How not to solicit a book review

It’s gotten better, but a fair number of self-publishers still don’t grasp the reality: if your book doesn’t get a dozen or so reviews, real soon after publication, you can stick a fork in it. I counsel them over and over, and their lips say “yes, yes,” but their eyes say “sorry, marketing is yucchy, I am tuning you out now.”

If one wants to sell one’s book, one needs to locate and approach the right reviewers in a timely and effective fashion. I’m going to walk you through a recent one, with names and titles changed, and what it did wrong, and why its author won’t even get a polite “no, thank you” from me.

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Dear Amazon Reviewer, [Translation: “I sent out such a massive mailing that I didn’t acquaint myself with your interests at all. I would like for you to know me by name, but to me, your name is ‘Amazon Reviewer.’ Got it?”]

My name is Jean-Norma Sphicolith and I have written a book called `Bulimic Diet-500 Thrilling Recipes for Weight Loss and Improved Health`. [And I don’t know how to convert text in an email to a link.]

I found a review you had written for a similar publication and thought that my book could be of interest to you as well. [I can’t tell you which publication, because in truth, I just gathered up hundreds of these. If you ask me what the ‘similar publication’ is, I can’t even start to answer you. I have no idea that you have only ever reviewed one single recipe book and that your main body of work is in unrelated fields.]

I would be truly grateful if you could check out my book and leave me an honest review. [Preferably one that doesn’t fault me for my adverb dependency. Preferably one that lauds and blesses me. I expect you to believe that I will be ‘truly grateful’ if you give me one star and a blistering pan.]

Your opinion would be highly appreciated! [It’s not as if I just said this.]

My book is available right now for only $2.99. (Here’s where she had the actual link.) [Of course, I hope you won’t make me give you a free one. I hope you won’t think of me as a La Cheapa, in spite of the evidence. Yes. It is my belief that the way this works is that you should pay me for the privilege of helping me market my book. I see nothing odd about this.]

I would also be more than happy to send you my book as a gift so you don`t have to purchase it. Please specify if you want the book sent directly to you or receive an Amazon gift card to buy the book yourself. [Oh, all right, all right, it was a longshot anyway. Now I hope to imply that it’s you who are the cheapskate by asking me for a review copy. I have no concept of the probability that you are committing yourself to reading a bad book, then trying to be compassionate to a lousy writer. I think only of my own situation and so should you. That is, you also should think only of my own situation. You don’t get a situation. You are only relevant to me to the extent that you are helping me market my book.]

Again, your feedback would be most welcome. [And I think third repetition is a charm!]

Jean-Norma Sphicolith
Author and Nutritionist [Because if I haven’t drawn you in by this point, my professional credentials should do so.]
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Most of Ms. Sphicolith’s mistakes had to do with lazy research. She didn’t learn anything about the reviewer. She looked up diet books or recipe books, harvested a bunch of emails, and spammed us all. In so doing, she communicated that it wasn’t important to her if we responded. Okay, well, then it’s not important to me either. When people want a response from me, they call me by name and tell me the reason they’re asking for one.

She really blew a tire when she first tried to get the reviewer to buy her book, then reluctantly mentioned that if buying was a no go, she’d provide a free copy (but if you take it, she leaves the hanging implication that you’re cheap and not nice). Reviewers look at many mostly bad books, and suffer through a lot of bad writing. Their only compensation for it is the review copy. To deny them that shows no understanding of what they experience.

Then she didn’t show much in the way of writing chops. Reviewers are looking at the writing in the inquiry, deciding whether or not they want to commit to several hundred pages of it. If the writing isn’t very interesting, why should they think the book will be? If this is how the author writes when she is doing her very best to sell books, and it’s not that great, does one believe the writing in the book will be better? And it might.

But I will never find out. Nor will Ms. Sphicolith. Since my name isn’t Amazon Reviewer, that email wasn’t addressed directly to me, thus I don’t even owe a courteous decline.

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10 thoughts on “How not to solicit a book review”

  1. I receive at least one such email a day and have just deleted the one that came this morning. At least this type of review request bothers to look up email address, I’ve also had one’s just left indiscriminately in the comments section of a random book review on my blog, with no thought given to clicking on the link at the top of the page which provides guidelines on how to request a book review (exact phrasing).

    I honestly thought when authors told me in an email how much their books cost it was me being over-sensitive and they weren’t really trying to imply I but a review copy, but if that’s what they are hoping for I’m afraid I have fifty free review copies waiting to be read by those not expecting me to pay for the privilege.

    Thank you writing an informative post for authors and an empowering post for reviewers.

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    1. You’re welcome, and thank you for the amplifying observations. Cold reality: marketing books is business, and requires some investment of capital. People who are serious about marketing their books will choose their reviewers with care, approach them suitably, and reap the rewards.

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      1. What always bothered me about them was how they insulted my intelligence. They found many different ways to insult it. I had to report one spam queen to Amazon. It also became clear to me that so many of them had been edited by their spouses, or their sisters-in-law (“because she took English in community college”), which is to say, not edited. Would you have any interest in writing a piece on how best to solicit book reviews? My clients are always asking me for perspective on this, and while I think mine is an educated one, it’s not the only one.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I will definitely give it some thought, however, I am sceptical that those serial offenders who can’t be bothered to read my guidelines page, will bother to read such a post.

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      3. I was thinking it might be the first guest blog post in the history of the ‘Lancer. It could be in any form you wish: a list of pitfalls to avoid, a treatise on how to do it right, anything that would help my friends and clients gain greater understanding. If you were interested, I could return the favor by contributing a guest entry to yours. While I write about whatever I want here, the meat and drink has always been the editing, proofreading, and writing life.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Let’s go with tc underbar vitki at yahoo.com. I will take care of framing it with a link to your blog and an intro. And if you would like me to return the favor, please feel free to suggest a topic you believe would interest your readership.

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