Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Book Review Push

Well, it's that time when the cover reveal has been announced along with the production of the paper and e-book ARC (advance reader's copy), otherwise known as the galley proof. The ARC is a preview copy by which book reviewers can read and review your novel or non-fiction book. Ideally speaking, ARCs should come out in advance of the final version that is commercially ready for sale. Anywhere from two to three months in advance is plenty of time to get solicitations from reviewers and for them to read and give you a write-up. In my case, I'm about four to five months early, since my target publication date is going to be right around July 2 of this year. That's plenty of time for reviewers to get to your book, and with any luck, they'll have something ready early on, during the release or just after. It's not rocket science but it's difficult to get everyone on the same page and get the timing just right.  A way-too-early review might make an impact, but if the book is not set up for pre-order or publication, readers will forget the magic and move on to another book that is available.

Your publisher will naturally send out a dozen or so review copies in advance and likely include the publication date so the reviewer can schedule their review close to release. Let's hope. Mine did. They're on the ball in that respect. It doesn't always work that way, but most review sites try to accommodate any time constraints and fall within a prescribed timeline. In fact, some reviewers will request a certain amount of time before release--like two weeks to a month or so. Be sure you're ready.

What's your job as the author? Well you're going to go after reviews too, on your end. Time it with your publisher. Who are you going to go after? I could give you a list but the easiest method and source is for you to Google some common terms and compile your own list. Use search terms like "Book Review Bloggers, "Book Review Sites", "Book Review Listings", "Magazine Book Review Sources", "Top Ten Book Review Sites","Top 100 Book Review Sites.", and "Newspaper Book Reviewers." To narrow it down, include your category and genre if you want to get specific. Mine happens to be in the YA category and the main genre is science fiction. The sub-genre is dystopian, but you need not limit yourself by a sub-genre. Compile your list and bookmark them in your favorites. 

Then comes the investigation and work. And getting a review is as difficult as petting a rabid dog and coming away from it without a scratch. Book reviewers are overworked and dropping like flies. Newspapers and magazines have cut book review sections out of their pages entirely. The self-publishing revolution is one of the many reasons for this--these people who read for a living or hobby are inundated to the point where they select only prime material that really intrigues and piques their interest. They might get dozens or hundreds of reviews in a week, or even a day with the most popular review sites. Locus, Library Journal, The New York Times Book Review, Kirkus, Midwest Book Review and other luminaries can be a difficult pinch for a small press writer who has a debut novel. Hint: if you have received any type of review in the past that helped boost sales, contact them again and remind them that you are in their archives and that you have a new title coming out.

Who is really legit? You all know the big review sources are legit but highly selective. That means you'll be limited to the very large, medium and small blog book reviewers. Here's where it gets tricky--you'll have to read every blog review site's "review policy" and this is time consuming. It's torture, but necessary because their limitations and guidelines will be specific and not subject to negotiation. Some will stipulate soft copy or e-books, and then specify Mobi, PDF, Sony or Kindle for the e-book formats. They will require certain tags in the email subject line, like title, author's name and genre. They might ask for specific keywords like "Book Submission" or "Cover Reveal and ARC" or "For Immediate Release." Whatever you do, get it right and tight because if you don't, they'll click the delete button faster than an Alabama tick draws blood on a dog.

Check the reviewer's last blog review. If it isn't current, at least two or three weeks, you might be wasting your time. If the blog hasn't been updated for six months or a year or two, you're in trouble. You've just found an inactive site. How many page views and members do they have?  Anything over 150 members is a fairly safe bet--if it's in the 1,000s, you've stumbled upon a site that has huge reader traffic. 

Do they list their reviews simultaneously on Twitter, their blog, Facebook, Smashwords and other sites? That is what you want. One blog review that gets lost in the archives won't help you much. Make sure they link to all possible book reading sites, including book clubs and genre sites, which is the Midas Touch for a blog book reviewer. 

So what do you say in your solicitation? You're going to ask first--you're NOT going to send a cold copy in either format and expect them to get right to it. Sometimes you'll have to fill out a form--do so and take your time. Get your information right. If you're in doubt about their credibility and traffic size, put them on the back-burner and try someone else. Here's a real simple example of my book review solicitation: 

I found a listing for you on the Internet and decided to try a contact. I've authored a YA dystopian novel which has attracted some attention.  My publisher has ARC copies for review in their inventory. I'd be delighted to send you one if you are interested. I'm also available for interviews.  I do thank you for your time and consideration


Chris Stevenson


Or Intrigue Publishing:  Sandra Bowman at:  (publicity manager's email address)

Include your blurb/synopsis and a small bio underneath this. You can include your phone number if you wish (or if its requested in the policy), if privacy is not that much of a concern. 

How many do you send out? Well, at the present time I've sent out about 70 to the major daily newspapers across the United States, and I add a few a week, time permitting. I'm waiting for the final commercial release to contact all the city and county newspaper that are local to me--this is because chances are you'll get more reviews and quicker from your demographic region--local girl/boy makes good stories. The locals will also be more inclined to give you a feature spread with a human interest interview. So you want to save those babies until the release or just after. 

I've got about a total of 170 announcements out there at the moment, and I've received about 12-14 requests. Do you see the odds already? Now, whenever I get a positive response, an eager reader/reviewer, I turn that information (copy of the letter) over to my publishers with all the pertinent data. That way the publisher decides if a copy is justified or not. Your publisher may pass on a few selections, but that's just business if they find the review sites are lacking. Another reason you hand the ball off to the publishers is so they can mail out paper copies and compile a list so they don't do any repeats. That list will also help you in the future with another book--the reviewer will probably remember you. Fondly.

What do you do when that review comes in and it gets listed for all eyes to see? Well, you announce and link it to all of your social media sites, and I mean, ALL of them. That will get others to preview your book. Hint: you can hold back on 50% of your reviews and make the grand announcement when your book hits the wood or virtual shelves. That way your splitting up your sales between the pre-order and final release copies. Let's just hope that most of your reviews coincide with the timing of the final version. That's when your Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and other vendor sales ranks start to soar. When you hit the top 10 or top 100 bestsellers rank on these retail sites, you can keep the momentum going by piling on more social media exposure and actually use the bragging rights. And yes, I mean dropping links to the review on all your social media sites, more than once if necessary but not hog-wild. This includes your writing groups, readers groups and display sites. 

Be sure to read all of the reviews you receive, good, bad or indifferent. Go right into the comments section and thank your review host and field any questions readers might have. From then on, realize that your book is like a baby that needs constant attention and feeding. Set aside enough time out of the week to spend at least two to fours of solid and worthwhile promotion. Whether you hire a publicity agency or spend money on banner ads, that's up to you. But keep that book in the public eye. If the sales spike drops after about the first one to three months, know that this is normal and that it means that all of your relatives, peers, coworkers, friends and family members have expended their dollars for a copy. It's now time to get the strangers on your train, and to do that, you've got to reach out. Never stop promoting any of your books--they feed off each other sales wise.

Good luck. I hope you end up rolling in dough.