Why Reviews are as Important as Book Sales for Indie Authors

Really–reviews are as important as book sales?

Why reviews are as important as book sales for indie authors. Only on The Writersaurus.

As you may know, I’m publishing my contemporary weird west serial, Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer over the summer, starting June 15. I’ve been thinking a lot about my marketing game plan. What should I do to try and get the word out there?

One of the biggest conundrums for me and other indies is how to get reviews. Reviews may be the most important item of social proof needed to convince a potential customer to purchase something, book or otherwise. And not just one or two reviews, either. According to the writing/publishing manual Write. Publish. Repeat. you need at least 100 reviews before potential readers will begin to see your books as vetted. This need for reviews was recently corroborated by the collection development librarian for the Phoenix Public Library (who decides which books make it on library shelves), who said in a talk to my writing group that a book has to have fifty reviews at a bare minimum before she would even consider adding it to the collection.

So we need reviews to get sales, but we also need sales to get reviews. It’s one of those all-too-common vicious circles. It seemed too hopeless to even think about, but then I listened to episode 113 of The Sci-Fi & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, which gave me new hope. The episode featured paranormal romance author Anna Lowe, who managed to make $26000 in her first year of self publishing and $50000 the second. A lot of her success stems from the fact that she fulfilled several self-publishing best practices, such as publishing multiple books a year, but she also developed a large Advance Review Copy (ARC) mailing list, to which she sends out free digital copies of her books  the hopes that they will leave reviews. And it worked.

And I thought, hmm. Could I do that? Well, I’m going to try. I’ve started a MailChimp campaign and have gotten a subscription to BookFunnel, a service that supposedly makes it easier to send out free copies of books (review forthcoming). I’ve started spreading the word on Facebook, Wattpad, Twitter, and Pinterest that I’m giving away free copies of Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer. Below is one of the banners I’m using in the campaign that links to the sign-up page.

Read Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer for FREE by signing up for my ARC team! #weirdwest #freebook

but won’t this sabotage potential sales?

The quickest and most honest answer is I don’t know, maybe. But let’s be real–would the people who are signing up to read it for free be likely to pay for it, especially considering that it wouldn’t have any reviews as social proof? There’s a lot of evidence that people who pay for books and people who read books for free are two very different, nearly mutually-exclusive groups. Why not try to capitalize on the second group to make my book seem worthy of the first group’s attention?

My current plan is to release the book in eight digital episodes of roughly 20,000 words each. During this time, I will focus only on getting reviews. Once all eight episodes have been released, I’ll release the entire season as a box set, both physically and digitally. At this time, I will switch to marketing the book as a whole, with the reviews of the first eight episodes as social proof.

but what if people read the ARC copies, but don’t leave reviews?

It is a virtual certainty that many–maybe even most–people who sign up for the ARC team will not leave reviews, maybe won’t even read the book in the first place (FYI–downloading a bunch of free books without reading them is called hoarding). I’m doing my best to mitigate this by getting the free ARC to as many people as possible, and also sending a reminder email out to the list on publication day, when readers are first able to leave reviews. I can further ensure the success of the campaign by targeting groups who are likely to enjoy my book and/or leave reviews–genre fan groups on Facebook and other social media outlets, people who positively review similar works on Amazon and Goodreads, or book bloggers.

Still, most people on the list will not leave reviews, and that’s okay. These people will be removed from the ARC email list and added to my general reader list. By doing this, I’m ensuring that only people who are leaving reviews continue to receive the rest of the season for free.

I’ll keep you appraised of how this works out. This is my first self-published book, so it’s all still an experiment. I think the most important thing is to have a plan in place and stick to it. If you’re interested in reading Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer for free, or if you just want to see what my campaign looks like, you can sign up for my ARC team here.


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H. Duke
H. Duke writes fantasy, horror, and more. Her works include the weird west / urban fantasy serial mashup, Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer and the Christmas horror collection, Things on the Shelf: Three Tales of Christmas Terror, as well as the forthcoming Pagewalker series. She wrote the first season of Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer while living in Arizona with her husband, Giru, and a shiny black dog named Jupiter. To see what she's up to now, visit her website.

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