Today's post is a guest post by author K. Kris Loomis.
This one simple word can cause any respectable author to groan, spit, curse, and lose sleep. The dreaded “R” word makes us pull our hair out, gnash our teeth, and reach for the Excedrin bottle on a regular basis.
Why does this word have so much power over writers?
Because authors need reviews if they want to sell books. Readers need to know some other reader out there has taken precious time out of their life and spent it reading your book. People like to do what other people have done, especially if they had a good time doing it, and authors need this “social proof” if they want to be considered a legitimate writer.
Problem is, there is often a disconnect between needing reviews and getting them. Toss in the conflicting, confusing, and constantly changing advice and algorithms swirling around in our writers’ world and it’s no wonder authors don’t know where to start in procuring valid reviews for their books.
Over the past couple of years, my approach and attitude toward getting reviews have changed. A lot. I used to sweat it, now I only sweat it up to a point, then I let it go and get on with other aspects of my writing life.
I could go on and on about what I did in the past to try to get reviews but I’d rather focus on what I do now because I wasted a lot of time in the past. What I do now is simpler and I am a much happier author as a result.
Keep in mind that not every approach works for every author, and ultimately you are responsible for your own trial, error, and results. My approach may not be aggressive enough for some writers, and that’s fine. But maybe my experience will spur you to think more creatively (and less obsessively) about getting reviews for your work.
What I do now can be broken down into short-term and long-term focus and goals.
SHORT-TERM FOCUS AND GOAL
My short term focus: to get my book into the hands of as many readers as I can before I publish.
I find a handful of beta readers and as many advance readers as I can and send them a free digital copy of my book. I explain my timeline, tell them when the book will publish, and request they leave a review as soon as possible after the book release.
Where do I find my beta and advance readers? I find them through my author mailing list, writing groups, friends, book clubs, and social media.
But you need to get creative. I once gave a copy of my travelogue, Thirty Days in Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador, to my vet because one of the characters in the book was her patient!
It’s important not to rely on any one group or person for the short-term focus, though, because not everyone will follow through (sometimes only 40-50%). Really. People have lives and sometimes things come up and they can’t leave a review right away. Or ever. So, I get as many advance readers as possible, I am clear about what I would like them to do after they read the book, then I move on.
My short-term goal: to get twelve to fourteen reviews up as quickly as possible.
What? I’m happy if I get only twelve to fourteen reviews? Yep, and I’ll tell you why.
Once I get a dozen reviews I feel I have enough “social proof” to start advertising. I primarily use AMS ads (Amazon Marketing Services) and have found that even a dozen reviews are enough to start generating sales. The more reviews the better, obviously, but at least your work will be circulating and seen in the Amazon sphere.
Now, let me be clear. I have worked very hard on my AMS ads and I didn’t learn how to run them overnight. I took a lot of time researching, reading books, and taking courses to help me figure out the best AMS approach for me. And it took me a long time to find the right combination of keywords for my book campaigns, but it has been worth the effort.
So, why have I chosen to focus on advertising rather than keep querying all the book bloggers in the world ad nauseum?
You can have hundreds of reviews, but if you don’t get eyeballs on your book landing page no one will see them. Authors need reviews, yes, but they also need traffic. And once my ads are performing I have a lot more time to focus on my next writing project.
LONG-TERM FOCUS AND GOAL
My long-term focus: to support and help other writers when I can, to be a positive and constructive voice in a noisy social media world, to develop a few real connections with book bloggers and reviewers, to educate readers as to how they can better help and engage with their favorite authors, to let readers see behind-the-scenes of my writing life, and to continue writing good books and follow through with publishing them.
Remember, you have to give if you expect to get.
So, I volunteer to beta read for other authors and I leave feedback and comments for other writers in my writing groups. I leave reviews of all the books I read on Amazon.
I am mindful of what I put on social media, aiming for it to be informative, entertaining or helpful, and share others’ content as often as I can if it is relevant to my followers and is in line with my platform. I comment on other authors’ posts on social media; we are often told to focus on readers, and of course, they are important to our success but don’t forget that authors are readers, too.
I have followed a few book blogger/reviewers that review books in my genre and comment on their reviews of other books. And while I haven’t asked any of these bloggers to review my books yet, a few of them have requested copies of my books, so hopefully that will lead to a review or two down the road.
I post memes with memorable author quotes or quotes about how reading can change a person’s perspective on life. I get tons of responses and retweets on Twitter from these posts. I also post graphics for readers reminding them how important their voice is in helping their favorite author succeed.
I open up my writing world to my readers and share my inspirations and frustrations through pictures and articles (my cats get more comments than I do…go figure).
And I write. Then I publish what I write.
My long-term goal: to continue building a genuine reader base so that I can make, if not a full time living from my writing, at least a solid part-time living from my writing within the next five years.
Notice I didn’t mention getting reviews in my long-term focus or goal? I believe if I follow through with my long-term focus, the reviews will come organically over time; they will be only one of many factors that will help me achieve my long-term goal. In fact, I have already started seeing some positive results in the past couple of months from being more intentional with my time and focus on the writing and reading communities.
So, I don’t sweat whether or not I have a ton of reviews today; I’m in this for the long haul. I trust my perseverance and believe that if I continue to contribute, my community of readers and other writers will join me and support me on one of the most fantastic journeys I’ve ever taken.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of After Namaste: Off-the-Mat Musings of a Modern Yogini and Thirty Days in Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. Her debut novel, The Sinking of Bethany Ann Crane, will be released in the summer of 2018. When Kris isn’t at her standing desk writing, she can be found playing chess, folding an origami crane, or practicing a Beethoven sonata on the piano. She lives in Rock Hill, SC with her husband and two cats.
You can find Kris at www.kkrisloomis.com, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @kkrisloomis. Kris also writes for the blogging platform, Medium, so look for her there, too!