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Asking for book reviews

Posted in Just for Writers

book-review

See that illustration? You know what's wrong with it?

Readers don't owe anything to authors, including thanks, and we shouldn't presume that they do if we want them to continue as customers.

At least, that's what I think. And here's why.

Authors often seek recommendations on what to include in the back matter of their books. The potential list is long:

  • Thanking the reader
  • Asking for book reviews
  • Pointing the reader at links for more information about the book they just read
  • Offering the reader a newsletter to subscribe to, for information about books (with perhaps a bonus giveaway)
  • Offering the reader a way to contact the author (sometimes including links to social media)
  • Telling the reader about the next book in a series, or about another book
  • Presenting the first chapter of the next book in a series, or another book

One of these, the “ask for review,” was recently in the news as something that traditional publishers have begun including in the back matter of their books, apparently learning from independent authors.

When I first published my books in 2012 and for a couple of years thereafter, I also asked for reviews in the back matter, just as a standard practice, but I've stopped doing it.

Why would I do that? Don't I want them to leave book reviews?

Let me explain…

Of course, I would like to have more reviews — who wouldn't? But what I would like, even more, is for someone who has just finished a book to be eager to look at and buy my other books. That “bird in the hand” of a satisfied reader is far more important to me than another drop in the review bucket for a potential reader down the line. My customer is a customer first, way ahead of being a member of my marketing team.

I think asking for the review smacks of desperation and comes across as a bit unprofessional. I don't want my reader to start thinking of me that way.

And you know what? It doesn't make any difference to the number of reviews I get, near as I can tell. The review rate seems to be about 1-3% of units sold (I don't do freebies), and that seems to be good across most current and active authors, trad or indie.

Think about what that means… That means that 97-99% of my readers didn't leave a review. And every one of them probably felt a bit uncomfortable about it, if they read the request. Did that make them less likely to buy another book? Who knows?

Here's my take on the psychology of it (aside from the vibe it sends)…

If the person is accustomed to writing reviews, then they'll write one or not, regardless of what I say, just as if it were any other author's book.

But if they're not so accustomed, we're asking them to change their behavior to accommodate us. We're asking for a favor. But that's not the transaction deal our readers make — the deal was, they give us money, and we give them entertainment.

Not everyone wants to learn a new behavior
Not everyone wants to learn a new behavior

It's as though we only published ebooks and asked people who only read print to learn how to use a new format just so they can access our books. That's asking them to change behavior, too.

Unless we are in the “super-cool, new trend” category and we've encountered a techie (and even then), asking people to change their behavior to do us a favor isn't really going to work. And it may embarrass or guilt the recipient, which is not how we want them to think about us.

Better to just thank them, give them the “for more information” and newsletter signup links, and send them on to the “1st chapter of next book” with its link so they can buy the next one while they still like us.

That's more important than a book review any day.

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2 Comments

  1. I see the takeaway for a new author: put a link to YOUR website in the back of the book, and on your website have people get a choice of signing up for a reminder when the next book comes out. You want the author to retain control – and the information in the back of a book to lead to ONE place, the author’s site.

    I’m still fitting the pieces together. But this logic – retaining control – is the only way which makes sense to me, since I appear to be a DIY writer.

    I have my writer’s blog (liebjabberings.wordpress.com) and a site I created for the books (it is on wordpress, but I’ve paid so the name is prideschildren.com, since I had grabbed that domain when I published).

    Now I need to control those sites better.

    It’s on the list, but I see I also have to learn some more WordPress. And I’ve been staying on .com because I’m afraid of the .org and being somewhere where things like comment control are my responsibility.

    I’m tiny. I will probably write a small number of very complex books over my writing lifetime.

    But I do listen, and you have good reasons for your suggestions. And I like having control.

    January 16, 2017
    |Reply
    • Everyone has a different approach and different priorities, and my way isn’t and can’t be a one-size-fits-all.

      All I can hope to do is make people think about what they’re doing, so that they can evaluate the issues intelligently instead of just following some other, equally dogmatic, leader. 🙂

      January 16, 2017
      |Reply

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