In a perfect world, each person who bought your book would review it online, building your cachet and sending your title higher in search results. Then, based on that exposure, more people would buy your book and each write reviews of their own.
Of course, it doesn’t happen that way in real life. The majority of people who read your book won’t review it. So how do you get those initial reviews that drive demand and make your book show up earlier in search results? Simple: You give away free copies in exchange for honest reviews—which occasionally means that you’ll give away a copy in exchange for a negative review. Sadly, that’s inescapable, as is the fact that no one who receives a promotional copy is obligated to write a review. Even with professional reviewers, there’s no guarantee.
The easiest way to distribute these free copies is through your blog or Twitter account. Try hosting a simple giveaway. Encourage people to enter by answering a question correctly or simply by sending you their mailing address, and then randomly select one (or several) of them to receive a copy—and don’t forget to sign it before you put it in the mail. The only downsides to this exceedingly easy method are those mentioned above: the recipients are under no obligation to write a review, and you have no control over the tone or content of that review if they do decide to write it.
Many publishers have their own book giveaway sites targeted at bloggers and reviewers. Niche publishers are especially likely to use their sites to develop relationships with reviewers interested in their authors’ work. Ask your publisher whether they have such a program; they may be able to send out promotional review copies with no work on your part. (If your publisher is Greenleaf, I can answer that question for you right now—we do use of a variety of giveaway sites, and we are currently working on a way to offer giveaway copies to consumers through our Facebook page.)
Goodreads is another great forum for giveaways, and it’s especially effective, since you’re putting your book the hands of enthusiastic readers. Amazon offers a great paid promotional review service—Amazon Vine—through which the site’s top reviewers are recruited to review your book. When one of these reviewers writes about your book, it stays at the top of the book’s Amazon page forever, giving your book some extra credibility (assuming the review is good). This is another method that can be greatly simplified by having your publisher do it for you. It does have a few setbacks, though: you are required to give away a minimum of twenty-five books as opposed to sending one out to each potential reviewer, and second, Amazon Vine reviewers choose what they want to review. To some reviewers, getting your $20 book for free may not be as enticing as getting, for example, a $250 vacuum for free.
The Internet is chock full of other means for you to get your books out to interested reviewers—explore some of them and decide which ones best suit your audience and align with your goals. And don’t sweat the occasional bad review. Fifty Shades of Grey has plenty of one-star reviews on Amazon and no love from literary critics, but E. L. James seems to be doing just fine.