Approaching Book Review Blogs

I have been reviewing at least a book a week for two and a half years over on my magic realism blog. I am also an indie author, so you could say I have a foot in both camps. I try to support my fellow indie authors on the blog by reviewing indie books as well as traditionally published ones, but there are times when I wonder why I bother.

When I started out reviewing, I was pretty naïve about dealing with requests for reviews. I have become a lot more hard-nosed about it. I now get a lot of requests for reviews, from indies and from traditional publishers, and I also want to read some books that I choose for myself. It takes time to read and review a book, as I want to do justice to the book and the readers of my blog. That time is unpaid and comes at the expense of other activities including my own writing. I do it because I get pleasure from supporting other writers, because I hope I am promoting the genre, to please my followers, and also because I feel it helps my own writing. So let me give you some tips on how to approach a reviewer like me.

TIP 1 Read the blog’s review policy
I only review magic realism books. The clue is in the blog title. And yet I am regularly sent emails asking me to review books that don’t seem to be magic realist at all. Either the author is just emailing every book blog going or for some reason thinks that I will make an exception for their book. Either way they will be refused.

TIP 2 Follow the instructions in the review policy
They are there for a reason. Follow them to the letter. I ask people to put Review Request in the email subject line. Anyone who doesn’t do that, doesn’t get looked at. Not because I am pig-headed about it, although failure to follow my instructions doesn’t exactly endear you to me, but because my emails are set up to automatically put emails with that subject line in my review folder. I also ask people to explain why their book is magic realism, so that I can make a decision as to whether to accept the book on my to-review list. But again a lot of people don’t do that and so their books aren’t accepted.

TIP 3 Research beyond what the review policy says
If reviewers can see that you have actually read their reviews as well as the review policy, they are more likely to accept your review request. But there are other reasons for doing so. For example, every reviewer has genres they like and others they don’t. This may not be apparent from the review policy, but if you read the posts it will soon be so. Look at the reviews of books they didn’t like as well as the ones they did. You are looking for someone who likes books like yours. For example you may find that they like the story resolution to tie up all the ends or that they don’t like first-person narrators. Take note of these preferences and don’t submit a book which includes some of their pet hates. You might even find something that you can use to help make your case for a review, e.g., I see that you are a fan of Alice Hoffman, I believe my book is in the same style of magic realism

TIP 4 What to say (and not to say) in your email
Address the reviewer by name if you can. Ask politely for a review. It is also a good idea to put book review request in the subject line. Sometimes it is not always clear to me what I am being asked to do. Be pleasant but not overly informal. Include in the email the book’s genre, your name, book title, a short blurb that clearly states what the book is about, awards (appropriate ones only), number of pages, and publication date. Do not include attachments such as the review copy, or cover (unless you are told to in the review/submission policy). Say that you can send the review copy in a variety of formats including Kindle format, epub and pdf. Check your email for errors before sending it. I suggest you include just one link in the email: to the book’s page on your website. On this page you can put more information, such as extracts of reviews, book cover, sales links, etc. You want to reduce the amount of work the reviewer has to do and having just one link does that. And lastly thank the reviewer for considering your book.

TIP 5 Wait
Don’t hassle reviewers if they do not respond to your email. If they don’t, put them down as not interested and move on. Even if they do accept your book, expect to wait for the review. As an indication my waiting time for indie reviews is six months.

TIP 6 Submit a good, properly edited book in the format the reviewer wants
When the reviewer accepts your book, send the book promptly in the format requested. But bear in mind that the review may still not happen. I have accepted books for review only to refuse to review them later, because I found them unreadable. I can forgive the occasional typo (not all reviewers are so forgiving) but if they are frequent I will not review. The other problem can be one of formatting. Actually this is a problem with books from traditional publishers as well as indies. Bad formatting makes reading too much of a task and, like editing errors, gets in the way of my appreciation of the book.

TIP 7 Say thank you for the review
Your thanks can take several forms. In addition to a thank-you email, it can include a comment on the post, or promoting the post via Twitter, Google+ or Facebook. It could mean subscribing to the blog.

TIP 8 Don’t complain or have a go
The review is the personal opinion of the reviewer and you gave them a copy in return for a fair review. They have done you a favour and given up several hours of their life to read and review your book. If you don’t like the review, don’t fire off a comment. Walk away and calm down. Think about what they said. This is someone who reads a lot of books like yours (as you know because you read their blog, right?) and what they have said is worth considering calmly. Maybe you still want to reply. If you do, always start your comment with thanking them for their review. Is it a good idea to reply? Sometimes, but only if you can do it in a way that doesn’t look like you are arguing with the review. The readers of the blog will side with the reviewer, not you.

Good luck.

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Why Become a Book Blogger

 

Last Autumn I took part in another Celebrating Bloggers Blog Hop. In that post I talked about how important book bloggers are as a way of finding good books, especially those by independent authors. At the time I was only just starting out as a book blogger with my magic realism blog, so I did not truly appreciate all the hard work that goes in to creating a good book blog nor the rewards that book blogging offers to writers.

Let us start with the hard work. When I first set up my book blog, I set myself the target of reading and reviewing one magic realism book a week. I thought this was quite a difficult target to hit at the time, but I now realize that it is nothing unusual. In fact there are many book bloggers who manage a book a day. I could never manage that without giving my life to reading. I have many other things to do with my time, not the least being writing my own books. I find reading and reviewing one book a week to be surprisingly doable. I am capable of reading more than that and on slack weeks I sometimes read extra books, which I bank against weeks when my job or my writing take precedence. My reviews tend to be quite long and so I like to read each book and then think about it for a day or two before I write my review. I believe that consistency of posting is important. As a result my readership is steadily growing and can be confident that there will be a new review up every Wednesday.

Why is my book blog important to me as a writer? I know some writers would say that I should be concentrating on this blog -my writer’s blog – and to building my platform. Others might say that I should focus on writing my books, rather than reading other people’s.  To the first criticism I would say that, whilst I know people enjoy this blog, the magic realism blog is also an important part of my platform building. I write magic realism and so people who visit my book blog are my target audience. In addition my blog has provided me with all sorts of useful contacts, such as publishers and writers of magic realism and magic realist websites, which I can approach with more authority than I would have simply as an indie writer.

There is a simple answer to the second criticism: in order to improve as a writer one needs to read more as well as write. I have learned so much about both my craft and about magic realism through my book blog, that I would never have discovered any other way. I am lucky that magic realism is less of a genre and more of an approach to writing. This means that the books I have read come from many genres – women’s fiction, horror, short stories, speculative fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, young adult – so many that I just cannot get bored. Nevertheless it helps me to limit my reviewing to magic realism books, because otherwise I would be overwhelmed with the choice. As it is, I have three years of books on my to-be-read list.

I hope the above gives you some ideas about why you might start a book blog. Here is another: after a while you will start getting books for free. If your criteria for reviewing books are too wide and unspecific, you could find yourself overwhelmed with writers asking you to review their books. Even though my criteria are limited I do get approached by writers whose books are not what I would define as magic realism: because they lack either magic or realism. The clue is in the name, guys! Another source of books is Netgalley, which is a website where publishers offer advance review copies to bloggers and which has produced some gems for my blog. Because of my blog I have met with some fascinating writers and had interesting conversations with them.

And finally a confession: reading was a pleasure that I had allowed to slip under the pressure of work and family. As a child I worked my way through every book in the children’s section of the local library. But after a while it became something to do when I had leisure time, which was seldom, usually only when I was on holiday. I knew if I was to write well, I had to read again. I tried and succeeded up to a point. But the discipline of having a deadline for the blog means that the habit of reading is now firmly established once more.

This all sounds very self-centred. One of the important reasons for my book blog is that I am able to give back to other writers what many wonderful book bloggers have give n to me: a fair review and publicity for their books. To the readers of my blog I give intelligent (I hope) and honest reviews of books, which they might be inspired to read.

This blog is part of the Celebrating Bloggers Blog Hop. To visit other blogs involved in the blog hop, please see links below.

 
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Magic Realism Blog

I can’t believe that I haven’t told you about this, but it looks as though I haven’t – I have another blog. It’s on http://www.magic-realism.net

Just after I had published Girl in the Glass I went to an alternative literature festival in Leicester. I was still incredibly green about publishing and was unclear what sort of story I was writing. I knew it didn’t fit neatly into the usual genre headings that one gets on Amazon. I had got as far as knowing that it was a) women’s fiction and b) not quite fantasy. I was having a soup for lunch when I got chatting to another writer, who asked me what I wrote. I gave a short description and he repled “Oh you write magic realism.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well Terry Pratchett described it as fantasy for people whose friends went to Oxbridge.”

“Oh,” I said thinking that indeed many of my friends were graduates of Oxford or Cambridge.

I wrote the genre down on a piece of paper, stuffed it in to my handbag and continued eating. When I got home, I could not find the paper nor could I remember what genre he had said I wrote.

A month or so later I found a review of the book on Amazon. The reviewer Iain M. Grant said:
“Zoe Brook’s novel is a true magic realist story. Its setting is a world that is not ours but is nonetheless recognisable. It is a novel in which the almost magical and vaguely supernatural are an accepted reality. Reading it, I couldn’t help but be reminded favourably of other authors. The setting and Anya’s sprawling and occasionally grotesque family put me in mind of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Having said that the harsh, epic landscape of the story and the fable-like quality of a narrative held shades of Paulo Coelho.”

Lawks a mercy me! Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my all-time favourite books. Now armed with the name of the genre I did a Google search and discovered not only that I wrote magic realism, but that I had been reading it for years and not knowing it. There still seemed to be a lot ambiguity in my mind about what constituted magic realism, but I think this was because the term gets used wrongly. I decided that I would get to know my genre better. But how would this be achieved?

I knew that in order to do it properly I should set myself a task, one which is public and which I would feel obliged to complete. So I decided I would read one magic realist book a week for a year and that I would record my progress and what I found out about magic realism publicly on a dedicated blog. For the purposes of selecting books for the blog I chose the simplest definition I could find.

It’s now a month since I started and I’m loving it. I have drawn up a to-read list, following suggestions taken mostly from Goodreads, where there are at least two Magic Realism groups and several booklists. The books are very diverse – some literary, some for the popular market – which adds to my enjoyment. The requirement that I review what I read has proved extremely useful in solidifying my thoughts on the book and the genre.

So after all that work what is magic realism? I’m glad to say that the definition I chose is still remaining true: “Magical Realism is a literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.”

Please do visit the Magic Realism blog and check it out, better still join me in my challenge or at least part of it. It’s on http://www.magic-realism.net (in case you missed it at the beginning of this post).

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How To Find A Good Book – Ask A Blogger

Over the past few weeks the press and internet have been full of stories of dodgy goings-on in the frantic world of “buy-my-book”. There was the scandal of 5 star reviews being bought on Amazon and that of well-known authors setting up bogus Amazon accounts in order to give themselves glowing 5-star reviews and (worse to my mind) vicious 1-star reviews to their rivals.

Too many people have as a result thrown the baby out with the bathwater, saying that you cannot trust the free-for-all of the internet and you should stick to traditional print reviews by professional reviewers. But how many books would you discover that way? I have a women’s fiction newspaper in which I pick up the best articles and reviews from across the web and I therefore monitor the major newspaper sites. What I have found is that they all review the same books.

How is this? Is it because the publishers only promote a very limited number? Is it that the reviewers act as a cabal? Is it that newspapers only review books by “established” authors? And dare I say it – does money exchange hands, just as it does to ensure that a book ends up on major booksellers’ three for the price of two tables or even just prominently displayed on the shelves? I’ve no idea, but what is certain is that the majority of books (and I am talking about traditionally published books as well as indies) never get reviewed by these professional reviewers.

What is worse is that the newspapers tend to review only literary fiction and not genre fiction. This of course has an implication for women’s books, which can be dismissed as chick-lit, romance or just women’s fiction. No matter that romance outstrips literary fiction and all the other genres in terms of sales.

Where then can you turn for reviews you can trust? Where can an author go for reviews? The answer is I believe the burgeoning phenomenon of the book blogs. Until I published my first book only six months ago I had only been slightly aware of the wonderful, selfless world of the book blogger. The proponents of the traditional professional reviewers would pooh-pooh the amateur book bloggers (and have done so in various comments I have seen). But they are wrong to do so. Yes, many, but not all, book bloggers have no qualifications (such as English literature degrees), nor do some professional reviewers for that matter. But what book bloggers do have is a love of books. They write reviews in order to share what they have read with you. And some of them clearly do nothing else than read and review. I have a magic realism review site and I just about manage a book a week.

How do you know which book bloggers to trust? Simple – look at their reviews. Have they liked the same books as you and better still for the same reason? Do they provide you with the sort of review you need to make a decision? If the answer to these questions is yes, then start following the blog.

But how do you find the right blogs in the first place? You have a number of options:

This post is part of the Celebrating Bloggers Blog Hop organised by Terri Guiliano Long. If you click on the image above, you will be taken to Terri’s blog. There you will find lots of authors and bloggers who are taking part.

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Amazing Review For “Girl In The Glass”

Wow – first review on Amazon.com from the review site Parents Little Black Book of Books. It brought tears to my eyes – it is just the sort of impact I want from this book. You can find it on http://www.amazon.com/Girl-in-the-Glass-ebook/dp/B007IROBEE/ and on the review website (address above):

I am Anya and I am nothing.

Occasionally a novel comes along that engages both your intellect and emotions. Those are the stories that captivate and haunt the reader with the beauty of the writing and the wonder of the story. “Girl in the Glass” does all of those things. It held me spellbound in my chair unable to put it aside.

Anya is a young pubescent girl who, along with her sister The Shadow, lives with her paternal aunt after the death of both of her parents. She is, however, unwelcome. Both for her temper and her looks. For Anya has the misfortune to look like her beautiful mother, a woman resented by the aunt. Taken out of school, relocated to her father’s former childhood home, Anya is constantly put in a position to fail. She must fail so her aunt will have reason and leave to punish her. As Anya grows in beauty her aunt’s hatred grows exponentially. The punishments increase over time to become life threatening. Anya, her sister and the housekeeper know it is only a matter of time before Anya is killed.

On the eve of a marriage arranged for her by the family for a crime she didn’t commit Anya and her sister Eve know that Anya’s fate is sealed. Her life will only become worse if the marriage ceremony occurs. They decide to leave and take their chances crossing the desert to return to the city of their birth. Undertaking the crossing alone with little food or water they make the crossing by sheer will and grit.

In the desert world they live in, the only “rights” women have it the right to be responsible for everything. If they are attacked it is their fault, if a man wants them inappropriately it the fault of the woman. Anya and her sister are at risk of their very lives if they are found. Changing their names, hiding in the ruins they find work and begin to build new lives.

But Anya, as beautiful as she is, does not find a handsome prince. She finds hardship and abuse are not left behind her. Somehow she must manage to overcome her past, secure her future and take care of her sister.

This novel haunts the soul in its depiction of women who are marginalized by a society that considers them of little value. But it is also heartwarming as it leads us through Anya’s life as she fights for her freedom and education. Like the flower that grows in the cracks of a sidewalk even the abused, mistreated and unwanted find a way to thrive.

Karen Bryant Doering,
Parents’ Little Black Book

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