There are some authors who are superb at engaging with readers through various forms of social media like Facebook, Twitter, or personalized email newsletters. Susan Mallery is one of those authors. Her Facebook page is always active. Like, umpty-thousand comments active. I've seen her ask or help naming characters' children, or future heroes. A few months ago, she invited her readers to send a snapshot of themselves, which Mallery and her crew Photoshopped to add a picture of Mallery's most recent book, making it look like the person was reading the book and peeking over the top. Readers were invited to use that as their photo on Facebook – which is just some savvy inclusive marketing like whoa.
Recently I noticed that she'd started a Review Crew, a group of dedicated readers who were invited to receive copies of her books in exchange for an honest review of the book itself. From 2012:
How would you like to receive an advanced copy of my books? I have a crazy idea… I want to put together a Review Crew, a group of readers who will get my books early – and for free – if they promise to post a review online. Nothing formal! I’m not talking about a long, drawn out review. I’m talking about a sentence or two. What does a real reader think about this book? What would you say to your best friend about it? (emphasis mine)
The world of publishing is changing. On sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the number of reviews helps “goose” the website doohickey into showing my books more often in search results. (Yeah, doohickey. I’m not very techie. All I know is, the more reviews the better.)
Here’s the deal. I have 200 copies of ALREADY HOME to give away. ALREADY HOME was first released last year in trade paperback. It’s coming out next month in mass market paperback. If you’re picked for the Review Crew, we’ll send a copy of the book to you. Then, if you post a review on Amazon and BN.com, you’ll be invited to sign up for an advanced review copy of THREE SISTERS (Blackberry Island Book 2) if we do this again. And if you post a review of that, we just might do it again with the Fool’s Gold romances.
The latest group of reader added to the Mallery Review Crew is a considerable list. I hadn't seen an author engaging with a large group of readers in such a way, and wanted to ask her more about it. She was kind enough to answer my nebby questions.
Reviews are a tricky subject for authors and readers, and you've addressed the question of reviews directly by asking directly for reviews, explaining why they're important to the books' success, and inviting readers to join your Review Crew, wherein they receive a free copy of the book in exchange for leaving a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Do I have that right?
Susan Mallery: Yes, but I’ll clarify. There’s no way I could send a free book to everyone who promised to write a review. We launched the Review Crew with the mass market paperback reissue of Already Home in November. My publisher kindly provided me with 200 copies of the book, so we invited readers to submit their names to be included.
I was extremely nervous that we wouldn’t find 200 readers who were willing to commit to posting reviews on both Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. . . and I was shocked and gratified when thousands of readers applied. The only fair thing to do was to choose at random, so that’s what we did. Everyone who followed through was invited to join the Review Crew for Three Sisters, leaving us with a limited number of slots to fill.
More than 5,000 readers applied in the second round!
We chose at random and sent the book. This time, reviews must be posted during the first two weeks of release in order for them to receive an invitation to join the Review Crew for Just One Kiss (Fool’s Gold book 10). As long as the program continues, those readers who follow through will be invited to join the next Review Crew.
What sparked this idea?
Susan Mallery: My agent and I were talking one day about how important the number of reviews seems to be for the Amazon algorithm, and we were brainstorming ways that we could encourage more reviews. I hoped that I might be able to ask my readers directly for help. And wow, did they come through for me!
Do you encourage a specific type of review? Are readers welcome to leave a negative review or a positive one?
Susan Mallery: All we ask for is an honest review. Here are the tips that we included in the cover letter:
Be brief. Amazon requires a minimum of 20 words. That’s really not a lot, and frankly, sometimes the long reviews tell too much about a book. You don’t have to say what the book is about – this is not a book report. Just say whether or not you liked the book and why.
Be informal. Think of what you would tell your best friend about the book, and then say that. In fact, if it’s easier for you, pretend you’re talking out loud to your best friend, record yourself, and then type out what you said.
- Be genuine. Susan loves five-star reviews, of course, but we’re not asking the Review Crew to only write five-star reviews. Share your opinion. Did you like the book and why?
How many readers are on your Review Crew so far? I noticed some folks were sad not to be included in the last round of new member selection. Do you have plans to make the group bigger?
Susan Mallery: It really is difficult to disappoint so many readers, but as I said, there was just no way that we could send a book to the thousands of readers who applied. We don’t have plans to make the Review Crew larger.
What other plans do you have for engagement with your readers?
Susan Mallery: The Fool’s Gold Cheerleader try-outs will take place in April, and the cheerleaders will kick into gear in May for a summer of cheering for Just One Kiss, Two of a Kind, and Three Little Words. The cheerleaders talk to people in their towns about Fool’s Gold, hand out bookmarks, drive around with Fool’s Gold car magnets, and they earn prizes along the way. We have some amazing prizes lined up this year.
The first year, there were 25 cheerleaders. Last year, there were 60, and this year, we’ll have a squad of 80. Anyone who’s intrigued should sign up for my mailing list to receive the email about try-outs.
Here's an example of the car magnets, and one of the cheerleaders, Angi, and her dog, Max:
I had one more question, which Susan's assistant, Jenel, was kind enough to answer for me:
Do the review crew people label their reviews or in some way indicate that they're part of the review crew?
Jenel, Susan's assistant: I do think there were probably a few bloggers among the readers chosen at random for the Review Crew, and I’m sure they probably did label their reviews. The others were just regular readers, though. In fact, for many of them, this was the first time they had ever posted a review online ever. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
I'm completely fascinated by this idea. The importance of reviews in terms of adding a book to the retailer algorithms that then serve that book as an alternate option to other shoppers is not a secret. The way in which Mallery is engaging with her readership is interesting, because it addresses that importance directly and builds a team and comeraderie around that importance.
What do you think? Would you want to be part of a review team? Do you leave reviews for books you've liked or disliked?
Big thank yous to Susan Mallery and her assistant Jenel (ETA: and Jenel's dog Sidiqi) for their time in answering my questions, and to Angi and Max for giving their permission to have their photo posted here.