It turns out that having good review karma is also a useful thing. Or that it helps you learn useful things. Which is to say, I learned something in the process of setting out to find books to leave reviews for so as to increase my review karma. I learned what it is like to try to sort through the glut of independently published books out there on the market, and how an actual person (namely myself) chooses to read one book--and to keep reading it--and not another.
In other words, I ended up inadvertently doing an experiment: what if you take a reader motivated to write reviews and put her on the hunt for books to review. When you expose her to the myriad of candidates out there, what does she do? How does she behave? What is she attracted to? If you are one of those people who are trying to get people to review their books, this will be useful to you.
You will notice that many of the things that get me to read books are the things that book marketers tell you you need to do if you want to get people to read your book. It turns out that they are sometimes right.
1. I have to see or hear about your book. A very few books I hear about from friends or see on Goodreads. Very few of them are ones that I end up reviewing. I have one friend who also reviews independently published books, and she and I share titles because we have very similar taste, but otherwise, most of the independently published books I read with the intention of reviewing are ones I've seen on one of the various services I subscribe to that tell me about free and cheap ebooks. I tend to see them mostly on my Facebook page, and they include Bookbub, The eReader Cafe, Pixel of Ink, and Eroticaeveryday. How did I pick these? Pretty randomly. How often do I check their selections? Pretty randomly. And only when I'm not already otherwise feeling overwhelmed.
So if I don't see your book there, I have almost no chance of reading it. And yet, my chances of seeing your book there are almost nil. Your chances are better, though, if your cover is visible and appealing to me in the post, and if your book is the only one featured in the post, so that I can see it and be intrigued without having to click through to something else to read the beginning of the blurb.
2. I have to be interested in your book. Like many readers, I have very particular tastes. I mostly read romance, YA, paranormal, erotica, and erotic romance. Even with in those subcategories, though, I am very particular. I read Regency romance, but not contemporary adult romance, unless it is erotic. With YA romance, however, I will read contemporary. And so on. And then even within my preferred categories, I am still looking for something interesting or different. If it has to do with a rock-star, it's an automatic pass.
This is an important thing to recognize. First off, it means that you need to market your book in such a way that I can tell if it's my kind of brain candy or not right away, and you need to do it accurately. (One of the worst reviews I've ever given was for a Christian romance that did not use any of the code words for Christian romance in the description, and then didn't mention God's will or the bible or anything like that until 37% of the way into the book. Boy, was I upset about that bait and switch!)
But it also means that, even if you get your book where readers can read it, you have absolutely no control about whether your book fits in a category in their head labeled 'things I read' or not. Once you've committed to writing a particular book in a particular genre, that part is out of your control. You need to accept that.
3. It has to be free, or very, very cheap. If I am intrigued by the book and it is free, I will download it virtually for sure. If it is .99 and it looks extra intriguing, I will read the sample and then decide whether to spend my buck based on that. (And I often do.) If it costs any more than that, it's pretty much a no go. I'm a skinflint. I just am. (I know, I know. That's a whole other karmic quagmire that I will need to address another time.)
4. The cover has to rock. It has to look as good as if it had come from one of the big publishing houses. It can't look like you did it yourself, and it can't look like you got it from one of those hacks who charge independent authors $200 and then basically sell them a pre-made or a template. I am very, very picky about this. My feeling is that if you cannot see that your cover sucks, you are also incapable of making the many important decisions that contribute to writing a decent book. That is not to say you have to pay big bucks. The two best covers on indy books that I can think of off the top of my head were both done by the authors themselves. But you do need some sense of discernment. I do not invest my time in the work of people who do not have it. Sorry.
5. Your book description/blurb has to be well-written. There's just so much independently published stuff out there that isn't. If something is wrong, or less than skillful in those less than 250 words, I am not going to trust you to take care of me for a whole book. I know, writing books and writing blurbs are two different things. But it comes back to the question of discernment. Can you make good decisions about your writing, even in this small, strange, fraught genre. If you want me to read your book, the answer has to be yes.
6. Your book has to deserve four or five stars. I got into this to help other authors. If I got your book for free, unless I'm in a review group that makes me committed to reviewing it no matter what the rating is, I will keep mum if I didn't really enjoy it. I'm good enough at filtering books that this hardly ever happens, but if it does, I usually just stop reading when I've realized that I'm not going to love it. On the other hand, if I've paid for something, then it's fair game. I won't be shy if it's disappointed me.
7. Lastly, you have a better chance of getting a review out of me if you don't have very many reviews to begin with. I like to know I am making a difference. If I like a book, but it already has 457 mostly five-star reviews, do I need to add my voice to that chorus? Nope. Not this reader.
It might sound like I am really picky, but the fact is, I can be. There are more books that fit all these criteria than I could ever possibly read, and more of them coming out every day. (Keep in mind, I also have my own, unmotivated, pleasure reading I'm always doing all the time as well.) If I find an independently published book that doesn't fit even one of these criteria, I just move on, knowing that I'll find another book that does.
If you are an author, I invite you to be a reader in this particularly motivated and focused way. I challenge you to attempt to find independently published books to review on your own. Probably, YMMV. Which is cool. If it does, I'd love to hear about it. What are your criteria?
Oh, and if you've got a book you think I'd enjoy reviewing, don't hesitate to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.