grateful you told them about it.
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