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.