I know from personal experience and from sweating with my fellow authors that hunting down reviewers has become exponentially tougher in this last year or so. Goodreads has clamped down on their author solicitations (even to your followers/friends). Amazon’s top reviewers are so flooded with requests that most no longer accept requests. Even book review blogs have months-long backlogs, at least the ones that don’t charge a fee. The list of challenges goes on and on, but we’re not interested in whining. No, this post is all about solutions.
So just what is an author, even an established one, supposed to do? Not in a vague, philosophical sense, but what concrete steps can I take today to get more reviews? Here are four tips to ramp up your review rate. Full disclosure though: there is a fair amount of elbow grease involved.
I) Squeeze more out of your mailing list.
This is a simple, but perhaps scary step. Even successful sales-oriented emails often have a 30-40% unopened rate. Many authors just shrug and ignore those unresponsive subscribers, but there is opportunity in this seemingly uninterested segment of readers.
Try waiting 48 hours and then send a new campaign to those subscribers that never opened the first mailing. This time, offer a free copy of your latest release if they’re willing to leave a review. Make sure the free offer is clear in the subject line. For example, “Free copy of __ by __ enclosed.”
In most cases, you’ll see a 70-80% open rate and better than 60% click-through rate. That’s quite a bit of engagement squeezed out of a supposedly dry well.
Admittedly, there is a risk involved here. You are conditioning a sizeable chunk of your mailing list never to buy your work, since they’ll receive a free copy soon. This will cost you a few sales, but on the other hand, most of these subscribers wouldn’t have bought your book anyway. So at least you can wring a few reviews out of them. It’s a small trade off that, in my experience and for other authors that have taken the plunge, is definitely worth the trouble. Give this a shot for your next new release.
II) Get more engagement from your back matter.
It’s no shocker that an informal “call to action” section, also known as begging for reviews, at the end of your book is the best time to generate reviews, but how do you squeeze the most reader engagement out of that short paragraph? In my experience, a great call to action has less to do with hitting the right emotional buttons and far more with removing any obstacles in the way of leaving a review.
Here are four of the most common stumbling blocks keeping even enthusiastic fans from leaving feedback. At the end of the list, I’ve included a sample call to action with suggested resolutions for each roadblock in practice.
- Never even seeing the call to action.First and foremost, make sure your request begins on the very same line as “The End” and doesn’t start on the next page. That sounds so trivial, but this little change can usually double the number of eyeballs on your action call in the first place.
- Time constraints.Explicitly state that you’re looking for any sort of feedback, no matter how short or generic. Some readers hear “leave a review” and immediately equate that with “write a book report.” Even if they’re willing to help, few have the time. So they table writing a review for later and… well, life gets in the way and things are lost in the shuffle. Make sure your readers know that even an emoticon thumbs-up/down is better than nothing. Of course, as an author, you prefer insightful and novella-length critique, but as a publisher… heck, you’ll take whatever you can get.
- Confusion between reviewing and rating.Remember that after the last page is finished on a Kindle eReader, Amazon has a pop up page asking the reader to “rate this book” and sometimes answer survey questions about the story’s quality. This is why you have so many readers contacting you and saying they left a review, but you aren’t seeing anything new on the book’s product page. Your fans aren’t being duplicitous. It’s just that the retailer isn’t clear about what they’re doing with this feedback and how it differs from a product review.
- Motivation. Sure, you created something entertaining, but the reader has already compensated you by purchasing your work. Thank goodness for everyone that goes above and beyond and leaves some feedback, but let’s be frank. No one owes you a review, no matter how simple and clear you’ve made the process. You, a stranger, are asking for a favor. It’s perfectly normal for the reader to demand something in return.
Now, per Amazon’s Terms of Service, you can’t offer anything other than a free copy of the book being reviewed in exchange for feedback. That said, you can offer free copies of other books to anyone signing up for your beta reader/advance reader/ mailing list, as long as reviewing this particular book isn’t required. You could even do some type of giveaway contest. Be creative, but the goal here is to offer something of value for the reader if they’ll just contact you. The very act of prodding them into emailing you or reaching out over social media encourages most people to leave a quick review. If not, you’ll have a second chance to remind them when they contact you.
I realize this part seems convoluted and indirect, but this subtle nudging really helps increase not just your review rate, but the level of detail explored in the reviews.
Sample Call to Action:
 THE END… I hope you enjoyed my little tale. Please don’t forget to give this book a quick review on Amazon.  Even just a two-word, “Liked it” or “Hated it” review helps so much. Positive or negative, I am grateful for all feedback from my readers.  Please just swing over to the book page [link] and toss up your review, since the star rating you leave on the next page won’t be visible online. Amazon simply uses that feedback for their internal recommendation engine.
 If you’re interested in becoming a beta reader and receiving FREE advance copies of new releases, just shoot me a head’s up at: __ and I’ll add you to the list. While not required to receive free new releases, I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a quick review of [this book’s title], of any length (one or ten stars, doesn’t matter). This is not a marketing or spam list. You will only be contacted to send you free copies of new releases. Thanks again for your support.
III) Direct approach: How to craft effective review query requests.
Whether you’re submitting requests to reviewers of similar books or semi-professional book review blogs, you’re wasting your time if you aren’t pre-screening and customizing your requests. The shotgun approach just doesn’t work any longer. Here are some sample request templates, with a line-by-line breakdown explaining just why they’ll increase your chances of getting attention.
Direct approach ground rules:
Pre-screen. You should only request reviews from people that meet the following criteria:
- Have a public profile. They list an email and/or website publicly. Don’t stalk them. General rule of thumb: if you can’t find their email within 30 seconds, don’t keep looking. This doesn’t mean you can’t PM someone on a social media network, however. As long as you follow the site’s rules.
- Target only people who have left reviews of a similar book. Not just readers that listed themselves as a fan or rated the book, but those that took the time to write a positive review. If you aren’t sure which book to target, go through the “also bought…” on your product page or bestsellers in your sub-genre. There are free 3rd party services that show you most of your related Amazon products. Here is one particularly useful example that even includes degrees of separation: http://www.yasiv.com
- Follow the author guidelines for any social platform. For example, some groups on Goodreads are great places to reach engaged readers, but be careful. Goodreads has strict rules on unsolicited contacts. You do not want your author account blocked for spamming. Like many social sites, they have a clear do/don’t list for authors: https://www.goodreads.com/author/guidelines
- Customize your pitch. This seems time consuming, I know. Especially if you’re sending out hundreds of requests, but it’s absolutely necessary. It actually saves you work, since a custom contact email will likely have a response rate between 40-50%, whereas generic ones usually have less than 10%. You also won’t annoy potential prospects by coming across as a spammer. You can still use templates, but the beginning needs to be personalized. See the sample below.
- Once contact has been made, NEVER follow up unless they reply to you. If you don’t hear back from someone, don’t send them a reminder. Don’t joggle their elbow. If they agreed to do a review, took a free copy and haven’t left a review in months, oh well. Your time is better spent moving on to someone else rather than prodding them.
- Only use this direct approach for giving away free copies to review. No exceptions. Any kind of unsolicited attempt to make a sale, even letting them know about a huge discount, is spam, by definition. Expect to be ignored.
Okay, ground rules out of the way. Let’s get down in the weeds.
The order of your first paragraph will make or break your proposal. I’ve been on the receiving end of these requests for years, as well as tried out dozens of approaches myself. So far, this method works well (60% response rate across all contact methods). Get straight to the meat of the conversation and then try to hook them. The exact opposite approach of traditional book review requests.
Many authors prefer to lead with a long preamble about their story, motivation for writing or personal biography. They want to be interesting and engaging, but most reviewers don’t care. They’re looking for books that are relevant to their interests. If they don’t know exactly what you want in the first two sentences and why that’s uniquely related to them, they won’t keep reading. Or worse, mark you as spam.
Sample query email for a private individual who has no specific submission guidelines:
Hello Mr. /Ms. X,
 I just read your review of “(similar book)” by ___ and I found it (non-generic compliment and specific reason why you agree).  Based upon that review, I’d like to send you a complimentary copy of my (specific sub-genre): (book title).  This is a tongue in cheek, but realistic tale of a Second American Civil War breaking out in the near future. Neither right nor left wing political.
 If you are interested in reading this story, you can download a free review copy from:
Kindle format: [Hyperlinked to Dropbox]
Epub format: [Hyperlinked to Dropbox]
 There is no obligation to review this, of course. The copy is yours to keep (DRM free), but if you are willing to leave an honest, frank review on Amazon whenever you get a chance, that would help immensely. I am grateful for any feedback you can offer, either positive or negative. If you do leave a review, please be sure to mention that you received a free copy to review, in order to comply with Amazon’s Terms of Service.
Here are the Amazon and Goodreads pages if you would like additional information:
– (I wouldn’t put in short or tracking links in this case. Turns some people off.)
Thank you very much for your time,
(real name or nickname, not pen name)
However you word your request, here are the key points to keep the reader from shrugging this off as spam:
 The first sentence needs to answer the question: “Why am I being uniquely contacted?” Don’t blow smoke up their rear. Be honest and specific and you’ll see a high response rate.
 The second sentence explains exactly what you want and why. Important to squeeze in that this is free. Any hint of trying to make a sale will tick people off.
 The third sentence is your hook. This is different than your generic book description. Here you try to establish a relevant connection to the potential reviewer or at least show your book is similar to the work they enjoyed. The possibilities are endless, but the core principle is the same as for all promotions: relevancy. In the above example, the reviewer had little public information in their Amazon profile, but complained in his review that the source book was “too right-wing political.”
 Remove any barriers to reviewing. You’ll see a huge increase in engagement if the reviewer mustn’t do anything other than download the book. No commitments, no risk. Take out that extra step of responding in order to get their copy.
 Aim for the soft sale. Keep things pressure free and professional for best results.
Normal book review blog query request
The same fundamental still applies and is even more critical here, since these people likely receive many requests every day. So establishing relevancy and then the hook, while religiously following their submission guidelines, is absolutely vital. That’s why I suggest offering a little something extra, like in the following example.
I wish I could take credit for this one, but this was sent to my book review blog. The request did not even loosely fit into the genres or type of author I explicitly spelled out in my submission guidelines. Still, he persuaded me not only to review his work, but even prioritize his book. When I pressed the author for details on his strategy, he admitted that this was a form letter which he only slightly customized for me. Here’s what he wrote with a line-by-line breakdown why it was so effective.
“Dear Pete ,
I was really excited to find your military-fiction focused blog and hoped that you would be interested in reviewing xxxxx. I’m not a vet. However, the research sources for this story are vets. 
I’m a teacher in xxxxx, Colorado. My school coordinates with xxxxx to bring local authors into the classroom. I’m donating all April proceeds from my literary thriller xxxxx to support that program. So we hoped that you would be interested in doing an interview or a guest post about the fundraiser, as well. 
xxxxxxxx is a thoughtful and character driven literary thriller. Think of it as Jason Bourne meets Good Will Hunting. 
[description, bio, links, etc…]”
This author got what he wanted with only a few minutes of effort. Here’s the highlight reel:
 Shows he read all the blog’s details if he got to my preferred nickname.
 Established relevancy right off the bat, even though neither he nor his story were relevant to the blog. Excellent example. A civilian successfully pitched a highbrow, coming-of-age literary tale to a veteran’s blog that primarily reviewed war stories and zombie apocalypses. Mainly by that one sentence which established a relevant connection despite the odds.
 Double hook. A charity giveaway (or close enough) and he offered some small promotion opportunity for me in return. It’s the thought that counts. Classy.
 Finally comes the generic stuff that most authors lead with. I had pretty much already decided to review his book before I even got to the details. His great blurb just sealed the deal.
All the details of this pitch aren’t reproducible, but the theme is. Establish relevancy or some connection first, hook the reviewer and then close the deal with your blurb. Pretty much the opposite approach most authors, publishers and even some agents take.
IV) Where to spray around free copies.
Always good general advice, but here are three specific methods.
- Try this for one month: an unofficial policy of handing out free copies to any reader who contacts you for anything. Even those just liking your Facebook page. Many of these folks will have already read your work, that’s how they found you in the first place, so this also serves as a gentle reminder for them to leave a review.
- Librarything. Yes, I realize the giveaways are not nearly as effective as they once were, but does that matter? For just a few minutes of your time, you can usually net a handful of reviews. It’s small payoff, sure, but requires little effort. One cool feature with LT is that you can “queue up” multiple giveaways at once. For example, try running perpetual four-week giveaways, each beginning the day after the last ended.
- Mailing list sign up and free book offer on product page. If you have a cheap first-in-series tale that you’re plugging hard, then try leading your description off with a link to your mailing list squeeze page. Something along the lines of: “For a limited time, you can get this book for free by signing up to my new release list: [short link]. Please just copy and paste into your browser to receive your free copy.“
Please feel free to add your favorite review hunting tips in the comments!