Pitching to the New Gatekeepers, Part III

razor wireTo refresh everyone’s memory, in Part I, I spoke briefly about Paul Drakar’s idea that top ranked Amazon reviewers were the new Gatekeepers of publishing, and his strategy for enlisting their help to promote our books. In Part II, I investigated whether these top ranked reviewers really did influence sales – apparently they do. Now it’s time to look at Drakar’s strategy in detail.

In a nutshell, the strategy is a six-step process that involves a great deal of research, and more than a smidgeon of chutzpah. I’ve provided a bare-bones summary of the steps below, however I recommend reading Drakar’s entire article as it contains a great deal of useful information.

Step 1 Make a list of all your favourite books, and look them up on Amazon,

Step 2 Read the 4 and 5 star reviews for every book on your list,

Step 3 Make a list of reviewers who feel the same way about a book as you do,

Step 4 Check out the other reviews these reviewers have written, and their ranking,

Step 5 If some of the reviewers sound like kindred spirits, befriend them,

Step 6 Ask them for a review.

In many ways, Drakar’s strategy is similar to what most of us do quite naturally – i.e. look for like-minded people, get to know them, and hope they’ll like us back. In my old-fashioned opinion, however, the addition of all that research gives a slightly cold-blooded, stalker-ish element to the process.

Despite some misgivings, I decided to try out at least some elements of Drakar’s strategy. I compiled a list of my top five, favourite novels of all time. I looked them up on Amazon. And found that only one of the books on my list had been reviewed by a top ranked reviewer! For those with a curious mind, the novel was Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K LeGuin.

Undaunted, I looked up other reviews by this reviewer. Over the course of the next couple of hours, yes hours, I began to get a feel for the person behind the reviewer label. Worse, I began to realise that this was a person I could actually like. We both have a fascination for Japan, we both own cats, and go to extraordinary lengths to keep them healthy and happy, and we both love Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment!

And this brings me to the nub of the problem I have with Drakar’s strategy – I think it may actually work as advertised, but I believe reviewers are also people, and deserve to be liked for their own sake, not just cultivated for their potential usefulness.

To be fair, I don’t think Drakar himself is as cold-blooded in his approach as this post may imply. I suspect he’s a personable man who stumbled on an approach that worked, and then tried to rationalise why it did work. After that, enthusiasm for his discovery probably obscured the negative aspects, even from himself.

So there you have it, an approach that can work, if you have the time, persistence, and chutzpah to give it a go.

As for me, I may end up trying to contact that reviewer, but I know I’ll have to confess to ulterior motives before I ask for a review. Fair is fair.

What about you? Do you think I’m being too hard on Drakar? Or do you think his approach is acceptable in the Age of Amazon?

36 thoughts on “Pitching to the New Gatekeepers, Part III”

  1. I don’t think you’re being too hard on Drakar. I think reviewers and other readers are plenty sharp enough to know we’re seeking them out in hopes of obtaining a helpful review, and I agree with you that we need to be upfront and honest about what we’re doing. To be completely honest, I don’t think this strategy is something I could ever do. It’s one thing to query a known book reviewer/blogger, but this seems somehow different. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to do – I’m just not forward enough to be comfortable doing it.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Melinda. I think you and I are cut from the same cloth. I still think about that reviewer, but as the weeks pass I know I’ll never have the courage to make contact.

  2. I think its a shame that traditional published books get reviews added via Kirkus etc. sometimes in advance but it is still such a complex project for Indie writers to get reviews posted. Amazon claims to be a level playing field for all, but that is not a reality. I understand why Amazon uses algorithms to even decide which reviews get seen etc.. It is a shame that to get your book visible there is a constant need to figure out the system. That said – going direct to the reviewers seems an honest way for those who are willing to invest the time and risk to connect.

    1. If it’s any consolation, Elizabeth, I was reading somewhere that the Kirkus reviews aren’t all that effective. I think the playing field has changed, and although reviews are influential, I think readers are looking for them in different areas. Sadly, knowing where those areas are is as much of a mystery to us as to the traditionals.:/

  3. AC, I’ll try to keep my comment from going to post length. I’m not sure if I’ll succeed. 🙂

    My short response is, for some reviewers, this might work. In fact, I’m sure it would. I expect that how high someone is ranked along with other factors will figure into how well it will work. I think (based on what I see as a reviewer and what I’ve read around the net along these lines) that this idea in various forms is fairly new.

    For a time I was ranked in the top 100 and have slowly slid back to barely top 1000 (I won’t go into detail as to the hows and whys other than to say velocity possibly is used in the ranking and that upvotes count more if they are recent). Those in the top 100 usually want to stay there and in order to do so they need to review items that are going to get a lot of upvotes. I’m aware of one top reviewer who was reviewing indie books for a short time and stopped because they weren’t getting the votes. There is a “top reviewer” forum on Amazon and there has been discussion I saw the someone trying to maximize their ranking was deleting reviews with too many downvotes or no upvotes. So, the nearer the top of the heap, the more complications you might find.

    I’ve had authors befriend me and subsequently reviewed their books. But, at least for me, that is going to take a lot of time to bear fruit. (And this assumes it is a book that interests me although, if it doesn’t, I might get one of the other reviewers on my blog to give a book a look.)

    Finding my blog and, from there, an email address, is easy to do from my Amazon profile. I see a lot of emails where I’m sure this is what happened. Those emails usually aren’t following the rest of Paul’s recommendations. Instead they usually are the email equivalent of “I love your reviews, please buy and review my book.” They show me that the people haven’t read my submission policy and, since I and my other reviewers can only review about 1 out of 4 of the books submitted correctly, it is easy to throw those that didn’t bother to in the trash pile.

    I suspect most of the top reviewers are getting inundated with review requests of some form. However, I have no doubt this technique will work if done the way Paul’s laid out. But, as you’ve said, it is going to be very time consuming.

    1. When I first published Appalachian Justice in 2010 I went into the Top Reviewers forum asking for a review. I’ve since learned that’s not really a very effective way to get reviews. The Top Reviewers are inundated with requests and in some cases, because of the experiences they’ve had, are a little tired of “indie” authors flooding the forum. Authors may get a friendly welcome, or they may not – and I can’t say that I blame the reviewers. Maybe contacting one directly would be more effective – it’s hard to say.

      I think the part I disagree with most is Step 5: Befriend them. Maybe that’s my own baggage coming into play,but it reminds me of the scores of people over the course of my adult life who have “befriended” me and then absolutely worn me out with their desire to use me as their own personal 24/7 free psychotherapist. If I “befriend” a reviewer it’ll be because we like each other as people, professional roles aside – not because of what they can do for me.

      1. “If I ‘befriend’ a reviewer it’ll be because we like each other as people, professional roles aside …

        Absolutely. People figure these things out. And really, I think Paul’s idea is to find a person you think you would like and legitimately befriend them. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a review out of the relationship, but done right, you’ll both get something out of it, even if he or she never reviews your book.

        BTW, I resisted specifically mentioning you in my comment, Melinda. 🙂

    2. Duh – I knew you were a well known reviewer, Al, but I just didn’t put 2 and 2 together. I wish I’d gone to you for information. This is fantastic ‘horse’s mouth’ stuff and I really appreciate your insights. Next time I’m going to pick your brains first!

  4. Where business is cut throat this is one of those plans that will work very nicely. I am reminded of the old saying, “The nice guy finishes last”. So either you are agressive in your business endeavors or you will be the nice guy and finish last. Even in Indie publishing the business rule holds true. I know which side of the fence I am on and am o.k with it. This practice would work very well for those who can excecute the last step of asking for said review but also doing it in a fashion as explained in the submission rules by BigAl. I really enjoyed this article, thank you for posting it!

    1. I’m tickled pink you got something out of it. I’m still a marketing neophyte but the issues raised by Drakar’s article wouldn’t leave me alone. I just had to sort out where I stood on the whole issue. After that I hoped it might be helpful to others. I’m so glad I’ve added a little something to our pool of shared knowledge. 🙂

  5. I tend to agree with wendyandcharles here. This will work for those aggressive enough and with enough time on their hands. And I think Al makes a good point re. reviewers only wanting to write for those that help their own ranking.

    1. It’s kind of a circular process isn’t it? Their ranking depends on us [readers that is] but our ranking then depends on them [as authors]. The best advice I ever read was to make friends and let the marketing take care of itself. It takes time, but all good things do, imho. 🙂

  6. Well, how many reviews do you want? Listen, when you guys start lamenting about not having enough reviews, I go and look. Most of you have reviews. There are sites an author can do promo on with just 3 reviews, other sites require 10, others 20. We have to promote our books. Reviews don’t sell books. Who said?
    Promotion sells books. Promotion even sells awful books. 10 reviews and you can submit to The Fussy Librarian. Cost you all of $1. New book, with 0-3 reviews-hop on over to http://www.ebooksoda.com. Free. I read Martin’s book and David G’s Let’s Get Visible. Hey! Those guys walked it before they talked it. Put that Nice Thank You to the Reader with a gentle prod to consider writing a short review or telling a friend at the back of your book. I didn’t have that little gem in the first editions of my ebooks. They all have it now. I have fans collecting on my FB page who love to read–but have read all of my books. What’s next? I’m a slow writer. I always ask: Do you enjoy reading and reviewing–because I have friends who would love to gift you with a book for a review. If they say yes–I connect ’em. But, Golly. Guess what. If an indie author is in KDP Select, it doesn’t cost five cents for a Kindle Countdown Deal–no reviews required. Get a few authors together, hire a tour director and have blog hop. No reviews required. There are even hops just for reviews. I’m new to indie authorship and every single element of the digital universe, but I learned this: Top reviewers are not necessarily the most respected–except one, and that is Big Al Books and Pals. I don’t promote my books until a title is out of the queue and has 3, 4, or 5 stars from Big Al’s blog. As soon as ?wazithinkin’ popped a 4 * on The House on Persimmon Road, I submitted to Bookbub. If I recall correctly the title had seven reviews. Bookbub accepted it. Done.

    1. Thanks Jackie! I hadn’t even heard of places like The Fussy Librarian until I read your comment. I’m definitely going to check it out. 🙂

  7. Two thinks I’d like to mention: First, I don’t think Draker is recommending that you befriend the reviewer and then ask them for a review. Rather, find a like-minded reviewer and then ask them directly for a review, pointing out in the email the well-researched reasons why you think they might like it. The research is a bit creepy, but the reviewers put the info out there, so they won’t be surprised.

    Second, I don’t think this is Draker’s method. Just to give credit (or blame) where credit is due. . . He says at the end that he’s borrowed many points from this book: How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon: A Guide for Independent Authors & Sellers by Theo Rogers.

    Lastly (OK I lied, there are three points!) I agree with the other posters that this will take a lot of time– that might be better spent writing. However, if we are DIY people, we got to do some selling, even if it’s the internet equivalent of going door-to-door.

    1. I think DIY or not, the methods we use have to somehow fit with who we are. It’s not one size fits all, so some people will be comfortable with this kind of methodology, others won’t. And, as you say, it does take a lot of time. I wouldn’t be comfortable with this particular method but I know a lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable with the way I go about doing things. But one thing we can all agree on is that knowledge is good, and discussion is even better. 🙂

  8. I agree that this strategy could work really well, but it is just so time consuming. I guess the argument could be that time spent on this would not be wasted if it gets you the exposure you want, but man – I’m just not sure I have the patience :-/

  9. Perhaps the fact that you spent several hours checking out this person’s reviews before choosing him or her will get you some brownie points in his or her opinion. I’d make sure I mentioned that in my contact. Reviewers are human, too, surprisingly enough.
    PS. I’m looking for good books to review at airbornpressdotca and I’ll put it up on Amazon as well.

      1. Thanks Gordon – are you interested in science fiction? lol

        I suspect reviewers are just like us – some will appreciate the time and effort taken, some will be annoyed, others may just ignore the whole thing. Trouble is, there’s no way of knowing ahead of time.

        My own personal take on this is that I know I’d be devastated if I wrote to a review and received hate mail in response. I’m just not brave enough to take that risk.

  10. Meeks, I’m agreeing with most of the rest of the crew here — it sounds like a worthwhile strategy to pursue, if you’ve got the time on your hands. And I think it also would take a fair amount of people skills. I could see an author without a lot of sensitivity blowing it badly: “Hey there, I see you’re a top reviewer on Amazon. I’ve basically been stalking you around the internet for the past several hours. Want to review my book? I’m sure you’ll love it.” Aieee…. If I got a similar e-mail, it would go right in the spam folder.

      1. Comment to several worried people above:

        I think you are borrowing trouble. I doubt if any serious reviewer worth his or her salt has the time or inclination to do anything except:
        1. accept your book for review
        2. ignore an importunate request.
        A very few may care enough to send a polite “No thanks.”
        As far as “I’ve been stalking you,”. I’m sure a simple comment or two about a couple of the person’s reviews that you agreed or disagreed with will start a legitimate conversation about books.
        Top reviewers are pros, and I think you can expect them to act like it. We are their business, and for the most part they will treat us in a businesslike fashion.
        Go for it! Contact them!


  11. On occasion, throughout my expansive life experiences, I’ve put on a salesman’s hat; when I have, it has been out of necessity. That hat never felt comfortable. There are those I have met along the way who were very successful sales people, they enjoyed the game; you cannot, I personally feel, be successful at anything unless you really delight in what you’re doing. So, for those of you who are of that bent, go for it and good luck to you; I for one, and probably to my detriment, am not and so I will not.

    Excellent, well balanced three part article, AC.

    1. Your comment reminded me that many years ago I actually did do some sales [in my husband’s company] and I had some success, but only when I genuinely believed in the product.

      I sometimes wish I had to sell a piece of software instead of a work of fiction!

  12. Here is where Draker’s suggestions goes awry: Step 1: Make a list of all your favourite books, and look them up on Amazon. Wrong! I read across the spectrum. I only want reviews from reviewers who read the kinds of books I write. That shortens the list and time spent finding a reviewer on AZ. I did find two romance reviewers on Amazon–the only two for a book I was reading reviews before I bought it. Two had their contact info. I went to their blog/FB page and messaged them. I told both I liked they way they composed reviews. I bought the title based on those reviews and found them honest and true without spoilers. I asked if they would consider reviewing my title or if I might submit it for their TBR stack. Both said yes. It IS intimidating to reach out to people we don’t know face-to-face. And they don’t know us. My insides are not made of steel, but golly, I wrote a book. I put those characters on page. I don’t want them to languish in cyberspace. It was bad enough when I first wrote them that they only had a shelf life between yogurt and ice cream and off to the used book shelf they went. We have infinity to promote our books. Gathering Reviews is just one part of what we must do as indie authors. I’m excited to wear every hat that indie authorship affords me. It doesn’t mean they all fit right. If you have kids, you wouldn’t send them school naked, would you? Same with a book. If you send it into the digital universe, it needs to be dressed~in Reviews.

  13. “…it needs to be dressed~in Reviews.” What a great turn of phrase! At ten reviews, my first book definitely isn’t naked. 🙂 All but two of the reviews have come from people I met via my blog, and I’m immensely proud of that, especially as many of them aren’t into science fiction. That said, I know I should be doing more. I wish I had your get up and go. 🙂

  14. Hi All,

    What a great discussion. Here are a few additional thoughts, four months after I wrote the original J A Konrath blog post:

    When you approach reviewers this way, you are asking folks who read and review *a lot* of books each year to publicize their honest opinion of yours. You need to be sure your book is ready for that. And you need to be sure you are finding the right reviewers, whose tastes match yours. Because you are taking a complete leap of faith when you put it in their hands.

    “I despised the main character something fierce…” Yep, that’s the title of one of the reviews written by a reviewer I approached. And I’m fine with it. Like I said, these are honest reviews you’ll be getting if you do this, and not all reviewers will like your book.

    Combing through tons of Amazon reviews to find the right reviewers takes time — back in September, I spent the better part of a week doing it. And it’s exhausting. But it’s rewarding, too, because along the way, you’ll make new friends and discover other great books you’ll enjoy.

    Finding those specific reviewers whose tastes match yours over a broad range of books (and movies) is far more important than Amazon “Top reviewer” rank.

    Not a single reviewer out of the 35 I reached out to ever reacted negatively. Half of them never replied, two politely declined to review, and the rest checked out the book’s product page and then enthusiastically agreed to review, saying it sounded like just the kind of book they would enjoy. (That’s why it’s worth putting in the time to get to know their tastes, first.) Some of them took 3-4 months to get around to actually reviewing the book, and some never did, but that’s absolutely fine. No reviewer owes any of us a review. Ever.

    Did the process “work”? Did it help my first book find it’s audience?

    Hard to say. Every writer’s journey is different. I *think* contacting reviewers this way helped me overcome the initial chicken-and-the-egg visibility problem which so many newbie authors like me find ourselves up against with our first books. But it’s also possible I overthought things a little. Many of my best early reviews came from folks I never contacted.

  15. One other thought:

    “befriend them first” does sound quite creepy/stalkery. But it’s not actually what I said, if you read my original guest post. Your initial contact requesting a review is brief, upfront, honest, and formal.

    The friendships that you form by meeting folks this way tend to happen afterward, as a natural consequence of engaging with new people whose tastes are so similar to yours.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and clarifying that point! That makes perfect sense, and you’re right. I’ve made some very good friends who happen to be reviewers, simply because they’re awesome people and I enjoy who they are.

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