May 22nd, 2013

An Inside Look at Today’s Book Reviewers

Writers In The Storm is pleased to welcome Big Al, our first reviewer!

BigAlLooking at the posts on the Writers In The Storm Blog and reading the bios of the contributors I was reminded of one of my favorite things to say about what I do: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, review.”

I know, not very original, which is at least part of the reason why I’m not an author.

Assuming this blog’s readers are as accomplished and varied as the contributors, what could I have to say of value? I was told that I’m the first reviewer to guest post here, which means the range of subjects should be wide open, right? The request even included a few ideas. Rather than say a lot about one thing, I decided to say a little on two subjects, the world of book reviewing in general and how to increase your chances of getting your book reviewed.

Today’s book blogger isn’t yesterday’s book reviewer

No matter how your book gets published, unless your last name is Patterson, Roberts, or Grisham, a review of your book in a big daily newspaper or somewhere like People magazine is becoming harder to come by as book review sections are shrinking and even being dropped. However, thousands of people, just like me, are filling the gap. Some differences are obvious (I’m not aware of any book review blog with the readership of the New York Times). Some might not be.

The biggest difference I see is that we aren’t normally professionals. I don’t mean our blogs aren’t run in a professional way (I think most try) or that we make just a trivial amount of money for our efforts (although that is reality for most). But the typical newspaper or magazine review was written by a fellow author or at least someone who was a professional writer. Today’s book blogger, while sometimes an author or a wannabe, is more likely to be an avid reader who can manage to string enough words together to write a review.

What that means is that he or she is more likely to approach the review as a reader, not an author. The concerns of one are not necessarily going to be the same as the other. Issues of technique, symbolism, and deeper meaning may take a back seat to the important questions of “did I like these characters?” and “was I entertained.” Look at any of the bestselling authors that many of your peers look down their nose at – Stephanie Meyers, James Patterson, and Dan Brown all come to mind as possibilities – and look at the number of books they’ve sold. They may not appeal to authors, but they do to many readers.

Think of it as amplified word of mouth

While a review from a newspaper or magazine has a large potential audience, a majority of that audience isn’t a likely reader of your book. In fact, a lot of that audience rarely reads books at all. A review from a book blogger has a smaller audience, but that audience is always going to consist of readers. The more specialized the blog, the more likely those readers will be your target audience.

I like to view a book blog as more like word of mouth, only amplified. And word of mouth is one of the best ways for readers to become aware of your book. One recent example of what readers talking to each other can do for a book is Hugh Howey’s Wool that hit the top of the bestseller lists fueled almost exclusively by word of mouth.

It’s a numbers game

Getting a review from any particular book blog isn’t going to make or break your marketing efforts. Few book blogs are going to give your book the boost that a review from The New York Times Review of Books or Publisher’s Weekly would do. Getting reviews from book blogs is a numbers game. No individual can possibly review all the books that are queried or submitted. But the more bloggers you approach, the more reviews you’ll get to help build word of mouth.

Do your homework

However, I have some hints to help you tip the scales in your favor and increase the chances of getting reviewed by any particular blog. These hints fall into two categories, do your homework and follow the recipe.

Homework involves doing some minimal research on the blogs you approach. Do they have a specialty and, if so, how well does your book fit? Even if the blog says it reviews all genres, if they’ve never reviewed erotica or Christian Fiction, your book probably isn’t going to be their first.

There are tens of thousands of book blogs to choose from. One way to quickly find those most likely to be a good fit is to find a directory of blogs in your genre or other niche. Google “YA Book blog directory” and you’ll find this directory (http://yabookblogdirectory.blogspot.com/) of over 1,300 blogs that specialize in reviewing Young Adult books. Doing the same search on “indie book blog list” you’ll find The IndieView  http://www.theindieview.com/  (a site I happen to run) that has a database of several hundred book blogs that are open to reviewing “indie books” (those that are self-published or published by small presses) with details on genre preferences and links to the site. Any search with your genre, “book blog” and a word like directory, list, or database as search terms will uncover multiple lists.

Just like baking a cake

Once you’ve found a good candidate, a blog that seems to like and review books such as yours, the single biggest thing you can do to increase your odds of getting a review from that blog is, just like baking a cake, follow the recipe or instructions on their submission or contact page. If the instructions say to query first with specific information, don’t send them an electronic copy of your book or neglect to give the information requested. If the blog’s submission instructions indicate to send an electronic copy of your book in a specific format, don’t query first or send an electronic version in a different format. Either of these are likely to result in your request being deleted or filed in the “don’t bother” folder

Now Build that Word of Mouth

Although it may seem too simple, by doing your homework to identify those book blogs that are a good fit before approaching them and following directions, you’ll put yourself ahead of a large percentage of your peers. Now it’s time to go give word of mouth a jump start. Good luck.

About BigAl

An avid reader for just shy of half a century, BigAl (who claims not to have a last name) spends the majority of his waking hours sitting at the computer. After working his day job (in front of the computer) his evenings are spent scheduling posts for The IndieView and thinking how happy he is to have never had the urge to become a writer. Then he’ll write reviews for his book review site, BigAl’s Books and Pals http://booksandpals.blogspot.com//, or work on his next post for Indies Unlimited http://www.indiesunlimited.com/ (a website for the indie author and those who read them). Those times BigAl manages to escape the computer are usually spent hanging out with his four grandchildren.

52 comments to An Inside Look at Today’s Book Reviewers

  • Great blog, Al, and I’m now off to find my bloggers! Thank you!

  • Wonderful suggestions. Thanks so much, Al. May I ask you a question regarding self-published (not just indie) authors paying for reviews? I know there are lots of industry people out there telling s-p authors “don’t pay for reviews.” These days lots of bloggers are no longer reviewing s-p books or an author has to wait nearly 6 months to get reviewed because bloggers are so overloaded. This idea of paying for reviews branded as “unethical” makes me wonder. Are we to believe that traditional publishers, PR and marketing agencies, and/or literary agents have NEVER paid for their clients to get reviewed?

    I’m aware of some “sponsored review spots” on indie genre blogs where “if” they accept your novel to review, the author pays a small fee as an advertising spot to be featured for x number of days (which doesn’t seem unethical to me since it’s really paid advertising with a review instead of a banner ad). Can you comment on “paid reviews” for self-published authors in today’s industry?

    • Great questions, Paula.

      I’ll start with the question of “Are we to believe that traditional publishers, PR and marketing agencies, and/or literary agents have NEVER paid for their clients to get reviewed?” Of course we aren’t going to believe that. But as my Mom used to tell me, “just because someone does it doesn’t make it right.” IMO anyone involved in the success of a book making a payment as a quid pro quo for a (presumably good) review has crossed the ethical line.

      I think there *might* be exceptions to that. If a review organization has an option available to anyone that they can pay for a review I can see how it might be on the right side of the ethical line. But what if the person who paid has the option of killing the review if they don’t like what is written? Is that any different than making an outright payment for the review with the exception that you might not get any benefit from your payment. I know Kirkus has a paid review option for self-published authors that is a few hundred dollars, IIRC. I view that as not much better than a vanity press. I think they’re taking advantage of authors. A review should be for readers, not authors. What benefit an author gets from the review, if any, is secondary. I try to help authors, especially in negative reviews, by giving specific examples (even quoting specific instances from their book to show what I’m talking about), but that isn’t, can’t be, and shouldn’t be my primary goal. If they were paying, I think it would have to be different.

      The only situation where an author could pay money with expectations of that money causing their book to be reviewed that I don’t have major concerns with are the companies that have a service to find readers willing to review a book they receive for free with no other compensation and no guarantee of a good review. The payment is to the company that organizes it for handling the logistics of the arrangement. This setup has plenty of downsides for authors, but I see it as ethical.

  • Connie

    Reviewers are writers, too!

    You’ve made some good points here. Thanks.

  • Hey, Big Al … I once put a topic on a “loop” in my on-line writer’s group asking those published writers if they felt blog tours were of any help in direct sales. Some of the writers I know have paid to have someone organize a blog tour. It’s a lot of work and often a lot of money.

    In addition to querying blog review sites … what do you think of blog tours? And thanks so much 🙂

    • Ramblingsfromthelef (is that name a political statement? 😀 ),

      “Help in direct sales” is the loaded phrase in your question. My answer is maybe. I think this has to be viewed the same as any promotional exercise. If you do a blog tour you’ll almost surely have sales that could be attributed directly to that tour (even if you’ll probably not have a way to measure what they are). You’ll also have some continuing benefits when the tour is over (those blog posts will be coming up in search engines and providing benefits long after the tour is over and those bloggers who post their reviews elsewhere, on Amazon and Goodreads are going to help you sell books down the road). You’ve got to consider those benefits too, which I’d guess are going to be greater over the long term than the immediate effect.

      Depending on the blog tour operator there are also some other benefits to consider. If they’ll do a review only tour *or* enough of the blogs that sign on to the tour agree to review your book (most give other options including guest posts and interviews) then you’re getting a jump start. Many book buyers look for a minimum of five or ten reviews on Amazon with a reasonable cross section of opinion when considering a book. (Ten reviews that are all two or three lines saying the same basic thing in almost the same way is going to raise suspicions among the more savvy readers.) A blog tour gives you a jump start. Building that many review organically can take a lot of time and/or effort. The right tour operator can get you reviewed by blogs that you might have a more difficult time getting to notice you on your own. I know several authors who swear by them, but I think it depends a lot on genre, tour operator, and your book.

  • Reblogged this on Rakes Rogues and Romance and commented:
    Because when it all comes down to it, we write for ourselves, and our readers. We don’t write to impress. That’s why people say, write the story from your heart, write what you love.

  • Thanks for the tips on finding book reviewing blogs. With so many blogs out there, it’s helpful to to find ways to narrow it down. Thanks for being a book reviewer, BigAl!

  • Very helpful points, Al. Thanks for blogging with us!

  • Great suggestions Al. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom with us. I’ve done three blog tours in this past year which didn’t cost an arm and a leg and through them had some success with adding to my fan base. One tour also provided me with a few reviews… not sure how they helped or hindered sales, guess time will tell.

  • Great post! Thanks for the thoughtful, helpful suggestions!

  • I have always preferred a review which spoke like (and to) readers. Literary review is a classroom activity, not an entertainment activity.

  • Thanks for the insights and especially for the reveiw directories. Sadly, I didn’t even know they existed!

    • Thanks, Sharla. I like to say “Google is your friend.” The information is out there even if finding it can be tough.

  • I beg to differ with your first statement “Those who do do and those that don’t review.” I happen to be a hybrid author who also does reviews. All your other points are valid.

    • Thanks, Jo. That statement was mostly aimed at myself. Certainly an author has the skill to review and many do. In fact three of the “Pals” who review on my blog are authors. However, the skills needed to write a review that is of value to readers aren’t nearly as hard to come by as the skills needed to write a compelling book.

  • Great, helpful post! Particularly since my new superhero book is due to be released in ten days! Yay for all your resources and links, Big Al! Thanks so much! 🙂

  • Great post, Big Al. Helpful info. My first book comes out in mid-July, but I haven’t gotten to the looking for reviewers place. This is just invaluable. Thanks.

  • Excellent suggestions, thank you!

  • Reblogged this on Laurie Boris, Freelance Writer and commented:
    I’d planned to write something tonight but how could I resist sharing this by Big Al, the first guest–posting reviewer on Writers In The Storm. Great explanation of the role of a book blogger and how authors can better target the ones they approach.

  • A post full of great information. I’ve been reviewing books for a little over a year and am delighted Writers In The Storm picked up this topic. Thanks everyone.

  • […] Writers In The Storm is pleased to welcome Big Al, our first reviewer! Looking at the posts on the Writers In The Storm Blog and reading the bios of the contributors I was reminded of one of my fav…  […]

  • Thanks for the tips BigAl. I’ve submitted to BigAl and Pals as I know you from IU, but I’ve never really known where else to ask for reviews. For some reason it just never occurred to me to add ‘book blog’ to my google query. Duh. Cheers, Meeks.

  • Thank you for your post. As an author, I know how hard it is to get readers to review your work and at times it can take months to even years before it does happen. My first novel published two years ago is picking up reviewers now and I’m enjoying it. Good or bad, it means they’re reading my books and my name is out there. The more folks who come across your name in searches, on Amazon, on other blogs, etc, the more will check you and your work out. That’s why I do blog tours, blog hops and guest spots as well as host other authors on my blogs. It’s a lot of work, but also fun and my list of contacts builds with each one.

  • Thanks for sharing the valuable post, AL. I am going to be your fan & yes I will keep update the same. Keep sharing.

  • BigAl, I’ll join the chorus of comments in praise of your post. I find I enjoy reading about books almost as much as reading books. It is probably an attention span issue and there is probably an app for that, but I enjoy reading good writing. Your post was informative and good reading.

  • Great post, Al. I hope the indie community realizes just how much you do. Thanks for that – you’re a rock star!

  • Saw this over at Passive Voice, and had to follow the link to see the full thing — a good article with some very useful points!

  • Thanks for the tips. I agree with many of them and have them incorporated in my blog. Below is my blog: http://sanchitasarkar.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/gora-book-review/