Why Getting Reviews on Amazon Should be Your First Priority (& Why bookstores leave me overwhelmed))

Reviews are the reason Amazon is where it is. The other day I was in a brick and mortar store and I was struck by the lack of information there was about the books I was browsing. I needed social reassurance, because I grew up in the 90’s and 2000’s and that’s what I’m used to receiving.

Image courtesy of weheartit.com

Perhaps my parents relied on word of mouth recommendations from friends and family – the current generation depends upon several detailed written reviews. Without book reviews, all we can do is judge a book by it’s cover, and that’s a tough task. We crave something more. We crave the nod from more than a handful of people saying “this is worth spending your hard earned money on”. Or, “don’t waste your time”.

We live in a review-driven society (who doesn’t check out hotels on Trip Advisor or restaurants on Yelp), so having a review or several is going to drive book sales (providing they are positive of course) like nothing else.

Here are some tips on garnering reviews:

  • While it’s always best to garner organic reviews, it may take several book sales before you get them. Very few people are motivated enough to leave a review without being asked to do so. To get the ball rolling, give readers a nudge in the right direction. When people tell us that they like a book, we ask if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review. It’s a no pressure request, and many are more than happy to do so.
  • Just prior to the book’s release, I ask several people in our target audience to review ARCs for vital critique and feedback. At the same time, I encourage them to leave a review on Amazon too. Be sure to give explicit instructions by giving them the direct address to go to – yes include a hyperlink in your email exchange with them – and explain how reviews drive sales. Because they do. They really do! And not everyone is aware of that.
  • Add a paragraph at the end of your book pointing people in the direction of your Amazon page and asking them to leave reviews. This is particularly easy with eBooks since reviews can be written right away without having to open up the computer. {edit: Amazon’s ‘Before you go…’ feature also recommends readers to leave a review. However a personal plea from the author is a lot more persuasive!}
  • Never force a review and never, ever pay for a review. Additionally, reviews solicited from friends and family are the least helpful, and painfully obvious to other readers most of the time. In fact they may harm more than they help, especially if that person shares a last name with the author (!), hypes it up too much, or the biggest crime – has never even seen the book and doesn’t mention any details or provide any value other than “best book ever written!”

Btw, the wonderful Dana Lynn Smith has written a new eBook titled ‘How to Get Your Book Reviewed’, which I am yet to read, but have no doubt it will be a fantastic resource as Dana is so well versed in book marketing and promotions. To get news of it’s release and a 20% off coupon, leave your details here. 

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on garnering Amazon reviews, and how you go about it. Leave a comment, and let me know your tips! Also, how do you feel when you browse bookstores now? Is it still a pleasure, or do you find it unsatisfying?

Laura Pepper Wu is the co-founder of 30 Day Books: a book studio. She has worked with a variety of authors to successfully promote their books, including many Amazon best-sellers. Laura is the author of wedding non-fiction guides and book marketing guides 77 Ways to Find New Readers for Your Self-Published Book and Fire Up Amazon!

Laura also runs Ladies Who Critique, a critique-partner finding site. When she's not working at the studio, you can find her walking her dog, "yoga-ing" or at a coffee shop in Seattle.


  • http://theladydothscribe.blogspot.com/ talei Loto

    Totally understand amazon reviews being so important! Some great advice here too, I review for my writing buddies who I’ve met through blogging but only if I like the book. I wouldn’t want to feel obliged to because then it wouldn’t be an honest review.

    And thank you for popping over to my blog. I have entered your name into the draw for my ‘Who is Mr Satoshi? contest. I noticed you mentioned living in Japan, I did too. And, I do miss it. Too much.

    Happy Writing! ;-)

  • http://laurapepperwu.wordpress.com LPepWu

    Thanks Talei! Yep, it’s important not to force a review, and natural is always best. I’m advocating honest reviews only, but those need a push in the right direction sometimes too!

    Japan will have that effect on people, ne? :D

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  • Jennifer Stuart

    It’s funny to me how the things that start to matter when you write a book are things that you had no concept of before starting it! Or at least, that seems to be true for me. I had not really thought about reviews in that much depth yet, so I am grateful that I saw the link to your article. Thanks :)

  • http://www.30daybooks.com 30 Day Books

    So very true Jennifer :) And it’s why most people outside of the retail industry have no idea how important reviews are to authors, hair salons, restaurants etc. Now I try to review everywhere I go as well as the books I read!

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  • http://twitter.com/ColinFBarnes Colin F. Barnes

    Good Advice. I don’t think reviews are the ‘be all and end all’, but combined with good covers and blurbs they do take people who are on the fence about buying over the edge to an actual sale. I wonder though whether or not their effectiveness has diminished of late due to all the sock puppetry and buying review scandals by some of the leading indie authors. Hopefully the public will realise it’s a minority thing and still put value on customer reviews.

  • laurapepwu

    Yep, I think you’re right Colin. Things have changed since I wrote this post, but reviews are still a huge deal. Did you see the post on The Passive Voice about Amazon taking reviews down over the last few weeks? (Post is titled Et tu, Amazon?). Well worth knowing about and quite shocking. Authors are well aware of the review scandals going on, but for the average reader outside of writerland, they can still make or break a sale. Social proof is a big deal!

  • http://twitter.com/TheMiamiJones A.J. Stewart

    Great advice as always, Laura. In business, as in writing, it is best practice to facilitate good testimonials (on Amazon et al, read reviews), as step #2. Step #1? Wow your customer. For authors that means write the best possible book. And a pro cover and blurb. And yeah, infinite other variables. But asking for reviews without expectation is important.

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  • http://aalbc.com Troy Johnson

    I may be in the minority here but I find Amazon’s reviews so inconsistently written, they are useful on the whole. I’d bet a significant percentage of the books have as many 1 star as 5 stars ratings. The user reviews are written largely by amateurs, who are of course qualified to give their opinion but are generally poor at crafting a well written book review.

    I’m not sure why a bookstore would overwhelm you. Try visiting a good independently owned store. Generally these stores have professionals that can help you find a book you enjoy you’d enjoy based upon you preferences, and aptitude. If you visit the store frequently, the staff will get to know you and get better at helping you find the right book.

    Finally, “never, ever” pay for a review, what is that all about? I’m not suggesting one pay for a review that you cajoled your neighbor to post on Amazon, but paying for a professional review in 2012 is perfectly fine — especially for an unknown, self-published author. Consider such respected companies as Kirkus who, through their Discoveries program, give independent authors an opportunity to have a critical review written and published with people will actually see it.

    Discerning readers read reviews from known reviewers on respected platforms.

    Still I find it curious you would find a bookstores with curated selections and a sales staff overwhelming, but not a website with a million plus titles and reviews written by God know who?

  • laurapepwu

    Hi Troy,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I welcome contrary opinions and liked reading your points.

    This post was written in July of last year. Amazon has certainly become a much more crowded space since then, and the sock puppeting that went on this summer (and news such as John Locke and other authors paying for reviews) has also made the credibility of Amazon.com reviews much lower IMHO.

    However, I still believe online reviews to be the backbone of any book marketing campaign. To me, for self-published authors it’s absolutely crucial to make this a priority, and for several reasons:

    1. While you and others may seek a “well written book review”, a huge number of casual browsers on Amazon do not. They simply want to know whether a book will entertain them, whether it is free from typos and grammar mistakes, whether the story is any good and if it’s worth the price. They are casual readers looking for a good read. When I look for a restaurant, I prefer Yahoo/ Yelp! reviews to NYT restaurant critiques. I want a restaurant that’s tasty, affordable and fun, not a Michelin star winner.

    2. You’re right about Amazon being crowded – there are 3 million titles +. This makes our job as indie authors a hard one, but there are certain things we can do stand out from the rest. Getting more reviews than the average book does is one big way of doing so. Reviews are social proof that other people are reading this title, and social proof goes a long way in our purchasing decisions. Reviews also give a potential reader more info to go on than the book description.

    3. The number of reviews a book has factors hugely in Amazon’s algorithm. That means they will promote these books more on their recommendation queues, and those books will show up higher up in the search results. That’s a very big deal. More visibility = more sales.

    4. I have seen from my own experience, that once a book gets more than a handful of reviews (friends and family are often the first to review books and won’t count for much), book sales take off much faster. My guess is that it’s a result of all of the points above combined. All of the advice on this blog is after all, based on my experiences in book marketing – no “theory” here.

    On the issue of not paying for a book review, perhaps it wasn’t clear that I am talking specifically about paying for Amazon reviews. I agree that a Midwest Book Review is a great asset, and well worth investing in (and can of course be added to an Amazon page). But there are also book bloggers and websites charging indie authors $100+ for a review without credentials. This is not something I would ever endorse. (See here for the whole kerfuffle it caused earlier this year: http://michelegormanwriter.blogspot.com/2012/07/should-bloggers-charge-for-reviews.html)

    Finally, I like your point about going to an independent bookstore and quizzing the staff for recommendations. I agree, that for some, this is an excellent way to choose a book.

    I wrote this particular post after visiting my local B&N (the only bookstore around me in the Californian suburbs where I was living at the time), which has since closed down. It was huge, like a mega-store, crowded with titles. I didn’t know where to begin, and the staff were certainly not able to spend enough time with me to help me make a decision.

    I’m a huge fan of indie bookstores and for the most part find their staff to be knowledgeable and friendly. I spend a lot of time in them, and I often pick up a title or two that I’ve heard about from a friend or elsewhere. But I like to take my time choosing books – really take my time – and I love to read a variety of opinions when making a choice which is why I find online book shopping rather satisfying. I’m a huge research-junkie, and find the Internet to be great for that.

    I can also be quite shy when I’m book-shopping. Honestly, I often book-shop when I’m in a quiet and contemplative mood. The last thing I want to do at those times is to talk to a staff member. I can be quite introverted that way, and I don’t think I’m alone. The recommendation systems that online sites have are a wonderful tool for me. Because of these systems in place, I can’t ever remember feeling overwhelmed on Amazon, B&N and so on. Technology is smart.

    If we are to stand out and get our book in front of new potential readers – which is what this is all about – online reviews can go a long way for an unknown self-published author hoping to work the Amazon system.

  • laurapepwu

    Agree, 100% A.J.