Review requests

From time to time I get requests from reviewers for our books. I’m more than happy to send out a free review copy to them.

Most of the time.

The problem is deciding who gets them. Not all reviewers are alike, and it doesn’t bode well to blindly send out a book without knowing the quality of the reviewer.

Letter of introduction

The initial email to the editor is as important as a query letter. Of course, a well-known reviewer could write his request for a review copy on a cocktail napkin, and I’d stumble over the beagle to get it out to them. So yes, reputation has its advantages. But there are many very good, solid reviewers, such as BiblioBuffet whose name may not drip off your tongue like Kirkus does, BUT their reviews are oftentimes far more thoughtful, insightful, honest, and unbiased than their more famous counterparts. It’s important to know these reviewers.

The good ones know how to write an effective query letter. They give a brief introduction as to who they are and the book they are requesting. They are polite and are more than happy to offer information as to their reviews site/magazine, such as traffic or magazine readership. They always act like the consummate professionals that they are. I’m always happy to send these folks a book.

Then there are those who I suspect are trolling for books to simply pad their private libraries. Their query letters are as dismal as the beagle after a weekend bender with the German Shepherds and a bottle of bad vodka. Here is an example I received a while back:

I am “Mr. IWannaBeAReviewer,” a reviewer for (website redacted), a blog to do reviews for books and other items. I would like to do a review of: Title redacted

Could you please send this, so I can do the review of the item, please? If you can, Please send them to: (addy redacted – but it was in Canada)

Aside from the clumsy formatting and wording, I felt this was on the terse, rude side. Obviously, we’ve never established a relationship, so this would have been the perfect time to show his genial side – not simply demand a book.  Why would the reviewer like the book? Does he have a specialty? Who IS he? It’s simply good manners to not appear as though you were born in a barn.

Look at their site

Appearance: The first thing I do is go to a reviewer’s site. In the case of my ill-mannered friend, I went there post haste. It was as I expected – brand spanking new (only four reviews), and very poorly constructed. It looked like one of those early cookie-cutter templates that his second grader slapped together.

Is this fair? Not really. But just like we all judge books by their covers, we judge sites by how professional they appear. If someone is serious about their craft, they are concerned with presenting an equally professional appearance, not something that looks like it’s stuck together with spit and glue.

Traffic: I look to see what kind of traffic they have. I usually look at the number of comments on the reviews, if they enabled the comment feature. If I can’t tell what kind of traffic they have, I ask them. They should be able to easily give me that info since their business relies on traffic.

Content: I check to see what their site offers. Is it a blog, or a formal website? Do they have a staff of contributing writers? What kind of posts/articles do they put up? Is is just reviews, or do they include other articles geared to interest the general reader? To whom is the site geared? Writers or readers?

Quality: Do they write well and have interesting reviews? One reviewer who consistently captures my attention with her sharp wit and excellent analysis is BiblioBuffet’s Nicki Leone. Go read her latest review and tell me you’ve seen its equal in any of the trade journals.

Mr. IWannaBeAReviewer’s writing was third-grade quality at best. Tons of typos and poorly constructed sentences littered his short posts. Missing were all the ingredients that go into a solid review: analysis of the plot construction, character development, pacing, flow, writing ability, did it maintain his interest, and why.

It’s the position of the reviewer who becomes the conduit to their readers. Obviously there is little in it for me to choke up a free book.

Specialize: He may very well be trying to be some sort of reviewer, but my suspicion is that he’s rounding out his private library because he has a very eclectic collection of books that he reviews. It almost looks as though he’ll review anything he can get his hands on…cookbooks, romance, mystery, steampunk. He’s all over the board. Most reviewers have a specialty – be it historical fiction, memoir, biography, romance, thriller/mystery, religion, or mainstream. But they don’t review them all.

Info: Do they include Amazon/B&’s links to buy the book? When I read a review, I like to have a link so I can buy the book. Your good reviewers do this.

Did they include the book info so readers can order/buy the book? Many of them will have something like this:

252 pages * $15.95

In short, a review is as good as the person writing it and the audience who will read it. That’s the beauty of word of mouth. Someone needs to have a big enough mouth for the message to be heard. And this is why I take the time to look at reviewers’ sites and get to know the good ones. Solid relationships like these can lead to all sorts of great things, especially in this business.

While many of you are interested in creating your own reviewer site, it’s important to establish yourself. Learn how to analyze books so that your reviews have some meat to them. “I loved this book,” isn’t going to do it.

Reviews are achingly hard to do and require a lot of time. It’s the same as giving a solid crit to a writer. These don’t roll off our fingers in a matter of minutes. I’ve been known to take a couple hours just to write a crit – and that doesn’t include the time it took to read the pages.

Knowing this, I’m picky about to whom I cough up a book. It’s not that I don’t have them and aren’t happy to send them out – I do and I am. But I want that to count for something other than filling up someone’s private library.

7 Responses to Review requests

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Well said as ever.

  2. Allen says:

    One thing that most publishers know and few authors know is that a arc in the wrong hands will do more harm than good.

    If you are writing about nudist vacations in the Keyes, a review by an Amish Resort magazine might not be the best solution.

    Or writing a book about a nudist resort and getting it wrong, then sending it to N magazine will get a scathing review.

    Good blog, as usual.

  3. Lauren says:

    Great post as always, Lynn, and thank you for the kind compliments.

    It should go without saying that any author seeking reviews (since professional publshers and publicists know this) should ask themselves who reads the blog/website. Is it geared to readers or to authors? Is it a place you would happily spend time if you didn’t have a book?

    Also, places to send a book for review need not be review sites as Allen pointed out. They can be places that talk about particular subjects (knitting, low-fat cooking, etc.) into which the book would fit well. When thinking “book review” don’t limit yourself. That said, here are two ideas:

  4. Becky Mushko says:

    Last year I wasted one of my author copies on a website whose name made it clear that they reviewed children’s books. Before sending the book, I had emailed the site owner and asked her if she would be interested in doing a review. She emailed back that she would. About six weeks after she received the copy, she sent me an email that said in part:

    “After careful consideration we don’t feel we can review your book at this time. I’m so sorry to share this disappointing news. We wish we could provide individual feedback, but the number of submissions we receive makes this too difficult. We truly wish you all the best in finding a reviewer to champion [title of my book redacted].”

    Had she ended there, I might have understood. But then she said this:

    “Given the way that we structure the site, I do have two options for you. We can showcase your book as an “author review”. In this case, you can submit a review of your book, in your own words, with any images you would like to include. Your review will be edited to meet the site’s editorial standards–so The [name of site redacted] reserves the right to edit, include or not include any content–or a review in its entirety–if it doesn’t meet the needs or purpose of the site. A final edit would be sent to you for preview before being published to the site. Or, you can place a book advertisement banner which would be displayed on [the site]’s home page and all content pages, except the about page. The fees for this option are explained in more detail on our website.”

    And, of course, the URL for the website was given.

    I didn’t reply. I don’t write my own reviews. And I don’t pay to have them “showcased.”

  5. Becky, I hate to see authors using up their own copies for reviewers. That’s what your publisher should be doing.

    I send out, easily, 100 books per title just for reviewers. And that doesn’t cover the copies I send to the sales and marketing team or the authors’ publicists (if they have one).

  6. Becky Mushko says:

    The small publisher had generously sent me ARCs before publication and a big box of author copies when the book first came out. This “review site” was one recommended to me by a friend about 6 months after the book was out. So I was only out postage.

  7. […] This blog discusses reviewers and reviewing from a publisher’s point of view, and singles out our own beloved Nicki Leone as a “reviewer who consistently captures my attention with her sharp wit and excellent analysis.”  Well, duh. […]

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