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February 16, 2012

Tips on Thursday: Blog Reviews

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There has been debate over how influential blog reviews can be for a book. I think a lot of that has to do with the inability to track sales that come from blog reviews. However, for self-published authors and independent publishers it is easier to see the impact as they do not have several marketing campaigns going at once. There have been several success stories and it has been largely do to book bloggers spreading the word about the book. The most recent success story will be appearing in Sunday's New York Times Best Sellers List - Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (#27, paperback trade fiction). This is a title I promoted when I worked for The Writer's Coffee Shop. There was no major ad campaign, city tour, or any of the traditional methods used by large publishers. However, there were fans of E. L. James and a list of book bloggers. If you search 'Fifty Shades of Grey reviews', you will get page after Google page of book bloggers talking about it (everything from reviews, guest posts, and interviews to sharing their favorite lines and including it in weekly memes). Fifty Shades of Grey wasn't picked up by Publisher's Weekly until January of this year, eight months after it was first published. The reported 80,000 plus sales for the trilogy is greatly a result of bloggers and fans talking about it.

As I said, self-published authors and independent publishers know the importance of book bloggers. During any discussion I take part in with authors and publishers, I am almost always asked, "How do we get bloggers to review our books?" As a book blogger and someone who works in publishing, I know the difficulties of getting a book noticed. Even when the author or publisher does everything right, they still might not get a response. I recently sent out 12 pitches for a middle grades fantasy adventure series and have only heard back from 2.

While it can be a difficult task there are some ways to increase the chances your request will be accepted. I have encouraged in a previous Tips on Thursday for every blogger to have a review policy. Authors and publishers should pay attention to what the blogger's review policy is. If, after reading the review policy, you are still unclear if the blogger would be interested in your book, contact the blogger and indicate you've read the policy. Bloggers put a lot of effort into their reviews and blogs with little (no) compensation, so demonstrating that you put a little effort into your request goes a long way with bloggers.

I've collected some PET PEEVES from bloggers and here are the ones that come up the most, so steer clear...
  • Emails with generic greetings or the wrong name
  • unsolicited manuscript - sending it as an attachment in your pitch email. While this might save you time, it looks presumptuous on your part. Also, sending a link to your book on Twitter when we've never communicated is just spam in my book. (With the amount of malicious links out there, I'm not clicking on a shorten url in a tweet from someone I don't know).
  • No means no. If they say they aren't accepting pitches, then don't send them a review request. I feel bad when I say no to a review request, but I also only have so much time in a day. The sames goes for sending a request to a blogger who doesn't read your genre. If after reading the review policy you are unsure, check out their recent reviews or labels/tags - it'll give you an idea of what they read.
  • Not enough info. You don't have to send us a three page query, but sending an email that says "I would love a review, find my book at Amazon or Smashwords. Here's the link" is going straight to my trash folder. 
  • Don't ask to spam my friends. As I said above we put a lot of effort into our reviews and blogs and we expect the author/publisher to at least put a little effort into their request. Asking a blogger for emails of other bloggers they know is WRONG. I understand you are wanting to use our networks to get more reviews. A better way than asking for email addresses is to offer "if you have any blog friends who would also be interested in reviewing my book, please have them contact me." 
  • So many books, so little time. Book bloggers are in demand. I probably have 20 paperback review copies sitting under my coffee table and who knows how many ebooks. It is okay to ask to have a review by a certain time, but don't demand it. That is the nice thing about the changing publishing climate. Authors and publishers are no longer confined to 6 weeks to build buzz. Offering guest posts and interviews can help get the word out about the author/book while waiting for the reviews to come in.
  • Don't attack us. Bloggers give an honest opinion on what they thought of the book. True book bloggers are not out to destroy someone's career. When I read a book for review I feel I have two responsibilities. 1. Give enough info so a reader can make an informed decision on whether to spend their hard earned money on the title and 2. provide feedback to the author so that they may improve on their craft.
I'm going to expand a bit on that last point. There is often a second part to the question that is posed to me. "How do we get good reviews." (notice I did not say positive reviews, if you are only after positive reviews then you might need to shell out some cash). There has been some buzz around the blogisphere about "unprofessional" reviewers and bloggers who just want to be mean.  Here are a few tips on finding good, honest bloggers who are just as passionate about books as you are (though they still may not be as gung-ho about your title as you are):
  • Are they active in the book/blogging community (do they participate in twitter chats, offer advice either on their blog, facebook page, or twitter feed)
  • Read a couple of their posts. If they give star ratings, see what they say about their 1 and 2 star books. (A lot of bloggers consider 3 star books to be good books and encourage people to read them). 
  • Do they act professional. While most book bloggers are doing it as a hobby, the ones who take it seriously have review policies and nice looking blogs (I don't mean they have a custom blog, but some thought has gone into layout, widgets, etc).
And finally my last piece of advice on getting bloggers to review your books. Just as you get excited about the number of downloads your book receives when listed as FREE, bloggers get excited about the number of visitors/pageviews/comments their blog receives. Leave comments, send out a tweet, post on your facebook page or blog about the reviewer. Remember, bloggers put a lot of effort into their reviews and blogs, it really isn't wrong for us to expect the author/publisher to put a bit of effort in making request of us.

It's your turn! What advice do you have for authors and publishers to make their request stand out and not be immediately trashed?

Update: See the companion post about what bloggers can do to get noticed by major publishers.
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  1. I enjoyed your post. As a first-time author who's trying to learn how to navigate the waters of getting his novel reviewed, your post is very helpful.

    Thank you!

    1. Good luck. Remember you could be doing everything right, but still not getting response. Keep expanding the circle of bloggers you send to and interact with them outside of a review pitch.

  2. FANTASTIC advice that all publishers should read!

    (and I'm proud to say we're already following all of it!)

  3. Really appreciate your pet peeves here - as a book blogger on Quirky Girls Read, I am most annoyed by generic pitches from PR reps who obviously haven't read our review policy.


  4. I think authors and publishers have to do their homework to make sure their book is right for a particular blog. And always be professional about pitching. Even though bloggers volunteer their time, that doesn't mean their time isn't valuable. In my opinion, it's even more valuable!