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:
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&N.com/Powell’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
ISBN 13: XXX-XXXXXXX
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.