How To Get Free Books (And More)

Tips & Strategies for being invited to join Amazon Vine
Have you ever noticed the tiny badge below some of the reviewer’s names on Amazon reviews? There are a few of them, but the one I am talking about today is the “Vine Voice” badge. Amazon Vine, in a nutshell, is a program where amateur reviewers on Amazon receive free books and other items to review, usually before the release date. It is an invitation only program, and the criteria for being asked to join is not clear on Amazon’s site. Once you are a part of the Vine, you can expect to recieve at least 4 free items a month directly from Amazon. That’s a great start, but by following the steps below you will receive much more than that. I was asked to join the Vine about six months ago and I now receive over a dozen free books a month (plus an iPod dock, mixer, and other items).

Photo courtesy of RBurgoss and SXC

Why does this matter for authors? Reading is an important part of being an author, and I believe becoming a good reviewer on Amazon is an excellent exercise for your writing skills. Each review on Amazon is ranked by readers as helpful or unhelpful, so you are able to get instant feedback on the information you are providing. If you want to know what is helpful for others to know about a book in any genre, look up some top ranked reviews and it quickly becomes clear.

The Vine is a hard program to figure out because the criteria are not published, but there are some ways that you can improve your chances of being asked to join. Here are some of things I used to be invited and have learned along the way.

1. Review consistently. Posting two or three reviews a week consistently is key. Even if you have a higher ranking then someone else, consistency seems to be heavily weighted.

2. Review your interests. Two or three reviews a week may seem daunting, but don’t let it be. Review a book you are really interested in, and any other products you may have that would be easily reviewed. It is much easier to post helpful reviews on things you genuinely enjoy, so seek out those things. This is important for another reason as well: publishers and authors will contact you directly if you have reviewed a book similar to theirs and offer you a free book. Review what you like.

3. Selectively promote your reviews. Amazon has wisely limited the ability for people to email all of their contacts and ask them to vote their review helpful. This will work for two reviews maximum, and that’s really it. Once someone votes multiple reviews of yours helpful, they become registered as your Amazon Fan and all of their helpful votes on previous reviews will not count towards your ranking any longer. Bottom line is that you should not ask for help on getting review votes, but if you post an early review of a book you know will be popular it can be a useful tool once.

4. Pay attention. Readers can vote your reviews helpful or unhelpful, and they can also comment on your reviews. Pay attention, interact, and your reviews will improve. Try not to interact with other reviews posted on the book, but do participate in any discussions.

5. Review old and new. One key to reviewing books and getting helpful votes is to review early. Amazon Prime will get you the book in two days, or you can get it instantly on a Kindle. But, you should also review older books that you really liked, even if there is little chance of being voted helpful. It’s a good exercise, and you may receive similar books in the future because of it.

6. Ask for the books you want. Once you have reviewed some books, ask the publisher or author of a future book to send you a review copy. They almost always will. If someone is willing to take the initiative and ask for a book upfront and they have done reviews in the past, its a good bet that you will leave them a positive review and help sales.

7. Beware the negative reviews. Honesty is imperative in reviews, but sometimes you can adjust your timing to help your overall ranking. For instance, if you read a bestseller and hate it, probably not the best idea to put a one star review up the day it comes out. Wait a couple of weeks, then post it. The exception to this rule is when a book is so bad that you are trying to protect others from spending their money on it. If that’s the case, post it right away. If it’s a matter of taste, wait awhile.

8. Review on a blog. Amazon is great, but you should post your reviews on a separate blog as well and build a theme. This will help you target publishers and authors you want to review.

Hopefully these 8 tips will get you started in the reviewing world. It is a great exercise for author, and you can easily get a few hundred dollars worth of books free every month with a little bit of effort. Good luck, and let me know in the comments if you are asked to join Vine.