Think about what influences you when you browse for a book…do you read the book’s description, maybe read a passage or two, and check out the back cover or inside for reviews? And are you a critical reviewer of reviewers? Do you look at the credentials of the reviewers to see how “weighty” or valid they appear to be?
If you don’t, you’re atypical, according to the 2015 Canadian Book Buyers Report by BookNet Canada. “By a wide margin, the top three ways readers became aware of the book they purchased was by browsing online or in a physical store (19.3%), through other books they read by the same author or as part of a series (18.4%), or through a recommendation or review (13.4%).” These are Canadian statistics, but American results are difficult to get, and it can be a fair assumption that these habits are likely similar for all of North America.
Third party testimonials in general are very powerful in the buying process, but especially if you are a first-time or otherwise unknown author. If someone the readers know, like or respect says your book is good, those buyers are much more likely to take a chance on it than if there’s no such positive reinforcement.
So, how do you get those reviews? It isn’t as difficult as you might think, but it does take advance thinking, planning and effort.
If you’re DIY’ing your book, you will want to build time to request advance comments/reviews for your book into the early stages of your production plan. Reviews can be used for numerous purposes, including the 3-4 highest impact comments on your back and/or front cover; the review page in front or back matter of book, and for use throughout your social media, website and advertising campaign leading up to, during and after your book launch. The starting list may also provide you with an idea for your foreword writer, if you’re going to have one.
You’ll want to send them a PDF of your manuscript, typically called an Advance Review Copy (ARC). It’s perfectly acceptable to most people to email a PDF rather than having to print the entire manuscript out and ship it, however, you may find some will still require or request this. This should be done as soon as possible…preferably when you have a first-round edited manuscript.
Who am I looking for, and how do I find them?
First, you want to make a list of at least 10-15 names of potential reviewers on your list. You don’t want all authors, or all media critics, or all subject matter experts; rather you want a balanced combination of all of the above, so that no matter who your audience most knows, respects and likes, you’re more likely to have one of those areas covered.
Here are the most common criteria I look for to be considered as a mix in my final list:
- The Subject Matter Expert. If this doesn’t go without saying, you want them to be better known than you. If you’re writing a book on skydiving, a professional skydiver or instructor with a big following would be a great reviewer, for example.
How to find: Your research reading list is a great start. Authorities often write books about their area of interest. Another good source is reviewing the website of related professional associations (National Skydiving Association, for example and yes, there really is one—it’s the US Parachute Association), and contacting their executive director or president to seek a comment. Another great source of experts can be Facebook or LinkedIn group members. By seeking out information for your book, you might also find someone that you really want on your review list.
- The Academic. Some titles can benefit from the support of a professor or researcher from an academic institution who is perceived as an expert in the subject matter area of your book. This is especially true if your subject involves a fair bit of research, even if your book isn’t academic in voice/tone. Some validation from a trusted source that your research is sound and you know what you’re talking about can really build faith in potential buyers.
How to find: The obvious: Search the Internet for university programs offered in your subject area. If you’re writing about a famous legal case, check for law schools that offer programs in the type of law (civil, criminal, copyright, entertainment, etc.). You’re likely to then be able to review curriculum vitae of profs and their specialty areas.
- The Book Reviewer. It’s good to have at least one book review/comment in your list from a reputable media outlet. If you can get more, great. But I’d go for this variety package before I’d worry about a lot of advance book reviews. Especially if you’re self-publishing, you may not be able to avail yourself of expensive paid review programs for self-published books, such as the ones offered by Dog Ear Publishing ranging from about $400 to $2000, or have enough advance time to accommodate the literary trade press review requirements (typically a minimum of 6-9 months in advance).
How to find: Start in your own community. Does your local newspaper have a beat reporter who covers politics? Maybe they’d be interested in reviewing your history of the founding of a political party. Some national newspapers still employ book reviewers, but be aware that they generally want to see the ARC a minimum of 6-9 months or longer before its publication date, and the competition for shrinking review space is fierce.
- The Blogger. A support quote or review from an active blogger with a big following can be a great way to direct new audiences toward your book. You might send them an ARC cold, but a much better approach is to have been following their blog for some time, and to have contributed to the community’s commentary.
How to find: A good tool to use to find bloggers by subject is Blog Search Engine. A quick search of skydiving revealed at least 10 pages of blogs on the subject, a sample of which is to the right. Check out this list for other aggregators to search for blogs.
- The Celebrity. This might be the only category where you might consider someone outside of the expertise area of your book. If you know or an interest any famous folks in your book, it probably doesn’t matter that they aren’t an expert in your field—only that they’re willing to promote your book with a comment, just because they like it.
How to find: There’s always the “I know someone who knows someone” route, or more likely, the cold call to someone you know already has an interest or passion in your subject matter area. This is the same strategy used by fundraisers to find big dollars, and indie authors can use it too. If you target a celebrity with a special interest and give them some reasons to support your book with a comment or review, you might find them more willing than you’d believe.Obviously, going to major stars may require passing through gatekeepers like managers or agents, and many A list celebs are restricted by their contracts as to what they can and can’t endorse, but you never know when you might get lucky
why would they help me?
Remember, this is a business opportunity for your reviewers as well…ask what you can offer through the use of their name that will create an incentive for them, like the opportunity to promote their newest venture or themselves via the identification after their quote.
And, of course, any or all of these folks may also be authors who need to promote their work, especially to audiences of similar books. It’s a win-win situation – people who are interested in a topic are likely to read more than one book on that subject, so by collaborating with other writers you can help each other.
Using our skydiving book scenario, this quote id shows how you can create a promotional opportunity for your reviewer:
“This book is one of the best descriptions of the art and science of skydiving I’ve ever read. I especially appreciated the personal memoir sidebars. If you love skydiving, get this book now!”
–John Doe, author, Power Parachuting (Mackie Press, 2016)
how do i decide which ones to use?
So you know what types you want and how to find them, but how do you know which specific grouping to use in the end? I think a good start is a combination of (1) Who you follow; and (2) who your audience follows.
You hopefully have read everything (or nearly) there is to read on your subject as part of your research and your interest in your subject. Who influenced you? Who did you quote in your book? Whose work or ideas were inspiration for your thoughts?
At FreshVoice, part of our process is to conduct audience avatar research that asks our audience who their influencers are–especially in terms of other non-fiction authors or media critics in subject areas that relate to our author’s book, which often provides useful names to start the list.
Using reviews and comments to your advantage in multiple ways, not just on the back cover of your book, is a significant tool that’s worth developing as part of your book marketing strategy.