Book Marketing the Old Way Versus the Way That Works Today—Part 1: Book Reviews

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

shutterstock_172976921When it comes to selling a book, whether it’s self-published or distributed by one of the top-tier publishers, there’s the traditional way of marketing, and then there’s the way that works today. To demonstrate the difference, I’m kicking off a series of articles showing side-by-side comparisons of a traditional book marketing technique compared to a more modern, more effective method.

This article compares the old way of using book reviews for marketing purposes with the new way of doing so that leads to more successful results.

How Book Reviews Work . . . The Old Way

An author or publisher contacts a leading newspaper and gets an editor to write a glowing review. You deliver your Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) months in advance and hope the article comes out the week before your book launch.

The Way Book Reviews Work Today

Get 15 to 25 reader reviews on your Amazon sales page during your book’s first week of sales. Your reviews can be from people who read a free or from actual, verified buyers. Either way, you need reviews, and lots of them. Quantity is as important—anything less than 15 isn’t enough. Stars and snappy headlines are also important. The written paragraph is less important than the teaser at the top and a four or five star rating.

Related: To learn more about marketing strategies, register for “4 Weeks to a Powerful Book Marketing Strategy,” a hands-on course from Digital Book World University. 

Why the Old Way Doesn’t Work

Fewer people read traditional newspapers than ever before, so your review isn’t getting much exposure. In addition, fewer newspapers are staffed with book reviewers, so it’s difficult to reach the right person to pitch your book. If you do get through that gatekeeper, he or she will probably farm your review out to a freelancer and the article will probably run in a less-than-prominent space right below the article about the high school drum corps. Also, newspaper book reviews take months. Wouldn’t you rather just get your book up on Amazon and start selling?

On the reader side, when someone reads a review in a traditional newspaper (as opposed online) they can’t just click to purchase on impulse. Even if they enjoyed the review, by the time they think about buying their next book, your title will probably be out of their head and that paper is in the recycle bin.

Why the New Way Works

A lot of people pay attention to the Amazon sales page reviews—customers, price promotion newsletter editors and Amazon robots. Let’s look at all three.

Customers: To an online book shopper, a large number of reviews is just as important as a good review—maybe even more important. Customers might not always read every single review, but they value quantity. If they see a book with a lot of reviews, they know a lot of people have read the book. If a lot of people read the book, then the customer gets the message that it’s not some scruffy self-published vanity book. It’s a book worth reading.

Amazon Robots: Amazon keeps the information about its algorithms and bots very close to the chest so I can’t say I know how Amazon algorithms work. But those of us who study book sales the way skiers study snowfall know that a book is more likely to be “recommended” in targeted spots all around the online store if it has a lot of reviews.

Price Promotion Newsletters: Getting your book mentioned in one of an opt-in email list such as BookBub, Fussy Librarian or Book Gorilla can be a huge sales boost for a reasonable investment. If you’re not familiar with price promotion newsletters, they are advertisements are sent via email to lists of people who have signed up to hear about sales in specific book genres. (I’ll talk more about them in the next installment of this series.)

The editors of many price promotion newsletters won’t just list any book that comes their way. When you apply for a promotion, you have to let the editors know the number of customer reviews your book has received. A lot of price promotion newsletters will reject your request if you don’t have enough starred customer reviews. Having a lot of reviews tells them that you’re actively working on your own marketing and that your book is interesting to a large audience.

So if you want to sell more books, don’t worry about getting reviews from the traditional media. Spend your time getting reviews on your books sales page.

Related: To learn more about marketing strategies, register for “4 Weeks to a Powerful Book Marketing Strategy,” a hands-on course from Digital Book World University. 

3 thoughts on “Book Marketing the Old Way Versus the Way That Works Today—Part 1: Book Reviews

  1. Ernie Zelinski

    My opinion is that your article leaves a lot to be desired and can have authors focusing on techniques that are not anywhere as effective as many other techniques.

    First, you state, “An author or publisher contacts a leading newspaper and gets an editor to write a glowing review” is a traditional way that doesn’t work today. That is so wrong. Leading newspapers also may have websites that have a lot of readers. For example, I was successful in getting the AARP Bulletin to list my self-published “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” in their “6 Retirement Books That You Should Read.” Even though my book was listed in the Number 6 spot (One of AARP’s books was in the number 1 spot), the sales increase in both print sales and ebook sales increased my pretax profits by at least $20,000 for the month of September. Due to this mention in the AARP, the print edition of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” was in the top 500 books on Amazon for most of September and even reached an Amazon sales rank of 142 overall one day. Not bad, wouldn’t you say, for a book that was released over 10 years ago.

    Another example: Not so long ago USNEWS did a slide show of “The 10 Best Retirement Books” and listed “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” in the Number 1 spot. Now if anyone types “retirement book” into Google this article appears in the number 1 listing. (The next 3 listings also involve “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” and this has nothing to do
    with the number of reviews on Amazon.) This mention in USNEWS certainly increases the sale of my book.

    Second, you overrate the effect of getting a large number of reviews on Amazon. You can get your friends and relatives to post 1,000 5-star reviews of your book on Amazon. This isn’t going to do much good if few people visit the Amazon page for the book. When I first published “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”, I focused on generating a lot of traffic to Amazon’s page for the book. There is a way of doing this, which includes creating many websites that rank high in Google. Once people visit these websites because of a Google Search, I direct them to Amazon or Barnes and Noble to purchase my books. Because of this, many people purchased my books and the many reviews on both websites came naturally.

    In short, yes reviews matter. But reviews have to be combined with 50 or more of your own unique creative marketing techniques (I have at least 75 and social media is mostly irrelevant) which 99 percent of authors don’t use.

    One last note: Marketing guru Bob Baker a few years wrote a great article about why you should look at what practically everyone else is doing to market their books. You should then do the complete opposite, concluded Baker. That is what I have done, particularly when it came to social media. Avoiding social media and concentrating on the many other techniques that really work is one of my many reasons that my books (mostly self-published) have now sold between 800,000 and 850,000 copies worldwide. It is also one of the main reasons that I have been able to get around 115 book deals with foreign publishers around the world without using a North American foreign rights agent, with the result that my books have now been published in 22 languages in 29 countries.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  2. Rachel Thompson

    Interesting comment Ernie. Creative marketing is always a good idea. Why not take all possible approaches? However, you are writing the right thing at the right time as baby boomer retire. Genre matters in how one markets. None-fiction generally has less competitors in a bigger market. Self help has been flying off the shelf since the late 70s while sci-fi has shrunk in pace. One size can’t fit all. nobody mentioned beating the pavement, an old method that still gets the word out. Conventions, with focused readers, is one pavement beating way to reach readers in person. I think the personnel touch still has merit.



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