Vivi Anne Hunt
How I Got 70+ ARC Reviews for My Book Launch (Kai's Healing Smiles)
Hi precious peeps. :)
Someone asked on twitter the other day - How important do you think book reviews are?
And I answered - Very important.
Because they show your book has been tested, read, rated. People will know what they get before they purchase. How many times have you bought a product with 0 reviews? None. Yeah, me neither. It's just too risky.
We all need to see that people have read our books, to be able to sell them. The more reviews, the better. There's the whole 'social proof' thing I won't get into right now. Suffice it to say, the newer and smaller author you are, the bigger your need for reviews is because people don't know or trust you yet.
Which is the case for me - I just published my first book, and I wanted to have 100 reviews the moment I published, so people would be curious and want to buy it.
I almost got there. Let me share the whole process...
Stage 1: Wattpad
When I joined Wattpad, it was just for fun, but soon it became much more than that.
Wattpad is a community of readers and writers, it's where a lot of writers share their writing for free and where they find readers. I built a community of friends over there and even had my first fans, and once I'd established those connections, I went over to a few of my readers and asked - hey, would you like to read my book for free before it releases?
They were excited, so they said yes!!! Just a few people, but still, it was a good start.
Just bear in mind, I've shared 3 stories for free on there and been updating them for months before I asked anyone or promoted my book on there. Wattpad is a community of readers who like reading for free, so promoting your book can only happen if you've already published some stuff for free beforehand. At least it's how I see it.
Stage 2: Finding ARC Readers (1 month early)
This was the fun part! I just went to a few people and asked if they were interested in reading the book early - meaning they would read an Advanced Reader Copy, aka ARC.
An ARC is an Advanced Reader/Review Copy, which the publisher gives for free before the launch, so that the recipient would provide an honest review before or on release day. It can be an actual printed book or an eARC, aka digital ARC.
Traditional and indie publishers/authors both do this. They would give ARCs to people in exchange for an honest review - emphasis on honest. You can't expect a positive review or pressure reviewers to post. You can just nudge gently and be grateful, whatever rating they give you, whatever review, you must always appreciate their time
There's another thing to consider here - while traditional publishers will only give influential book bloggers/booktubers/etc ARCs, so they can share the book with their big audiences, I personally wanted all kinds of readers - genuine everyday people and influential people both. I just wanted a lot of reviews from all kinds of people. That's just how I personally like it.
There are a few ways to get ARC readers:
You can announce that you're looking for ARC readers on social media.
You can ask if anyone on your newsletter wants an ARC of your book.
You can ask people who have previously enjoyed your writing.
You can ask acquaintances online - not family or friends, Amazon will take those reviews down if it seems they're biased reviews.
You shouldn't ask for review swaps since it's an exchange and reviewers must not have any incentives to give you a good review.
You cannot pay for reviews. Period. There are exceptions to this, like when you pay a service to connect you to reviewers, who are not paid themselves.
You can send ARCs to book bloggers, bookstagrammers, booktubers, booktokkers, etc. If you're a first-time author you should contact people who are on your level. Big time booktubers and book bloggers (etc) won't even answer your emails.
So that's what I did - my very first step in this process was to contact a few people on Wattpad, a few people on twitter, who I thought might enjoy my book or just do me a favor - again, this is an HONEST review. Some of the reviews I got from people I know were very critical and very honest, which I really appreciate. You don't need 100 gushing reviews because that's not realistic. Besides, reviews are for your readers, not for you.
Finally, I didn't even know this before I started the process, but ARCs are viewed as something precious. Readers are honored to be the first people to read your book and they will thank you for the privilege. It's a very good way to get reviews, in my opinion.
Stage 3: Paying for a Service
Like I said, offering ANY kind of incentive for reviews is not allowed per the Terms of Service of Amazon, so paying or offering swaps or gifts in exchange for reviews is forbidden. I know there are people who offer reviews in exchange for money, but that's not exactly ethical.
Reviews are and always will be FREE.
However, there are services that allow you to share your ARC with a wide audience (who are not paid, only the service is paid, so you get access to these people).
There are two types of services:
Tools that allow you to share your ARCs with people YOU find
Tools that allow you to share your ARC with an existing audience
If you already have plenty of people and you don't need any more, you can use tools like Prolific Works or Booksprout or StoryOrigin (I think certain features of this service are free) or Bookfunnel. (I have not used them though, so do your research.)
However, if like me, you're looking for more ARC readers, ones that you don't know, so perfect strangers, you will need #2. The reason why I wanted a combination of people I sort of knew and complete strangers is because I wanted my book to be 'tested' by both groups. To be sure that even people who didn't know me might like my book.
NetGalley is the most famous such service. It's expensive because it will result in a LOT of reviews. However, you'll have to be sure about the quality of your book because these readers are used to a higher standard and can be very critical, sometimes even mean.
There's also BookSirens, which I've been using and I'm happy with. Customer support is great, you can vet the people who read your book, and I get 20+ reviewers on average.
Finally, what helped me the most - resulting in about 40+ reviews - was Gay Romance Reviews, who not only connect you to reviewers (at a very reasonable price), but also do book tours, book blitzes, and all kinds of book promotions that actually WORK. Their audience is comprised of hungry, intelligent, and eager readers of Gay Romance.
From all the things I paid for/used, Gay Romance Reviews gave the best results, and the reviews were not only awesome, but also very honest and critical and respectful, so this audience is not only eager to read, but also very professional.
Obviously that's a service for one specific genre, so you'll have to find one that works for YOUR genre, or one that works generally, like NetGalley.
In the end, paying for such a service is fine, according to Amazon, as long as the reviewers disclose that they have reviewed an ARC of your book.
Stage 4: Contacting Book Bloggers (etc)
I think the more people talk about your book the better, so I wanted to add some book bloggers/etc to the mix, and made sure to share their reviews on social media, whether they were positive or not. I did appreciate them taking the time.
However, I made a mistake here because I contacted people too late. Basically, I contacted them 2 weeks before the release, but it has to be at least 1 month prior, so they have the time to read and review. Remember, these are usually busy readers who are already reading a lot of books and their TBR lists are giant.
What's important here is to read everyone's Review Policy. Do they accept eARCs or actual print books? Do they post just on their blog or their social and Amazon/Goodreads as well? Do they accept your genre? Do they not like a specific type of trope? Etc.
First make sure that they would want to read your story, then you can contact them.
You can just politely ask if they would like an ARC of your book. You should also include your book's 'hook' or a short blurb, so it gives them an idea about the plot. If they're open to indie books and/or your specific genre, they'll be happy to do it.
There are some indie reviewer databases, only one of which I found useful, but if you can't find one, you can always find these people in all kinds of ways - you can google 'your genre book review', set the google results to 'last week', and see what comes up. Go to these people's sites and see if you like the vibe. You can also search on social media.
You can also decide to contact bookstagramers on Instagram or booktokkers on tiktok, where there are a lot of readers just waiting to read your book. Again, don't contact the biggest names, who are too busy to notice your little email. Contact people who read a lot and would be interested in your book, and make the email personal. Don't be a robot and just copy/paste. I had an email I copy/pasted, but then added a sentence at the beginning, which showed the person I read their site/reviews or watched their videos.
From the 40+ bloggers I contacted only a few answered, so keep that in mind. The more people you contact, the better chance of someone answering. The more people you send ARCs to, the better chance of reviews. Remember to keep notes - with everyone's name, email, and what they answered, so you don't get confused.
Finally, make a small media kit for your book - your book's info and links, small excerpt, your author bio and links, and one or two promo images or whatever.
I made my media kit too complicated when I should have kept it simple and I sent it to people too early - wait to be asked for it, then send it.
Stage 5: Book Tour
Other than finding ARC readers yourself, paying for a service like NetGalley, and contacting book bloggers/etc directly, you can also pay for or organize a blog tour yourself.
Personally, I couldn't organize a tour myself because I'm too lazy to do it (lol), so I hired Zooloos Book Tours, and Zoe was very sweet and accommodating. There was a blog tour image and a bunch of bloggers and bookstagrammers who were sharing their reviews on all kinds of social media channels, and it's a good way to spread the word about your book.
You should know that Books Tours are expensive - it's basically like a real book tour but online, and you jump from place to place, for about a week. For example, it can be from blog to blog, from instagram to instagram, from facebook to facebook etc.
Instagram tours are very popular among authors, and I don't know if anyone does tiktok book tours, but I would enjoy doing that too, since tiktok is great for authors.
An average book tour costs between $70 and $200, depending on how many days it lasts. I recommend finding one that would fit your genre. In my research, I found a few interesting book tour operators, but I believe that The Write Reads is the most popular.
Stage 6: Sending Reminders
If someone agrees to be your ARC reader/reviewer, don't hesitate to remind them closer to the book launch. We all have busy lives and sometimes we just forget. One reminder is fine, but maybe don't remind them every day.
Also, don't forget to give your ARC readers the links to your book, where they can leave your review - Goodreads, Amazon (after it launches), Bookbub, Barnes and Noble, etc.
I am lucky that my ARC readers were so sweet and accommodating and didn't mind my constant DMs, but then I felt bad for constantly bugging them. Since I was doing this for the first time, I didn't have a plan on how to do it, but next time, I know I will focus on one reminder closer to the launch and one email on the day of the launch, and that's it.
Obviously, the closer you are to the person, the better you'd feel about contacting them again, and when they're a stranger, you must remain 100% professional.
Stage 7: Reviews on Amazon
Always remind your ARC readers to leave a review on Amazon when your book goes up. If you're using a service, they will probably do it for you.
Now, there are 7 things to understand about Amazon reviews:
You can't post reviews on a book that hasn't been released yet, so not on a book that's on pre-order, but you can release the paperback early and ask people to review that, and the review will appear for all formats.
You can't ask relatives and close friends to review because Amazon will likely remove those reviews. (I think they check Facebook.)
Some of the reviews people leave will disappear because a) sometimes people don't have enough activity on their account to leave a review or Amazon has just decided that it's not a legitimate review, which is why you need a LOT of reviews to then have only half of those appear on Amazon (not everyone reviews on Amazon, not every review stays on Amazon, and basically, you need to play a numbers game).
The reviewers will post on their own country's Amazon, so if you have 100 reviews, but only 20 of those are from the US, then you have 20 reviews on your ebook. (Although there is a 'reviews from other countries' part, which is helpful.)
If someone is harrassing you and has clearly not read your book, you can report their review on Amazon, and you can do the same on Goodreads. Critical feedback from actual readers is one thing, but bullying mean reviews from trolls is quite another.
The more reviews you get and the earlier, the better for the release. However, the top reviews will always be by 'verified purchases', so your ARC reviews will not be on top, or affect the algorithm, I don't think. They're just for social proof and for quotes - for example, you can use some of those on the back of your book or in the description or in promotional material or like me, in all of the above.
You can add a polite 'thank you for reading my book, could you please take a minute to leave an honest review on Goodreads and Amazon?' at the end of ARCs and your final copy, so that you're reminding your reader to leave a review. Even though Amazon does that for you, I never really read that or stop to leave a review. When the author asks, it's more impactful.
Stage 8: Sharing Reviews
There's a debate in the writing community about whether or not you should share your positive reviews on social media, and I have a lot of thoughts on that.
First of all, I don't care what anyone says, and a lot of people agree with me actually, but you should celebrate your positive reviews and share them. That shows people that readers like your book, what they like about your book, and it's good marketing.
Second, don't EVER argue or share negative reviews in a mean way, or with names. Those reviewers will get angry and a bunch of people will 1-star bomb your book on Goodreads. This happens because reviewers believe their reviews are for the readers, not for you, and if you argue or embarrass them, then you're not being professional.
Third, when you share the reviews, don't share the reviewer's name, unless they're a blogger who is sharing your review on social already. If they're a blogger who wants to be acknowledged, you need to share their name, but if it's just a random person on Goodreads, especially someone you don't know, you shouldn't share their name. Just the review. Not everyone wants to see their name on another social media platform.
Results: 70+ ARC Reviews
My book came out on September 13. By then I already had 50+ reviews on Goodreads. The closer to the release date, the more reviews poured in, and when it was release week, I was inundated with another wave of reviews, and I still get ARC reviews from time to time.
By week 2 of release, I already had 80 reviews, all of those on Goodreads, a few on Bookbub and Barnes and Noble, 45 on Amazon US, 18 on Amazon UK, etc.
Once you've released your book, you will start getting 'verified reviews', which are reviews from readers who have paid for your book, and those are the best! Obviously you can launch with a free book and get more of your ARC reviews to be verified, but this seemed a bit sneaky to me, and in the end, I decided it didn't matter.
The more reviews you have, the better, whether verified or not. People may not always read them, but they see the number next to your book and the overall rating. That has a psychological impact on readers, when they're deciding whether to buy or not.
Can you do it for free? Are you losing sales?
Yes, you can get reviews for absolutely free, but it's a lot of work - finding people who want to read your book and review it, finding bloggers, keeping up with everyone, etc. Technically, you can do all this without paying for any services like NetGalley or Booksprout or whatever, but the results might not be as grand or as easily achieved.
So whether you want to do it on a $0 budget or pay for a service is up to you.
The other thing I have heard people say is - if I give my book away to so many people, aren't I losing sales? Or why would I give my book away when I've worked so hard for it?
The same reason why small shops or untested products do it. For the same reason new service providers do a few free ones, to collect testimonials. Because you have to prove your book is as good as you say it is. You need social proof.
There's no guarantee those people were going to buy your book, for one thing, and for another, the more reviews and people talking about your book - yes, some of your ARC reviewers will talk about your book, which is great 'word of mouth' - the more sales. Amazon notes the reviews and notes the Kindle Unlimited reads, and it makes your book more visible. And look, I am no expert on book sales - yet - so take this with a grain of salt, okay?
If you're a new indie author like me, you can't expect the sales to come magically to you out of nowhere. I have to make it happen. And I have to prioritize - what's important to me now as a small indie author - sales or readers? I chose the latter, as I needed to start building my name. In my personal experience, ARC reviews helped a lot.
For the purposes of transparency, however, I will share that I've made about $140 so far (in 1 month, most of which came from KU reads) from selling my book, which isn't earth-shattering, but not bad either.
Obviously, these are all my thoughts and experiences.
If yours are different, share in the comments. :)
Disclaimer: On Piracy
If like me, you're not being careful enough how you distribute your eARCs, and you just send them to people via email, you might have to deal with piracy. Actually, even if you are careful, you will have to deal with piracy if your book becomes popular.
In any case, like any writer out there I was worried about giving out a book that's not published yet, for good reason. People do all kinds of crazy things online, including taking other people's books off Wattpad and publishing them under their own name.
This is why I decided to do a pre-order, so my book was out there.
Still, you will have to deal with piracy eventually, so first of all, you can be more careful by using some of the services for finding and distributing to ARC readers that I mentioned earlier, and secondly, you can follow some of my instructions below. I'll tell you how to bring down those pirate copies of your book. Well, some of them.
Google your book from time to time, see what comes up, and if you want to find pirated copies, google 'your book download' and 'your book free' and sometimes even just your book and your author name. I found several pirated sites this way.
The first thing you need to do is remove those sites from your book's google results. Google is very accommodating since it works with the DMCA law, so just go to this page and follow the steps, including the original book link and the pirated ones.
Next, you need to take the pirating site's url and find who hosts them with WhoIsHostingThis, and when you do, you can google 'host abuse' or 'host dmca', and if they have a page for this, you can complain. If not, just find if they have an email and send them a DMCA takedown via email. There are some free examples online.
In some cases, some hosts do not care about DMCA and piracy, so there will be no way for you to take the pirated copy or link down. You'll just have to live with it.
And that's it. Hopefully this helps. :)
Let me know in the comments - What's your experience with ARC reviews? What resources/tools/sites have you used? What has given you the best/worst results? Share your wisdom, please, we are all still learning here.