Ah, there’s your book and/or ebook, all shiny and new in the Amazon bookstore. But it looks awfully naked without any reviews. Thanks to a phenomenon called “Social Proof,” it’s not too likely people will give it a chance without any reviews either.

While people can download free samples of ebooks, it’s still a good idea to get a few “testimonials” up there. This suggests to readers that people are buying and reading the book. Even if the reviews aren’t all 5 stars (it’s actually better — more realistic — if they aren’t!), their presence there helps sway readers into giving a book a chance. If other people are buying it, they figure, maybe they should too.

But, you already know all that. What you’re wondering is how do you get those first few book reviews?

I’ll talk first about how I went about it (the more time-consuming but totally free way) and about a service called Bookrooster that will do the legwork for you. (It’s a paid service, but the money doesn’t go to the reviewers, so no sleazy undertones; you’re basically paying for Bookrooster to hand out your ebook to an audience of folks who read in your genre or niche and have agreed to review in exchange for free copies.)

How to Get Book Reviews (Long, Free Way)

When I published my first fantasy novel, The Emperor’s Edge, back in December of 2010, I didn’t have any sort of fan base built up. Shoot, I didn’t even have any relatives I could beg for reviews, since nobody in my family reads fantasy (my mom keeps hoping I’ll “get over all that magic stuff” and write historical fiction).

I was more than willing to give away free copies of my ebook to get some reviews (the nice thing about ebooks is this doesn’t cost you anything — if you don’t want to send files directly, upload your book to Smashwords and use their coupon system to give away 100%-off copies — and those reviews will show up on the paperback version of your book too).

I headed over to the MobileRead forums, the Kindleboards, and the NookBoards, and I offered free review copies of my book to anyone who was interested. MobileRead is particularly popular (it’s not device-specific, like the other sites, and has a large international audience).

Between the various sites, I had quite a few people interested. Of course, not everybody bothered to review the book (or, if they did it, it wasn’t in quite as timely a manner as I would have hoped), but I ended up getting perhaps one review for each five copies I gave away. Since we’re talking ebooks, this didn’t cost me anything, so I considered it a good deal.

Note: if you’re going to go this route, you want your forum post to look good. Take a moment to figure out how to include a little picture of your cover art and the blurb. You might say something like, “free review copies” in the post title, as that’ll attract attention.

At the end of the post, I suggest saying something like, “I’m hoping to get some reviews in exchange for free copies, so message me if you’re interested.” I’d avoid the more draconian stuff: “If you promise to do a review, I’ll send you a copy.” Okay, that’s not all that draconian, but asking someone to promise to do a review can be a turnoff. Besides, do you really want them doing a review if it turns out they don’t like the book?

How to Get Book Reviews (short, non-free way)

If you’d prefer to pay a few bucks ($67 as I write this post), and have everything taken care of for you, there’s BookRooster.

They have a community of readers several thousand strong, and they focus on posting reviews on Amazon (I sell more than 10 times as many ebooks at Amazon as anywhere else, and that’s not uncommon amongst indie authors, so it’s definitely the big kahuna and worth targeting).

How it works:

  1. You sign up and give them a mobi (Kindle) file of your book.
  2. They send your book’s description out to members who have expressed an interest in reading and reviewing in your genre.
  3. They send out copies to readers who are interested. In exchange, readers agree to write a review when they’re done (there are minimum lengths, so you’ll get more than a sentence or two).
  4. They will keep contacting readers and sending out copies until you get at least ten reviews for your book.

Note: The payment doesn’t go to the reviewers. It’s for the legwork that’s involved with collecting ebooks, contacting folks, and checking up to make sure you get your ten reviews.

Note 2: You’re not guaranteed good reviews. Honestly, the only reason I’m willing to recommend the service is because I’ve seen one- and two-star reviews from BookRooster reviewers. While they don’t seem to be the harshest reviewers out there (they’re readers, not professional reviewers), they do leave honest comments. There are less ethical ways to get reviews if 5-star ones are all you want (but, as we talked about, these can be a flag of something fishy going on, and readers will tear you up if they buy your book and think the reviews were false!).

Either way you go, you shouldn’t ever have to pay reviewers for a review (remember, with BookRooster, you’re paying for admin stuff — the money doesn’t go to the actual reviewers), so don’t fall for it if someone tries to sell you a review! Also, don’t believe for a second that readers are going to be more likely to buy the book if some fancy pants reviewer gave it good marks. It’s our peers we look to when it comes to recommendations, and in the book world, that means fellow readers.

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