Saturday, October 11, 2014

How To Garner Reviewer Interest - Part One

Over the summer, I found myself quite frustrated.

The writing of the third book in the Deepest Darkness series wasn't going as I'd planned.  I was painfully behind on my reading pile.  Authors were hammering away at me over perceived slights to their masterpieces after reviews I'd written, while countless others couldn't understand why I wouldn't accept their novel(s) for review.

Sometimes it stinks being a novel reviewer.

So did I simply curl up in the fetal position under my desk and hide out with the kitties?  Not my style.  No, I decided to take said frustration and put it to good use by writing.  For the month of July, I pounded out a "how to" novel about what it means to be an author, the keys to good writing, and how authors can better obtain acceptance from reviewers in their initial approach and throw open the door to better reviews.

Do I intend to publish this body of work?  The jury is still out on that one.  In the meantime, however, I decided to offer up one particular chapter on reviews in a four-part segment here at the blog.  You may find it to be a load of crap, but if it helps even one author, it will all be worth it.

So here it is, in all it's naked glory, the first peek inside the mind of a novel reviewer.


It’s true – reviews help sell books. 

Finding them is the hard part.

There are a myriad of ways in which to obtain reviews for your novel once you’ve successfully published as an indie author.  Your goal is fifty or maybe a hundred reviews within the first six months after publishing.  Friends and family members, fellow critique members, beta readers, maybe a few co-workers at that other job. 

But now you’re ready to bite the bullet and spend some time doing real work.  So you hit the internet.  A blog tour here garners a handful of reviews.  A blogger there picks up your novel after sending out a hundred requests.  Six months down the road you’ve got ten, maybe twenty reviews for your book.

If you’re lucky.

And you stare at your computer wondering what went wrong.  You’ve begged until you’re blue in the face, stooping to levels you never thought you’d reach.  Friends and family begin to cower and hide in the shadows when you come near – especially if you’ve got that desperate gleam in your eyes.  At times you feel like young Oliver in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

As a professional unpaid novel reviewer (it’s sad I even have to say that), let me give you an insider’s tip when it comes to the initial approach – the do’s and don’ts, if you will.  You might be surprised by what reviewers go through on a daily basis.  Then again, you might not even care.  And that right there might just be part of the problem.

Like I said before, reviews are skewed.  They will always be skewed.  Accept this premise up front before you even consider approaching potential reviewers.  Reviews are subjective and take into account those pesky personal likes and dislikes, experiences or lack thereof, etc.  The reviews you do get aren’t always going to be glowing five and four stars.  But take heart – what one person doesn’t like about your novel may be the very thing the next adores.

The reality also is that you are going to have to work hard, really hard, to garner reviewer interest (and thus, purchaser interest).  Now let me explain why.


Reason number one:  Most reviewers have personal lives outside their blog.  Family and friends to care for – just like you.  Perhaps young children and the associated lifestyle of running them hither and yon, catching a moment to read while waiting for the crumb crunchers to finish softball practice.  A full-time job – hello?  Do you see the picture I’m vividly painting here?  Their lives are just as busy as yours, and they’re squeezing in reading your novel anywhere they can just like you’re squeezing in writing anywhere you can.  Goes back to chapter three – you really do need to get over yourself and anticipate a reviewer’s life outside of reading your masterpiece.

Reason number two:  A reviewer’s inbox is full of requests EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I’m not joking here – and it’s especially bad on the weekends.  Wading through requests can become quite exhausting, particularly when it appears many didn’t even read the blog page of instructions on how to submit their request.  There’s the right way and the highway, and I’ll get further into this one later in this chapter.

Reason number three:  It’s simple mathematics.  The reality is you will be lucky to get ten percent or less respondents, so the number of positive responses relate back to the number of requests you send.  Think of it in relation to cold calling or mass mailings.  The time and money spent is still worth it to businesses – and that’s how you have to think of yourself now that you’re a published author.  A business.  But there are specific things you can do to increase your chances of acceptance and up that response percentage.

Reason number four:  There are hundreds of thousands of indie authors out there doing the exact same thing you are.  The digital publishing universe has exploded and is changing and expanding every second of every day.  What was popular yesterday isn’t what’s popular today.  Your responsibility?  You’ve gotta stand out from the crowd.  If your request does not grab a reviewer up front, they’re moving on to one that does.  How do you then garner a reviewer’s attention?  We’re first and foremost voracious readers, so make us want to read your novel.  We’ll get into this more in the following chapter on writing a strong blurb.


That said, there are some important things you can do to increase your chances of reviewer acceptance – but you’ve gotta be smart in your approach.

Reviewers love to read.  They love to help authors promote their work.  It’s addictive.  It makes us feel like we’re doing something important and giving back to others in a small way.  Why else do you think we do what we do?

Reviewers don’t hold an author’s life in their hands.  We don’t think of ourselves as almighty god-like creatures who have the power to make or break a novel.  Most of us simply want to help readers find interesting and entertaining novels.  There are also some of us who take reviews a step further with comprehensive feedback to offer authors insight into why something maybe didn’t work.  You can take it or leave it – goes back to that whole subjective thing.  Just remember to search out the gold nuggets buried within the stone.

Personally, I love to promote indie authors – hey, I’m one myself!  When I get a request, I take the time to look up each one on Amazon, Smashwords, or Barnes and Noble to check several things:  how many books this author has published, how many reviews this author has already received, what kind of sales ranking the novel holds at present, and how much the author is charging for said novel.

The number of books published allows me to make some assumptions.  It tells me I’m potentially dealing with a new or well-established author.  If well-established, probably someone who’s been down this road before and knows what they’re doing.  If new, possibly someone who needs a little hand-holding and might be nervous and unprepared for what’s to come.  These again are only assumptions.  It doesn’t cause me to shy away from anyone but helps me in my general expectations.

Now the number of reviews someone already has does have some impact on whether or not I personally take someone’s book onto my already overflowing plate.  If an author’s novel already has more than a hundred reviews, I typically will not take time to add mine to the mix.  However, if a book blurb has me hooked, I may make an exception.  I promise, we’ll get to the importance of your blurb later.

The sales ranking tells me quite a bit as well, especially when I compare it to the publishing date.  It can say either someone is actively working to pursue sales or has done little up to this point or perhaps not for awhile.  If a sales ranking is really high (say seven-hundred thousand into the millions) it tells me the author may have done little marketing of the novel up to that point.  Couple that with the number of reviews currently and number of books the author has published tells me they’ve finally faced reality of how difficult indie publishing can be – or not.

Pricing – ugh!  There’s already been so much written on this one I’m almost afraid to broach the topic again.  Therefore I’m only approaching this from what it tells me as a reviewer of indie eBooks.  Let me just start out by saying that you price your digital book however high or low you wish.  There.  Done.  However your pricing choice says much to a potential reviewer.  Reality is most indie digital novels are priced between ninety-nine cents and $4.99, with $2.99 being the standard average.  If, as an unknown indie author, you’re pricing your digital novel at $7.99, $8.99, and $9.99, a potential reviewer will look at that as someone who has not done their homework on pricing and assumes said author has probably done little homework on novel writing as well.  Now if you’re selling lots of books at inflated prices – great!  Reality – probably not.  Above market pricing also says to a potential reviewer this person is likely going to be a little touchy to deal with when faced with a possible negative review, and that this author may have delusions of grandeur.  Most reviewers would see this as someone they don’t want to get involved with because they’d be harangued to within an inch of their life.

We really don’t like it when that happens.

Reviewers steer away from complicated authors.  We don’t need someone who’s going to constantly email threats and harass us.  We’re already stressed enough trying to get through our never-ending reading pile as fast as we can.  An author who resorts to digital harassment eventually becomes known throughout the blogosphere.  Don’t cripple yourself in the long run by resorting to absurd tactics.

Understand then that most reviewers are anywhere from two to six months out on reviews.  Sometimes it’s not that far.  Sometimes it’s worse.  Remember our humanness and that life happens to us just as it happens to you.  When planning your initial email campaign, always keep this in mind.  Allow for plenty of time to pass before a reviewer gets to your novel once they’ve accepted it for review.  Be flexible and, above all, be patient.


Let's start at the beginning.  So you’ve sent out hundreds of emails to various blog reviewers.  You wait.  You wait.  You wait some more.  Months pass.  Impatience grows.  You’re tempted to re-contact those reviewers just to ensure they received your initial request.

Don’t do it.

Once you’ve sent out that initial request, you’re done.  The vast majority of reviewers only contact you in the event they are interested in reading your book – many times months later.  Very few respond otherwise.  It goes back to the enormous flood of daily requests and a day’s limitation of twenty-four hours.  Just cross that one off of your list and move on.

As a fellow author and one who is in the boat with you, I make a point of responding to every review request to avoid leaving others with that hanging feeling.  I don’t like being left in the dark anymore than you do, which is why I always respond with a yes or no.  Yes, my response is usually a simple canned email (and I know yours is too).  Yes, I end up turning down the vast majority of review requests.

Here’s why.


That's the end of part one, folks.  Stay tuned next Saturday for part two where I'll talk about "the highway", what so many authors do that cause their review requests to end up in the trash bin.  It might just shock you.  I know it still does me every time these things happen.  Throughout this four-part series, let me know if you find anything useful.  It might just spur me on to publish my full work on this subject - or hit delete and send it into my trash bin.  :-)

Regardless, happy reading!

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