Guest post by Hope Marston, an Amazon Top Reviewer
My thirty-second children’s book was released a few days before the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebrations began. Thirty of my titles had been published by traditional companies. When I finished revising Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey – The War of 1812, it was too late to find a publisher who could release it by July 19, 2012. Consequently I would have to spend the bicentennial years marketing the book myself. I needed a plan, one without pitfalls, but with pleasant perks and plentiful publicity.
My Marketing Plan
As I was developing my plan, I read several articles online stressing the importance of having one’s books reviewed on Amazon. On Fiction Notes, I read that a writer should strive for 25 posted reviews. I decided to aim for 50. I invited my friends, neighbors, people who purchased my new book at signings, and anyone who expressed interest in it to post a review on Amazon. When people mentioned my new book, I would ask them to share their thoughts by writing a review.
Since I was asking others to review my book, I set a second goal. I would read 50 books ASAP and post reviews for them. Off I went to my local library to choose new books to read. Meanwhile wherever I met teachers, librarians or historical museum personnel, I gave them an autographed copy of Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey and requested an Amazon review in return.
A friend who teaches ESL students in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, told me one of her sixth grade students liked my story. She agreed to help him post a review on Amazon. Seeing his review online encouraged Minh–and me.
Pitfalls of Asking to Trade Reviews
Well-meaning folks oft times neglect to keep the enthusiastic promises they make. I gave away more than 100 books with the understanding that the receiver would post a review. Two of my best friends, a public librarian and one who is retired, keep promising “to get to it” but they never followed through. Perhaps they could not conscientiously recommend my book and chose not to post a negative review.
As I worked toward my goal of reviewing 50 books, I watched for intriguing titles on line. When I found a book that looked inviting, I contacted the author and asked if we could swap books and post reviews for each other. Not a good idea. Despite glowing reviews already posted on their websites, I received a number of self-published books that were poorly written. If I wrote honest evaluations, most of my comments would have been negative.
I wanted to keep my promise to review these books, but I did not want to discourage the authors. As a respected reviewer, how could I handle those less than stellar books? With the most difficult situations I explained to the writers that in my judgment there were major problems with their books. Rather than post negative reviews, I chose to critique these books privately.
Such touchy situations forced me to rethink my motive for writing reviews in the first place, besides getting reviews in return. My decision to post negative reviews hinged on my answer to two questions. Was my purpose to help an author gain readers? Or was I attempting to help readers find books they would enjoy as well as alert them to ones they probably would not appreciate?
When the late JoAnn Daly was my editor at Cobblehill/Dutton, I received a couple of scathing reviews. The first time one was published in Booklist, she told me to ignore it, that it was but one reader’s opinion. The second time one of my books was severely criticized, JoAnn responded to the reviewer by pointing out the factual errors in the published review. (I loved my editor!)
Though I am not comfortable writing negative reviews (my mother taught be keep quiet if I couldn’t say something nice), I appreciate it when a reviewer notes such concerns as a weak plot, foul language, profanity, or careless editing.
If I look hard enough, I can usually find something good to say about a particular title. If I ever decide to post a negative review, I will explain what I perceive to be faulty about the book and/or how it is written.
The Perks of Asking for Reviews: Name Recognition
Book Trailer for Sacketts Harbor – Powder Monkey.
If you can’t see this video, click here.
Seeking reviews for my War of 1812 book while helping other readers find books they’d enjoy has been a satisfying experience. It’s been pleasant to build friendships with authors I might never have met otherwise.
Another perk is having people email me saying they appreciated my reviews and asking if I would review their new books. One such request came from a writer who lives in Spain.
Before I agree to review a stranger’s book, I find out as much as I can about it. If it sounds like a title I’d enjoy, I request a hard copy. I usually refuse to review books on Kindle since I can’t flag passages and then flip back to them when I write my review.
A huge incentive for posting reviews on Amazon is name recognition. When I began posting reviews, Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest was my newest release. To my surprise Amazon listed me as author of that book right after the title of the book I was reviewing. Wonderful, free advertising!
When Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey – The War of 1812 was released, I asked Amazon to switch to the new title. No problem. Every time readers online read my latest review, they saw my name along with the title of my latest book. That made me smile because the more often readers see my name and the title of one of my books, the more apt they are to eventually check me out.
About four months ago I was informed by the folks at Amazon that I was breaking the rules by listing a title of one of my books along with my name. Therefore they were removing those titles from all of my reviews. SAY WHAT?
I responded that this was something that their staff had instituted. Since I was the wrong person being scolded, I wrote for clarification of the rules. I learned it is permissible to mention the title of one of my publications in the body of my review. Now I look for a tie-in for one of my books with the new review I am posting. That’s a fun challenge, and sometimes an easy one as well.
Posting reviews on Amazon for the world to read is good writing practice for me. When I observe faults in the works of others, I am more apt to catch a similar problem with my own writing. Yes, it eats into my time, but it’s worthwhile for me and my readers. I enjoy the challenge of analyzing a story and how the author writes it. Most of us who enjoy reading never have time to read all the books we’d like to read. By posting my reviews on Amazon, I help Internet readers find books they are most apt to enjoy.
To date I have posted 129 reviews on Amazon. When I submit a new review, it is usually posted a few minutes after I have emailed it. People who read Amazon reviews have the opportunity to tell if a review is helpful or not. Thus far 77 reviewers have clicked the button at the end of my reviews indicating they were helpful. I consider that a good barometer of my ability to write them.
Amazon lists me as a Top Reviewer. Frequently the company sends me a request to review books I have purchased, but not yet reviewed. While I appreciate the invitation, I don’t accept it if it was a book not to my liking. I choose what I will review regardless of where the book came from.
Recently I read an article about Amazon’s book review process. According to the author, the review staff at Amazon was impressed by a certain title that was not selling well. To give the book the press they thought it deserved, they contacted 100-300 potential online reviewers. They offered to send a PDF of the book to those who expressed an interest in reading it and would consider posting an honest critique. The staff expected 40 to 50 responses resulting in possibly 35 reviews. The writer of the article considered that a satisfactory number. That’s a speedy, inexpensive way to solicit reviews. I could have used it if I had a PDF of Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey.
That said, 57 reviews in exchange for 100 books given away is not a shabby response. It encourages me to press on in my quest for new reviews of this book until the War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations end on December 24, 2014.
So, how did I get all of those reviews for Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey – The War of 1812?
I asked for them.
Since it’s more blessed to give than to receive, I will continue to post reviews on Amazon. I will keep asking readers to review my book until December 24—unless I reach my new goal of 100 reviews sooner. Of course I would welcome reviews from you who are reading this blog. You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Many thanks.
Hope has written more than thirty children’s books and two books for adults. My Little Book Series of wildlife picture books, with over 125,000 copies in print, has won numerous awards. My Little Book of Bald Eagles received the 2010 Next Generation INDIE Book Award in the Best Children’s/Juvenile Non-Fiction category. Her historical novels for Young Adults include Against the Tide: The Valor of Margaret Wilson (2007), Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey – The War of 1812 (2012), and Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest (2011), which is the true biography of an eleven-year-old Maine musher.
Hope and her husband of more than fifty years share their Black River (NY) home with Heidi, a lovable Bernese mountain dog. For more, see her bio in Something about the Author (Gale), or her website, www.HopeIrvinMarston.com .