It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. They’re in no particular order, popularity-wise. Today’s is a lesson in how (not?) to get your book reviewed…
One of the hardest things for a self-published author to do is to get their book reviewed. But you need reviews, if only to lend some weight to your Amazon listing and to reassure yourself that self-publishing your book isn’t the biggest mistake you’ve ever made. Book bloggers and other non-professional book sites (i.e. where the reviewers don’t get paid but read and review for love) are your best bets for getting your self-published book reviewed. But how do you get them to do it? How do you approach them? And where do you even find them in the first place?
How to get your book reviewed
(If you’d prefer NOT to get your book reviewed, please see below.)
The first step is to find suitable bloggers who might like to review your book, and there are two ways to do that. The first is to trawl through Futurebook’s extensive book blogger listing. (You can easily add your name, by the way, if you review books on your website or blog.) Make a list of potential reviewers for your book based on genre preferences, etc. The second thing you can do is find 1-3 recently traditionally published books that are similar to yours, e.g. if you read and liked Book X, you might like your Book Y too. Google their name along with the word review. The top results will probably be newspapers and magazines, but keep going. Soon you’ll get to the book bloggers. Add any suitable ones to your potential reviewers list.
The next step is research, and you cannot skip this step. You are asking these people to give up several hours of their life to read and review your book; the least you can do is spend five minutes looking around their site to see if you should even be sending your book to them in the first place. Check their submission guidelines and then follow them. Add the details to your list. If they say they don’t review self-published books, that means they don’t review self-published books. Take heed.
When I wrote Self-Printed just under a year ago, the problem plaguing self-published authors looking to get their book reviewed was what I called The Mean Problem, whereby self-published authors bristled at the idea of “giving books away for free” to reviewers. (Don’t. Even. Get. Me. STARTED.) I think this has changed, thankfully—especially now that e-books are more widely read and so, accepted by book reviewers—but a new problem has taken its place: Thinking People Care Syndrome. By default, nobody gives a rodent’s arse about anyone else’s book. Oh, you wrote a book, did you? WATCH WHILE I DON’T GIVE A RODENT’S ARSE. (This isn’t me saying this to you, but everyone saying it to everyone else.) Writing a book doesn’t equal people wanting to read it (unfortunately), and I think this is a point a lot of self-publishers—and even some traditionally published authors—don’t quite get. It’s probably the biggest realization I’ve had about this whole publishing world since I stuck a self-published toe in it back in 2010. Nobody cares.
Bleak, I know, but once you acknowledge that nobody cares—once you fully understand that that’s your starting-off point—you’ll take a different approach to book-selling. A more effective approach. And then you’ll sell more books. Because a writer who doesn’t understand that nobody cares will send an e-mail that says, “I just published something. If you’d like to review it, let me know.” But if you’re a writer who does understand, the next thing you’ll do is create something that makes me care about your book. This may be an e-mail, or it may be a press release or “sell sheet” in PDF attached to an e-mail, or even a little video. It should be professional, informative and interesting, but also short and to the point.
It should tell me:
- who you are
- what the book is about
- the what/when/where of the book’s publication
- whether I’d be getting an e-book or a paperback
- how to get in contact with you if I want to review it
- something that makes me think, Oooh, I’d like to read that.
I don’t know you and I haven’t read your book (yet?), so my entire impression of you and your work is going to be formed from this e-mail. This is something to keep in mind.
Your e-mail might look something like this, attached to a one-page PDF document filled with relevant and interesting information about you and your book:
To [first name]
I am the author of Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, a travel memoir of the eighteen months I spent living in Orlando and working in Walt Disney World. I really enjoyed your review of [SIMILAR BOOK]—I too laughed out loud at the bit [MEMORABLE INCIDENT FROM SIMILAR BOOK]!—and as my book is similar, I thought you might be interested in reading and potentially reviewing it.
I’d be happy to send you a complimentary copy. There is, of course, no obligation to review it; I appreciate that you must get countless books to review and don’t have the time to read and review all of them. I completely understand.
If you are interested in receiving a copy, please forward a postal address and I will mail one to you immediately. Alternatively if you’d like an e-book edition please tell me your preferred format and I will e-mail it to you.
Please see attached document for more information. I’m also available for interview, guest-posting, etc. If there’s anything else I can supply you with—images, more information, links, etc.—please let me know.
Thank you for your time,
If you’ve done your job, you’ll have sent me something that makes me think:
- you’re a professional
- who has written an interesting, potentially good book
- that I want to read because you’ve done your research on me.
Therefore I’ll e-mail you back to say, “Yes—send me this book!” and then I’ll read it and like it and review it, and your job will be done. Mission accomplished. Repeat as required. And well done you.
How NOT to get your book reviewed
The first step is to find book bloggers who don’t read books on the same planet as yours, let alone in the same genre, and bloggers who don’t review books at all. At least half of your potential reviewer list should be made up of these non-book-reviewing bloggers, and everyone on it should say somewhere on their website that they never read or review self-published books. That’s, like, the most important bit. Throw in a few self-published authors as well. I mean, why not? When Patricia Cornwell has a new book out the first thing she does is offer a copy to Karin Slaughter, right?
Don’t visit any of the sites or blogs on your list. You don’t need to, because this is your book we’re talking about. So what if it’s chick-lit and the site is called CrimeSpreeBooks.com? Once they hear about the plot (twenty-something fish out of water with man troubles catalogues her wardrobe and hangs out with her ditzy best friend; giggles ensue), they’ll forget all about serial killers, Scandinavia and grisly body parts and read nothing but you forever more.
Also, don’t bother with those yawn-inducing “Contact” forms or collecting the bloggers’ actual e-mail addresses from the submission information on their sites. That’s just a gigantic waste of time. BOR-ing. Instead, use this handy shortcut:
- Take the domain of the website, e.g. http://www.INeverReviewBooksLikeYours.com, and cut out the “www.”
- Replace it with “info@”.
- Send your e-mail to that address, i.e. info@INeverReviewBooksLikeYours.com.
- If you get a failure notice, try “admin@” instead. One of them is bound to work, right?
So now you have a long list of people who don’t read books like yours—many of whom also don’t review books at all—and e-mail addresses for them that may or may not work, and if they do work, aren’t anything to do with the way they’ve asked you to contact them as per the instructions on their site. The next thing to do is to send out a mass e-mail to all of them that does one or more of the following things:
- gets the Delete button clicked
- gets the Spam button clicked
- gets the Block Recipient feature enabled
- incites anger and/or frustrated pencil-snapping
- inspires the recipient to write an extremely sarcastic blog post about reviews
- gives the recipient the impression that you think giving them a copy of your book is bestowing upon them a beautiful gift, and not that them reading and reviewing your book is them doing you an immeasurable favor. (Mucho bonus points for doing this.)
How can you achieve this? Well, I’m glad you asked! To make absolutely sure that you make your reviewer experience all of the above, remember to:
- Ignore all the review-related information on the blogger’s site, e.g. submission guidelines, preferred genres, etc. If you’ve followed my instructions thus far, you’ve already done this. Well done you! Earn bonus points by including a blatant lie about having researched their site, e.g. “I know you love science-fiction” when there is not one mention of science-fiction anywhere on the blogger’s site, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Omit any information about your book. Just put a link to your website instead, man. That way you get a hit too. And bonus points will be awarded for not activating the link; it’s even better if the recipient has to manually copy and paste the URL into their browser’s address bar. Oh YEAH.
- Use CC instead of BCC, so every single one of the 391 people you sent the e-mail to can see everyone else’s e-mail addresses. Who doesn’t love that?
- Include an ultimatum. If you do one thing to not get your book reviewed, make it this. Ultimatums can be one or more combinations of the following book review ultimatum categories: Schedule Ultimatums (“Only accept a copy if you are in a position to post your review between March 4th and April 10th…”), Content Ultimatums (“I ask that you only post your review if it’s a positive one…” or “You can’t mention the misspelling on the cover in your review…”) and Action Ultimatums (“I propose a review exchange. I’ll send you a copy of my book and you send me a copy of yours. Once your positive review of my book appears on Smashwords, I’ll read and review yours [Ed. note: ??!?!?!?!???!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?! Another ed. note: I actually got an e-mail that said this.]. Here’s an inactive link to my website where you can find out more…”).
- Insult the reviewer. If there’s one thing book bloggers lurve, it’s authors who are happy to send them stacks of shiny books until they post a negative review of their work. After that, it’s all “Oh my god you are SO unprofessional” and “I’m going to bitch about you on every forum I can find” and “Then I’m going to send all my, ahem, fans (read: friends) your way so they can leave bitchy comments about you on your site” and “Who are you, anyway? I bet you’re a failed writer who can barely contain her jealousy that I have a book for sale.” Yep. And the only kind of author they love even more is the kind that makes a pre-emptive strike against such behavior. Get in this category by saying something like, “Before I send you my book, I want to make sure that in return I’ll get a balanced and fair review where, if something is not to your liking, you’ll quantify why. Perhaps you could send me some samples of your previous reviews so I can check that you’re up to the task…?”
- Tell them your mother loved it. So simple, but oh so effective.
- Pretend you are not the author but the author’s Proper Publicist-Type even though the e-mail is clearly from your personal account and slips into the first person before the end of the message. A classic technique, this.
- Don’t even bother pretending that you’re after a review. I mean, why would you want a review? They’re for losers. You want sales. So say something like, “My book is for sale now on [insert link]” and then just leave it at that. For a truly annoying touch, add some hollow humility like, “I don’t expect you to buy it, but I’m going to send you this e-mail about how to buy it just in case. I mean, I know you don’t know me and we’ve never been in contact before and you only got this e-mail because I noticed you had a dot-com domain name and so chances are you have an info@ e-mail address but hey, this is my book we’re talking about. Trust me: you’re gonna want to read this baby.”
Therefore if you don’t want to get your book reviewed, your e-mail will look more like this:
I’m a fancy pants book publicist from a fancy pants book publicists’ office. I’m contacting you today in the hope that you actually have this e-mail address and because I know you’ll be interested in reading [GENERIC TITLE], a stunning debut by [AUTHOR’S NAME] that’s available now on Amazon for $1.99. I’m fairly certain of this because of your blog header. (Yes, I know your blog header is actually nothing to do with the subject matter of this book, but just go with it.) Go to http://www.generictitle.com now to find out more because that’s all the information I’m going to give you and this e-mail isn’t attached to anything except what is sure to be one of the biggest sellers of 2012. As Person With The Same Last Name as the Author has said of it, “You typed this whole thing? Like, yourself? Wow! I’m impressed.”
As I’m sure you’re aware self-published authors don’t have a lot of money and as a self-published author yourself, I know you’d appreciate me asking you to appreciate this and perhaps buy the book instead of getting a FREE copy of it…? I mean, come on. You’d probably spend double the price on a cup of coffee, am I right? Anyway if you must take money out of my—I mean, the author’s—pocket, I can send you an e-book with your name on every page so if you pass it on and it ends up on one of those piracy sites, I’ll know it was you. Yeah, I know what you book blogger types are like! I wasn’t born yesterday. Thus before I send you anything, I’m going to need a guarantee that you’ll post a review of it. Perhaps you could scribble a quick contract and send it to me, signed and notarized, along with your passport? I promise I’ll send it back after my (positive!) review goes live.
Oh, and I—we— need you to do this review thing ASAP. Like, yesterday. I got bills, y’know?
I’m also gonna need assurances that you’ll accompany my review with links to my blog, site, Twitter feed, Facebook profile, Flickr albums and Goodreads page, and that you won’t use any photos of me in which my left side predominantly features.
That’s what’s up.
The Auth—I mean, The Author’s Fancy Pants Publicist
And so, to recap:
- If you give me a copy of your book to review and I read and review it, it is me who is doing you a favor.
- Book bloggers specify what kind of books they like to review on their websites. Read this information. If it’s not there, a quick flick through a list of their existing reviews will help you determine whether or not your book is for them.
- By default, nobody cares about anybody else’s book. Your job is to get me—and everyone else—to care.
- If you’ve self-published a book, that doesn’t mean that other self-published authors will want to read it. It doesn’t work that way.
- I won’t leave your e-mail to go looking for information about your book, so don’t ask me to.
- Sending an e-mail that’s trying to sell something to someone you don’t know is called spam. Sending spam could get your e-mail account blocked and deactivated.
- Putting me on a mailing list without my consent will not get me to buy your book. It will only get me to report you to your e-mail provider for abuse. This extends to lists of e-mail addresses you made yourself and then sent mass mailings to, not just “formal” mailing lists. If you haven’t communicated with the person before, you shouldn’t be sending them mass anything.
- I’m not even a book blogger and yet I found myself with more than enough material to write this post. I CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE the gems actual book bloggers get sent.
Finally, we all know that the majority of submissions agents and editors get are smeared with crazy, unprofessionalism and coffee rings. That’s why we strive to make our own pristine, clean, correctly formatted, in adherence with their submission guidelines and smelling fresh; we want to give a professional impression. Do the same with your book review correspondence. Be professional, target suitable reviewers, don’t be pushy, demanding or frightening, and your book will get reviewed.
(Thought for the day: this blog post is nearly 3,000 words long. My book isn’t finished. Coincidence?)
Public service announcement: By the way, I don’t really review books anymore. A quick look around my site would reveal that (a) the last time I posted a review was August 2011, (b) if I do have time to review something, it’s not self-published books I choose to review and (c) does this look like a book review-centric blog to you? So I don’t really know why I’m even getting e-mails from authors in the first place. Although after this, I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting any.
Was that my evil plan all along? We’ll never know…
[Mysterious Mona Lisa-esque smile]