I have learned recently that one of the best ways to get publicity for a book, whether independently or traditionally published, is to have it read over by some legitimate book reviewers. It’s a terrifying experience (as I can tell you in detail here) but absolutely worth it. Here is a terrific Q&A from ALLi’s Debbie Young, a reviewer and self-publishing advocate, on how you can charm her into reading your book–and loving it. The article is originally from the ALLi self-publishing advice blog, and you can see the original here: http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-get-book-reviews/
Some heartfelt advice about how indie authors should – and should not – go about soliciting book reviews for their self-published books from Debbie Young, who as both an author and a bookblogger can see the issue from both sides.
“Do you read any book or are you particular?”
This question came from a middle-aged lady who had only just discovered the joy of reading for pleasure. Her query reminded me that some people simply do not realise just how many books are out there to choose from, waiting to be read. As a book reviewer, I sometimes wonder whether many authors don’t realise that either, when approaching potential reviewers. They’re sometimes astonished when I turn down their offer of a free book, as if I’m a book-starved reader, pathetically grateful because I’ll never fulfil my hunger in any other way.
Some are also startled when I ask for a paperback rather than an ebook. I tell them I’m less likely to lose a paperback than an ebook in the black hole that is my Kindle, and therefore more likely to read and review it sooner. They react as if I’m being unreasonably greedy, complaining that it makes the process too expensive for them, forgetting that they’re asking me to give them many hours of my time for free. Er, free books don’t pay my bills, folks, and my time, charged at my normal commercial rate, will be worth far more than their paperback plus postage.
Actually, I’m facing a glut – a surfeit of books way beyond my capacity. The most books I am likely to read in a year is about 150. Some of those will be old favourites I’m rereading for fun, others will be birthday or Christmas gifts, or books that I’m reviewing for work purposes. (I review for various magazines and organisations such as Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the Historical Novel Society). This leaves maybe 100 openings for books offered to me by authors.
As a member of ALLi and an advocate of indie books, I read a lot of self-published books. As a highly-ranked reviewer on Amazon UK (currently hovering around the #1,300 mark), I get approached many authors of all kinds who are working their way down the list of their top reviewers. Here’s the link to the list of top Amazon reviewers in the UK and in the US to help you do the same.
That’s a great way to find potential users, if you use it wisely, and many do, approaching me with a personalised email, mentioning my other reviews, and demonstrating that they’ve hand-picked me for all the right reasons. Sadly, some still make some highly avoidable gaffes that are guarantted [sic] to make any potential reviewer’s heart sink:
1. “I’m sure you’ll love my violent pornographic political thriller set in a country you’ve never heard of and don’t care about.”
When you’re choosing who to approach, first make sure that they already read and review your genre. It is very easy to do this: you simply click on the reviewer’s profile on Amazon to see their other reviews. Those with book blogs will probably also publicise their own review policy and preferences. Lots of erotica? Then don’t offer them a children’s picture book. All chicklit and historical novels? You’re unlikely to convert them to sci-fi. Even if you persuade them to accept your book out of their comfort zone, remember that they may not enjoy it, because they’re not familiar with your genre’s conventions and standards, so are more likely to leave a less favourable review. There will be more appropriate reviewers out there. Find them.
Moral: Don’t waste your time or reviewers’ time by trying to fit a square book into a round hole.
2. “Please post your review on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, and tweet/Facebook the links.”
Book reviewers are volunteers and should not be taken for granted. We are not the authors’ paid PRs. We have other lives and other priorities. Book reviewers call the shots on where they post their reviews.
My usual minimum: Amazon UK, as that’s my home territory, and often the US site too, if I have time. If I particularly like a book, or if the author is in a different Amazon territory, I’ll probably copy it to their local Amazon sites too. If I like a book so much that I really want to promote it to my friends, I’ll also add it to my bookblog, which I recently set up to write longer and more personal reviews, and to include links that would not be allowed on Amazon: www.debbieyoungsbookblog.com. (I’ll be adding my back catalogue of reviews over the coming months.)
So when I gently reply “Sorry, I only post on Amazon and on my bookblog”, authors should not come back to me to say “Oh, it won’t take long, you only have to cut and paste”. Book reviewers are not slaves to authors’ commands, no matter how breezily they phrase their directives. If they’re rude or presumptious, it’s our prerogative not to post a review anywhere at all.
Moral: Don’t look a gift reviewer in the mouth.
3. “Why only 4 stars? You clearly didn’t interpret the book properly.”
I post long, detailed and considered reviews demonstrating my experience of a book. I tend not to include plot summaries because they’re easily available elsewhere – I just share my honest response. Each reader’s reaction will be different, and the author does not have the right to tell a reader that their reaction is wrong. My reviews are usually generous and upbeat, and any criticism is very constructive e.g. “the story was good enough to make me turn a blind eye to the odd typo”. (If I don’t like a book enough to give a good review, I don’t review it – that would spoil my pleasure.) Yet I’ve had some very odd and even aggressive responses, demanding to know why I’ve given “only” 4 stars, for example. I usually tell myself this is only the author’s self-doubt speaking, and I reply courteously and assertively, already clear in my own mind that I will never review a book by that author again.
Moral: Respect your reviewers’ views – and if you can’t accept them, don’t solicit them.
But now I’ll get back to my reviewing to-do list, which today includes deciding how to respond to the oddest review query I’ve received to date – an email asking me my timescale for reviewing a book that the author hasn’t finished writing yet!
OVER TO YOU
Please feel free to share any top tips you have for finding book reviewers – or, if you review, any advice you’d like to offer authors.