Learning how to get reviews on Amazon will make the difference between healthy sales for your nonfiction book and being relegated to Amazon obscurity, making it difficult to be discovered by potential buyers.
Amazon has built the largest online bookstore in the world, which is great given their massive customer base (over 300 million at last count). But this scale also means that you’ll be facing stiff competition for attention.
Why Amazon Book Reviews are Essential for Your Success
The way Amazon operates is similar to Google. Both platforms are search engines. The only difference is that Google displays information to be consumed and Amazon displays products to be purchased.
As such, if an Amazon search result (your book title) doesn’t appear on the first page, there’s a high probability that it won’t be found by the vast majority of people doing searches.
Now, these search engines use certain signals to rank results. For Google, the strongest signal they use is the number of quality sites linking to a website. For Amazon, their strongest signal is the number of quality reviews for a product.
In both cases, the two companies are aiming for the same thing: a strong customer experience. If you do a Google search and the results are rubbish, then you’ll stop using Google to find stuff and switch to a competitor.
If you do a search on Amazon and buy a product only to find out on delivery that it’s substandard and that all the reviews were misleading, you’re going to ask for your money back and then take your shopping elsewhere.
How Reviews Impact Your Conversion Rate
For this reason, Amazon makes every effort to ensure that product reviews are legitimate and truthful. In this article I’ll teach you how to attract legitimate reviews for your nonfiction book.
Once you achieve a critical mass of quality reviews shortly after launch, your book will begin to appear higher and higher in the search results and will begin to be found by more and more buyers looking for books in your subject area.
Statistics analysis performed on Amazon sales data shows that the higher the number of positive product reviews, the higher the sales conversion becomes – more people click on the “buy button” and complete the purchase.
Unfortunately, the minute you load your book onto Amazon’s database, you’ll be at a large disadvantage because you’ll have zero reviews to your name. So you’ll need to mitigate this situation, and the best “legitimate” way to do so is to generate a large number of reviews from a group of advance readers.
This strategy will allow you to hit the ground running and show the Amazon product-ranking algorithm that your book has what it takes to compete in its category.
As the algorithm promotes your book to higher spots, your sales and your reviews will begin to originate from the Amazon customer base at large, which will feed the algorithm with more positive ranking data, creating a virtuous cycle.
Let’s now look at the steps you need to follow in order to create this positive loop for your book:
6 Steps to Getting Great Amazon Book Review
The following six steps will show you how to generate a groundswell of positive reviews that comply with Amazon’s strict product review rules, so that you can rest assured that your book reviews won’t be deleted.
The first step is to become familiar with their rules to make sure that you’re always operating in compliance.
Step 1: Master the 9 Amazon Review Rules
Given the abuse over the years to Amazon’s review system, through the use of overseas “review” farms, freelance paid reviewers on websites like Fiverr, fake reviews, automated reviews generated by bots, and so on, Amazon has had no choice but to crack down hard on illegal operators.
Since Amazon’s product ranking process is automated (given the sheer volume of products in their database), they’ve instituted a set of rules that have been codified into their algorithm.
This means that their software will make decisions on the fly as to which reviews will be allowed to stay posted and which ones will be automatically deleted on entry or shortly thereafter.
And it’s very difficult to have Amazon reverse a deletion decision because their rules are part of their terms and conditions, and they reserve the right to enforce them at their sole discretion in order to maintain a high level of customer experience.
So, learn these rules in-depth before you implement your book review strategy to make sure that it’s always in full compliance.
Here are the 9 product-review rules:
Rule 1: The Reviewer Must Be an Amazon Customer
In order to leave a review, a user has to be a paying customer of Amazon. More specifically, they have to fulfill the following two requirements:
1) Have purchased $50 or more on any kind of merchandise over the past 12 months.
2) Have a valid credit card or debit card on file (a valid card number with a past expiration date doesn’t count).
Rule 2: There Can Be No Mention of the Author in the Review
Nowhere in the review can the reviewer acknowledge that they know the author. Even a tangential mention of the author is sufficient to disqualify the review. There can’t be any perception of bias caused by a connection with the author.
Rule 3: Users Personally Associated with the Author are Automatically Disqualified
Family, friends and direct business associates of the author are not allowed to leave reviews. Amazon reserves the right to establish how people are related with one another using any internal data as they see fit.
Rule 4: Limit of One Review Per Household
Only 1 review is allowed per mailing address on file. If other people who live at the same address (e.g. spouses, roommates, relatives, other relationships) leave a review, it’ll be automatically deleted by Amazon’s algorithm.
Rule 5: Limit of One Review Per Payment Card
Only one review can be left for each unique credit or debit card number on file. If two or more people who share an Amazon account leave reviews (i.e. both are using the same card for payments), the algorithm will delete all reviews except for the first one.
Rule 6: No Dishonest Reviews
Reviews are checked for tone. If the system deems that a review is dishonest (e.g. over-the-top positives with an excessive number of flattering adjectives) it’ll be deleted.
Reviewers must make every effort to be authentic in their reviews. Any perception of dishonesty can be a disqualifying factor.
Amazon doesn’t make it clear how they perform this check (using some kind of AI perhaps?) but they seem to have a good handle on dishonest reviews.
Rule 7: Using an Unrealistic Time frame
If a reviewer purchases your book and then leaves a review right away, without allowing for sufficient time to elapse (i.e. “reading” the book in 5 minutes) the system will automatically delete it.
Rule 8: Arm’s Length Relationship with Author
Amazon doesn’t allow vendors to offer products for free in exchange for a review, with a single exception: book publishers (including self-publishers).
Since handing out advance copies of a book in exchange for a review is a long-standing tradition of publishers, Amazon has decided to extend this tradition to their platform.
The only rule is that the reviewer and the author must remain at arm’s length of each other.
Rule 9: (this is an unofficial rule)
Ensure that your reviews are equally spaced out over the initial 30 days. What you don’t want is for 15 or 20 reviews to be left one day and nothing for the next 2 or 3 days.
Out-of-the-ordinary patterns like this will likely trigger alarm bells in Amazon’s algorithm.
Step 2: Plan Your Critical Path
The next step is to plan your timeline in advance because once you upload your book’s information onto Amazon the clock will start ticking right away.
Amazon’s product ranking algorithm is designed to gather training data on a new product for a period of 30 days, after which it moves on, leaving your product to fend for itself.
This initial timeline is absolutely critical for your success. Before you upload your book to Amazon, you have to make sure that you have all your ducks in a row.
In essence, what you’re going to be doing is following a variation of the strategy traditional publishers use to launch new books – you’re going to create an official advance book review team.
Now, traditional publishers have pre-existing relationships with influential book reviewers, such as American Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Foreword and many others, where they send pre-publication copies of their books in order to garner advance praise.
Armed with these powerful early reviews, they use their connections with mainstream media to get their authors booked for interviews in front of large audiences.
Without these advance reviews, their authors wouldn’t be able to get much interest from the media (unless they’re already well-known). As a nonfiction self-published author, your path may be different but the strategy will be the same.
Instead of getting 3-5 reviews from highly influential reviewers, you’ll be getting Amazon reviews from dozens and dozens of people that you assemble as part of your advance review team.
Since it takes time to coordinate that many people, you need to begin the process of cultivating those relationships 3-4 months before you upload your book to Amazon. Then, you have to send them advance copies of your book and give them 6-8 weeks to read it.
Finally, you’ll have to give them 1-2 weeks to create a review draft so that it’ll be ready to enter into Amazon when given your signal. Two weeks before your upload day comes, you’ll need to check that they their reviews are indeed ready.
Now an important caveat: your role in communicating with your team members is to act as a project manager. Amazon doesn’t approve of you talking about your book or the review itself.
If a team member compliments you for your book, just say thank you and tell them that you are not allowed to talk about it with them before they officially post their review on Amazon to avoid the perception of influence.
Step 3: Assemble Your Advance Book Review Team
It’s now time to assemble your team. This needs to be a large group of people preferably located in different parts of the country.
Since Amazon rules prevents your family, friends, and direct business associates to leave you reviews, you’ll need to enlist their help to ask their own friends, families, acquaintances and associates to join you in your cause.
Since a lot of those people won’t know you personally, you’ll be in compliance with Amazon’s “arm’s length” rule.
Your goal is to have as many committed reviewers as possible, taking into consideration that not everyone will provide you with a review. For some people, perhaps your book won’t resonate as much and some may just be too busy to comply with your request in a timely manner.
Have the expectation that in a worst-case scenario only 50% of the people you requested reviews from will provided you with one. In a best-case scenario you can expect two-thirds of the requests to come through.
To minimize your attrition rate, take your time early on to identify people in your network that match your target audience since they’ll be the most likely to be committed to reading your book and leaving you a positive review.
Step 4: Hand Out Advance Copies of Your Book
Now, it’s time to distribute advance copies of your book. In my experience, you’ll get much better results with a physical book in spite of the cost than distributing a pdf file. A physical book conveys more perceived authority and credibility.
Also, by emailing a pdf file you run the risk of it being pirated if it ends up in the wrong hands. Finally, a physical book becomes a tangible gift for your reviewer and with it they’ll be more motivated to reciprocate with a strong review.
This is why it’s key that you ensure that your reviewers are members of your target audience so they can actually benefit from reading your book, leading to a better-quality review.
To create your printed books, get two or three quotes from local printers for between 40 and 80 copies (you need to print twice as many books as the number of reviews that you expect) and then have your book designer upload the print-ready files.
Getting your books printed through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (which you’ll be using to upload your book to Amazon) is not a good idea even if it’s more cost-effective than your local printer.
The reason is that the moment you upload your book files to the platform in order to print them, the proverbial algorithm clock will begin ticking.
From the time you upload your book into your KDP account, it’ll take 3-5 days for your book to appear on the Amazon website with a status of “In Stock” and then your 30-day countdown will begin.
It’s much safer to run the entire advance review process “off the grid.”
Finally, create a spreadsheet so that you can manage each reviewer. You’ll need to:
- Enter their contact information and mailing address where you’ll be sending the review copy to.
- Keep track of when they received the book, either in person, via a friend, or in the mail (use the mail tracking code to confirm receipt of the package).
- Keep track of any follow-ups you do to find out how “things” are going (polite code for “Have you started reading my book yet?”).
- Finally, keep track of the dates when your review drafts get completed.
Set the expectation with your advance review team that you’ll be following up with them once a week for the month or two, so that you can keep your review activity database up to date (the squeaky wheel always gets the grease!).
When the last week before your planned Amazon upload comes around, make a final round of calls to make sure everyone who’s on board is ready with their reviews and awaiting further instructions.
Step 5: Drip the Amazon Reviews Over 30 Days
When everything is ready to roll, let your team know that you’ll need to space out their reviews (Rule #9) and that you’ll be sending them the “add your review now” signal over the following 4 weeks.
The first batch of reviews needs to come on the first day or two of release, which as stated above will be 3-5 days from your upload (i.e. book status changes to “In Stock”).
When you confirm that your book becomes orderable, add a new column in your spreadsheet called “Review Date” and assign dates for each member of your advance review team spread out evenly over the next 30 days.
To make sure no alarm bells are triggered by Amazon’s ranking algorithm, it’s better if reviews on any given day originate from different parts of the country, preferably by people who don’t know each other.
Now, the upload date is here!
After you upload all your print-ready book files into Amazon and enter all the required setup information, it’s time to contact your day-1 reviewers. Let them know that you’ll be contacting them over the next 3-5 days with the go-ahead signal.
Moving forward, give each group a 2-3 day heads up and then contact them on their review-posting day. This may sound like a lot of work, but if you have, say, 30 committed reviewers on your team, then we are talking about reaching 3 people a day for the next 30 days.
Now you have a strategy for creating the all-important early Amazon reviews that can prime their algorithm to break out of the chicken and the egg situation of having a new product without any reviews.
Once you achieve a critical mass of positive reviews, your book will begin to trend up in the ranking and begin to be discovered by Amazon customers who are searching for a solution that your book fulfills.
When users see so many reviews (and naturally, provided that your book delivers the goods!) many of them will be motivated to leave you theirs, feeding into a virtuous cycle that will elevate your book even higher in the rankings.
Good luck with your Amazon launch!
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.