Please welcome guest Dr. Bojan Tunguz — theoretical physicist (think Sheldon but more normal), Hall of Fame Amazon TOP 10 reviewer, super nice guy I connected with on Twitter and Google+. Wise words for any writer, reader, or reviewer.
I have been writing reviews for Amazon for almost seven years. What started with a few simple book recommendations has now become a hobby, and a passion. The reasons why I write these reviews are probably similar to the reasons why many other active Amazon reviewers do it: I read a lot and like to share my impressions with others, it improves my writing, serves as a blog which reaches a fairly wide audience, gives me a sense of accomplishment, and now that I am part of the Amazon Vine program Amazon sends me free stuff. These days I also enjoy helping publishers and writers with their new books, and feeling like a part of the ongoing publishing revolution.
If you are a writer, you absolutely want to get as many (positive) Amazon reviews as possible. When it comes to electronic publishing Amazon is the undisputed king. I believe that a big part of Amazon’s success, at least initially, was their review system that allowed consumers to freely post their reviews without censorship and other restrictions. Even if the majority of the reviews were negative, Amazon would allow them to stand. Today this seems like an obvious thing to do, but in the early days of e-commerce this was a radical notion, on par perhaps with the way that Wikipedia has crowdsourced encyclopedia writing. This radical openness has in turn led to greater trust that consumers put into buying products from Amazon. A recent study found that after the recommendations of family and friends, people trust the online reviews the most when it comes to purchasing books or products. They even trust it slightly more than specialized trade journals or blogs.
A major reason why you would want to get Amazon reviews over almost any other from of endorsement is that they are placed right there on Amazon’s page, an easy scroll away from the “Add to cart” button. The fewer clicks there are between the purchase of your book and the reviews, the better.
Finally, the most important reason why you would want to get Amazon reviews for your book is simple: those reviews work. Amazon does not reveal any concrete information on how effective their reviews are, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to support the notion that they are indeed very effective. I have been told directly by a small-scale publisher that my reviews alone have helped them more than anything else that they had tried to promote their books. Furthermore, Amazon’s Vine program is completely predicated on the notion that reviews are a very effective way of generating interest for new books and other products. Amazon charges publishers for the privilege of having their books included in the program, and presumably publishers deem it a worthwhile expense.
So how do you go about getting more Amazon reviews? If you have a lot of family, friends, and online social media followers, then you can ask them for a favor to write a review. However, this is a very uncertain way of going about it – many of the people you know may not have ever written a review, and unless you have close to Guy Kawasaki’s online following you will not get that many Amazon reviews. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to go directly to Amazon reviewers. Approaching total strangers with a request for a review can be intimidating, but if your book is halfway decent you may be able to find a few who will be happy to help. Most reviewers don’t list their contact information, but those who do are probably more likely to be amenable to being approached by strangers with review requests.
As a top 50 Amazon reviewer (currently #17) and a Hall of Fame reviewer, I get a lot of requests every day from authors for reviews of their books. Writing reviews is a time-consuming process, and for the most part I don’t have the time to even reply to most of the requests, let alone to actually read and review the books. That said, I still do try to accommodate as many authors as possible, especially if I think that I’d enjoy reading their works. However, some authors make very basic and avoidable mistakes that instantly make me delete their message, or at the very least subject me to a less-than-enjoyable experience when dealing with them. If you are looking to approach an Amazon reviewer with a review request, I’d like to offer you a few tips on how to go about this. All of the tips below are based on my own experience.
1. Start small. If you are a new or otherwise obscure author, try publishing shorter works before going into a full-fledged book. The size of roughly a Kindle Single (30 to 80 printed pages) is an ideal length in my opinion. Reviewers are much more likely to take a look at your work if it is not a significant time commitment.
2. Look for reviewers who have already reviewed books that are similar to yours. Many authors just concentrate on the top reviewers, but in my opinion this is a misguided approach. The reviewer ranking certainly carries some weight, but it is preferable to get a meaningful review for a book from someone who appreciates it in its own right than a vacuous review from one of the top reviewers.
3. Make sure the reviewer has published many reviews. Reviewers who only review a book or two are usually the ones who just enjoyed those particular works, and are not really interested in reading and reviewing books in general.
4. Make sure that the reviewer is currently active. Many previously avid reviewers who had been active in the past may no longer be writing reviews.
5. When writing to a reviewer use their name, and be especially careful not to use a wrong/misspelled name. Many reviewers don’t list their full or real name. Address those with the Amazon handle that they use.
6. Make sure that you use proper grammar and spelling in your corresponding e-mail. Bad grammar/spelling are a dead giveaway that the author’s writing is not very good and is not worth reading the proposed book.
7. It should go without saying, but you have to offer a free copy of your book. Even if it is in a printed, and not ebook, format. This is part of your marketing expense, and you don’t want to be stingy about it. Almost no reviewer would accept your book for review if you charge them for it.
8. Don’t offer a book for review on a topic that the reviewer has clearly stated in her profile that she would not be interested in reviewing.
9. Use consistent formatting throughout your e-mail. Inconsistent formatting is a clear sign of a cut-and-paste message.
10. Don’t boast that your novel is the next big thing and that the corrupt publishing world is not recognizing your genius.
11. Don’t send a book on a topic that is clearly against the reviewer’s beliefs or values. For instance, a book bashing Catholicism to a Catholic, or a book bashing environmentalism to a Greenpeace activist are unwarranted. Many times this information is clearly visible in the reviewer’s profile, blog (if he has one) or can be gleaned from the kinds of books that he reads.
12. Don’t mention how you came across the reviewer’s name on the list of top reviewers without going into specifics of which (if any) of the reviewer’s reviews you had liked.
13. Don’t mention a specific review that you liked without actually giving the said review a helpful vote. The reviewers on most websites live for those helpful votes, and they are, quite literally, the only tangible compensation that they get out of this effort.
14. Never, ever offer to pay money for the review. This is not only unethical and against the policies of most websites, but also very tacky and crass as it compromises the review.
15. Once the reviewer has agreed to receive and take a look at your book, don’t pester him incessantly with demands for a swift review. Most reviewers are very busy with their own lives, work, other books they are reading, and numerous other activities that they have to do. They are doing you a favor, and it may take many months before they can finally get to your work. If you need book publicity sooner than that, look into other ways of getting it.
16. Acknowledge and send the review a thank you note once she posts the review of your book. Do this even if the review was negative. Also, be sure to give the said review a helpful vote if you enjoyed it.
17. If the reviewer posts a negative or even a scathing review of your book, don’t retaliate by giving it an unhelpful vote and getting all of your friends and relatives to do the same. This is extremely unprofessional. You should assume the risks of possible negative reviews in advance, and deal with those in a mature way. If you can’t, then you really shouldn’t be publishing books in places that allow for customer feedback.
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