Do you want to build or boost your author platform, while at the same time gain experience, forge industry connections, hone your writing skills and score free books? And maybe, just maybe, land writing assignments and a first book deal like I did?
What started out as a hobby for me (with no intent to publish my own words at the time) can become a conscious decision for you—right now—towards building and boosting a solid online reputation as a reviewer who is informed, articulate and productive…preferably in the genre/s you enjoy writing.
In 2002, I started writing reviews on Amazon.com. I had a passion for telling others about good books—and warning readers about the not-so-good ones.
Nine years later, I’ve penned over 1,200 reviews on Amazon.com with over 26,000 votes from readers. My Amazon ranking went as high as the Top 10 , I'm a hand-selected Vine Reviewer, and I’ve earned a reputation as an articulate, honest and informed book lover and reviewer.
Along the way, I’ve made friends with many authors and publicists, which has not only enriched my life, but expanded my knowledge of publishing. In fact, reviewing on Amazon.com and my personal website wedged my foot in the publishing door and led to several paid writing gigs, both in print and online, as well as my first book contract.
In 2006, I had a spark of an idea—a method, really—that would help anyone learn Tarot cards using their memories, pop cultures scenarios, overheard conversations, news items and so on. I fleshed out the idea, got some great input from a fellow Tarot author and decided that I wanted some colleagues to not only “test out” my BIT Tarot Method…but also contribute actual BIT Tarot Snapshots for my book.
One of the first people I wanted to pen a BIT Snapshot using my method was Judika Illes, a popular Mind/Body/Spirit author that I had befriended precisely because of my reviewing (after reviewing a few of her books, she contacted me and we became fast friends).
She was in the middle of writing one of her encyclopedias (her fourth was recently published by Harper Collins), so she didn’t have the time to contribute to my book. However, she liked the concept so much she asked if she could show what I had written to “someone in publishing” (at that time, I was just starting the book, and only had an introduction and three BIT Tarot Snapshots completed!)
I agreed, and within a month, I had a book contract from Hampton Roads Publishing (publisher of the bestselling Conversations with God series) for my book Back in Time Tarot.
You see, that “someone in publishing” happened was the Sales and Marketing Director for Hampton Roads, who happened to be a friend and business partner to Judika, and he, too, loved my BIT Tarot Method idea.
The point to this longish introduction is this: reviewing inadvertently established a solid platform for my career and connected me to publishing insiders. I didn’t intend to build a platform, of course—I was just writing for the love of it.
Well guess what? You, too, can build or expand your platform by writing reviews—on not only Amazon.com, but also Library Thing, Lunch.com, Good Reads and other review outlets.
You’ve heard that platform matters, and I’m here to confirm that this absolutely true. I have a colleague represented by one of the biggest agents in New York City. She’s had a handful of books published, one that’s still a bestseller in the genre years after its publication, and yet…the last time her agent offered a one of her proposals to a publisher she’s worked with before, they asked if she had a platform! As a woman in her 60s or 70s, she did not.
Long gone are the days where an author’s backlist can speak for itself (unless, of course, you’re one of the lightning-strikees like J.K. Rowling).
Apart from content, which is still king, the almighty platform is the biggest advantage you have for publication and sales. After all, even if you write great books—especially in niche fields—the only way people may find about it (especially if you’re signed with a small press with limited marketing efforts) is through your platform.
Platform can include social media efforts like blogging, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But an overlooked “backdoor” to establishing a solid platform—especially as an articulate, knowledgeable and prolific writer—is through reviewing.
Here are 15 reasons and ways to build your platform as a reviewer:
1. You become familiar with the books and products in your area of your expertise. When it comes time to write your non-fiction book proposal and you get to the part about “how is your book different than what’s on the market?”, you’ll know exactly what to say because you’re not only know the competition, but also can articulate how, and why, yours is different. (And if you can’t, then this will be a good test to see if you’re books is marketable.)
2. You can get free ARC (Advance Reading Copies) and finished books. Most writers are book lovers and avid readers (and should be!), so free items for review ensure that you’re not spending an inordinate amount of money buying books for review just to build your platform.
3. You build visibility among your built-in market. You start reviewing books in your chosen genre or field, your name will become connected with those types of books—especially if you write quality, honest reviews.
4. You make valuable contacts. Making friends with writers and editors can only help your writing career, especially if you support their work and foster good will. If it wasn’t for my friend Judika, I’m not sure I would have gained momentum with my book idea or even sought eventual publication.
5. Building visibility as a go-to person or expert in a certain field can lead to paying gigs. I’ve made money by ghostwriting reviews in both online and print magazines, as well as having my own by-line and columns—all because of my reputation as one of the best Amazon.com reviewers.
6. You can earn passive income by become an affiliate. If you become an Amazon Associate (https://affiliate-program.amazon.com), you can imbed links to the books and products you’re reviewing. When someone clicks on the link and buys something, you get a percentage of the sale. For years, I’ve made anywhere from $45-$120 of passive income just by imbedding Amazon Associate links in my reviews on my main site and blogs. Other sites have affiliate linking, as well.
7. Writing reviews, especially discerning what you like or dislike in a book, hones your writing skills and informs you of what works—and doesn’t work—in a good book. Don’t underestimate the power of critical thinking and careful word choice to polishing your prose.
8. You’ll spot the gaps. By becoming familiar with what’s been published, you can figure out what hasn’t been done before. Recognizing gaps in a field or genre—and strategically thinking how you might fill those cracks with your unique voice, style and information—will give you an advantage when it comes time to write your book, query an agent or submit a book proposal.
9. Branch out by reviewing books or items outside your area of expertise. If you’re curious about a topic or genre, but don’t have much experience with it, consider expanding your reading and trying your hand at reviewing books outside your genre. You may discover additional passions and marketable ideas—or at the very least, increase your knowledge.
10. You gain credibility as a writer. Most of the paying gigs I’ve landed have been from someone who read my reviews on Amazon, visited my personal site to read other things I’ve written, and then contacted me about a job. Before my first book, I didn’t pursue paying writing gigs simply because I had a young child on the Autism spectrum and chose to homeschool him. Now that he’s doing magnificently and doesn’t need my constant supervision with his schoolwork, I devote more time to monetizing my writing or gaining publishing contracts.
11. You gain access to authors for interviews and stories. When you’re seen as a respected, influential reviewer, it becomes rather easy to land an interview with an author for your site, blog or podcast—even best-selling authors. You could even pitch your article or interview to a print magazine, which not only increases credibility and name recognition, but earns you some money for your efforts.
12. Building industry relationships will eventually pay off during publication. When it comes time to seek endorsements (blurbs), someone to write your Foreword, or contributors to your book/anthology, you’ll have made great friends and acquaintances that are more than happy to help out your writing career. For example, bestselling Self-Help author Monte Farber wrote the Foreword to my first book. Guess how I met him? You guessed it: over the years, I had reviewed many of his products and we eventually became friends. And the Foreword to my upcoming traditionally published book, Tarot in Reverse? Penned by Lisa Finander, author of Disneystrology, whom I befriended when I was editor of a Tarot magazine and she a contributor.
13. You can start with books you already own. You don’t need to go out and buy books to start reviewing! Just take what’s on your nightstand and write a review after you’re done reading it. Or, check out books at the library.
14. Amazon.com, Lunch.com, LibraryThing.com and other sites provide areas for feedback on reviews. Sure, you’ll get some idiots that may just want to harass you because you’ve dissed one of their favorite books or authors—but most people who provide feedback on review sites offer great comments about how your review helped them, specifically…or where it fell short. For example, I once wrote a review of a toy, but failed to mention the age of my son (which would make a difference to the information I provided). A reader pointed out my oversight, and I was grateful to her for showing me why information like that matters to consumers.
15. You can generate a fan base eager to read your upcoming reviews, articles and books. An eager readership will not only sign up for your newsletter and subscribes to your blog, but will also be first in line to buy your book when it comes out! They will be among your most ardent supporters because, after all, your reviews helped informed them in their purchasing decision…possibly saving them hundreds, or thousands, of dollars over time. (Or, if you’re like me, you’ll be responsible for causing readers to spend some coin on books you’ve raved about…but they’ll be grateful for that, too!)
Like any approach to platform building, writing reviews and gaining a following will take time. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to expand your reach, hone your skills, increase your knowledge, forge industry contacts and form treasured friendships, reviewing may be the perfect way for you to get name recognition, secure writing gigs or land a book deal.
-- Janet Boyer, Amazon Top/Vine Reviewer, author of Back in Time Tarot, Tarot in Reverse (Schiffer 2012) and the Snowland Tarot (Schiffer 2013). Featured in Tales of the Revolution: True Stories of People Who Are Poking the Box and Making a Difference (A Domino Project eBook edited by Seth Godin