Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting Book Reviews Without Being a Used Car Salesman

Earlier today Steve Kuhn, an editing client who recently became a fellow author under the Books of the Dead Press umbrella with his Dext of the Dead series, asked me to divulge the secrets of getting good, honest reviews on my books. Kuhn's books are great, a zombie series along the lines of The Walking Dead. So it's been wonderful seeing the response of readers thus far.

Reviews are something all writers want. They act like word of mouth, friends telling friends and strangers about books they'd recommend. My answer was both simple and complex: book bloggers. This isn't the only way, nor are book bloggers the only people who do reviews, but they are a key method to getting the word out about your book and provide honest reviews for readers to rely on.

But it occurred to me that others have asked this question before. In fact, I've answered it for many editing clients at WAKE Editing. New authors are always trying to get the lay of the land so to speak. To provide information for past and future clients and any new author searching for answers, I've organized the answer I gave Steve below on how best (in my opinion) to contact book bloggers and reviewers. However, these steps aren't really secrets. They are pieces of the puzzle I've picked up throughout my writing and editing career. 

Step 1: Research
The first step is researching bloggers that read and review your genre of book. I've provided a list here of sites that list various blogs to research: (This one gives a list of avid readers who aren't necessarily book bloggers but do read and review books)

Steve recommended one more location he's had good luck with, Paranormal and Horror Lovers on Goodreads.

Step 2: Query Letters

Once you've found a good blog to contact, then it's time to write up a quick query that will hook readers and tell them what the book's about.

10 things to remember and include in a query...

1. Personalization
Address the query to the book blogger or reviewer personally and say something about their blog. (A compliment goes a long way.) Don't just address it as "Dear Book Blogger."

2. Make it Easy
You want to make the process as easy for the reviewer and prospective readers as possible. Provide links to find the book/s so they can put them on their website when the review comes out.

3. Review Distribution
Ask the book blogger to leave reviews in the places you want like Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, etc. (They won't always be able to, but most will try.)

4. Sales Pitch
Yes, as an author you have to do a little selling. You have to sell yourself and the book. Include one positive quote or summary from your publisher or a famous author etc... that was said about your book--and no more than that. Don't overdo the sales pitch. Let the book and cover speak for themselves.

For Steve, I personally knew of something James Roy Daley, CEO of Books of the Dead Press, said about the Dext of the Dead series upon its release. It was a great line that could easily be summarized for this purpose, which should provide a good example for others: "The story takes place in an apocalyptic nightmare, and is filled with an amazing cast of original characters that will stay with you long after you've stopped reading." This is a bit long, but summarizing it shouldn't be a problem.

I include a different quote from Daley about A Life of Death in my own queries. He told me upon reading book 1 that it reminded him of when he first read Harry Potter, that it felt like an incredibly comfortable shirt he never wanted to take off. This was something personal, a feeling he had experienced, and one I knew readers could connect with.

Both of these quotes work great for promoting books, so find yours. If you've worked at getting your book out there, you'll have some to choose from. However, only use one. The last thing you want is for book bloggers to think they're being sold on the newest Ford Fiesta to hit the lot.

5. Research Your Audience
Make sure you're book blogger is accepting submissions, takes your genre, and accepts ebook submissions if you don't have print copies to send or can't afford to. This can become a big factor when it comes to sending books to reviewers and bloggers overseas. Bloggers normally address this on the submission page of their site.

6. Review Requests
Don't ask for a positive review. Book bloggers are avid readers and will leave honest reviews. That's what you want to ask for. Honestly, if your book has all 5-star reviews with no mention of things they didn't like, something's going to smell a little fishy to readers anyway. (However, rarely will book bloggers leave anything below 3 stars. Instead they either won't review it or may contact you about the potential review.)

7. Don't Mass Email!
Let me say that again... Don't Mass Email! Always send queries out individually. Yes it takes a lot more time, but mass emails often get caught in spam filters and when they get through are seen as less personal. You want to develop a relationship with bloggers. They are there to help you. They do this for free and get nothing but free ebooks out of the deal. They are invaluable.

8. Don't Assume
You know what they say about assuming--it makes an ass of u and me. So don't assume a reviewer or book blogger will want the book right away. Yes, I'm sure your book is good if you've gone through everything you should be doing (hiring a professional editor, acquiring beta readers, revising), but don't attach your ebook to the email. Often this assumption will push reviewers away. A little back and forth between book reviewers and authors is a good thing. It builds your relationship. Mention that you'd be happy to supply a digital/print copy if they are interested and ask what format the reviewer would like.

9. Relationship Building
Lastly, make your query friendly. Book bloggers are people, just like you and me.

10. A Final Note... 
Don't send follow-up emails to see if they received your initial email. This will do nothing but tick people off, assuming they get it. If they didn't get your first email, they aren't likely to get the follow-up.

In Summation:
There are probably a few questions you have, so here are answers to some I've heard before.

What kind of responses should I expect?

Most book bloggers don't respond to submissions if they aren't interested, but a few will. Some authors get about a 5% positive response rate. Then maybe two-thirds of those will actually leave reviews. If you have a good pitch that isn't too long and will grab the reader in the query, you could see positive response rates of up to 20%. Really, it varies. I'd count on about a 10% positive response. So, if you want to get 30 reviews, you'll need to query around 350 book bloggers.

How long will it take for the reviews to come in?

Days to weeks to months. Sometimes they'll be booked until the end of the year. They'll normally ask if it's okay to add it that far out. My advice, say yes! An honest review, no matter how far away from the present, is one more than you had.

Can I do interviews or other book spotlights?

Yes! Many times book bloggers say on their website if this is something they're interested in. Mention that you'd be open to an interview or something similar in the query if you want. That leaves the door open.

Thanks for visiting. I hope these tidbits help. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or respond below. Additionally, if you know of other great links to lists of book bloggers, feel free to respond with them. Any that will help authors are welcome.

To get in touch with Steve Kuhn, you'll find him on Facebook here or at Diary of a Runner. Or you can read his newly released series Dext of the Dead, available through most ebook retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Weston Kincade ~ Author of the A Life of Death collection, and Strange Circumstances