For this month’s Author Toolbox post, I’ve invited over blogging friend Iola Goulton to tell us everything we need to know about book bloggers.
Authors want book reviews like addicts want their next fix. Book reviews provide social proof. They show potential buyers that the book is worth investing money and time in.
Book reviews also provide authors with unbiased feedback on how their writing is resonating with readers. That can be good and bad. After all, unbiased reviewers tell it like they see it—the good and the bad. Even classics like To Kill a Mockingbird have one-star reviews:
“This book is so overrated. Why do the only books kid’s read in middle school have the “n” word, the killing of an animal & rape??”
“Not up to Stienbeck’s standard.”
“liked the movie better.”
But it’s not always easy to get reviews. To Kill a Mockingbird has over 10,000 reviews on Amazon.com, which sounds like a lot. But TKAM has sold over 40 million copies (and still sells over a million copies a year). Do the maths. That means less than 0.03% of buyers have reviewed it. Even if you only consider the sales in the last year, less than 1% of buyers have reviewed the book.
Authors can’t rely on sales as a way to get reviews. Instead, many authors approach book bloggers (like me), many of whom also post reviews on retail sites such as Amazon, and booklover sites such as Goodreads or Litsy.
How do authors get book bloggers to read and review their book? Here are my tips … from the blogger’s point of view.
1. Have a Great Book
Bloggers read a lot of books. Most read at least one a week. Some read one a day. Some read more (yes, really). So bloggers aren’t going to agree to read your book unless it stands out (in a good way). Bloggers want to like your book. They won’t waste time reading a book they don’t think they’re going to enjoy. And if they don’t enjoy the book, their review will reflect that.
Note to authors: an “honest” review is not the same as a “positive” or “glowing” review. An honest review might be critical. Very critical. Don’t ask bloggers for reviews unless you want honesty. Even when it hurts.
As an author, it’s up to you to write the best book you can, then engage an army of beta readers and critique partners and editors to tell you everything that’s good about it … and everything that needs work.
Getting in-depth feedback from beta readers before you publish will help ensure that nothing that shows up in a review is a surprise. If you’re only getting positive feedback from your beta readers, it’s time to find new beta readers—readers who will challenge and stretch you and your writing. Or hire an editor you know will challenge you.
2. Have a Great Cover
Call me shallow, but I’m reluctant to agree to review a book with an ugly cover. I’m proud of my review website, and don’t want to fill it with ugly books.
Yes, I know the old saying is that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But that saying dates from a time when all books had plain covers (because we didn’t have the technology to print glossy colour covers).
Your book cover is a valuable marketing tool. Great covers reflect the novel’s genre. If I think the cover is ugly, then it might be objectively ugly. But it could be a cover I don’t like because it doesn’t reflect the kind of books I read and review. Which brings me to my next point …
3. Pitch Reviewers in Your Genre
I read and review Christian fiction, with an emphasis on Christian romance. I read across genres, but I’ve made a deliberate choice that my blog will focus on Christian fiction. Most bloggers have a focus, because we can’t read all the books. (We wish!)
So I might agree to review a Christian suspense novel, but I won’t agree to review a Christian non-fiction book, or a general market police procedural. And I’m definitely not going to agree to review the dark BDSM set in the London Underground (yes, that’s a real request I’ve had).
So you need to understand the genre you write in, and find bloggers who review in that genre.
4. Get the Pitch Right
I come across the occasional author who sends all bloggers the same pitch, because it’s too much trouble to research the individual bloggers and tailor the pitch.
They want a blogger to spend ten or more hours reading their book, writing a quality review, uploading that review to a blog site, copying that review to Amazon and other retail sites, copying that review to Goodreads and other booklover sites, creating shareable images, and promoting the review (and thereby the author) on social media … and they can’t be bothered spending five minutes to research the blogger?
When you pitch, include the information the blogger asks for. Nothing more, and nothing less. If they don’t say anything, then I’d suggest including:
- Book Description
- Publication Date
- Amazon or other sales link
Keep it short, and only send the actual ebook if the reviewer asks for it.
5. Follow Amazon’s Guidelines
The retail and book review sites all have their own reviewing guidelines. But Amazon is the site with the most influence and the most rules. So follow the rules. I have long posts on Amazon’s guidelines (read them here and here), but here are the most important things to remember:
No paid reviews.
Never pay for reviews (it’s against Amazon’s reviewing guidelines). And no providing free books “in exchange” for a review. You provide a free book and hope the blogger follows through and reviews your book. But it’s an offer, not an exchange.
No promotional reviews.
Reviews are for readers, to help them make a decision as to whether they want to buy this book or not. Reviews are not a form of promotion for authors. If a blogger loves your book, they will promote it by promoting their review. But the review itself is not a promotion tool.
Disclose the free book.
The Federal Trade Commission guidelines require reviewers to disclose any connection between themselves and the product’s creator. That means all reviewers must disclose if they were given a free book or ebook to review. If Amazon suspect a reviewer received a free copy and hasn’t disclosed the fact, they will remove the review. It’s the law, and Amazon wants to stay on the right side of the law.
6. Understand Agreeing to Read is Not Agreeing to Review
Amazon allow authors and publishers to provide review copies of books to potential reviewers. They do not allow authors and publisher to require the reviewer to review the book on Amazon. So if a blogger takes a review copy of a book and doesn’t review, there’s not much you can do.
Having said that, bloggers review. Good bloggers don’t ask for copies of books they have no intention of reviewing. If a blogger doesn’t review your book when they said they would, it could be for one of several possible reasons:
They haven’t read the book.
Sometimes books get lost in the virtual To-Read pile.
They started the book, but haven’t finished.
Sometimes I start a book, get part-way through, and then get distracted by another book. Often it’s a book I thought I’d like but don’t. It’s not that it’s a bad book. It’s just not a book that holds my interest. And I’m not going to review a book I haven’t read.
They didn’t like the book.
If I finish a book and don’t like it, I usually won’t review it on my blog. I want my blog to be a place where I recommend books, not trash them.
They’ve forgotten about your book.
Ouch. But it does happen. If you think this might be the reason, then do send a reminder email. One reminder email. Don’t nag.
So those are my top tips for working with book bloggers. Bloggers, what would you add to my list? Authors, what else would you like to know?
About Iola Goulton
Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and writer. She holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, and works as a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review.
Do you have any questions for Iola?
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