Help Sales Climb with More
Reviews at Amazon
by Steve Weber
When Keith Donohue’s novel <span
came out, the critics weren’t impressed, even though his publisher was Nan
Talese at Doubleday. In fact, not a single major newspaper reviewed the book. Ask
any big publisher, and they’ll tell you: A novel stiffed by the critics has no
chance of becoming a bestseller.
But the story wasn’t over. A
review copy ended up in the hands of Linda Porco, Amazon.com’s merchandising
director. She passed it around in the office, and everyone loved it. So Porco
tried something new. She got more copies of the book and mailed them to
Amazon’s most active customer reviewers, the ones who review books on the site
as a hobby, assigning five stars to books they love and one star to books they
hate, and providing essays explaining why.
Within weeks, all but one of those
Amazon Top Reviewers posted a rave review. Promptly, <span
became Amazon’s bestselling fiction book, and it reached #26 on the <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>New York Times
extended bestseller list, an unbelievable climb for a novel with no big
newspaper or trade reviews. Now the book is in its eighth printing, and the
story is being shopped to Hollywood. And—oh, yeah—now <span
has plenty of professional reviews.
All this caused quite a stir in
publishing circles, but it didn’t surprise the folks who actually buy books.
Increasingly, readers turn to online reviews written by peers to find out if a
book is worth buying.
Critics argue that amateurs’
reviews are meaningless, that they don’t apply the professional critics’
intellectual rigor. But whatever the amateur reviewers do or don’t lack in
highbrow sensibilities, they make up for in credibility and relevancy.
Good reviews on Amazon are
particularly crucial for books by new authors and for niche books, and it
stands to reason that they boost sales not only at that site but everywhere
people are buying books, although we don’t yet know what percentage of buyers
at brick-and-mortar bookstores made their choice by reading Amazon customer
How to Reach Amazon
strategies call for mailing hundreds of copies to reviewers at magazines and
newspapers. But for a new author and/or a niche book, chasing print reviews can
be little more than a distraction. A better way to launch your campaign is by
identifying and contacting 100 to 300 potential online reviewers and sending a
copy of your book to each respondent who expresses willingness to look at it
and perhaps post an honest critique.
If you spend two or three days
contacting about 300 potential Amazon reviewers, you can expect to receive
about 40 to 50 responses, and wind up with perhaps 35 reviews, a quite
Try the Top
Look for potential reviewers on
Amazon’s Top Reviewers list—which you will find at <span
target the people who regularly post reviews of books similar to yours.
Top Reviewers have special badges
accompanying their pen names, such as Top 1000 Reviewer, Top 500 Reviewer, Top
50 Reviewer, Top 10 Reviewer or #1 Reviewer. Having one of these badges
displayed among your book’s reviews isn’t the same thing as an endorsement by
Amazon—it’s better. It’s a vote by a recognized community leader, someone
who takes reviewing seriously and has earned a reputation for helpfulness.
Rankings of the Top Reviewers are
determined by a point system based on the number of reviews written and the
number of positive votes those reviews receive when people click Yes in
response to “Was this review helpful to you?”
Many Top Reviewers review several
books a week—sometimes at the invitation of an author or publisher, but
usually by just following their personal interests. Despite receiving no
payment, they compete furiously to climb the rankings ladder. The No. 1
reviewer, Harriet Klausner, has posted more than 12,000 reviews and, not
surprisingly, says she’s a speed-reader. It’s not unusual for Klausner to post
10 or more reviews in a single day.
Clicking on a top reviewer’s pen name
takes you to the reviewer’s Amazon profile. Some reviewers use their profiles
to explain what types of books they prefer and whether they accept unsolicited
books. Some provide postal or email addresses.
But Amazon gives you a way to
reach reviewers who don’t display any contact information in their profiles. At
the top right of the profile page, click the link Invite to be an Amazon
Friend. This generates a pop-up form where you can enter a message that Amazon
will forward as email.
A soft-sell approach works best
with Top Reviewers. Offer a complimentary book in return for their considering
it for review—no obligation. Carefully screen out reviewers whose profile
indicates they won’t be interested in your book. And don’t ask reviewers to
return the copy you send.
Here’s a sample script you might
use to approach Amazon Top Reviewers:
Dear John Doe:
I got your name from the
list of Amazon Top Reviewers. I’ve written a book, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>How to Grow Organic Strawberries. I
noticed from your Amazon profile that you frequently review gardening books. If
you think you might be interested in reading my book and posting an honest
review of it on Amazon, I’ll gladly send a complimentary copy if you’ll reply
with your postal mailing address. There is no obligation, of course.
Only a small percentage of the Top
Reviewers are likely to respond to your offer. Some are inundated with review
copies from publishers who already have their mailing addresses and know their
reading preferences. And some make it a practice not to review a book from a
new author unless they can honestly give it a rating of at least three stars
out of five.
Use Subjects and Styles to
Amazon users who have reviewed
books with subjects or writing styles like your book’s are also worth
contacting. You can use the techniques outlined above and click on the pen name
displayed with a review to get the reviewer’s Amazon profile. Then use the
Amazon Friends invitation to send a personalized message, such as:
Dear Mary Roe:
I got your name from the
Amazon book review you posted of the 2003 book <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Complete Guide to Organic Fruit. I
recently wrote a book that appeals to the same audience, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>How to Grow Organic
Strawberries. If you think you might be interested in reading it
and perhaps reviewing it on Amazon, I’ll gladly send a complimentary copy if
you’ll respond with your mailing address. There is no obligation, of course.
These readers may consider it a
treat to discover a new book in their field of interest. And positive ratings
from them can surface your book in Amazon’s recommendations to buyers of
Other Prospects Worth
Other good potential reviewers
· acquaintances and colleagues
interested in your book’s topic
· participants in Internet discussion
boards and mailing lists relevant to your book
· visitors who registered on your
Web site and people who read your blog
You can find still more
prospective reviewers by posting a message on Amazon’s discussion board
dedicated to customer book reviews: <span
Don’t ask for reviews from people
who haven’t actually read your book, not even if that group includes your
mother. The result will be an unconvincing review that detracts from your book’s
credibility rather than bolsters it.
Once your book is selling, you’ll
have a steady stream of potential reviewers. Whenever you receive emails from
readers who praise your book or request further information, you might respond
Thank you for the kind words
about my book. If you ever have a spare moment, it would be a great help if you
could post a review of it on Amazon and let other potential readers know why
you liked it. It’s not necessary to write a lengthy, formal review—a
summary of the comments you sent me would be fine. Here’s a link to the review
form for my book:
The link at the end of the message
will take the reader to Amazon’s Web form for book reviews. To customize the
link for your book, replace “[ISBN]” with your book’s ISBN.
Will giving away several dozen
copies of your book hurt its sales? Perhaps you’ll lose a sale or two but gain
much more from word of mouth. Readers who enjoy the book will recommend it to
friends, and those new readers will keep the chain of recommendations going.
Although it’s perfectly ethical to
seek reviews, don’t do anything to suggest that you’re expecting favorable
treatment. If you succeed in getting lots of reviews, there are likely to be
some negative ones.
“I see a fair number of books that
I don’t like, and I say so—including those sent to me as review copies,”
says Jane Corn, one of Amazon’s top 150 reviewers. “Anything else seems
unethical to me.”
You can safeguard yourself a bit
by requesting that Top Reviewers not post a review if they simply hate the
book. But it’s the reviewer’s call. Sometimes reviewers are willing to give
prepublication feedback, providing valuable advice on fixing a book’s
weaknesses. Don’t expect that, though, and don’t ask for it.
You might want to avoid sending
your book to reviewers who usually post harshly negative reviews, but don’t shy
away from those who offer frank criticism. These voices lend credibility to a
book, Corn says.
Obviously, positive reviews can
help your book, but negative reviews on Amazon can have a bigger impact,
according to a study published by the Yale School of Management.
Multiple glowing reviews for a
book tend to be dismissed by shoppers as hype generated by the author or
publisher, the study found. Negative reviews are taken more seriously because
buyers usually believe they represent honest criticism from disappointed
Buyers understand that no book
pleases everyone, and that any book reviewed often enough will get an
occasional thumbs-down, but a single detailed, critical review can still be
devastating, particularly for a nonfiction how-to book.
The study, “The Effect of Word of
Mouth on Sales: Online Book Reviews,” examined random titles from <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Global Books in Print
and bestsellers from Publishers
Weekly. You can read it in its entirety at <span
Early on, Amazon’s decision to
allow readers to post negative book reviews infuriated publishers, chief
executive Jeff Bezos recalls. “We had publishers writing to us, saying, ‘Why in
the world would you allow negative reviews? Maybe you don’t understand your
business—you make money when you sell things. Get rid of the negative
reviews, and leave the positive ones.’”
Yes, negative reviews can hurt
sales in the short term, but over the long term, allowing criticism builds
credibility and helps shoppers decide what to buy, Bezos says: “We don’t make
money when we sell things; we make money when we help people make purchase
Steve Weber is the author
of Plug Your Book! Online
Book Marketing for Authors (2007, Weber Books). For more
information, visit www.PlugYourBook.com.