Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
Not A Great Idea for Self-Published Authors
An author friend and I were chatting via email about upcoming book projects for the New Year. She quizzed me about book launch teams and whether I had found them to be a valuable book marketing tactic.
Before I launched into a full-blown rant, I told her I would collect my thoughts about them into a new post.
Let’s delve into why I now decline requests to join book launch teams and don't recommend them to self-published authors.
What Is a Book Launch Team?
A book launch team is a group of readers that an author or publisher recruits to read a new book manuscript prior to official publication. Then, as soon as the book is officially published, the team is encouraged to post a review on the book on Amazon or other sites that host book reviews and ratings. It is also hoped that the team will share both the book and their reviews on social media and blogs.
In theory, this all makes some sense. But there are some significant flaws with the tactic.
Recruiting a Book Launch Team
The author should select connections for the launch team that have some familiarity with the book’s topic or genre, and have appropriate critical thinking skills to evaluate what they’re reading. Ideally, they should also have some influence on potential readers of the book.
What I’ve observed, though, is that self-published authors recruit personal friends for these teams. Nothing wrong with that, except when the friends don’t fit the ideal reader profile. They’re just people who like the author, not necessarily the book or the topic, which ends up skewing the reviews. Reviews from these friends tend to be blatantly positive, sometimes so blatant that it’s obvious they were staged.
Book Launch Teams Are Not Beta Readers
Just to clarify, while the people who might be candidates for your book launch team could also be candidates as beta readers, the two functions are completely different. Beta readers are used to giving feedback on unpublished manuscripts. This feedback can help authors make necessary changes to their work prior to publication. Book launch teams are engaged after the book is completed. Their function is to help promote the book by offering an “I like it/don’t like it” type of review online or in the media.
Joining a Team Is Guilt-Driven
One of the other things about book launch team invitations is that when I receive them, I feel bad about declining. In the past, I’d just go along so that the author wouldn’t feel that I wasn't being supportive. Now, I’d rather be honest, decline the invite, and buy and review the book later on and only if it truly is of interest to me.
Amazon Book Review Games and Why You Shouldn't Play Them
Not only are these launch team member reviews overly positive, but their timing is also impeccable (*sarcasm*). They appear almost as soon as the book goes live on Amazon. This happens because the author will send an alert when the book is live so that team can hop on and review ASAP. The hope is that the team’s early reviews will signal to Amazon’s algorithm bots that this book is worthwhile for featuring higher in search results or elsewhere on the site. Unfortunately, all it signals to potential readers is that some people probably got the book early and for free.
Aside from the blatant staging of these reviews in an attempt to game the Amazon algorithm, these empty reviews will also not show as verified purchases since the reviewer didn’t buy the book. A verified purchase review can carry more weight with a potential buyer.
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Plus, Amazon has a policy that says family members of the author's household or close friends are not allowed to submit "customer" reviews. They are allowed to participate in customer discussions, as well as submit editorial reviews that the author can post via Author Central. See Amazon and Author Central documentation for specifics on both customer discussions and editorial reviews.
I shouldn’t have to even say this, but don’t ever, EVER play the game of making your potential reviewers or book launch team buy the book and then pay them outside of Amazon in order to get that important verified purchase status. That’s not just game-playing. That’s downright unethical and violates Amazon's policy.
The PDF Path to Lost Book Sales and Profits with Book Launch Teams
I’ve talked elsewhere about how many people could potentially buy your book. It’s usually not a huge fan base for self-published authors. So if this precious small base of early readers is given the book to review, what would encourage them to actually buy the book when it’s officially available for sale? Nothing.
The author could easily blow through their immediate potential reader/buyer audience with a book launch team, thereby losing all those potential sales. When I participated in these teams in the past, I didn’t buy the official book after being on the team. Why should I? I already got it and read it.
But it gets worse. Because the book is just getting finalized for sale, authors give their book launch teams a PDF copy of the book or a portion of it. Mostly I’ve seen authors give the whole book. So not only will the author lose out on the sales from this cohort of friends, they could lose even more if team members share the manuscript with everyone on their email contact lists or on social media. Even more lost sales and profits.
Alternatives to a Book Launch Team
Recruit Only Selected Reviewers
As opposed to recruiting a team of readers to review your book, carefully select a few key influencers for your market and reach out to them individually. You still have the risk of the book being shared by the reviewer without limitation. So only invite those that you genuinely trust.
Note, also, that I said they should be “influencers for your market.” It’s tempting for authors to reach out to people who they feel will give a positive review. An empty positive review is worth less than a less glowing one from a prominent and relevant influencer.
Offer at a Deep Discount After the Book Publishes
One of the tactics that I like better than a book launch team is offering the new book at a deep discount after it publishes. This can be done cost-effectively with either a very limited-time free eBook promotion or Kindle Countdown Deal if you use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to publish your eBook and you enroll the title in KDP Select. If people are really interested in your book, they will wander over to take advantage of the offer and create verified purchase review possibilities.
Note that to take advantage of your introductory discounted offer, the reader has to do something. They have to go and log in to Amazon, have a Kindle reading device or app, and respond to the offer in a timely manner. This also helps prevent unlimited sharing of the whole book manuscript PDF.
Recently, a couple of author friends in an author's Facebook group used this tactic. Their books were of interest to me and I was glad to either respond quickly or pay the low $0.99 price to check out the books and support them with a review after reading.
Here’s the key to this working. The author has to do some promotion of the discounted offer. That’s where having an established author platform or fan base on social media, email marketing, etc. is so critical. If you have loyal fans that appreciate your work, they’ll be glad to get and share your latest work. Your true fans are your best book launch team.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Heidi Thorne
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 25, 2019:
Kathleen, you pointed out an issue that absolutely gets my blood boiling! Some of these "make money from your books" people are ridiculous. I saw a post recently where a author was showing his awesome income from like a decade ago (a lifetime in today's publishing arena), and said he's now making 6-figures... but didn't say if that 6-figures was exclusively from books or the programs he sells. I'm guessing the latter.
I know when I post my author survey data about a majority of self published authors making less than $1K/year, I get some backlash. Don't even get me started on that topic.
On writing a great story (or any book!), well, that's another story (pun intended). :)
Thanks for chiming in and have a wonderful weekend!
Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on January 25, 2019:
After self-publishing for almost 10 years now, I've learned a very significant lesson. There is an entire industry out there with a business plan aimed at making money off writers with dreams of financial success. And they are doing much better than we writers. Buyer Beware!
The secret to success in writing is this: Write a great story.
OK. HOW DO I DO THAT??????????????
Hint: Keep trying.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 18, 2019:
Flourish, that theory-versus-practice issue is a real problem with this tactic. Thanks for emphasizing that point. Have a great weekend!
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 17, 2019:
You provide a very convincing set of arguments for why these teams aren’t effective. It sounds great but in practice often isn’t well executed.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 17, 2019:
Thanks for the kind words, Nurtjahja!
Nurtjahja J from Malang on January 17, 2019:
Very very amazing, You are my teacher
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 16, 2019:
Liz, there are companies that do distribute an author's book for the purpose of soliciting reviews. I'm sure there are some good ones out there. But I'm still a bit skeptical of these efforts.
Every day I see some new tactic that authors are using to help them cut through the clutter of the publishing world. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. It's long, hard work to build a fan base and get sales.
Like you, I look at overly positive reviews, and those submitted too soon after publication, with a bit of suspicion.
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! Have a great day!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 16, 2019:
Wow, Bill, I didn't think I had that much clout! :)
When your next book comes out, I'm sure you'll reach out to potential reviewers the right way. You've built a strong fan base here on HP, and I'm sure elsewhere, that will be willing to buy and review your book just because you're you. That's how it's done.
Hope your week is going well, too. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 16, 2019:
Donna, in the past, people would reach out to friends or the media for reviews, but it wasn't that formal. But now I've been seeing more formalized creation of teams. Once I started seeing this kind of activity, I became even more suspicious of early glowing reviews of a book.
I always view both sides of the review spectrum--super positive or super negative, or unverified purchases--with some suspicion. The reviews I really look at are those that have include some valuable feedback for other buyers and the author.
Glad you got some value out of the post. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a wonderful day!
Liz Westwood from UK on January 16, 2019:
Before I read this article, I was expecting you to describe companies that, for a fee, will promote and distribute a book for an author. I think my assumption was a little wide of the mark. You have opened my eyes to a whole new side of publishing that I was ignorant of. Although it has to be said that I have always viewed glowing reviews for anything with a little suspicion.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 16, 2019:
Well that's simple! If you don't recommend them, I don't do them! You have simplified my life, my friend. :) Have a fantastic Hump Day!
Donna Herron from USA on January 16, 2019:
This is a very interesting article. I did not know that some authors use book launch teams to build reviews online and it's fascinating to see how these teams can affect the perception of your book on Amazon and other sites. Thank you for sharing this information. I'll look at online reviews a bit more carefully now before purchasing based on these reviews.