Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
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by Moira Allen
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1) Develop a list of potential (and relevant) reviewers. While you may wish to include reviewers from national papers, don't get your hopes too high; papers like the New York Times hardly ever review self-published books. Instead, concentrate on local papers and magazines (where you can use the "home-town" angle), and magazines that focus on the same special-interest subject area as your book. (Use the Writer's Market to locate magazines related to your topic area.) If your book is fiction, you may have a tough time getting reviews -- but look for publications that cover, or publish, the same type of fiction. Also, don't overlook online sources; in addition to sites that provide general book reviews, many special-interest sites that relate to your topic can also provide reviews, and a good source of sales. (Often, such sites will add your book into its electronic "bookstore" -- usually an associate program with an online store such as Amazon.com -- which is likely to increase your sales.)
2) Create a set of mailing labels for all reviewers. If you don't have the address of the publication, e-mail or call to ask for one. (Often, you don't need to know the name of the actual book reviewer at a particular publication; just address your package to "Book Review Editor".)
3) Develop a press release to accompany your book. Your release should have a brief description of the book, plus all necessary information for ordering. It should include:
In many cases, your press release may actually be published as the book's "review," so take time to prepare a good one. Write a clear, concise description of the book, emphasizing its benefits to the reader. Avoid hype at all costs; don't puff and praise your own book. Write in third person: "John Smith's book on Nantucket cuisine," not "My book on Nantucket cuisine". Feel free to "quote" yourself: "John Smith notes that 'Nantucket cuisine offers a fascinating variety of flavors and ingredients.'" Include a brief list of your credentials for writing the book.
4) Prepare "advance review copies," if possible. Some library and bookstore trade publications require "advance" copies -- copies that are produced before the book is actually "on the market." Commercial publishers are able to prepare galley proofs or uncorrected advance printings for reviewers; you, however, will probably have only a single print run. One option is to have stickers printed that state "advance review copy" and paste them on the covers of your review books. If, however, you want to start selling your book as soon as it comes off the press, you may simply have to do without reviewers who require a book six months in advance.
5) Mail the books in high-quality mailing envelopes, with professionally typed labels (preferably preprinted with your company name and address).
6) Sit back and wait. Some reviewers will never respond; others may take months (or even years) to review your book. When your book is reviewed, the publication will usually send you a tearsheet of the review; you can then use those comments (presuming they're positive!) in your ongoing promotional efforts. Don't bother following up; no reviewer wants to hear from a self-publisher asking "are you going to review my book?" (If you have to call, the answer is likely to be NO.)
7) Don't stop looking for reviewers. It doesn't matter how old your book is -- there's always someone who hasn't seen it yet. Look for writers who cover your topic, or columnists. Every review creates more potential sales.
8) Don't be "cheap" about the number of books you "give away." It's common for self-publishers to start out with the idea that a book "given away" is a book that isn't sold -- i.e., a book that doesn't produce revenue. The reality is just the opposite: Every book you "give away" is likely to lead to more sales -- ten, twenty, or more. The value of a good review is far higher than the revenue you might have earned on a single book. And you never know where a book "given away" may lead; it may go to a person who wants to order fifty copies for a professional organization or a support group or a class. Instead of thinking of every book you give away as a "missed sale," think of every book you don't give away as a lost opportunity.
If you know of any experts or noteworthy authors in your field who would be willing to review your book before it is produced, contact these individuals and ask them (nicely) if they'd be willing to review your manuscript. This is not a critique process; you are seeking actual review comments, which you can then include on the back cover (or first inside page) of your book. Contact people who know you and are familiar with your work; don't "hit up" total strangers for reviews. These pre-press reviews can also serve as an excellent promotion and marketing tool before your book is even off the press. Be sure to thank everyone who reviews your book, and make sure that they receive a copy of the printed edition.
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.