ARCs, ‘Reviews-for-Free-Books’ Sites, and How to Find Them

girl reading an ARC
photo courtesy ryan day and freeimages.com

Would you like to offer ARCs (Advance Reader Copies, or Advance Review Copies) to people who will post honest book reviews at Amazon and other booksellers’ sites?

In this article, I’ll share my insights and top resources.

However, I apologize in advance. I’m writing this article, stream-of-consciousness style, because I’m radically revising my priorities and schedule… but I want you to have this information, quickly.  So, I may ramble and this may include typos.

Let’s start with Amazon itself.

Contact people who review at Amazon

Sure, everyone talks about searching Amazon for reviewers (in your category) who have contact info on their profiles.

The standard advice is to limit your search to reviewers ranked in the top 1000 (or so) reviewers, and send them a form letter offering a free digital copy of your book in return for an honest review.

As an Amazon reviewer often ranked closed to #1,000 at Amazon, I can tell you what happens:

  • I receive cookie-cutter form letters — usually with at least one typo — offering me a free book in return for an honest review.
  • In most cases, that author read just one of my reviews, and hasn’t a clue what the real scope of my interests is. (They also hint — heavily — that they’d like a five-star review or none at all. Clearly, they haven’t noticed that I usually post four-star reviews, unless a book or product is exceptionally good.)
  • And, in most cases, I delete that email. I accept less than 1% of the requests I receive.

Flip side of that coin: in a book marketing webinar I attended this week, Bryan Cohen suggested that, even with a well-written letter to prospective reviewers at Amazon, authors should expect about a 10% response. (If you want three reviews, send out 30 requests.)

So, the “contact Amazon reviewers” practice can work, but be sure you’re contacting the best possible reviewers for your books, and your emails are personal and compelling.

Alternate ways to find reviewers, at Amazon and elsewhere

Authors can use online resources — not at Amazon — to get books into the hands of Amazon reviewers.

A few people have been selling expensive reports that describe this tactic. Please don’t waste your money. You can find this information online, free.

The basic concept is:

  1. You give people free copies of your books.
  2. They talk about your book at their (popular) websites.
  3. Or they write a review (usually at Amazon.com).
  4. Or both.

A good review at a website (blog) can be even more useful than an Amazon review.

Why give books to bloggers?

If a review website (blog) is especially popular, you can quote it in an “editorial reviews” blurb on your book sales page.

Here are some guidelines Amazon provides at Author Central, as of April 2016:

  • Reviews should consist of transcribed text from reputable sources. The name of the source should be credited after the quotation. For example, “A fantastic read.” –The New York Times
  • Quotes from outside reviews should follow “fair use” copyright guidelines and be limited to 1-2 sentences.
  • We recommend you limit your Reviews to 3000 characters. Customers may miss out critical information if your reviews are too long.

With permission from the reviewer, you can also use an excerpt of the review on your book cover.

This can be especially convincing as “social proof,” particularly if your printed books are sold through brick-and-mortar bookstores, or if you sell your books from a table or book in a store, at a conference, or even at a flea market.

Even if just to get more buzz, I think it’s a good idea to offer review copies to book bloggers, as well as authors in your field who’ll provide useful (but honest) cover blurbs.

Why give books for Amazon (etc.) book reviews?

Traditional publishers still send out free review copies, expecting reviews at Amazon (etc.), but they know how to do this.

Many indies have made career-damaging mistakes trying to achieve the same goal.

The problem: If you rush things, those great, honest reviews could backfire, badly. Amazon shoppers are becoming wary of reviews that could be shills.

For a glaring example of this in a non-book category, see http://www.amazon.com/BRI-Nutrition-5-HTP-Relaxation-Increases/dp/B00X89O5B0/

That product description has many spelling and punctuation errors, plus a nightmarish level of keyword stuffing.

(“Keyword stuffing” is finding any excuse to add myriad words & phrases that people might search for, at Amazon, hoping to land that product or book in the search results.)

Most reviews for that product are five-stars, from a time between late July and early September, and include a line about receiving a discounted or free product in exchange for the review.

Everything on that sales page looks so shady, I’d never buy the product.

My advice for beginners…? If you’re going to offer review copies to your fans, or through a service, keep the numbers low and try to space them over more than a few weeks. (It’s ideal to see them peppered throughout a larger collection of non-ARC reviews.)

Do I need to say this? Only honest, unpaid Amazon reviews

Read and closely watch Amazon’s Terms of Service, to understand the differences between a “paid review” and the very normal publishing tactic of sending out review copies (also called “ARCs“).

In 2015, Amazon brought a halt to any kind of payment (for reviews) when they said, “We don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion and if we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we’ll remove it.” [Emphasis added.]

In addition, I’ve seen a few authors recommend “giveaways.” In those, the reviewer not only receives a free copy of the book, he or she is also entered in a drawing for a prize, if the person posts an honest review at Amazon.

The prizes may be cash, a Kindle reader, or something else of value.

I may be too cautious, but as I understand Amazon’s rules, offering anything of value — even an entry in a contest — is considered a “paid” review.

So, I wouldn’t do that.

Follow traditional models

Instead, follow the practice widely used by traditional publishers: Send out free, review copies to selected, eager readers — on a precise schedule — as well as to publications like your local newspaper, topic-related magazines (e.g., Romantic Times), and so on.

When you send review copies to magazines, particularly print magazines, it’s smart to send them all at once, as early as possible. Due to editorial & printing schedules, those reviews may appear over a period of months… but there’s nothing wrong with them all showing up at the same time. These kinds of reviews are considered “social proof.”

Where to start

As an indie author, you have several choices:

  • Build a “street team” to review your books, sometimes by giving each person a free copy of your latest book, even before it’s available to the public.
  • Find will-blog-for-books bloggers, on your own. (You can search at Google for them, post at forums they frequent, etc.)
  • Use a paid service to offer your books to their professional bloggers/reviewers. (The reviewers aren’t paid. They simple receive a free book with a request for an honest review.)

The best choice is to get your own readers to be part of your “street team” or “advanced readers team.”

You’ll give them free books to your fans while asking them for an honest review. (Your phrasing must be clear: The book is free. You’re not giving them the book with an expectation of a favorable review.)

However, if you don’t have a mailing list yet, or you’re uneasy asking your readers for reviews, you can find reviewers at free and commercial websites.

But first, that Amazon-ish warning, in more detail

In addition to avoiding anything that looks like payment for a review, remain current about the phrasing your readers (of free books) should use in their reviews. And then, be sure your reviewers know the exact phrases they must include.

Here’s one author’s experience from March 2014: http://fabulosityreads.blogspot.com/2014/03/amazons-new-book-review-policy.html but, just to make things confusing, here’s someone else’s post on this same topic (in March 2014), also quoting Amazon: http://digiscrapping.net/blog/amazon-did-not-change-their-policy-on-arc-book-reviews/

Not sure what’s okay and what could put your indie publishing business at risk? Call or email Amazon’s support team. Really. They’re very nice people and their information will be better and more current than anything I can tell you.

And — as always — check others’ reviews and insights about any service that charges a fee. I haven’t personally used any paid services to get reviews — aside from hiring a few bloggers (not Amazon reviewers) at Fiverr.

Tip: If you’re hiring a book blogger at Fiverr, be sure to tell them not to review your book at Amazon. Some of them — meaning well — add a “bonus” review at Amazon.

I always say, “Please do not review this book at Amazon, only at your blog.”

Professional resources for reviews

Interested in professionally-managed review resources?

Here are a few — info & distribution sites — to get you started: BookLook BloggersNetGalley  Both of those seem to be widely recommended.

I have less information about Online Book Club, which doesn’t look as polished. (If you’ve used them, successfully, be sure to let me know.)

This next site seems informal, but fairly straightforward about what they offer: https://www.thekindlebookreview.net/book-reviews/

Here’s a list — written for people who want ARCs — that includes traditional publishers as well as resources used by indies: http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-get-arcs-step-by-step-guide.html

Want to know what traditional publishers look for, when accepting people to their “street teams”? See this article: https://www.nosegraze.com/how-to-receive-physical-arcs-info-good-practices/

In addition, you can search for sites that offer a variety of free & discounted products (not just books), in exchange for honest Amazon reviews. Here’s one list: http://vonbeau.com/offer/get-free-and-discounted-products-to-review-on-amazon.htm (Verify each site’s practices and reputation, carefully, before participating.)

A few people have asked me about getting reviews through Amazon Vine. It isn’t quite as accessible for indies on a limited budget. Here’s one summary: http://www.anamardoll.com/2011/03/arcs-for-free-amazon-vine-and-vine.html

For more lists and information like this, use any search engine and start with sites that explain how to receive ARCs (as a reviewer). Generally, those articles list the largest numbers of resources.

Then, see what indies say — at their own sites and in forums — about those resources. And, of course, be sure those posts are current.

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