by Chris Leippi
There comes a point in every self-pubber’s journey to the bestseller charts when they realize it’s time to launch their books with some reviews already in place. Those reviews will help boost sales by instilling confidence in readers that your book is worthy of their money and time. On top of that, many major book promotion websites require a minimum number of reviews in order for them to consider featuring it. If you want to start booking these, you’ll need those reviews!
But, how do bestselling authors go about managing all of those reviewers? Are they sending out hundreds of copies, hoping that a small percentage of them will follow through and review? Or, are they keeping track of each individual who requests a copy and following up with them until they write their review?
Today, I’m going to go through the exact steps that I’ve used to successfully manage and run my own ARC (Advanced Review Copy) team of 200+ reviewers over the years!
Should you keep track of your reviewers?
Before you set out on your first ARC, you should ask yourself if you want to keep track of who’s following through on their reviews and who isn’t. On the plus side, keeping track of things will allow you to purge non-reviewers who just want the free books. However, as with any other kind of record keeping, it comes at the cost of your time.
Personally, I find it beneficial to keep track of everything. By doing so, it enables me to send out reminder emails to those who haven’t finished yet without annoying everyone else, and help ensure a high number of reviews per ARC sent out.
Reviewers on my team need to either leave a review or give me a reason that they couldn’t (life happens, after all). That means that I have to keep a spreadsheet with all of their email addresses, as well as a history of what ARCs they’ve received and which they’ve left a review on.
Where to find an ARC team?
If you don’t already have access to an ARC team, start here.
This might seem obvious, but the best place to find ARC readers is right on your own author newsletter! Send out an email and ask them if they’d like to become part of an exclusive group of readers that gets early access to your books in exchange for a review. Your die-hard fans will jump at the opportunity!
You can also find ARC readers in groups on Goodreads, Facebook, and on other social media websites. However, using this method, you can expect to spend a lot of time reaching out to get only a few reviewers.
As a more long-term solution, I recommend setting up an automation sequence for readers as they join your newsletter. One email in that sequence should be dedicated to asking them if they’d like to join your ARC team, and if they do, to simply to reply to that email to let you know.
Are there platforms to help me manage my ARC team?
Yes! In fact, these days there are three different platforms that authors can use to help speed up the ARC process and save them time. Authors can use Booksprout, BookFunnel, or InstaFreebie to help automate away some of the tedious parts of their ARC.
A good way to decide if you’re ready for the help of one of these platforms is to take a look at your hourly rate as an author. If you’re making $20/hour and using an ARC platform would cost you $20/month, you’re better off using one as long as it saves you at least one hour per month. More time spent writing = more books on the shelf = more long-term sales.
Distributing eBook files
Okay, so now you have your ARC team all ready and waiting for their first book! Great! But since we want to keep track of who’s reviewing and who isn’t, don’t just fire the book off to them in an email. Doing so would assume that everyone always wants to participate in every ARC, which just isn’t the case. Sometimes they might not be interested in the topic you wrote about or they simply might not have the time to read at the moment.
Instead, it’s recommended that you send out an initial email with details about your book and ask who wants to review it. If they want to participate in the ARC, it’s time to send them a copy of the eBook. You can do that simply by attaching it to the email reply.
Obviously, this gets time consuming as your ARC team grows because you need to attach and send it to each reviewer individually. Instead, you may wish to employ the help of one of the above-mentioned services. All three platforms will keep track of who downloaded a copy of the book so you don’t have to.
Booksprout and InstaFreebie will give you a single link that you can share with all of your ARC readers, thus removing the back and forth emails involved in this step.
BookFunnel does something similar, except they ask for your ARC team’s email addresses and will send each of them a download link.
All three options will allow readers to have the ARC files sent to their inbox. Booksprout and BookFunnel offer two additional methods, including the ability to send the ARC directly to the reviewer’s kindle or allow them to download it from the website.
An additional benefit to these services comes in terms of piracy control. They all have the ability to attach an invisible identifier or watermark that can uniquely identify the reader who originally downloaded the ARC. Should you find your eBook on a file-sharing website before you’ve even published it (an author’s worst nightmare!) you can identify who did it and kick them off your ARC team.
Keeping track of who has reviewed and who hasn’t
This is, in my opinion, the most important part of the whole ARC process. Nobody wants to be sending out 500 free copies of their book and getting 50 reviews on launch. That’s just bad for business!
To keep this potential problem in check, the author needs to keep track of their ARC readers and their reviews. That means keeping a detailed spreadsheet with at minimum, details on who’s accepted the ARC and if they’ve reviewed it yet or not.
Reviewers should be required to provide some kind of proof of their review, usually in the form of a link to it on the website(s) you require. Once their review is received and verified, you’ll need to update your spreadsheet to reflect that. Then, on your next ARC, you can sort the spreadsheet and only send it to reviewers that are either new to your team or those who have reliably left reviews in the past.
If you want to automate this process, Booksprout is able to help. Rather than having the reviewer send their review URL to you so that you can update your spreadsheet, they input it into Booksprout instead. Then, next time, you can filter out those non-reviewers. For example, if you require all reviewers to leave a review on Amazon, Booksprout can make sure they provide proof of their review on Amazon before they can participate in future ARCs.
When, and how often to follow up
If you want to increase your review rate (the number of reviews vs. the number of copies you send out), you need to be following up! But, how often and when?
I’ve found that it’s optimal to send out one email the minute your book goes live, and another two days later to those who haven’t left their review yet. Most readers will have their review ready and waiting for launch day, but some do require that reminder and if you want to get the most out of your ARC team, it’s an absolute must. I usually see about 10-20% more reviews by sending out that second reminder.
Booksprout will send these reminder emails for you automatically to anyone who hasn’t completed their review yet.
InstaFreebie and Bookfunnel will give you access to the email addresses of your ARC team, so you can send these reminder emails yourself. You’ll want to keep track of who has left a review and who hasn’t so that you don’t annoy anyone who’s already done it!
What’s a good review rate?
Your review rate is the number of ARCs sent out vs the number of reviews on your book. Eventually, your review rate should slowly approach 80-100% as you weed out non-reviewers and start having to impose limits on the number of copies you’ll send out.
As a new author with a new ARC team, I’ve found that a rate of around 50% is pretty good.
Chris Leippi is a self-published author and the founder of Booksprout. His self-published works, which are written under a secret pen name, have allowed him to live in various places around the world while he writes, builds, and looks for inspiration.