Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
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One way to generate publicity for your book is to get it reviewed. But how exactly does one go about it? The obvious answer seems to be to simply mail out copies of your book, but chances are good that your potential reviewers are already being inundated with books and review requests. I recently surveyed writers to find out what their review experiences were like, and to find out what advice they could share.
Work with your publisher. Some publishers will work with authors to help them get book reviews, depending on the company's size and promotional budget. Some will also have a list of contacts who have already reviewed their titles already. Find out how many review copies your publisher is willing to provide, and whether they will do the mailing for you (saving you much time and expense).
Marian McCain says she discusses the review process with her publisher far in advance of a book's publication, in particular how many review copies can be sent out. Peggy Tibbetts says that with big-name print publications ("Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, Horn Book, NYT, etc.") an author's publisher has to request a pre-publication review. "So you work with your publisher's publicist and politely request, then remind her this must be done in advance."
Target publications and sites that review your genre. Sending out books for review without adequate research beforehand is likely to result in your book being tossed in the wastepaper basket without being read. "Search for web sites with similar subject matter to your book," says Peggy Tibbetts. "Then check to see if they do book reviews." Tracee Lydia Garner suggests looking at other books in your genre and their Web sites to see whether they have posted reviews. "Get those names and contact information, then send a note or letter and compliment them on their positive, intriguing reviews, asking if they'd be willing to review your upcoming release." Garner also suggests talking to other authors to find out how they got their reviews.
Even if you have a publisher who is willing to provide help by providing review copies and contact information, it can't hurt to do your own research as well. After talking with her publisher about the review process, for example, Marian McCain said she went into heavy research mode. "I made a list of every magazine, journal, website etc that I could think of which may be appropriate for this (non-fiction) book. Then I looked up each one on the Internet to get the up-to-date contact info. and to make sure they did book reviews. After I had listed all those, I went searching for others. I spent hours and hours online, typing keywords into Google, looking through directories and so on, and found lots more."
Research the reviewer's style and submission requirements. After searching for review sites and periodicals most likely to request copies to review, Cindy Vallar reads some of their published reviews to determine how they review and "whether I feel they will provide a fair review rather than rip the book to shreds". Before submitting a review request, Vallar is always careful to read the submission guidelines. Some publications prefer queries by e-mail instead of regular surface mail, for example.
Convincing Reviewers to Review Your Book
Several months before one of his books is released, Josh Aterovis sends out a press release to everyone on his media contact list, offering review copies. He sends out in another press release after the book is published, again offering review copies. "I also personally contacted reviewers who gave my first book positive reviews and asked if they would like a copy of my new book. All of them responded positively."
Clea Simon suggests targeting specific writers (both reviewers and feature writers) with a short informational letter. "Just a sentence or two about the book, maybe a sentence on why the writer might like it ('I read with pleasure your write-up of The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats and thought you might be interested in my new book, The Feline Mystique.'), relevant info such as publisher, page count, price, and pub. date. And most important -- contact info: Who to email or call for a copy. Make it as easy for them as possible." Simon says that she found that many servers blocked mass e-mails, so suggests taking the extra time to e-mail potential reviewers individually. "Also, it's nicer."
About two weeks after her publisher sends out review copies, Tera Leigh follows up with a package consisting of: one page cover letter, a bio with photo, a resume, and relevant clippings. Marian McCain says that after she compiled her potential reviewer list, she customized a letter for each editor, according to their focus and readership. McCain kept track of the people who requested copies, and gave this list to her publisher. Her publisher then sent review to each name on her list, plus contacts on their own list. After a couple weeks, she would e-mail the editors/reviewers save this again to follow up and make sure the books were received. Out of 59 approaches, McCainsays that 40 requested a review copy. Out of those, 20 actually reviewed her book.
Information to include in your letter:
Peggy Tibbetts suggests the following letter format:
Dear Editor, [or editor's name, if known],
Is it worth the effort?
A few respondents expressed doubt about whether the effort and expense of getting reviewed was worth it.
"It may give you a little bit of brief publicity but there's no guarantee a good review is going to make people suddenly buy your book," says Chris Thomas. Thomas Wictor says that a good review may not necessarily result in higher sales. "There have been massive bestsellers that got horrible reviews, and there have been books praised to the heavens that sold nothing. I think it's all a crap shoot."
Most survey respondents, however, felt that any publicity was good publicity, and that getting reviewed helped build the public's awareness that a particular book existed. "Reviews are absolutely worth it," says Tracee Lydia Garner. "You get your work in front of people. I would say that they are especially important for new authors." Even a bad review can have value, said some respondents. "There are so many books fighting for attention that the mere mention of the title is better than nothing," says Stephen D. Rogers.
Marian McCain says it was definitely worth the effort. "My books, because they are about timeless subjects, have a long shelf-life, so the important thing is to build awareness of the book. Every so often, I plug my titles into Google and see how many entries there are. The number rises steadily all the time."
Other tips from writers
Encourage people on your mailing list to post customer reviews on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com if they liked your book. - Marian McCain
Authors should keep an eye out for web sites and publications that will reprint reviews. "Then all the author needs to do is get permission from the reviewer to reprint the review. Most are happy to do so unless they have restrictions from the original publication." - Peggy Tibbetts
"A key to finding reviewers is to network. Join online groups where reviewers may mingle and gently promote your book as it finds a publisher and then nears publication date." - Stephen D. Rogers
"Do your research online. There are plenty of review sites online for almost every genre. Many magazines and newspapers are looking for books to review. If you have a media contact list, send out letters or press releases to them offering review copies. You'll be surprised how many will take you up on the offer. Make sure you keep records of everyone who responds positively and contact them again when your next book comes out." - Josh Aterovis
Cindy Vallar takes quotes from her book reviews and reader mail and posts them to her Web site for other potential readers to see.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Debbie Ridpath Ohi is a freelance writer living in Ontario. Visit her website at http://debbieohi.com/.