How To Get Your Book Reviewed: A Practical Lesson

15 Aug

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.

* * *

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,

CJ Stone.


http://cjstone.hubpages.com/

“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!]

* * *

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:

  1. Get the reviewer to actually read the message
  2. Get the reviewer thinking, Hmm, this book sounds interesting
  3. 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.]

Title: XXXXXXXXX

Authors: XXXXXXXXXXX

Genre: Chick-lit

Length: 95,000 words

Publisher: Self-published

ASIN: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

[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.]

* * *

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:

* * *

To: my@emailaddress.com

From: the_author@emailaddress.com

Subject: The Novel’s Name

My book, THE NOVEL’S NAME, needs to be read.

* * *

Seriously?

Seriously?

SERIOUSLY!?!?

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…

33 Responses to “How To Get Your Book Reviewed: A Practical Lesson”

  1. Michael Mardel August 15, 2012 at 11:28 #

    King Arthur book only avail in UK:( (I’m in Oz)

  2. Glyn Smith August 15, 2012 at 12:03 #

    Oh, wow! Thanks for this, Catherine. I must admit that I’ve been as guilty as the next man in requesting reviews rather badly. Huge lesson learned. Glyn.

  3. denise deegan August 15, 2012 at 12:12 #

    really helpful post, Catherine, as usual. big thanks

  4. Russell Phillips August 15, 2012 at 12:53 #

    I will add one more piece of advice – if the reviewer has a review policy, read it and follow any instructions given. I gave up writing reviews, for various reasons, annoyance at people being completely unable to read and follow my review policy being one of them. Publicists and marketing agencies didn’t seem to be any better than authors in that regard.

  5. Experienced Tutors August 15, 2012 at 13:16 #

    As usual, interesting, witty, educational and enjoyable.

    Now back to looking out of the window – expecting that tax demand today. . .

  6. stuckinva August 15, 2012 at 16:39 #

    Great post! I’m getting to the point where I’m going to be giving away free copies to random strangers to review (as of right now I only have the glowing reviews of my friends/family…and they’re biased. :D), and this post will help me a lot!

    • tnealtarver August 15, 2012 at 20:26 #

      Did the random stranger thing last Friday at a baseball game. Found out one of the players was a reader, handed him a book and a business card, and asked him to let me know what he thought. Still waiting. ;-)

      • stuckinva August 16, 2012 at 06:39 #

        awesome!! my random strangers will more than likely be through goodreads and an ebook giveaway on my blog. :)

    • Chris Stone August 19, 2012 at 12:20 #

      Random strangers is a good idea. Maybe I recently gave copies of my book away to people through a competition on a facebook page, in exchange for a review on Amazon. The point is to create a buzz around your book, so that people will feel that they are missing out if they DON’T read it.

  7. nazarioartpainting August 15, 2012 at 17:35 #

    Thank You for the tips. Your advise always help me.

  8. Lauren Clark (@LaurenClark_Bks) August 15, 2012 at 17:37 #

    Read the review policy. Read the reviewer’s bio and be sure he or she likes the genre of your book. Be polite, use the person’s name, have some personality, and be brief. If the person does review your book, comment on the post, and say thank you!

  9. Nicola Higgins August 15, 2012 at 17:48 #

    Now I have another book to add to my “to read” list. Darn you, that list is long enough already!

    For the record, it was mostly the endorsement from Ron Hutton that got me. If he thinks it’s good, you can be pretty certain the details are right!

    • Chris Stone August 19, 2012 at 12:14 #

      Hello Nicola, Ronald Hutton also wrote an introduction to the book.

  10. tnealtarver August 15, 2012 at 20:28 #

    Read your tweet and hustled over to see what you had to say. Good stuff with a definite target–how to get Catherine’s attention!

  11. Gerry Fenge (@GerryFenge) August 16, 2012 at 13:10 #

    Top stuff – and very logical from an insiders’ point of view. Thank you for making that point of view equally logical to the rest of us. (By the way, apart from a couple of friends I subscribe to no blog but this one. How did you win? I suspect it was the Nothing Important section at bottom right that clinched it…)

  12. Candy Korman August 16, 2012 at 16:27 #

    Very enlightening and persuasive. I immediately checked out Arthur and cringed through the other proposed review subject.
    I’m going to pass this link along to a few indie authors.
    Thanks!
    Candy

  13. Tahlia Newland August 17, 2012 at 01:32 #

    This has made me reconsider how I approach this as an author, but as a reviewer I would find that email too long and it has way too many reviews in it, it’s overkill. I will have made up my mind from the blurb and reading the first bit via an Amazon link. Accolades from others & lists of credentials don’t impress me. But I see that they do others. I’m just saying that I don’t expect or need all that from authors who request reviews from me.

    My approach, as an author, is to present the information that I expect other authors to give me as a reviewer, without any hype. Simple clear and professional, and I seem to get a decent number of reviewers that way. As a reviewer, I rarely refuse a request, because I have a form on my site, that if they use it shows me that they have read my review policy and makes sure that they give me all the details I require.

    I will revamp my request style though and see if it increases the scores.

  14. Sean Walsh August 18, 2012 at 16:47 #

    I found this feature in the New York Times relevant to the current topic. Thought I’d share: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/technology/personaltech/ins-and-outs-of-publishing-your-book-via-the-web.html?src=me&ref=general

  15. Chris Stone August 19, 2012 at 12:13 #

    I wonder if that’s the first time that a pitch has got a review?

  16. Carolyn August 27, 2012 at 19:01 #

    I started a small publishing company and got a submission that was a blank email with the entire manuscript as an attachment. A BLANK email. No intro, no context, no information. I had no idea who this person was and the manuscript was close to the genre I requested, but actually missing a really key piece. He didn’t get any response. I wonder why people throw their books at publishers (and reviewers) as though i’ts throwing pasta against a wall and seeing if it sticks. If you’ve taken the time to write a whole book, why wouldn’t you take the time to introduce yourself in an email?

  17. Midnyte Reader August 30, 2012 at 04:09 #

    First of all, congrats on your new Mac. Second, terrific post. It’s amazing to me the whacky e-mails I get. This was a terrific and concise request.

  18. Mary DeEditor September 9, 2012 at 02:22 #

    Not only a very useful example, but I too was captured by this pitch. In fact, I went and purchased the book. I’ve spent the afternoon skimming and reading The Trials of Arthur, even though I had many other things I planned to do. This is a wonderful book! I have no connection to anyone involved, just to be clear, but I love it.

    It happens that I too get book pitches in the course of my work. Many of them are truly dreadful, most merely tedious. But the few that are bright and sharp, ah, they deserve special kudos. Congratulations, Mr. Stone. An exemplary pitch. I hope to steal it myself — the structure, that is.

  19. work from no home September 19, 2012 at 09:31 #

    This weird guy – Peng Joon, This guy banked over $1.2 million .
    He’s showing everyone how he did it, with just a laptop and
    the internet, starting form ZERO … while he’s on
    VACATION!
    Watch the video here:

    ==> http://tinyurl.com/9mby7h2

    Be prepared to be blown away…

  20. Lisa at Amalfi Blue September 27, 2012 at 00:00 #

    Catherine, from a career journalist about to release her 1st book…….I am glad I found your site. Great post. The problem these days is that everyone thinks they’re a “writer” just because they can “publish” a book.

  21. ariannehowell December 9, 2012 at 23:44 #

    I’m inspired to write a book and publish it and I know it will took me long for doing this. You really inspired me with you work and I am proud to be part of this article thread. You have shared an interesting and witty article to us.

    ________________________
    Educational Child Psychologist

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