Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
Fact: Getting organic reviews for your book or eBook on Amazon (or other bookselling sites) for book marketing can be hard. Really hard. Many online buyers don't bother to review purchases unless they're either true fans or truly dissatisfied. What about the "average" buyer? They feel they got the value they paid for and moved on with their lives and to their next purchase (book or otherwise).
I also have to ask you to come clean: How many of your online purchases do you review? I thought so. Then how can you ever be upset with readers who don't bother reviewing your book that they bought?
Other Ways to Get Reviews
Sure, there are "cold calling"–type outreach techniques that can elicit book review gold. But that's sales. And many writers I know think "sell" is a four-letter word. It is . . . but not that kind.
As well, authors are often bombarded by services and programs that say they can deliver this or that amount of book reviewers, usually for a fee. I'm not discrediting those services at all. If they get you the reviews you seek, then the investment might be worth it. But remember that it is a marketing "investment."
So what do most of us authors end up doing? Ask friends for book reviews. There's nothing wrong with that. However, as I've discussed in other places, there are some caveats when it comes to soliciting reviews or other help from friends for your book.
Should You Give Your Friends a Free Copy of Your Book to Review?
Giving a free copy of your self-published book can be an incentive for some friends to review it. They can feel that you've given them a gift and their review is their "thank you." Other friends may feel that because it's a "gift," reviewing is optional and may never review it. Be prepared for either response.
Be careful! If you provide the review copy as a PDF file via email, your "friends" may be tempted to email it to their entire contact list—maybe even share it on social media! Ouch. There go your sales. So size up your friends' sharing potential before whisking your work to their inbox.
How to Control Unauthorized Sharing of Your Manuscript
Some preventive measures to control unauthorized sharing of your review manuscript online:
- If publishing an eBook on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and you have Digital Rights Management (DRM) enabled, you could pay for and "gift" the book to your friends. There are lending and sharing limits on DRM-enabled Kindle eBooks. Yes, you'll be paying to gift your own eBook, but it might be worth it to protect your work. By buying your eBook, you may realize royalties to help recoup your costs. .
- Send reviewers a print version of the book. Could your friends scan a print copy and share it online? Sure. But that would be quite a project if your book is in the hundreds of pages. That's usually not worth their effort. Tip: If you self published your book on Amazon Createspace, you can pay for a single copy of the book and ship it to them direct. This saves you time, hassle and cost to ship physical copies yourself. Note that you won't earn royalties for copies purchased and shipped direct through Createspace. However, at the low costs per copy offered to Createspace authors, and the savings realized from not having to handle the packing and shipping yourself, you could end up ahead by going this route.
Also remember to emphasize that friends should identify in their reviews that they received a free copy of the book from you so as not to run afoul of any disclosure requirements for compensated endorsements.
Why You Might Want Your Friends to Buy Your Book to Review
You may wish to only solicit reviews of your book from those friends who actually purchased the book. A "Verified Purchase"–type designation on sites such as Amazon can give reviews an extra shot of authenticity that can be helpful to other potential buyers. So if that level of authenticity is important to you, don't feel coerced into providing free books to friends to review.
Granted, these non-compensated reviews can be more difficult to get. Encouraging genuine buyer reviews via email marketing, social media and personal outreach to known buyers are some strategies that can be employed.
Also, if you have published an eBook through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), a message typically pops up when the reader is done with the book encouraging a star-rating and review. For book purchases made on Amazon, an email is usually generated to buyers inviting them to review their purchase. These reminders can help get those all-important verified buyer reviews.
Considerations When Asking for Friends' Book Reviews
Be specific about what you want your friend reviewers to do. Here are some things to clarify:
- Tell them if you wish them to point out errors. Some people may naturally slip into "editor" or "proofreader" mode which can completely sidetrack them from the content review task. Some do this to feel superior; others genuinely want to be helpful. If you do wish them to call out mistakes, tell them how to relay those to you separately from their opinions of the book's content in any reviews.
- Reassure your friends that you value their genuine, constructive criticism or praise. Supportive friends might feel uncomfortable saying anything less than positive about your book and only provide superfluous, kind comments such as "great book" or something equally vague. Let them know you'll appreciate their honest and thoughtful feedback, whether it's positive or not.
- Let them say no. Don't beg or use guilt to get reviews! Tell your friends it's okay for them to decline your request if they don't have time or interest.
Get Your Head Right When It Comes to Book Reviews
If you have asked for honest feedback from your friends, be prepared mentally and emotionally for what you may receive. Don't let any negative or hard-to-accept constructive criticism color your relationship with your friends. Remember, you asked for it!
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.
© 2016 Heidi Thorne
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 31, 2017:
Glenn, your experience is so similar to mine! I found it tough trying to sort out my feelings after having people renege on their agreement to read and review. Were they really my friends? Did I ask too much? It can be very unsettling.
I've also had this confirmed again when I offered free copies of some of my older eBooks, in the hopes of getting better ranking and some reviews. People downloaded and read, but no reviews.
So, like you, I now let the market and my friends do what they will. If they buy, read, and review, great. If not, oh well.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Happy Halloween!
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on October 30, 2017:
You definitely gave a lot of good advice here Heidi. When I published my first book, I gave copies to all my friends. I asked in return that they write a review for me. No one did.
So when I published my second book, I specifically told everyone that I would no longer give out free books unless they agreed to write a review.
Only one person agreed, and she was the only one I gave a free book. I noticed that some other friends actually ordered a copy and paid for it, since they really wanted to know what I wrote. However, that one friend who promised to write a review—never did, after eight years!
I learned who my true friends are—those who really care to buy a book and read it. Imagine that!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 19, 2016:
Hello Suhail! Sounds like you've already started building your author platform before you even publish. Kudos on that! And if you are willing to help your author friends with reviews for their books, you might find them more receptive to helping you when your first book makes the scene. Keep us posted on your publishing adventures and have a great week!
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on September 18, 2016:
Great advice! I don't intend to publish a book any time soon, but my friends are expecting me to do it sooner than later. If and when I do it, I will ask a number of my friends from adventure community to review my book or at least post their reviews on-line. These will be rock climbers, micro-adventurers, nature photographers, dog lovers, dog sledders, etc. Come to think of it, many of my friends have asked me to do an on line review for them or for their acquaintance. Never thought of that. So thank you very much indeed.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 14, 2016:
Hello Teaches! Nice to have early interest from your friends for reviews. Thanks for stopping by and good luck with the book! Keep us posted on your progress.
Dianna Mendez on September 13, 2016:
This is really good advice for writers with friends who wish to read your writing. I am in the early stages of my book and already people have asked to read it. I may consider giving them the first chapter. It may prove helpful . Thanks for the tips.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 12, 2016:
Hi AliciaC! Thanks for the kind words. I know most of us have been approached by friends to review this or that written work. So I'm glad to offer some suggestions. Always appreciate your support! Have a great week!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 11, 2016:
You've shared some useful information, as always, Heidi. Your article is helpful for both writers and for people who've been asked to review a book.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 09, 2016:
Billybuc, again, we're on the same page (pun intended) when it comes to reviews. I have occasionally asked for reviews, but I don't push it and only approach those whose insight and opinion I trust and respect. Sorry to have added another item to your "To Do" list for your next book. :) Have a great weekend ahead!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 09, 2016:
So true, Flourish! Even the most helpful of feedback can be disappointing. But I think we'd rather have genuine feedback than the "sunshine." I've purchased and been disappointed based on "sunshine" reviews, too. Brave of you to return it. I usually donate them for resale or recycling. Though I'd love to have a boatload of "sunshine" reviews on all my books and eBooks, I'll stick with the genuine ones. Thanks for sharing your review experience! Happy Weekend!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 09, 2016:
All solid suggestions. I've never asked for a review...I'll have to consider it with the next book. Actually I'll have to consider many things with the next book. :) Happy Friday, my friend!
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 09, 2016:
I love your perspective regarding "you asked for it." Feedback is SO hard for some people to hear (much less accept), thus we often blow sunshine in order to avoid hurt feelings and awkwardness. Unless someone has purchased a book, it's hard for me to really trust an evaluation. For hard copy books which I mostly purchase, there have on rare occasion been those that are so horribly bad that I have sent them back unfinished for whatever refund I can get. Those are the ones where I felt tricked by the reviews (hence now I go by "verified purchases" only!).