Every author needs reviews to build up the credibility and buzz for their books. Without reviews, other readers are less likely to take a chance and buy your book. But how do you convince people to read your books before they have very many reviews? And how do you ensure that those who do read your books will leave reviews for them? I’ve found one of the fastest and easiest ways to get early reviews is by using something called “Read For Review”. These are also commonly referred to as “Read to Review”, “RtR”, “R4R”, “Read it and Reap”, and many other creative names thought up by the moderators of Goodreads groups.
In this post I’ll discuss what Read For Review programs are, how they can help you get honest reviews, how to schedule and manage them, and where you can find them!
1) What is a “Read For Review”?
Read For Reviews are programs where you offer free ebook or paperback (I prefer ebook as it’s easier and cheaper) copies of your book to readers in exchange for their honest reviews.
2) How Read For Review programs can help you get honest reviews
Before your book has reviews, most readers are unlikely to take a chance on it. Can you blame them? Do you often buy books that don’t have many reviews? I know I don’t. It’s too easy to waste your money on a poorly written, poorly edited book that some random person has slapped together and self-published. But your book is good, you might say. Your beta readers said so, and maybe your early readers, too. That’s the dilemma many new Indie authors are facing. Unfortunately a well-written synopsis and tempting book cover are usually not enough to attract the attention of the readers who might fall in love with your book. Reviews, however, are the key, and Read For Reviews can help you get them.
I know, I know, giving away free copies of your book doesn’t seem fair. After all, you’ve spent countless hours writing, editing, re-writing, revising, formatting, and publishing your book…and you’re just supposed to give it away?
YES! That’s exactly what you’ve got to do. But it’s not for free—it’s in exchange for a review, which at the early stages of your career are worth much more than the small royalty you’ll get from selling it for $0.99 or $2.99. Trust me, I’ve given away hundreds of ebooks through Read For Review programs, and each review, even the negative ones which I use to improve my books/writing, has really paid off.
And you can even request that the reviewers cross-post their reviews on Amazon, as well as Goodreads, which is HUGE. Amazon reviews are even more elusive than Goodreads ones, so getting early reviews up on Amazon will have an even larger impact on your sales.
3) How to schedule and manage your Read For Reviews
It sounds easy, right? You just offer up some free ebooks and provide them to the readers who sign up. That simple. Not exactly. There are a lot of things to think about when planning and managing your Read For Reviews, things that can have a large impact on how successful they are.
How many copies to give out
I’ve seen most authors give out between 10 and 25 ebooks per Read For Review. Personally, I give out as many copies as I can, so I usually offer 25 ebooks. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to give away 25 copies. It’s harder than you might think to give away books these days. Why? Because there are A LOT of people trying to do just the same thing, and readers know it’s a big responsibility to have to read and review a book within a set timeframe. In some cases, you might have a really successful RtR and get rid of all 25 copies and still have readers requesting to participate. It’s a judgment call, but I usually will increase the number of copies available until everyone’s received one. In one case this meant I gave away 50 ebooks of Fire Country, but it was well worth it for all the reviews!
How many Read For Reviews to sign up for
As many as possible! Honestly, the more reviews the better is my motto. And the buzz created by each one, combined with the resulting reviews, can have a large impact. Remember, you’re looking to get your book out to the potentially thousands of readers in your target market, so giving away a few hundred may just be a drop in the bucket. I’ve offered 25 copies of The Moon Dwellers to 12 different Read For Review programs. Twice. That’s right, I scheduled them when I released the book, and then a year later, I scheduled them all AGAIN. A lot happens in a year, and those who weren’t interested in reading and reviewing your book the first time might have heard good things about it and decide to participate the second time around.
Selecting the Read For Reviews to sign up for
Especially on Goodreads, there are plenty of groups that have Read For Review programs. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the right ones for your book. Choosing groups that focus on your target audience/genre is the way to go. You want the readers that you wrote the book for reading it and writing your early reviews. It doesn’t make sense to join “Mystery Lovers” and sign up for their Read For Review program if your book is a Contemporary Romance. Not only will you not get a great amount of participation, but those who participate are less likely to write you very positive reviews.
Once you find the groups on Goodreads (or the book community of your choice) that fit your book, join the groups, become part of the community, and READ THE RULES for the Read For Review program. I can’t stress this enough. Every group has different rules, and the best way to piss off the group is to break them. So read the rules and follow them, and sign your book up.
Sometimes you have control over timing, and sometimes not. It just depends, but the earlier you sign up, the more flexibility you usually have. For example, I scheduled my Read For Reviews a month before the release of The Moon Dwellers, and I managed to have 10 of them occur within the first two months after the release date. That’s a lot of healthy buzz. If I had waited until the last minute, most of those Read For Reviews would probably have been full, and I’d have to delay them for a few months.
That being said, it’s not necessarily bad to spread them out a little. It keeps the buzz going longer, and ensures a steady flow of reviews coming in. And for the more popular, established RtR programs, you might just get a spot in line 6 months or even a year down the road.
Make ALL formats available! I cannot stress this enough. Not everyone has a Kindle. In fact, not everyone has an e-reader. So how can you expect to get much participation if half of the target readers aren’t even able to sign up because they don’t have the right devices? The easiest way to do this is to publish on Smashwords, which converts your book into ALL popular formats. That way anyone can participate, by downloading formats compatible with Kindle, Nook, iPad, or just their computers. If using Smashwords isn’t an option because you’ve signed up for KDP Select, you can still make all formats available, but you need to create the files yourself, and then e-mail them to the participants. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. There’s plenty of free software out there that can convert your MS Word document into Kindle (mobi), Nook/iPad/Kobo (epub), and pdf format. I personally use the Mobipocket Creator to create my Kindle files, and Caliber to convert to epub. There are also lots of sites that will convert to pdf for you.
Providing the books to participating readers
Most groups give you the option of having the moderator provide the free ebooks to the participants, or for you to do it yourself. Do it yourself! A Read For Review is the PERFECT chance to start connecting with your readers, and if you place a barrier (the moderator, as a middle person) in the way, then you’ve missed a golden opportunity. Let the moderator set up the thread, notify the group, and provide the platform for participants to sign up (by providing their e-mail addresses), and then you can take it from there.
Okay, so some people have signed up for your Read For Review and provided their e-mail addresses, but what should you send them? Well, besides the book in the format they requested, you should thank them for signing up, give them a little info about you and your books, any links to things like your social networking sites or fan groups, and a REQUEST THAT THEY REVIEW ON AMAZON. In case my bold capital letters didn’t highlight it for you, I can’t stress enough how important this is. It’s great to get reviews on Goodreads, but Amazon reviews are far more important, as that’s where new readers will actually buy your books. So don’t miss this golden opportunity to get some more reviews on Amazon.
Responding to reviews
Once you’ve provided the copies of the books to the participants, the reviews will start pouring in, and generally the participants will provide a link to their reviews in the RtR thread. What do you do for a 5 star review, or for a 1 star review? Or something in the middle? My advice: essentially do the same thing! Thank them for their review and feedback, even if you don’t agree with it. Do not argue with negative comments, nor contact the negative reviewers. It will only make you look bad. Don’t get frustrated with negative reviews; I did this once, and it was a huge mistake, and I was wrong in doing so. Focus on the positive ones, because they’re your future readers.
4) Where you can find Read For Reviews
Now that you’ve got all the information to plan and execute a successful Read For Review, where can you find these magical programs? I’ve only used two sites for these, but I’m sure there are many more.
My personal favorite method of giving away free ebooks in exchange for reviews is through Goodreads groups. You can search for various groups HERE. Remember, after you find a group that fits your book, check to see if they have a Read For Review program, or contact one of the moderators to ask. If they don’t, move on to another group. If they do, read the rules and get your book signed up!
I’ve personally conducted dozens of Read For Reviews for Angel Evolution, The Moon Dwellers, and Fire Country on various Goodreads YA groups, and I’ve had a lot of success in doing so. If your book is for adults, you’ll have to do a bit of searching to find the best groups to choose (as I have no experience with adult groups), but if your book is for young adults, here’s a list of the groups I’ve used in the past:
-David Estes Fans and YA Book Lovers Unite! Yes, this is my official fan group, but it’s also a growing YA group with more than 1,800 members! Our Read to Review program has great participation, and you’ll undoubtedly get some reviews!
-Shut up & Read- 6,500+ members, an adult group that has lots of YA book lovers in it. But beware, the waiting list for this group’s read for review program is exceptionally long!
-We Love YA Books- 5,000+ members, YA only
-The Nexus- 1,000+ members, also an adult group with good YA participation
-Basically Books- 1,500+ members, adult group with lots of YA readers
-Never Too Old for YA/NA Books- 6,000+ members, YA and NA books only
-Making Connections (6,000+ members, an adult group) and Making Connections-YA Edition (1,500+ members, YA only)
-Young Adult Reads- 2,500+ members, YA only
-YA Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction- 1,500+ members, YA, only if your book fits these genres
-The YA Dystopian Book Club- 2,000+ members, only if your book fits the genre
These are just the examples of the groups I’ve used for my Read For Reviews, but I’m sure there are many many more you can find!
The LibraryThing.com Member Giveaway program is a place where you can offer up to 100 copies (ebook or paperback) of your book to readers for free. Members sign up with their e-mail address and then you send them the book. When you sign up you can request a review in exchange for the free book, but there is no guarantee you’ll get one for each book you giveaway. But I wouldn’t worry too much about that, the exposure will help you find new readers either way!
I hope you all found this helpful! Happy reading and writing, and always feel free to ask me any specific questions about Read For Reviews or anything at all!