Congratulations, you’ve published your novel! Well done, that’s a point many people don’t reach. Now you just need to sell it. And that’s harder than it looks. Statistics published in The Guardian reveal that half of all self-published authors earned less than $500 in 2011. When you consider that hundreds of thousands of books are self published annually (319,000 in 2012), you’ve got a lot of competition.
It is widely acknowledged that having reviews helps sell your novel. On Amazon Kindle, readers can browse by review rating – and any book that’s never been reviewed is cut right out. Reviews help wavering potential readers make up their minds whether or not to buy. Readers might even discover that your book exists by reading a review of it on a book blog they follow. So reviews are an important component of marketing your book.
So how do you get reviews?
I’ve posted about this before regarding email requests, but it’s also legitimate to post requests on public forums. The direct approach, contacting bloggers, might be more effective, but where appropriate, the forum post works too. Forums about self-publishing or specifically designated as review request subforums are such places.
In some of the posts I’ve seen requesting reviews, the author has implied in the way they’ve written their post that it’s a complete bargain for some lucky reader to get their book for free, and all they need to do is review it! Gosh, isn’t that fantastic?
No. If you’re an author looking for reviews, the reviewers are doing you a favour. It takes time to read books. It takes even more time when the reviewer has a notebook open ready to make notes about the plot, characters, the odd typo or misused word, awkward phrasing, confusing sequences and so on at the same time as reading the book. And then it takes time to further consider the book, examine its strengths and weaknesses in an objective manner, and finally write and edit the review. This could take anything from eight to twelve hours to achieve, depending on the length of the book and its quality (the better the book, the fewer notes I make). Look, I made a helpful graph:
Spread across several evenings (us reviewers have day jobs, after all) it could take a week or two reading every night, longer if the book isn’t that engaging, to actually produce a review.
The reviewer, therefore, is doing you a favour: they’re putting several hours into potentially helping your marketing efforts, without being paid. The free book you send them is a small acknowledgement of this. It is not you providing them with free entertainment in exchange for a review. Look, I’ve made another helpful graph comparing the value of the book to the value of the reviewer’s time:
Not that I think you should be paying a reviewer or anything. I just want to illustrate that a free book doesn’t in any way leave the reviewer in the author’s debt. Reviewing a book is work, more so if it was a difficult book to finish. It’s not all free entertainment.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on.
Below is a fictional review request I’ve written based on a few I’ve seen on forums recently:
Hi Guys! I’ve recently published my first fantasy novel, sword of blood, and I’m looking for reviews. I’m willing to send you a free ebook in epub, mobi or pdf. The book is about Bob Sharpsword, a blacksmith’s apprentice who saves the world from a big evil. If you’d like a free ebook from me, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to your book blog site or Amazon reviewer profile and a list of fantasy books you’ve reviewed recently. If you review my book, please mention that you received a free review copy.
So let’s break things down. What do I think, as a book reviewer, when I see a post like this?
First, the author doesn’t introduce themselves. Even if they’ve get their pen name as their username, they should still be introducing themselves, so the addition of “My name is Faye Knaym and…” to the start of the second sentence would fix that.
Secondly, the author has failed to capitalise the title of their book. I’ve only seen this once or twice, but more common is a post that contains other examples of poor grammar. Check your post before clicking publish! A request for a review that lacks grammatical competence is a poor indicator of the book. A request for a review that doesn’t include the book’s title at all is even worse – and I have seen that a few times.
Thirdly, the sentence, “I’m willing to send you a free ebook in epub, mobi or pdf” starts poorly – “willing” implies the author is doing the reviewer a favour. However, continuing with the available ebook formats is good. You want to make it clear that you can cater to the reviewer’s needs, as different tablets require different formats.
Generally, I’d suggest that the offer to supply a free ebook should be towards the end of the request. It should be written in a manner that does not imply a favour from the author. I would opt for “If you are interested in reviewing my book, please email me at email@example.com for a free ebook, specifying whether you prefer mobi, epub or pdf.” In this example, there’s no implication of the author doing anyone a favour, and it is acknowledged without drawing attention that providing a free ebook is the default position.
Moving on to the blurb: “The book is about Bob Sharpsword, a blacksmith’s apprentice who saves the world from a big evil.” This is not sufficient. The blurb you need to post in your review request should be your main marketing blurb, the one you’ve crafted and honed to hook potential readers effectively. Your blurb and your cover are major marketing tools, so don’t just settle on something that’ll do. Work on them, refine them, edit them, ask for feedback on them. And then include them in requests for reviews.
Post your complete blurb after the introductory sentence. Here is where you hook the reader. If the forum allows embedded images, include the cover; if not, provide a link to the cover instead. The visual adds interest to your request and if the potential reviewer has seen the cover before it might make them more interested.
After the blurb, the author asks potential reviewers for credentials. Bad move. The author is not conducting a recruitment process to select the best reviewers to grant a free copy of their book to, so asking for credentials in the form of previous reviews and websites comes off as pretentious and entitled. I can understand concern that a respondent might not be interesting in reviewing the book so much as getting something for free, or even pirating it, but assuming that any reviewer could potentially be a pirate or a scrounger is insulting, and the last thing you want to do is insult the very people you’re asking for help from. A polite request for a link to their website, framed as curiosity or reciprocity might work, but phrase the request carefully.
Finally, the request that the reviewer publically acknowledges that they received a free copy is a little over the top. Many reviewers receive most of the books they review for free and only pay for those they choose to review rather than having been approached. Whether the reviewer mentions whether they paid for the book is generally up to them. I consider it an irrelevance; a review is a review and mine are always honest. Whether I paid for the book or was gifted it isn’t going to change my opinion of it. As such, the reader doesn’t need to know.
Besides, with such requests, the author doesn’t need to mention this in the forum post – they can easily mention it in the reply email they send to the reviewer when they attach the ebook.
Now that I’ve gone through what the example above does contain, it’s time to look at what it has missed out.
The review request does not include the book’s vital statistics beyond the title. The reviewer needs to know a lot more than that about the book to make their decision. Wordcount of the novel is top of that list. A busy reviewer might decide 120,000 words is too much to fit into their schedule, but that they can manage a 65,000 word novel. So be sure to include that. Ideally, describe the length in both words and pages – some will prefer to use one measurement, some another.
You also need to be specific about the genre, especially if it isn’t obvious from the blurb (and even if it is, it’s a good idea to include it). “Fantasy” is a wide genre. Is it paranormal, steampunk, high fantasy, grimdark, or sword and sorcery? Does it have a sub-genre you might be able to classify it as, like romance, historical, science-fiction or action? What is the target audience – adults, YA or middle grade? If it’s aimed at an adult audience, is it also suitable for a younger reader or do scenes of violence and/or sex, or a lot of swearing, make it adults-only? Is there anything in the book you should warn readers about, like extreme or sexual violence, or erotic content?
Reviewers, like all readers, have preferences for the tone and subject matters covered in the fiction they read, so specifying this will save your time and the reviewers’ by eliminating those who won’t be interested before they reach the blurb.
It’s also a good idea to include the publication date. The reviewer will need to know if the book has been published yet or not. If it hasn’t been published yet, they’ll need to know when they can duplicate their review on Amazon, which doesn’t allow pre-publication reviews. If it has been published, the reviewer might want to prioritise their reviewing commitments based on publication date so that their review is posted as soon after publication as possible. Or they might simply want to include this information in their review.
As I’ve said above, also include the cover. It provides a visual break and adds interest. The reviewer can also judge your book by the cover – against the old advice – because often the quality of the cover reflects the quality of the book. A slapdash cover indicates lack of care on the part of the author regarding their work and may indicate a poorly edited novel; a quality cover, produced by a professional graphic designer, demonstrates that the author has invested in their book and cares about quality. This isn’t a direct correlation but it could sway the reviewer one way or the other.
Include also a link to your book on Amazon or Smashwords or wherever else it is being sold, and indicate whether there is a sample available for viewing there. Many reviewers will want to read the sample before they commit, especially when self-published books are concerned because of the wide range of quality to be found in self-published works.
And finally, provide a link to your author website. Let the reviewer, should they wish to, check out your website and get a feel for you and you book(s). Even if they don’t want to review the book, they might be interested in your blog, or want to come back later when they’ve got some free time in their schedule.
To sum up, I’d consider the ideal review request to include:
- Introduction of the author and the book
- Book’s vital statistics – length, genre, publication date
- Content warnings where relevant
- Link to sales page such as Amazon, revealing if a sample is available
- List of available formats
- Contact email address
- Link to author’s website.
Now go out and get some reviews!