When can I expect that review from you? …. what do you mean, when you learn how to read?
This isn’t the first post I’ve written about how to get people to read your books, and it probably won’t be the last. The incident that inspired this post was an “event” on Goodreads that I was invited to, for someone’s book promotion. If you’re chuckling to yourself because you know that an impersonal Goodreads invite isn’t the way to approach many bloggers, congratulations–you’re already a step ahead.
This event was a blanket invite, not just to bloggers, which made me facepalm even more; what’s the use of sending out marketing invitations to various types of people if you’re not making the minimum effort to separate those people into discrete markets? It’s a lot different approaching a general reader with an offer of a free book than it is to approach a blogger with even a small following; it’s also a lot different approaching blogs that have different size followings. One would probably not approach the popular site Book Riot as casually as they might approach us, for instance. There’s no “one size fits all” approach when you’re trying to get your book into readers’ hands.
This Goodreads event isn’t an isolated incident by any means; I receive so, so many invitations to
crap events from people I don’t even know and have never spoken with. I receive a ton of pitches (yes, I still get pitches almost daily even though we no longer accept books to review) that leave me scratching my head. Not because they’re rude or in bad taste, but they do absolutely nothing to make me want to read the book–and half the time, they make me question if the person even knows who they’re approaching to read their book. Then there are, of course, the ones that are rude and in bad taste. The author often thinks he or she is trying to be professional, but end up being extremely off-putting. Off-putting is not the vibe you want when you’re trying to get people to read your book; in fact, it’s kind of the diametric opposite of what you want.
Don’t worry, friends. I’m here to help.
Know who you’re pitching and address them individually.
This probably seems really, really elementary to those of you who are already on the ball, but you’d perhaps be surprised at the number of authors who just send out blanket pitches to any-and-every blog with an audience. You might think that the blanket approach is superior because you hit a large number of blogs who might be interested in your book; as a blogger, I’ll tell you honestly that I can tell who has read my blog and is sending a personal message to me, and who has not. People who have not go in the bin. These e-mails read as barely a step above spam, and I treat them like spam.
A genuinely personalized approach, on the other hand, will often get the blogger’s attention (if for no other reason than people like to be appreciated for their work–bloggers included and perhaps especially). Not only will this stand out in the blogger’s inbox, which generally gets crammed full of variations like “PLZ READ MAH BOOK IT IS GOING TO BE YOUR NEW FAVORITEST BOOK I WRITE GOOD LOOK SOMEONE ELSE EVEN SAID SO”, but it shows that you put as much time and effort into finding out what she’s all about as she will put into reading and reviewing your book if she chooses to accept it. A personalized approach is a gesture of respect and a very high note to start off on with a blogger. While it won’t guarantee a yes, it’ll get your foot further in the door than copypasta.
Plus–don’t you want to know who you’re asking to review your book? This person is going to be recommending your book–or not–to people. If I decided to read and give an honest review to every book that someone tried to get me to review, I would have devastated a lot of authors. (I know this because I did my homework before accepting a book, including reading the sample chapters.) And those reviews would be out there forever, always popping up when the author’s name or the book title was searched. Knowing who you’re pitching is just a good idea all around.
But don’t make it too personal.
If you don’t know this blogger, being cheeky might not go over so well. Any e-mail I get that is addressed “Dear Sluts” goes right into the garbage. (Being “Insatiable Booksluts” has actually turned out to be a wonderful filter for what e-mails I read.) I don’t find it clever and it’s pretty rude to assume that I’d be okay being just called “slut,” which is still a slur and has an entirely different tone when divorced from “book”; a lot of people assume that I’ll find it hilarious, though, because of the somewhat lowbrow humor I occasionally employ here. And those people would be so, so wrong.
So be personal, but also maintain professionalism. This way, you can be fairly sure that you won’t screw your chances by inadvertently offending the blogger.
Make reading your book worth the blogger’s time.
Here’s the deal: when you approach a blogger and ask her to read your book, you’re asking her to commit at least a couple of hours of her life reading the book, then probably another hour or two organizing her thoughts and reviewing it; not to mention, you’re capitalizing on the hours of hard work she’s already done building her brand and her audience and maintaining her website (not to mention the actual cost of maintaining her website, which she’s probably not recouping). If you figure the average trade paperback at $14 or so? or, we’ll generously say that the average self-published or indie-published ebook might be $7 or $8? The “trade” for a book ends up compensating her up to $2.80 per hour (and as little as $0.85 per hour . . or less . . .) before subtracting the costs of overhead. She could probably make more at a Kathy Lee clothing factory.
And if she doesn’t LOVE your book? You’ve wasted time she could have been reading a book that she picked out for herself. Your free book isn’t much of a trade for her at this point. If she DOES love your book? She’s going to tell everyone that it’s ballin’ and you’re going to sell books. Either way, you’re getting the better end of the deal if the book itself is considered your end of the “trade,” which is why you should really consider a review copy a courtesy rather than a perk.
How can you, then, convince a blogger it’s worth her time to read your book? I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED! Here’s the other deal: even though the book isn’t really compensation to a blogger, the potential content that she can put on her blog is. We book bloggers, we blog about . . . books. They’re kind of an essential part of the equation. Don’t think in terms of offering her a freebie (which she’s probably drowning in already); think in terms of offering her content that her followers would want to read. And to do that . . .
Find the people who want to read your book.
I may have ranted once or twice or eighty times on this blog about authors sending me pitches that are not at all appropriate to this blog. This clearly aggravates me to no end, and I happen to know that I’m in no way alone in that. It’s not just that I don’t want to read the books (usually I don’t, but that’s not the point), it’s also that reviewing the books in question would do nothing for this blog. I’m far less likely to read and review a book that doesn’t fit the tone of this blog because I want my regular readers to keep coming back. If I suddenly switched from small press literary fiction to self-published paranormal romance, I would get more than a few WTF reactions.
Think of a blog more like a magazine than a site like Goodreads. What would be appropriate for Rolling Stone might not also be appropriate for Cosmo or Playboy. They cater to specific demographics that may not overlap.
Unsurprisingly, a blog’s tone and demographic also tends to match the blogger’s tastes (who knew?). Amy, Rob, and I don’t necessarily read the exact type of books, but we have tastes that match in enough places to have created a general vibe here. People who like our vibe respond to it by checking in to see what we’re reading. If you look for bloggers that you think would genuinely like your book, you’re also going to reach readers who would genuinely like your book; if a blogger has a hot tip on a book that her readers would like, damn skippy she’s going to pass that along. We didn’t get into the book recommending game to sit on our hands when a book we really enjoy comes our way.
But how do I find these blogs that would like my book?
There’s the rub, right? There are about a zillion book blogs out there, a lot of them have a “No self-pubs need apply” sign hanging in the window, and you’re competing against literally a million books a year for review space. It’s the fourth quarter and you need to hustle your ass into the end zone before ZOMG SPORTS METAPHOR SOMEONE STOP ME.
Okay, first things first. You need to find books that are similar to your book–both mainstream books and other self-published books. Now, here’s a huge caveat coming up. Are you ready for this? This is something you absolutely, positively cannot ignore. Ready?
You need to be super-honest with yourself about your book before you can find books that are similar, and this is really, really hard.
I once had someone brow-beat me into reading his book, comparing it to the work of Neil Gaiman. That is a lofty comparison, and it was not at all true. I’m sure he was very inspired by Gaiman, but he definitely did not write like Neil Gaiman. He either wasn’t being honest with me or being honest with himself–and I suspect that he really did think his book was like the writing of Neil Gaiman.
When comparing your book to other books, don’t shoot for the moon; it sets up unrealistic expectations for the blogger, who either flat-out won’t believe you or will be very disappointed when you’re not as good as some of the greatest writers of all time as you claim (whaaat, you mean you’re not actually another F. Scott Fitzgerald??). To help sort this all out, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the top of one side, write “Authors who have inspired me” and down the other, write “Authors and books most similar to mine”. If you’re a newer author who hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity, you’re probably shooting for self-published books or midlist traditionally-published books for column B; you can put your shoot-the-moon heavy hitters in column A.
Once you have your lists, search for reviews of books in column B. Find people who liked those books and wrote about them on their blogs. Congratulations, you have the beginnings of a list of bloggers who might like your book. Once you have the list going, you can cross-reference their Goodreads profiles or past reviews to see if their tastes mesh with yours (if one of your big influences is Hemingway and the blogger hates Hemingway with the fury of a thousand suns, that might not be a great fit).
And the beauty part? You’re also starting your blogger research for personalized pitches. Instead of sending the canned marketing copy that you worked up about how awesome your book is, you can now say, “Hey! I saw that you reviewed Book Y and said that you really liked x about it. That’s why I am approaching you today about my book; I thought that if you enjoyed x, you might enjoy this similar thing about my book. Also, I noticed we both really like Neil Gaiman–rock on!” (Er, well, you might want to flesh that out a tad. This is for DEMONSTRATION ONLY, people!) If you have a book that the blogger previously liked to point to, it’s much more likely to catch her attention–sort of like recommending books by other authors to people, yes? There’s some common ground there where you can find footing.
What if the blogger said no self-published books and I am self-published?
This is a conundrum. If this is the case, you definitely do not want to cold-pitch this blogger under any circumstances. You’re going to look like a schmuck who can’t follow directions and your pitch will go in the garbage.
This blogger needs to be courted. Not in a smarmy way. In a “I think you’re a badass and I love what you do” kind of way. Do not–let me repeat, DO NOT go about trying to friend a blogger just so you can get them to read your book. Be professional and be honest. You can introduce yourself in an e-mail and say something like, “Hello! I have read and I do understand your policy about self-published authors. I am writing to you today because I am wondering if I can convince you to make an exception for my book because I love your blog and I think that my book may be a good fit for your content. I completely understand the misgivings that many bloggers have about self-published books, and also that they get a lot of e-mails from authors who are convinced that their book is different than other books; this is what I have done to make my book a better reading experience: x, y, z. I thought you might like my book because it is similar to Other Book, which you reviewed and said that you enjoyed. Thank you for your time today.” Do not go ahead and attach your book, or publicity flier, or anything else “just in case.” You’re merely asking them if they would consider reviewing your book.
The polite, respectful approach is going to unlock more doors than trying to be sneaky or salesman-y. It also makes you sound like a real person who really does empathize with other people, and perhaps would be less likely to foist a rough draft on someone for review.
You can also try being a genuinely active participant in the person’s community–something that is easy if you connect with the blogger. Don’t see it as trying to butter them up, though; if you drop them like they’re hot after they accept or decline your book for review, they’re probably going to tell people (ie, other book bloggers that you’ll want to review your book) how you cozied up to them just to get a review. This will not bode well for you.
(By the way? If you don’t have things to fill in for x, y, and z to tell a blogger what you have personally done to make sure that your book is up to par–and that should include professional editing and proofreading, which are not the same thing–don’t bother. Your book shouldn’t even be on the market yet.)
If you wrote a good book, you can get reviews, but it’s not going to be an easy road. Persevere.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any shortcuts to this part of the book publishing process. To build an audience takes a long time. (As a blogger, I know this all too well–and frankly, that IB got the readers it did as quickly as it did was a confluence of very lucky events.) You might have to get “known” around our corner of the internet before bloggers will take your work on; don’t panic. Participate, talk to people, be real. If you have a good product, you’ll get there.
What say you, fellow book bloggers? What tips and tricks do you have for authors trying to get reviewed? What would work when approaching your blog for a review, if anything? Post your comments (or horror stories–we all love a good horror story!) below!