Book Reviews And How To Get Them

by Marylee MacDonald in For Writers Who Need Readers

How can new authors get book reviews? It doesn’t happen by magic. Before you can effectively market your book, you need 30 to 50 book reviews in online bookstores.

book reviews and bookstores

Do people buy books in physical bookstores or online? In the past year, only 5 percent of Americans entered a bookstore. Self-published and small/independent press authors have almost no chance of getting their books into a bookstore. Yes, maybe one local store will stock your book on the “local authors'” shelf, but they won’t put your book on the front tables. Big New York publishers lay claim to that space. And even then, fiction authors compete with authors of cookbooks, biographies, and self-help books. Online bookstores give new (unknown) authors a fighting chance. In online stores, book reviews are the key to gaining a readership.
Image from Pixabay via louda2455


Why? Because book reviews provide social proof. Let’s say you’re a reader whose favorite genre is Cozy Mysteries. (Most readers have a pretty narrow bandwidth.) One novel you’re considering has 250 4- and 5-star reviews. The other has three equally glowing reviews. Both novels have similar covers. Which one will you choose? You bet! That’s because readers want to read books other people have enjoyed.

It’s hard to market a book if it only has one or two reviews. Who would buy it? Readers have a “wait and see” attitude.

But, once you have a boatload of four- and five-star reviews, you can Tweet out your reviews, run giveaways and contests, schedule Facebook ads, and find takers in Goodreads’ giveaways.

Let me also briefly mention one more reason to concentrate on book reviews. That’s Bookbub.

Bookbub is one of the most effective ways to get thousands of readers to download your book. You will have to pay Bookbub money upfront, and you will have to offer a deeply discounted book to their readership. But, even that won’t guarantee you a spot in a Bookbub promotion.

They don’t take just any book. In addition to being well edited, your book must have social proof. Here’s what they say:

Reader reviews and ratings help our editors get a sense of how readers have responded to your book, and they are a crucial element of the selection process. While there is no specific “minimum requirement” for reviews, our editors are generally more likely to select books with higher numbers of authentic and positive customer reviews. This is why we rarely accept new releases for Featured Deals — books with established platforms and positive reviews tend to perform best with our readers. Note that these must be legitimate reviews, and that we do examine reviews for veracity.

We recommend browsing through the books we’re featuring in your category to get a sense of what a competitive number of positive reviews is for that genre. Getting 12 reviews for your book might be a big accomplishment, but it wouldn’t make a book competitive in BookBub’s Contemporary Romance category. If your book wasn’t selected for a Featured Deal, look at the platforms of the books that were and resubmit when you have a comparable number of reviews.–Bookbub

What Is My Experience With Book Reviews?

In August, 2014 All Things That Matter Press published my first novel, Montpelier Tomorrow. ATTM Press is an independent publisher (meaning that I didn’t pay them anything to edit, format and print my book). They provided a tip sheet of marketing ideas, but like all independent publishers, they expected me to do the legwork.
I soon learned what worked and what didn’t work. Posting blurbs in Facebook groups where romance and thriller writers promote free e-books did not net me any readers. Readers who liked romance fiction with hunky guys on the cover would not enjoy what I had written. Besides, I wanted to sell books, not give them away. Wrong again.
I hate to say it, but the market is saturated. Plus, it’s hard to get readers to buy a book when so many authors give their books away for free. In the five years since this article–“The Ten Awful Truths About Book Publishing“–was first published, the plight of the unknown author has only grown worse.

Getting Friends and Family To Write Book Reviews

Most writers can sell 100 to 200 books to their family and friends. Those might be e-books or paperbacks, but if you’re self-published or published by a small/independent press, you’re going to have a hard time exceeding those numbers. I’m talking fiction here. Nonfiction is a much easier sell, especially if you can tell people how to make money, lose weight, or improve their marriages.

Before someone buys a product (and your book turns into a commodity the instant it’s published), your friends and family need seven prompts or reminders. This means you can’t just send one e-mail telling folks your book’s out. No. You will have to keep bugging them. And, ideally, you would want to bug them in the run-up to the release date.

Space your reminders out over a period of weeks. Explain that you don’t have X-number of free publishers’ copies to hand out. In fact, you have to buy your books, even those you send out for review purposes. You want them to buy the book between August 9 and August 12. Give them buy links in your e-mails. That initial burst of focused buying is the best thing your friends and family can do for you.

What then?

Let’s say they’ve pressed the “buy” button.

Reading the book requires them to make another decision. People exhibit a lot of passive aggressive behavior when it comes to reading. Plus, maybe they’ve got so many books stacked up on their bedside table that yours is just another burdensome reminder of how overextended they are. Maybe they only read mysteries, and your book is an urban fantasy. Maybe they’re too tired at the end of the day to read. They’d rather watch Netflix. You can’t know what’s inside people’s heads.

A third decision comes when you ask your inner circle to write book reviews. My experience is that 10 to 15 percent of my acquaintances are actually willing to do all three things. It’s baffling, but that’s the way it is. Some will buy, but not read. Some will read, but not enjoy. Others will simply wish you’d stop talking about your writing. Bake some cookies, Grandma! Or, do you have any plans to write a children’s book? (Yes, of course, I’d be happy to have written the Harry Potter books and be the richest woman in the UK, but that isn’t going to happen.)

book reviews and family celebrating

When you publish your book, will your family celebrate? Will they write glowing reviews, and will Amazon then spot them as family members and remove the reviews? No doubt some in your inner circle will feel glad that you’ve achieved your dream of becoming a “published author.” However, your sisters, brothers, aunts, parents, and children may feel secretly jealous of the time you’ve devoted to writing, and they won’t understand why you will now have to devote even more time to self-promotion. Don’t be surprised to find yourself feeling like Blanche Dubois, in Streetcar Named Desire. “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” Image from Pixabay via TawnyNina


By the time my short story collection, Bonds of Love & Blood, appeared in January, 2016, I had a much better grasp of the tools that could help me get book reviews in online stores. I understood that I must find readers who enjoy literary short stories, a harder sell in today’s novel-dominated book marketplace.

Surprisingly, I discovered that it was actually harder to get my inner circle to write book reviews for my second book. For the first book folks had stepped outside their comfort zones and ventured into the unfamiliar territory of posting a review. But when I asked them to do this a second time, most shied away.

Don’t worry! You can find people who appreciate your book. You may not become a “best-selling author,” but you can get reviews.

Paid And Giveaway Sites for Book Reviews

Use the strategies and sites below to get reader reviews. These reviews are NOT advance publication reviews of the sort that appear in newspapers and that might go on a cover blurb. For that, you need to read my previous post on “Ten Honest Review Sites.”
The resources below will help you get book reviews from ordinary readers. Know, in advance, that you may have to provide these readers free copies of your book in exchange for a review.
To be in compliance with Amazon’s terms of service, you must ask the reviewer to place the following disclaimer in the review. “I received this book in exchange for an honest review.”

Readers’ Favorite

You can get one free review from Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest. If you’re in a big hurry, you can order their 3-review express package for $129 or their 5-review package for $199. What I appreciate about this site is that they post reviews on Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest. Because Readers’ Favorite charges a fee, Amazon won’t allow these reviews to be posted as book reviews. You can, however, use them as editorial endorsements by entering excerpts in your Author page.

Reader Views

Reader Views has some terrific book reviewers. As with Readers’ Favorite, Reader Views will post one official review to Goodreads and Barnes & Noble. (To understand why, read the article on their site about why Amazon refuses to allow them to post.) Here’s how Reader Views explains it:
We do not post the reviews on, Amazon in Canada or Amazon in UK because we have been banned along with many other review sites, individual readers, and bloggers. We are in direct competition with their CreateSpace paid review service. More information here.
If you want ten additional reviews, invest in their publicity package, and see if they’ll approve you for a monthly book giveaway. Reviewers who receive the books through a giveaway ought to be allowed to post reviews to Amazon, as long as they include the “honest review” disclaimer.

Choosy Bookworm

The site that has yielded the most reviews for me is Choosy Bookworm. Their standard plan gives you 30 e-mail contacts for $125, and their premium plan (at $299) gives you 50 names. About 40 to 60 percent of readers actually get around to posting a review. When you send your book, you must always alert readers to include the Amazon disclaimer.

Here’s what “Choosy” says:

  1. We will advertise your eBook to our readers (published or pre-release)
  2. Interested readers will sign up to receive your eBook for free
  3. You send the eBook as a MOBI or PDF; or you gift per Amazon
  4. Readers will read your book and post a review on Amazon / GoodReads

On the down side, Choosy’s readers do not typically enjoy literary fiction. They read romances, women’s fiction, mysteries, and the like. If you put your book on their site, make sure you describe it in such a way that readers can self-select. I offered one book that had a not-very-graphic sex scene, and a reader was offended because she hadn’t been forewarned.

Approach Authors Through Their Websites

From the most recent marketing info I’ve seen, I’ve learned that the biggest buyers of fiction are other authors. Stands to reason. Writers are readers, too.

Two authors contacted me recently and asked me to review their books. I don’t review books on my blog, but I am happy to read a book and post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I purchased the books and read them on vacation. One was a terrific YA novel, The Eye-Dancers, by Michael S. Fedison, and the other a heart-stopping thriller–School of the Assassins by W.K. Blais. It’s safe to say that other authors are going to understand the importance of reviews and will try to accommodate.

Ask Readers to Leave A Review

Half-way through your e-book and at the end, you need to have a link to the “write a customer review” page. Don’t just link to the “buy” page of your book. They’ve already bought it, or you’ve given them the book. Link to the exact place where those stars show up. Make it super easy for readers to leave reviews, and they will.

Goodreads “Friend” Strategy

If you’re on Goodreads, that’s wonderful. You’re chatting it up on forums and participating in discussions, but is that getting you reviews? No.

Try this. Find a best-selling book that’s in the same genre as the book you’ve written. Look at the recent reviews of  the book you admire, and read the 4 and 5-star reviews. What you’re looking for are reviewers who generally rank books highly. Read the reviews and eliminate the curmudgeons and meat-heads. When you find reviews you like, ask to become that person’s friend, and mention that you’re doing so because you liked their recent review. You can add 15 friends daily and stay in compliance with Goodreads’ rules. Don’t promote your book!

When you run a giveaway, Goodreads notifies your friends. When you do a blog post, Goodreads tells your followers. This, at least, gives you a shot at being on that person’s radar.

In January, 2016 Amazon closed Shelfari, a site with very active discussion communities. Read this article to see how that loss affected one avid reader, and know that Amazon is now in charge of Goodreads. Many Shelfari readers have moved over to Goodreads, and this might be an opportunity to introduce yourself.

Author Networking Megasheet

If you are an author and want to network with other authors, you’ll find almost 300 names on the Author Networking Megasheet. You must have Google Sheets to gain access to this database, but if you do, it could be a great way to find readers in your genre. Add your name to the bottom of the list, and then search out authors via Google’s search engine. You might want to do book reviews for five or six authors, but solicit five or six others to do reviews for you. Amazon has gotten pretty smart about removing reviews if authors appear to be trading.

Dactyl Review

Dactyl Review is a site for authors of literary fiction. To have a book reviewed, you must first post a review. You will not get a large number of reviews, but the review you do get won’t cost you anything. Here are the rules.

Dactyl Review is a community of reviewers, literary fiction writers, like you. We do not have reviewers on staff. All the reviewing is done by the community. If you would like to become involved, review a literary fiction novel and post it here.  Then you can offer your novel to others for review here. If you like, you can offer to do a review exchange with one of our other reviewers whose books are offered here.  If a literary fiction writer has already reviewed your book, you can ask that writer to submit the review here. Read more about our mission here.”


I’m not going to talk about Wattpad in this post, except to explain generally how it works. Wattpad claims to be the world’s largest community for readers and writers, and “everything is free.” If you’re going to be active on Wattpad, you’ll be using your phone a lot and posting your serialized, genre fiction three or four times a week. If you’re writing a novel about zombies, werewolves, science fiction, romance, fantasies, or mysteries, then this is definitely a place for you to participate. Fan fiction (aka fanfiction) is also big on this site. Fan fiction is a work of fiction based on characters in a well known book, but not written by the author of that book.

Wattpad works by blasting out notices to your fans. When you release a new installment, your fans comment in short bursts via their cell phones. “I love your characters!” “That’s awesome.” As the reviews pile up, Wattpad features you as one of their stars. That might help you get a publishing contract or movie deal, and if you’re a young writer in one Wattpad’s genres, this could way for you to gain “social proof.”

Book Review No Nos

Is it possible to buy book reviews? Yes, it is. You can buy book reviews on Fiverr. If Amazon finds out, they will ban you and take your book down.

One last thought. If you don’t enjoy a book, don’t post a review. On Goodreads a 3-star rating is considered average, but if I can’t honestly rank a book higher than that, I don’t want to have my words up there, stinging the author’s heart.





  • Marylee MacDonald

    Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, BODY LANGUAGE, and THE BIG BOOK OF SMALL PRESSES AND INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, a Wishing Shelf Book Award, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.

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5 Responses to “Book Reviews And How To Get Them”

  1. Sonni Quick says:

    Interesting. I’m not at the point of needing reviews yet but I don’t think it’s wise to wait until the last minute to figure out what to do. I’ve recently read some not so good stuff when it comes to making money on Amazon and kindle because you practically have to give your book away for pennies. But I also know how many books I’ve read through bookbub because they are often free and I’m broke. I do like to leave reviews, though, because i know they are important. I’ve also gotten a few very appreciate replies from authors when I sincerely tell them I enjoyed their book. There was a lot of helpful info here. Thanks.

  2. Barbara Lorna Hudson says:

    Thanks so much for this. I am a bit less ignorant now, though still nervous of this strange book promotion world.

    • It is truly a strange new world in publishing, and more and more driven not just by the internet, but by cell phones. I’ve been astonished to find folks who’ve read MONTPELIER TOMORROW on a phone (and while standing in line at the post office, no less). One of the biggest challenges for any author over 60 is figuring out how to effectively use the internet. We didn’t come into this digital world until late in life, and there’s a lot to learn. I’m constantly taking online courses to try to get myself up to speed.

    • It would be easier if we had grown up in the digital age. There’s so much to learn.