I published my first novel in 2011, and as a babe in the woods, I undertook promotion with the method all other indie authors swore by: book bloggers. The wisdom of the forums said that if one could get these mystical tastemakers to review a book, it was guaranteed to sell.
Of course, life isn’t quite that simple. I discovered that first as a neophyte author, and then as a book blogger.
For three years, from 2012 to 2015, I ran a book review blog that focused primarily on fiction. In that time, I received (and mostly saved) hundreds of emails from indie authors like me, trying to catch a break… and failing from the moment they hit ‘send.’
I put this list of tips together as someone who has stood on both sides of the author/reviewer fence. I can’t speak for all reviewers, but these are the things I know drive many of us to distraction — and make some of us swear off indie authors altogether.
1. Tell us your book isn’t selling
This one is counterintuitive for a lot of new authors. The whole point of asking for reviews is to get promotion for the book, so it will sell better… right?
Your platform — the set of personal connections you make with readers and booksellers — is what will drive book sales. Reviews are just social proof.
When you tell a book reviewer that your book isn’t selling, or has dismal sales, you’re revealing a few key facts about yourself and your book:
- You published without a platform, and don’t have the social reach to sell the book yourself — or help promote the reviewer’s blog post.
- The handful of readers you do have aren’t generating sales through word of mouth, which may mean that your book sucks.
- You lack the business savvy to write an effective marketing email, focusing on your product’s strengths instead of leading with its weaknesses.
If all of these things are true (or even just one), the book becomes instantly unattractive to book reviewers. Why would a reviewer sink 10-20 hours of their life into reading a book and writing a post when that book may be lousy, their audience will know it, and the post will get little publicity push from you?
2. No salutation, or an impersonal greeting
Before a reviewer can help sell your book to readers, you have to sell it to the reviewer. You wouldn’t begin a business email to a client without a proper greeting, would you?
Many authors lose sight of the fact that pitch emails are business emails, and require the same etiquette. I think it may stem from authors using their books as a sideline income; they don’t feel like “real” authors conducting business, or perhaps they never thought of authorship as a business to begin with.
3. Send mass emails
There comes a point where every new writer discovers the magic of reviewer databases… and then proceeds to email everyone in the database who reviews “fiction.”
I dislike receiving mass emails from authors because they’re disrespectful. Authors think they’re saving time by emailing 10 people at once, but all they’re doing is burning more bridges even faster than they could by sending one salutation-less email at a time.
The reason mass emails are disrespectful is that they must, by nature, be one-size-fits all, tailored to no one. It’s basically saying to reviewers, “You’re all interchangeable to me.”
The only time I find it acceptable to send mass emails is after a reviewer has agreed to participate in a tour or time-specific promotion. An author should ask, “Do you mind if I add you to a private mailing list so I can deliver the tour materials to all participants simultaneously?”
4. Send a pitch without reading our review policies first
Every worthwhile reviewer has a clearly stated review policy, even if it’s as brief as, “I don’t accept unsolicited review copies.”
These policies declare what a reviewer is willing to consider, what formats of books they accept, turnaround time for reviews, and what they expect from the authors in return. Some reviewers will explicitly state what they don’t want as well.
So many of the messages I received came from people who had clearly ignored my policies. They scooped my contact details out of a database, didn’t bother to check if I was even open to solicitations at the moment, and hit ‘send.’
5. Make it all about what we can do for you
I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every pitch email I’ve ever received that contained no mention of what an author can bring to the table. Most of them read something like this:
Hi, I’m an author. This is my book. Here’s what it’s about. I’ll give you an ebook in exchange for 15 hours of your unpaid time. Here’s a cover image. It’s going to be $0.99 next week so you have to review it by then! K thx bye!
I treasured the emails that focused on partnership. The author offered an opt-in freebie for readers, an engagement activity, or at the very least an extensive mailing list. They discussed, in detail, how they would help promote my blog if I helped promote their books.
What you can do to attract reviewers
- Learn how to write a pitch email that delivers all the right information without reading like a personal wish list. You can even use my swipe copy.
- Build your platform of fans and allies, and use it to help promote the bloggers who promote you. It’s called social capital, and it works.
- Be original. If you ask for (or offer) something other than just a review, I guarantee reviewers will perk up. Coming up with original blog content is hard. We’d definitely like to hear your guest post and multimedia pitches.