We all know that reviews sell stuff. After all, when’s the last time you took a chance on buying something online, sight unseen, without checking the reviews? You want to know what other people who’ve already bought it think so that you can be sure you’re making the right choice.
That’s called social proof—when seeing that other people like something encourages you to try it yourself. And social proof isn’t just useful when buying a phone or a new pair of shoes. It sells books, too!
But reviews can feel like a chicken-and-egg situation sometimes. You need reviews to sell books…but you need people to buy your book in order to read and review it!
What’s a new author to do?
Get reviews before the book even comes out, of course!
You can get reviews even before your book launches—and doing so can help you launch your book higher, faster, because that social proof helps to snowball your exposure and your sales.
Let’s take a look at a few ways to start getting reviews to flood in before your book launches!
Before attempting any of the following strategies, you need to lay a little groundwork. After all, it’s hard for people to review your book publicly if you don’t have a public profile for it! While book bloggers can review your book without leaving a formal review on Amazon or Goodreads, not having a presence on those sites seriously limits your pre-launch potential.
So the first thing you need to do when planning your pre-launch strategy is to make sure your book is visible on Goodreads and Amazon. You can easily add a book on Goodreads by searching for the book, then clicking the “Manually Add Book” link and entering the appropriate information on that page.
You can also get your book listed on Amazon before its launch by setting it as available for preorder when you upload it to KDP. By doing this, people will be able to review your book even before it’s technically available for sale—and you can encourage people to preorder, upping your sales for the first week (which can boost you to bestseller status!).
The fastest and easiest way to start getting reviews before you launch is to make use of your existing network. One of the best marketing strategies anyone can use is building an email list—a network of interested, engaged people who want to hear from you is priceless!
Running a pre-launch email giveaway for your book is a simple way to get feedback and early reviews. Once your book is listed on Amazon and Goodreads, send out an email to let your followers know that you’re ready to launch your latest title and offer them a free download of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Many will take you up on the offer, and since these folks already know, follow, and probably really like you, this first round of reviews is pretty much guaranteed to be positive, laying a great foundation for getting the social proof rolling.
To build on your email review success, head on over to Goodreads and set up a giveaway there.
Print giveaways on Goodreads are free, except for the cost of the print books. And those can be ordered before you actually launch for a reasonably low price—most print-on-demand services like Ingram Spark and CreateSpace allow you to order “proof copies” before you actually click “publish,” which you can use as early giveaway copies. Alternatively, you can upload your book to Lulu and mark it as “private” so that it doesn’t go on sale in the Lulu shop, then order copies for giveaways.
Once you have your print books, creating a giveaway on Goodreads is super-simple. On the main page, go to Browse > Giveaways, then click on “List a Giveaway” in the actions column at right. On the Giveaway page, enter your book’s information, including a description, genre categories, and the number of copies you plan to give away and where you’ll ship them to (be sure to check shipping costs before determining this, as mailing a book can be expensive).
In a day or two, Goodreads staff will send you an email letting you know your giveaway is live!
From there, a lot of the work is off your plate. Goodreads users can stumble upon your giveaway from the main giveaways page or by searching for a particular genre, then click to enter (and add your book to their shelf, giving you plenty of exposure to their audience if they’ve connected their social networks to the site!).
When the giveaway period ends, Goodreads automatically chooses the winner(s) and sends you a spreadsheet of the winners and their addresses. All you need to do is ship out the books, along with a note requesting an honest review on Goodreads and/or Amazon.
(Of course, this is also a great opportunity to promote any other books you’ve written and encourage the winners to join your email list…never pass up a cross-promotion moment!)
If you don’t have a print copy, you can still use Goodreads to get pre-launch reviews, but it’ll cost more than the free print book giveaways. Using the Kindle Giveaway Program for $119, you can offer up to 100 free Kindle copies for readers. It’s a little more expensive than simply sending out print copies, but it’s a great investment to build buzz before your launch!
Advance Distribution Sites
If you have a little money to invest, using an advance distribution site can also help you build pre-launch buzz through reviews. These sites help authors send out copies of their books before they’re available for purchase while building a larger following and reaching readers who aren’t already part of their network.
Story Cartel lets authors create individual launch pages for their books, which you can upload as a PDF and/or ePub. Interested readers can download the book for free and are automatically reminded a few times to leave a review after they’ve read it. The site promotes top books in its email blasts to registered users, meaning that you’ll likely be discovered by readers who have never heard of you before! You’ll also get access to the list of readers who downloaded the book, so you can follow up and hopefully add them to your list for future releases.
It’s inexpensive to list a book on Story Cartel—just $25 per launch.
Instafreebie is another good option for advance distribution and review requests. If you’re just looking for a way to distribute early copies of your book and reach new potential fans, it’s free! Just create an author page and upload your book and Instafreebie will help you with distribution to get pre-launch reviews.
But for $20–50 per month, you can get an array of upgraded services, like the ability to add readers to your email list, customize giveaways, and add additional pen names or author pages for other books.
Professional Review Outlets
If you’re planning your launch several months in advance, an amazing way to build pre-launch buzz is to submit to professional review outlets. These are major trade journals, like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Book Reviews, that will read your book and potentially publish an unbiased review of it.
These reviews are automatically distributed to major sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and they appear at the very top of your book’s page.
Talk about social proof! Having a positive review from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal, etc. is a major sign of a good book—they review less than 25% of the books submitted, on average, and don’t guarantee good reviews. So it’s a gamble, but if you “win,” you get the stamp of approval from a major professional outlet that also reviews for the Big Five!
It’s not too hard to submit to these sites. You’ll need to do so about four months before your book’s launch date, because it takes so long for reviews to get through the process. Once your book is ready, you’ll need to set a price and check the page count, then send that information, the ISBN, and some other key information to the professional reviewer of your choice.
Publishers Weekly offers free review opportunities for both small press and self-published books, as well as exclusive self-pub reviews through its Booklife service (which is also free).
Kirkus offers free review opportunities for small press authors, but if you’re self-published, you’ll have to go through their paid Kirkus Indie platform, which costs $425 and up.
Foreword Reviews only accepts books that have a print version, but they will take digital copies for review, so this is a great option for authors who will be releasing both versions. Just create a cover letter that includes key information about your book, like the category, title, author, ISBN, price, page count, format, publication date, description, and any publicity information like author bio, etc. Then email that cover letter and your ePub to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to send it four months before your launch!
By covering all these bases—your own email list, professional review outlets, avid Goodreads readers, and new readers—you can start getting reviews even before you launch your book, helping you build your social proof for a stronger, higher launch!
About the Author
Kate Sullivan is a professional book designer, editor, and the content director of TCK Publishing, an independent press dedicated to helping writers make the most out of their author careers through partnership publishing deals, podcasts, educational resources, and more.
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Bill Kasal says
Thank you for this.
When you say “Once your book is listed on Amazon and Goodreads, send out an email to let your followers know that you’re ready to launch your latest title and offer them a free download of the book in exchange for an honest review.” Do I sent them a free .pdf or .mobi file? If that is the case, then it won’t count as sales on Amazon, correct? Nor will it have the “verified purchase” wording above the review.
Also, am i correct in assuming that they cannot post a review until I change my “pre-order” title to “published?”
You’re right – those early copies that you send out for free will not count as sales on Amazon and they won’t have “verified purchase” labels. You’re distributing the copies directly to readers, for free, and so they’re not sales…they’re marketing.
Unverified reviews still help improve your Amazon statistics, though – Amazon does use the number of 4- and 5-star reviews to help determine what books it recommends, as well as how often your book is recommended.
You can send PDF, Mobi, or ePub files – the choice is yours. When I’ve run launches for authors, I usually let readers choose the format they’d prefer – anything that makes it easier for the reader is a good thing!
It used to be that Amazon users could post reviews on a book when it was still listed as pre-order precisely because even the big publishers send out zillions of review copies before a book is on sale. They seem to have changed their policy on that, though – which means that yes, you’ll have to switch to “published” before your readers can post their reviews on Amazon.
I’d recommend sending out an email on launch day that includes a note asking anyone who got an early copy to review the book and linking them straight to the “create a review” page for your book on Amazon.
Keep in mind, you can build up advance reviews on Goodreads at any time before launch, as long as your book is listed there!
Jenniw Nicassio says
I want to learn more about pre launch reviews.
Pre-launch reviews are pretty easy to get. You can distribute your book to your own email list as a free advance copy, asking for reviews in exchange for the freebie, or you can use a distribution service to get early reviews. NetGalley and Edelweiss are two of the major ones, but there’s also low-cost services like Instafreebie or StoryCartel that can help.
The secret is that you have to give away copies of your book before the official launch in order to get reviews before your book is officially on sale. That can sound a little weird, but remember that big publishers do this all the time! It’s called “advance reading copies” – the Big Five send literally hundreds or thousands of free copies of books out in order to get buzz and reviews before a book’s on sale.
You can also pursue professional trade publication reviews before your book is officially on sale. That involves sending out copies to places like Publishers Weekly or City Book Reviews. If you want to learn more, check out this article: https://www.tckpublishing.com/self-published-professional-book-reviews/
Hope this helps you with your launch!
Chris Babu says
Getting reviews is a dilemma, particularly for new authors. Your article is not merely a listing of services, but a strategy with something often neglected–the timing. I always wondered about when to start. Thanks again!
So glad you enjoyed it! It’s pretty much never too early to start getting reviews together – as long as the book is in nearly final form, you can start sending it to people who might want to review.
The more you’re able to plan ahead, the more time people will have to read your book and really put some thought into a review. If you can make it easy for people to fit your book into their schedule and really engage with it, you’re likely to get more – and more positive – reviews!
Thanks so much for this interesting article
Robbie Cheadle says
A very useful post. Thank you for sharing this information.