A while back I wrote a post called How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed which basically laid out what to do and what not to do when e-mailing potential reviewers of your book. It was based both on what had worked for me and the eyes-glazing-over crap that landed in my inbox day after day, because I’m listed on a publicly accessible list of book bloggers. But much like my post about the difference between a good book and a good book with appeal, it was difficult to really put into words just how to get your book reviewed, i.e. specify the content of an e-mail that would make me go, “Why, yes. I think I would like to review this book. Send it to me at once!”
Then one landed in my inbox.
I can’t stress the rarity of this event. Taking writers I know personally or online out of the equation, this is the ONLY e-mail I have ever received regarding a review that made me think I’d want to read the book and potentially review it too. I’m serious. The ONLY e-mail. And I think it’s safe to say I’ve been getting these messages for over a year if not more, at a rate of 2-5 per week. In all that time and out of all those messages, I’ve only ever considering reviewing one of those books. (Real life and internet friends aside.) And it was this one, The Trials of Arthur by Christopher Stone.
I asked Christopher if he’d agree to let me reprint his e-mail here, and he kindly said yes. This is the message he sent me, in its entirety. I’ve put my thoughts in purple/square brackets.
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Dear Catherine, [my actual name! We're off to a good start...]
This would come under your ‘interesting non-fiction’ category. [On the blogger listing I specified what genres I like to read, and 'interesting non-fiction' is one of them. I think: he's taken the time to see what I like, instead of just mass-mailing everyone.]
It’s a a genre busting book.
It’s a true story, but it reads like a novel.
The central character is a druid, who is also a biker.
He claims to be King Arthur, but he is actually very sane.
It is set in the UK in the mid-nineties, but it is still relevant today.
It’s a serious book about protest and paganism and the state of our world, but it is also very funny.
It is about someone who may never have existed, and about someone who definitely does exist. About myth and about fairy tales. About history and about legends. About stone circles and sacred temples. About motorways and shopping malls. About Britain and about the world.
It is the Matter of Britain brought up to date.
[As I'm scanning through the mind-numbing amount of unread messages in my inbox, I'm doing it quickly. You really only have a very short space of time in which to convince me to stop and pay attention. These short, snappy sentences keep me reading, and the contrasts they highlight—true story/reads like a novel, a druid/a biker, claims to be King Arthur/very sane—are making me think, Hmm. This sounds like it could be interesting. Also note that everything above is about the book. Most please-review-my-self-published-book e-mails I receive open how brilliant the author thinks the book is and how much they're convinced that I'll think it's brilliant too. But I'm still wondering: is this any good?]
Here are some of the reviews: [Christopher is about to tell me, right on time]
‘Am I alone in thrilling to this noble throwback to the age of Celtic romance? Our Prime Minister is a grinning charmless twerp; our Archbishop of Canterbury has a much spiritual charisma as a raw potato; and the House of Windsor is dullsville. I’d dump the whole pack of them tomorrow and replace them with a single Royal, Spiritual and Political leader - King Arthur.’ AN Wilson, Evening Standard.
‘An epic true story of war and religion set in Britain during the Dark Ages at the end of the twentieth century, which manages to remain at once, like its main character, passionately serious, irresistibly compelling, and hilariously good-humoured.’ Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol University.
‘A haunting elegy to all those people who refuse to accept that they cannot make a difference in a world they know must change.’ Deborah Orr, The Independent.
[As I'm sick of to the teeth of trying to explain to newbie self-publishers, it doesn't matter a damn WHAT these people are saying (because it's all glowing, otherwise it wouldn't be here). What matters, above all else, is WHO they are. And the Evening Standard? The Independent? They're national UK newspapers, so presumably unbiased, professional critics. Or better than your mum or your friend who reads, like, all the time. So now I'm thinking it's far more likely to be good than bad.]
‘Long live the once and present King! Highly recommended.’ Tania Ahsan, Prediction.
‘So unbelievable, it might just be true.’ Awen Clement, Kindred Spirit.
Here is the facebook page for more reviews and related articles: http://www.facebook.com/TheTrialsOfArthur [I know where to go if I want to find out more about this book. Note that I have already been given plenty of information about this book—it's not like Christopher started with a link to somewhere else.]
If you would like a complimentary review copy for Kindle please let me know. The paperback will be out later in the year.
Thank you for your time,
“Stone writes with intelligence, wit and sensitivity.” Times Literary Supplement
Publications *The Guardian Weekend*The Observer*The Big Issue*The Independent*The Independent on Sunday*The New Statesman*The London Review of Books*Mixmag*The Sunday Herald*The Times Literary Supplement*Prediction*Kindred Spirit*The Whitstable Times*Saga Magazine*Kent Life*The Whitstable Gazette*
Books *The Trials of Arthur (with Arthur Pendragon: Big Hand Books 2010)*Housing Benefit Hill (AK Press 2001)*Last of the Hippies (Faber & Faber 1999)*Fierce Dancing (Faber & Faber 1996)*
[All this information assures me that this isn't some weekend, get-rich-quick self-publishing experiment, but a career writer who has just released his latest book. At this point there's no doubt in my mind that Christopher is a talented writer.]
“Wry, acute, and sometimes hellishly entertaining essays in squalor and rebellion.” Herald
“The best guide to the Underground since Charon ferried dead souls across the Styx.” Independent on Sunday
“Passionately serious, irresistibly compelling, and hilariously good-humoured.” Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol University
“Searching, funny, intelligent and illuminating.” Deborah Orr, The Independent.
[Why yes, Christopher, I would like to read your book. Except I don't read e-books, so I'll wait for the paperback. But well done on being the first—the only—person I didn't know either in real life or online who's convinced me to read their book. Hooray! Just one thing, though: what's the name of the book? You can only tell from the Facebook link and it wasn't in the subject line. Don't forget that!]
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Now I know what you’re thinking, or perhaps even screaming at the screen out loud: this is obviously a book that was previously traditionally published that the author is now re-publishing himself, and your average self-publisher is not going to have credentials like the ones above. That’s absolutely true, but that’s also absolutely besides the point. What this message does—and what your please-review-my-book message has to do—is:
- Get the reviewer to actually read the message
- Get the reviewer thinking, Hmm, this book sounds interesting
- Present the reviewer with evidence that this book is likely to be good.
What Christopher sent me is just one example of how to do this; there are plenty of other ways. Think of it this way: if you were accused of being a good writer and put on trial, what evidence would the prosecution present? What evidence could they present? Have you been shortlisted for a writing award? Have you been schooled by some snooty writing school? Did you or do have a famous agent? Did your previous book get 1,000 five-star reviews? And if you don’t have any of those things, there’s the text of the e-mail itself. Just like a query letter you’d send to an agent, the words themselves are important here. If your book is supposed to be funny, why not make your reviewer e-mail funny? And for the love of fudge, show some sign that you’ve spent at least ten seconds on the reviewer’s blog or site. Is your book similar to a review they wrote of another book? Do you share a common caffeine addiction? Do you know their name?
If the prosecution has so little evidence that the judge throws out all the charges before the first morning break, you might want to wait. You might want to get some evidence before you start approaching reviewers. I know this sounds a bit like that old joke about needing to get published before you can get an agent and needing an agent to get published, but you should take this seriously. Because here’s what happens when you don’t…
Just this morning came another good example of what not to do—or at least, what doesn’t convince me to do anything except let my eyes glaze over and press “delete.” There must be a template of this somewhere because the majority of book review requests I get seem to follow this pattern. Identifying details have been omitted to protect the innocent.
* * *
Hi [You didn't even bother to add names when you were doing your mass reviewer mailing? Wow. You sure know how to make a girl feel special!]
Would you be willing to review my novel on your blog? [I wouldn't ask me this right off the bat, but the answer at the moment is no.] These are the details: [Details? DETAILS?! I don't want mere details, I want reasons to read your book.]
Length: 95,000 words
[So far this is reading like the production information section of an Amazon listing. BOR-ing!]
My Website: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Format: ePub, .mobi or PDF available to reviewers
Synopsis: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX [There's no way I can show the synopsis, obviously, but it was just one small paragraph that would've been—and probably is—on the back cover of the book if it's available in paperback. It's also what appears on the book's Amazon listing. But it's total blah-ness. Remember that when someone is browsing your Amazon listing, they have a lot of information about your book already. They can read the reviews, see what books are similar, etc. and they may have heard something about it before they got there. The potential reviewer has none of this and will resent you for making them go looking. The reviewer needs to be convinced that your book is likely to be good AND worth reviewing. So the blurb just isn't going to cut it, unless the blurb is amazing. This needs to be the blurb with its own theme tune, jazz hands and a fireworks finale.]
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My favorite e-mail review request ever—if that’s in fact what it was; it’s hard to tell what this was supposed to achieve, was this:
* * *
Subject: The Novel’s Name
My book, THE NOVEL’S NAME, needs to be read.
* * *
Thanks to Christopher for letting me reprint his e-mail. You can find out more about his book, The Trials of Arthur, here.
What do you think? Do you have a secret weapon for convincing reviewers to read your book? Or are you a reviewer who has received many, many more e-mails than me who can shed some light on what works and what doesn’t? Tell me in the comments below!
UPDATE: Christopher just added this by e-mail:
“I guess the other thing you might have said is that part of the process of being a writer is learning how to be a human being, which means you know how other human beings think and feel. I wrote the kind of letter to you that I would have written to myself.”
How would you respond to the e-mail you’ve sent to reviewers if you were a reviewer yourself? This might be a dangerous game to play when it’s obvious that many self-published authors—although, fewer and fewer as time goes on, it seems to me—have an inflated opinion of their book which might lead them to believe that “My book needs to be read” is guaranteed to work every time. But if you can look upon this critically and realistically, ask yourself if your e-mail would work on you, if you were a busy book blogger with an overwhelming To Be Read pile as it is.
P.S. This entire post has been written with one eye out the window awaiting the white and orange livery of a TNT truck that may potentially possibly have my sparkling new iMac in it. A new Apple product is always exciting, but this one even more so because I’ve been working on the same MacBook for 3 years—it doesn’t sound like a long time but I’m using it all the time—and so upgrading is going to be like getting off of a bicycle and into a Ferrari. So apologies if there’s a more than usual number of errors, etc. Back now to truck watching…