How can authors encourage readers to review their books online? That’s a question all published authors face sooner or later. The answers are myriad, some positive (such as, just asking—something I’ve done with success with a short note in the back of my books), some negative (such as the not-so-distant brouhaha about well-known authors purchasing scads of positive reviews).
A relatively recent approach is that offered by the site Story Cartel. Since many of you have asked me about my recent experience with using it to garner reviews for my fantasy Dreamlander, I thought I’d use today’s post to share my thoughts.
What Is Story Cartel?
In a nutshell, Story Cartel offers readers free e-books in exchange for honest book reviews. Readers are given thirty days to read the book. If, by the end of that time, they’re able to send a link to their posted review back to Story Cartel, they will be entered in a drawing for either five print copies of the book, three $10 Amazon gift cards, or a Kindle (as supplied by the book’s author).
How Does Story Cartel Work?
The set-up is easy as pie.
1. Sign-up for an account on the site.
2. Enter your book’s info.
3. Upload mobi, epub, and pdf files (all three are required).
After that, the book will appear on the site itself. I believe all books are mentioned on Story Cartel’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and, if you’d like added exposure, you can purchase an ad in their e-letter.
Story Cartel will email readers at intervals to remind them to the review the book. The free book may attract readers to the download, but it’s the drawing (for which they will be eligible only if they submit their book reviews) that encourages them to actually post their thoughts.
Story Cartel keeps track of the number of downloads and gives authors access to a spreadsheet of the downloaders’ names and email addresses
How Did Story Cartel Work for Me?
In the course of the month in which Dreamlander was available for downloading from Story Cartel, the book received 50+ reviews, almost all of which were demonstrably from people who had downloaded the book off Story Cartel.
The vast majority were positive, but I did receive about nine three-star reviews. I’ve seen other authors who received a much larger share of negative reviews. So just because you may be getting a load of new reviews doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will be positive—which is kinda the point of the whole honest review thing.
I promoted the book’s run via my mailing list, blog, and social sites. The book was also given advertising space in Story Cartel’s e-letter. By the end of the month, the book had been downloaded just under 600 times. This isn’t a huge number compared to, say, a KDP Select run. But as Story Cartel gains momentum and a larger following, I expect these numbers will only grow.
What I Liked About Story Cartel
- Hard not to like 50+ new reviews in less than a month, especially since most of them were positive. The fact that this bumped Dreamlander to over 100 reviews total was even more icing.
- The site was easy to use and navigate.
- Support, via Joe Bunting (one of the site’s founders), was incredibly fast and super helpful.
- I liked that I could offer the book for free without having to join Amazon’s KDP Select exclusivity clause (in which, I would have to remove the book from every site but Amazon). Obviously, Story Cartel didn’t help me move up Amazon’s rankings, as would a KDP Select run, but the benefits in guaranteed reviews were just as powerful.
- It was super cheap. I opted to give away three $10 Amazon gift cards, so the whole thing cost me a bare $30. I’ve looked into other review services, all of which cost way more with far fewer demonstrable results. (By the way: I chose the gift cards option, since it was the most inexpensive. Because Dreamlander is a large book, it would have cost more than $30 for me to purchase and mail five paperbacks. But if I use the service again with a smaller book, I will probably opt to give away the books, instead of the gift cards, since this option easily offers more benefits to me, namely the fact that my book on someone’s shelf=free advertising.)
- The site is gorgeous, so I have no professional qualms in sending potential readers there.
What I Didn’t Like About Story Cartel
Honestly, this list is very short.
- I had a bit of trouble uploading all my e-book files in the beginning, due to server space restrictions on Story Cartel’s end. Support helped with a workaround, but this was a bit of a headache. I think they’ll be getting this fixed soon.
- My biggest concern with the service’s long-term effectiveness in promoting my book is the fact that the vast majority of the reviews reference the fact that the reviewer had been given a free book. Story Cartel stresses the importance of reviewers including this clause in their review (as per federal regulations), and I don’t blame them at all. But I worry that future potential customers, in browsing the reviews, may be led to question the validity of the book, since so many of its reviews weren’t based on purchases.
Would I Use Story Cartel Again?
Short answer: yes. Despite the fact that I don’t like so many of reviews referencing a free download, the overwhelming number of reviews grants the book a ton of extra credibility.
From a purely personal perspective, I found it enlightening to have so many reviews come pouring it at once. Too often, I have a tendency to take the most recent review as gospel on my book (particularly if it’s negative). But with so many disparate opinions appearing at once, I was able to gain perspective on how subjective the reading experience really is (something I preach all the time, but have a bit more trouble practicing).Once my schedule calms down a bit after Structuring Your Novel launches in September, I plan to use Story Cartel again, probably for one of my digital short stories—and then probably for all of my books, in turn, after that.
To sum up, my experience with Story Cartel was excellent. The site is a brilliant idea that has been well executed and continues to be well run. If you have a published book, need reviews, and are willing to stand up under a barrage of honesty, then I highly recommend it.
Tell me your opinion: What do you think is the best method for encouraging readers to post reviews?
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