Promoting your novel, part 2 – Reviews

August 12, 2012 at 10:44 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Come closer. Closer. Listen. I’m going to tell you a secret.

Are you ready?

Nobody really knows how to sell books.

Oh, lots of people will say that they do. Some people have made a living out of claiming to have the secret. Big publishers exist purely to sell books, and make millions, so they must know, right? Wrong. 70 per cent of books make a loss. Think about what that means, especially when the average advance for a first book is $5000. Most books make less than that. And that’s not self-published books, that’s all books published. Seventy per cent. In my non-writing life, I run a pest control company; if 70% of our treatments failed, we’d be out of business in a month.

But if no one knows how to sell books, how are you supposed to sell yours?

If I had the answer to that, I’d be writing this blog from the cabin in the woods I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. Instead, I’m writing it in a basement in a city I barely know. I don’t know how to sell books. But one thing that virtually everyone insists you need to have is reviews.

Book reviews may not be as important to sales as they once were, but they’re still one of the most helpful things you can do to sell your book. Get as many reviews as you can, but know that not all reviews are created equal. Amazon reviews are nice when they’re positive, but everybody knows that they could just be written by supportive friends and family. You can pay people to write positive reviews of your book on Amazon, too, so the credibility is diminished. What helps more is a review from a reputable reviewer.

Now, if you’re not with a major publisher, you’re not going to get reviewed in a major newspaper or magazine. The big publishers buy up ad space in the big papers and ensure that only their own books get reviewed, so unless you have an ‘in’, you can forget about getting a review in The Guardian or the New York Times.

Luckily for us indies, bloggers have become far more important in the last few years, and they’re much more open to reading a book by an unknown . If you’re as small-time as I am, pretty much any blog is good, but here’s a super helpful list of the biggest names in the game:

Remember when querying blogs to choose carefully; don’t ask a site that only reviews sci-fi to take a look at your romance novel. And don’t be formulaic; these bloggers have writers emailing them all day long, begging for some coverage. They can spot a form email a mile away.

I’ve been fortunate to be reviewed in a few different publications, by professionals. This is the value of a publicist; without her help, I’d have maybe one or two of the reviews I currently do. Here’s the list of professional reviews of my novel as of August 2012:

Yeah, six. It took me and a professional publicist six months to get this many, and as you can see, they’re not all positive. One in particular is brutal – more on that in another post.

For all these reviews, how many books do you think I sold? That’s right, none. Not one. As far as I can tell, these reviews have not helped me in the slightest. People have bought my book because they know me, or because a friend recommended it. Some people found it on; some people read an article I wrote and bought a book because of that. But, at least as far as I know, these reviews did nothing whatsoever for my sales.

So are reviews a waste of time? Well, no. I don’t think so. For a start, you didn’t write Scar; you wrote your book, and it’s not mine, and so just because reviews didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Secondly, reviews have a purpose beyond selling books. At their best, reviews by professionals can actually help you grow as a writer. An insightful reviewer can reveal weaknesses you didn’t know you had, making the next thing you write stronger. On the other hand, a really negative review, like all of life’s setbacks, at least offers you the opportunity to grow as a person.

My six reviews may not seem like a lot, but I was happy to get them. The most damning criticism of all is silence.



  1. Bryn Hammond said,

    I’ve begun to value readers’ reviews, and distinguish them from reviews by other writers or by bloggers. The latter know how to write pretty or analytic reviews, but readers say directly what matters to them, unhampered by the need to be a critic… For instance, I see your reviews on Amazon are enthusiastic, a set of five-stars, and seem to be very much from readers. It’s a difference to these professional reviews that I’ve glanced through, too. The readerly ones might not be eloquent, they can be tongue-tied, but for that very fact of unprofessionalism, other readers trust them. And they’re the only ones that matter in the end.

    • ryanfrawley said,

      That’s true; we all write for readers, not reviewers; or at least we should. It means a lot to get a good review from anyone, ‘professional’ or not.

  2. Huw Thomas said,

    I think there’s something in what both you and Bryn say. I want reviews too and can see positives (and negatives) whether they’re from ‘readers’ or ‘reviewers’.
    Reviews by reviewers might not immediately generate sales but, because they are more indepth and critical, give some validity to your book.
    Reviews by readers can be more heartfelt and immediate but sometimes it’s harder to distinguish them from the friends & family plugs.

    • ryanfrawley said,

      Each have their merits and disadvantages, so it’s definitely good to get a mix of reviews from different sources. You’d be surprised, though, at the writers who will try to game the system by writing their own reviews; read the ongoing Stephen Leather controversy for an example of a successful, high-profile writer who behaves like a complete douchebag:

  3. Matt Knox said,

    Great post. I’m working on my first novel at the moment so in the coming months I hope to have some reviews. It really looks like it could help sell a book, but i’m not relying on it….. Thanks.

    • ryanfrawley said,

      It definitely could. I’ve bought books myself on the strength of a single review. Despite the lack of direct sales, I think it’s still one of the more helpful things you can do, if only to build credibility. People are generally turned off by a book that it seems no one’s heard of; reviews demonstrate that someone thought it worth their time to read and comment on it.

      Book marketing remains a mystery; what works for one person will fail for another. Best, then, to try every available avenue and see what works for you.

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