Getting reviews is the bane of the self-published author's existence. Without access to major media channels, self-published authors have to rely on contacting individual reviewers, which is roughly the equivalent to handing out flyers in malls. 

In spite of the fact that contacting individual reviewers is time-consuming, arduous, and less efficient than, say, a review in the New York Times, it is probably the best way to get reviews. Book bloggers will more likely respond to an email requesting a review than a giveaway, or getting a flyer from a chicken. (Paid services, of course, will always generate reviews, but these are, for the most part, editorial reviews, which won't increase your ratings.)

Below is an article that summarizes all the different strategies you can employ for getting reviews.

Related postsTop 12 Sites for Finding Reviewers

List of Online Reviewers Who Accept Self-Published Books

The Indie Author's Guide to Customer Reviews

By Daniel Lefferts

SourceBook Life, Nov 24, 2014

The self-publishing revolution has taken place, in large part, online, with readers discovering books and connecting directly with indie authors through sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, Wattpad, Smashwords, and more. In addition to book blogs, online book clubs, and online advertising, one of the central means by which readers learn about self-published books is the customer review. Reviews offer (ostensibly) unbiased commentary about a book, and while positive reviews are undoubtedly more desirable than one-star pans, having a mixed bag of reviews is better than having none at all.

“Along with the cover image, a book’s aggregate review score creates the first impression on Amazon” says Aaron Cooley, who self-published his novel Shaken, Not Stirred. “But the total number [of reviews] is important, too.”

But if customer reviews are, by their very nature, customer-generated, what can authors do to get more of them? Without resorting to “sock-puppet” reviews—that is, reviews written by the book’s author using an alias—how can authors turn that discouraging “no customer reviews yet” message into a smattering of star ratings and commentary?

Blogger Outreach

It’s common for indie authors to reach out to book bloggers to pitch their books for review. If you’ve succeeded in getting your book reviewed—or you’re still shopping for the right blogger—ask the blogger if they’re willing to post their review to Amazon or Goodreads, in addition to their own blogs.

Jane Litte, owner of the popular romance blog Dear Author, says that, when it comes to posting reviews to other websites, “Each reviewer has their own practices and habits. Personally I post a short review of books I’ve read at Goodreads.”

"You can be sure that the Amazon top customer reviewers put a lot of thought and energy into their reviews."

Others will post to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites, such as Shelfari. On Indie View, a site that hosts a list of bloggers and writers who review self-published books (for free), reviewers specify which sites they’ll post their reviews to.

Paid Review Services

It’s equally common for indie authors to purchase reviews through paid review services. These sites, such as BlueInk Review and Self-Publishing Review, will often post their reviews to commerce sites such Amazon, or will allow authors to repost reviews to those sites.

BlueInk Review, for instance, offers detailed instructions for uploading a review to the “Editorial Reviews” section of book’s Amazon and Barnes & Noble pages. Customers of Self-Publishing Review can request to post their reviews to the “Editorial Reviews” sections of those sites, along with several others, as well.

Editorial Reviews vs. Customer Reviews

Whether you’re pitching a book blogger or purchasing a review from a paid review site, it’s important to understand each reviewer’s reposting policy. Some bloggers (such as those listed on Indie View) will post their reviews to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads as customer reviews, which generate star ratings and contribute to the overall rating of your book. Other reviewers, such as BlueInk Review and Self-Publishing Review, repost their reviews as “Editorial Reviews,” which do not generate star ratings. Both types of reviews are, of course, valuable, but it’s important to know what you’re getting with each. Indie authors in search of star ratings may have to supplement editorial reviews by taking alternate approaches.

Approaching Reviewers on Amazon

Reviews from Amazon customers can be helpful to indie authors trying to drum up conversation around their books. But a review from a Top Customer Reviewer—identified by a small tag next to their name in their reviews, and also listed here—can be especially beneficial. These are reviewers that Amazon has singled out for being highly prolific and helpful in their feedback. Lauren Pepper Wu, writing for the self-publishing blog The Creative Penn, recommends pitching top reviewers. “You can be sure that the Amazon top customer reviewers put a lot of thought and energy into their reviews,” she writes. And since they’ve “proven themselves to be fast…[they] will therefore most likely have a quick [turnaround].”

Top reviewers typically have a profile page containing their contact information, details about their background, and reading preferences. Be aware that some reviewers do not wish to be pitched (and will state as much on their profile), and that not every top reviewer reviews books.

Finding a top reviewer to contact can be time-consuming. In addition to wading through the Top Customer Reviewer list, indie authors can also look at customer reviews of books comparable to their own (whether in terms of genre or subject matter) and see if any top reviewers have reviewed them.

Getting Reviews on Goodreads

There are two main ways to tap into Goodreads’s avid user base and increase your chances of getting reviewed on the site. If you join the Author Program, you’ll have the ability to host a giveaway. [Note: Giveaways are for print books only.] According to Goodreads, “40,000 people enter Goodreads giveaways every day” and “an average of 825 people enter to win any given giveaway.” Authors typically give away advance copies of their books, and can choose how many books to send out (the site recommends 10 minimum). In your giveaway announcement, you can also include a message requesting (tactfully, of course) that winners of the giveaway review the book on the site. (There is, of course, no guarantee that they will.)

Another way to reach readers on Goodreads is by joining groups. If, let’s say, an indie author has written a historical novel set in medieval times, she can join the Ancient & Medieval Historical Fiction group and contribute to its discussion boards. As with other online social environments, such as Twitter, it’s best to communicate with other members organically; spamming users about a book is unlikely to generate reviews, and it may result in removal from the group. “Many groups have rules for how authors can or cannot participate,” the site says.

Ultimately, whether online or off, indie authors engaging with other book-lovers about their titles and asking for feedback is the most direct, and perhaps most satisfying, way to get reviews. “I’m always asking people who tell me they love [my] book to please also post a review,” Cooley says.

Amazon Phenomenon: NYT Article Boosts Obscure Book to Bestsellerdom

By Matthew Kassel, NY Observer, 04/21/14 

This past weekend, a little-known book called All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw was resurrected from obscurity when it surged to the top of Amazon’s rankings and became the bestselling book in America.

The reason for the sudden boost in popularity was a New York Times article by the book critic Dwight Garner, which appeared online on Friday and on the front page of the New York edition of the Times arts section on Saturday. By Saturday evening, the book was No. 1 on Amazon’s best sellers list, and its sales numbers had surged by a staggering 1,542,000 percent, according to the website’s Movers and Shakers list.

All God’s Dangers is a 600-page oral history, compiled by Theodore Rosengarten, of a black Alabama sharecropper named Ned Cobb. (Nate Shaw was a pseudonym.) It won the National Book Award in 1974 and was well-reviewed. “But it seems to have vanished from the culture at large,” Mr. Garner wrote in his critical appraisal.

Until now, that is. Garrett Kiely, director of the University of Chicago Press, which has published All God’s Dangers in paperback since 2000, said the article—and the concomitant boost in sales—was a welcome surprise.

“We vaguely knew something about the New York Times interest in the book because they’d asked us for copies to check some details,” he told the Observer. “But we didn’t quite know what it was, and it was nice to see.”

Mr. Kiely said that most copies of the book are sold for courses at the university level: history and African-American studies, for instance. “It wasn’t off our radar,” he said. “It was just off everybody else’s radar.”

This isn’t the first time that academic books from the backlist have gained momentum due to a mention in the news cycle.

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, a seminal book of economics also published by University of Chicago Press, had languished in academic circles until a positive mention by Glenn Beck sent it to the top of Amazon’s best sellers list in 2009.

Another book of economics, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, published by Harvard University Press, is the current best-selling book in the United States, according to Amazon. It appeared in the No. 2 spot alongside All God’s Dangers over the weekend, possibly boosted by Paul Krugman’s glowing review in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books. (As Mr. Kiely noted, it was a rare treat to see university press books at the top of the listings; All God’s Dangers, as of this writing, remains in the top 100, at No. 17.)

Mr. Garner, who, as one of three daily book critics for the Times, maintains what is perhaps the most influential perch in American literary taste-making, said he had never in his years as a reviewer seen one of his articles affect a book’s sales in this way.

“Being able to give a small boost to worthwhile books is easily the best thing about being a critic,” he said in an email to the Observer. “But no, I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re not talking about a new Michael Lewis book here; we’re talking about a 40-year-old autobiography of an illiterate sharecropper in the deep South. This is deep Americana.”

He added: “Ned Cobb is worth every bit of the attention, and I suspect he’d love it.”

I enjoy reading bad reviews of famous novels - almost as much as I enjoy getting them. It comforts me to know that if a book of mine is called "lugubrious," I will be keeping company with Aldous Huxley.

(Unlike Brave New World, not one of my books has been called "lugubrious," or even "nauseating," but this is probably due to an avoidance of polysyllabic adjectives on the part of contemporary reviewers.)

These books were panned primarily because they broke new ground. Innovative writing is rarely well received in the short run. However, in the long run, these books have stood the test of time, and are now considered classics.

Here are some truly harsh reviews of 20th-century classics assembled by Sean Hutchinson for Publisher's Weekly. If your book has the good fortune to be called "silly," know that you are right up there with Richard Wright.

Really Harsh Early Reviews of 20 Classic 20th-Century Novels

By Sean Hutchinson

Ulysses – James Joyce

Joyce’s magnum opus redefined literature and was a major event upon its release in 1922. Some bought into its radical structure, but others didn’t—including fellow modernist Virginia Woolf. In her diary she called Ulysses “an illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, and ultimately nauseating ... never did any book so bore me.”

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Cited by many as the Great American Novel, Fitzgerald’s inimitable The Great Gatsby remains a staple in classrooms and on bookshelves the world over. Critic and journalist H.L. Mencken, however, called it “no more than a glorified anecdote,” and that “it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf, with, say, This Side of Paradise [Fitzgerald’s debut novel].” In her review for the New York Evening World, critic Ruth Snyder said, “We are quite convinced after reading The Great Gatsby that Mr. Fitzgerald is not one of the great American writers of to-day.”

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s novel about a literature professor who becomes obsessed with a 12-year-old girl wasn’t without controversy when it was published in 1958. Orville Prescott’s review in the New York Times listed two reasons why Lolita “isn't worth any adult reader's attention.” “The first,” he said, “is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” Later in the same review, he called Nabokov’s writing “highbrow pornography.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

The ritualistic and drug-filled dystopian world created by writer Aldous Huxley may have been too much for some when it was first published in 1931, but the New York Herald Tribune may have missed the point of the book altogether when their review called Brave New World “A lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Heller’s satirical novel about World War II is so popular that the phrase “Catch-22” has become a ubiquitous modern idiom meaning a type of no-win situation. Heller was in a no-win situation, according to critic Richard Stern, whose New York Times review called the book “an emotional hodgepodge.” He added, “No mood is sustained long enough to register for more than a chapter.”

Under the Volcano — Malcolm Lowry

Lowry’s novel—about an alcoholic British consul in Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration on the eve of World War II—has both dazzled and frustrated readers since its debut in 1947. The New Yorker only reviewed it in its “Briefly Noted” section, saying, “for all [Lowry’s] earnestness he has succeeded only in writing a rather good imitation of an important novel.”

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

The New York Evening Post’s cleverly snide review of Woolf’s highly abstract Modernist masterpiece managed to praise her and shoot her down all in the same sentence: “Her work is poetry; it must be judged as poetry, and all the weaknesses of poetry are inherent in it.”

An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser

This sprawling tale of love and deceit's influence has been made into an opera, a musical, a radio program, and more. When the novel was first published in 1925, the Boston Evening Telegraph called its main character, Clyde Griffiths, “one of the most despicable creations of humanity that ever emerged from a novelist’s brain,” and called Dreiser “a fearsome manipulator of the English language” with a style that “is offensively colloquial, commonplace and vulgar.

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953, cementing its reputation as one of the most important books about race and identity ever written. In its 1952 review, however, the Atlantic Monthly thought it suffered from “occasional overwriting, stretches of fuzzy thinking, and a tendency to waver, confusingly, between realism and surrealism.”

Native Son – Richard Wright

Richard Wright’s Native Son is another classic American novel about the African American experience, but the New Statesman and The Nation found the book to be “unimpressive and silly, not even as much fun as a thriller."

Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow

Bellow’s uniquely comic and philosophical novel about an American millionaire who unwittingly becomes the king of an African tribe was the author's personal favorite. But it wasn’t a favorite for critic Reed Whittemore. In his review for the New Republic, Whittemore posed this question to himself: “The reviewer looks at the evidence and wonders if he should damn the author and praise the book, or praise the author and damn the book. And is it possible, somehow or other to praise or damn, both? He isn’t sure.”

Read the rest of these really harsh reviews here.

Nothing is quite so discouraging to an author as a dearth of reviews. After years of working on a novel, months (if not years) of trying to find an agent, and even more time spent waiting for publication, the release date arrives and poof! Nobody appears to be reading your book! It's enough to make you hang up your keyboard.

Even if you self-publish, you will spend months of preparation for a release day that may go out with a whimper, not a bang. In some respects, a lack of reviews is worse if you have self-published, because those who follow that route have to do all their own marketing and promotion, a task which requires direct involvement with readers.

Why are reviews important?

Like any other product on the market, people rely on the recommendation of others when they choose a book to read. In traditional publishing, endorsements by well-known authors and public figures are a key element in marketing. In the self-publishing world, success rests on the number of readers on Goodreads, on Amazon, and on blogs who will give your book a 5-star review. Without this kind of public endorsement, it may be nearly impossible to promote your book, especially if you have enrolled in KDP Select.

Amazon KDP Select giveaways are still the reigning book promotion tool. There are dozens of sites that will post your free days, but nearly all of them require a minimum number of reviews. It's one of those chicken-and-egg dilemmas. You can't promote your book without reviews, but you can't get reviews without promotion.

Should you pay for reviews?

If you are a new self-published author, don't pay for reviews.

Traditional publishers have long-standing ties with the media which self-publishers don't. This often drives self-publishers to pay for publicity. In my experience, paid reviews don't have nearly the clout of regular reviews posted on Amazon or Goodreads. For one thing, they have limited shelf life. A paid review may get posted on Blogcritics and then picked up briefly by small publications, or it may simply get sent to you for your own use. Very rarely do these reviews make it into larger media outlets, where they will reach the maximum number of people. Of course, you can always shell out $400 for a Kirkus review, but you take your chances. A good review in Kirkus is like an endorsement from God, but a bad review is the kiss of death.

How to get free reviews

Fortunately, there are mechanisms in place for getting reviews without spending a great deal of money. Giving away copies en masse is one route, targeting individual reviewers is another.

Librarything allows authors to give away copies of their books to Librarything members. (Read their policies.) Authors of self-published ebooks can give away up to 100 copies. Reviews are not required of readers, although they are recommended, so don't expect more than a 10% return rate. But even 10 reviews will enable you to post your free days on some of the larger freebie sites if you have enrolled in Amazon KDP Select.

Bookblogs is a great site for finding reviewers and for posting your giveaways. Explore the "groups" section and join the groups that are relevant to your genre. When you give away a book, or are looking for reviews, you can post it on the group site. You also have the option of sending a message to every member of that group.

Step-by-Step Self-Publishing
This is a great resource for book review blogs. It's an alphabetical listing of individual bloggers as well as book reviewer lists. This is your one-stop shopping guide to reviewers.

Book Blogger Directory
Over a thousand book blogs, very nicely organized by subject, and alphabetically.

Best of the Web
Best of the Web book blogs organized alphabetically. Not as easy to navigate as the book blogger directory.

William McKeen liked this “review” so much he had it framed. HST is Hunter S. Thompson, the notoriously foul-mouthed journalist who wrote – and apparently lived – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. 

William McKeen is the chair of the Department of Journalism at Boston University. He has a great sense of humor. McKeen's biography of Thompson, Outlaw Journalist, is  described as “painfully honest.”  In keeping with that sentiment,  this review can only be considered "heartfelt."