Editor's Note: The guest blog post below is from Christopher D. Schmitz, a book review blogger – and novelist himself – who's gracious enough to share some pointers with us only-authors. Do we want to get a book review blogger's attention? Chris shares some helpful to-dos... and to-don'ts... for our benefit.
Hello. My name is Chris. I do book reviews.
I assume there must be a self-help group for us out there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.
Seriously, though, book reviewers are magical flippin’ unicorns. We all know they’re out there, but they seem to be incredibly difficult to locate and even more difficult to capture. I say that as an author as well. I’m always seeking reviewers and know exactly how hard it is to get someone to provide a solid rating.
I try to do 45-55 book reviews per year and keep my ratio as mostly Indie/unknown books and authors. Also, I hate giving anything less than 4 stars. Many people don’t know, but on Amazon, a 3/5 review is “critical” and actually hurts the author’s rankings and discoverability.
So how do you capture a unicorn, and where do you look for it? I have a bunch of review directories listed over on my blog, but it’s not comprehensive. The reviewers whose words carry the most amount of weight (outside of media reviews like the New York Times,) are usually the top-ranked on Amazon… but unless you have a publicist, you should probably start near the bottom and work your way up.
Every reviewer should have a description somewhere listing exactly what they want to see and how they want to see it. Obey those rules! Sending slasher stories to a romance reviewer or erotica to a faith-based reader will get you nowhere. It might actually get you negative publicity and limit your future options.
Since I read so many Indie titles I get a lot of junk, and by that, I mean works that shouldn’t have been published yet. I’m upfront and even say, “I will judge your book by your cover,” but have seen ones made in MS Paint and pitches that are 600-word run-on sentences that lead nowhere.
First, what gets my attention is something that looks professional. Second is something that’s laser-focused and within my listed genres/preferences: It’s creative and original, but doesn’t try to reinvent that wheel. If a submission is pitched poorly but I’d have to look at the publisher info in order to tell whether or not it was self-published, chances are I’ll put it on my reading list (provided the first two pages don’t contain critical errors such as opening with a passive sentence, lengthy character descriptions, or irrelevant focus on the weather).
More often than not, I get requests that demonstrate the author didn’t bother to read my submissions policy page. Most are for books that are clearly outside of my preferences. (I don’t know why, but far-Eastern mystics and shamans keep asking me to review their new-age healing books.) I also don’t read anything that is first-person POV, and a full third of submissions are exactly that.
Perhaps the most irksome thing, however, is when someone acts belligerent or nasty after I respond. I’ve been cussed out for explaining that submitters ought to take the time to at least check out my submissions page, where it clearly says what I do read/review and what I absolutely do not want to see. One person got so vitriolic that I had to block him.
I don’t have time for nonsense, but I did have the time to send screenshots of his insults to other reviewers I know. I do this for free, and I don’t owe anyone anything.
The other thing unicorns see a lot of is the blanket email. It’s unprofessional but very common to get called “dear reviewer”… even though my blog has my name on it.
I expect that 95% of the data I ask for in a query will be copy and pasted, and that’s fine. But if everything is one giant blanket form, I’m going to assume you didn’t bother to read what I’m looking for (and thus be more discriminating with it.)
It’s basically the same thing as seeing those drop-down/indent rows that show text has been forwarded/resent over and over again. You may be using the BCC field, but we can still see we were BCCed even if we can’t see everyone it was sent to. So err on the side of caution and put a little effort into your appeal. The more specific you are, the better your chances of getting help. I’ve often given pointers/help to writers I wouldn’t review as long as they had done the legwork to get in touch properly.
I think a lot of reviewers fade away because of the weekly glut of emails we get with no personal connection. This repetitive routine treats reviewers like they’re automatons instead of people, complete with the inherent expectation that we owe our reviews.
Another aggravation is when authors send the same request over and over. I had one writer query me with a form query. He clearly didn’t read my “want list” and sent it blind. When that happens, I simply ignore it and don’t respond. After the third time, I contacted him back and informed him of his faux pas. His response was to get nasty and actually try to cyber bully me, which didn’t go over well for him…
After he’d been spamming reviewers for months, he hardly had any reviews for his books (which, incidentally, were about bullying). He got a new book review from me though: a single star, complete with screenshots of our email exchange. Be polite. No means no, and a pass on doing a review isn’t a personal slight. If you keep it positive and ask for feedback, a reviewer will often make a suggestion or recommendation on someplace else to go or ways to make a query better.
Or leave a door open for something in the future.
If I ask for an author to send me a paperback – which I do for about 80% of my reviews – there is a 100% chance I will leave a review, and usually within about three months. I understand that authors are investing cash that way, not to mention their precious time in doing PR.
That said, remember you’re asking reviewers to invest their limited time into reading and writing a book review for you. That’s usually a commitment of many hours, plus access to his or her platform. Combined, that’s something of financial value in almost every economic sphere. The least you can do is be respectful enough to take five minutes and read their preferences.
Maybe even write them something personal… After all, you’re a writer, aren’t you? So write something that makes me excited to invest my time in you!
Christopher D. Schmitz is a book review blogger, SF/F novelist, and youth worker from Minnesota. He blogs over at Inside the Inkwell (https://authorchristopherdschmitz.wordpress.com) and keeps a website at http://www.authorchristopherdschmitz.com. He can also be found on social media. (He’s old, so he’s on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/authorchristopherdschmitz.)