Tag Archives: book reviewing

Guest post: So You Need a Book Review…

I have in the past offered advice to authors seeking book reviews. Until now, the advice came entirely from my own rather haphazard, quirky reviewing experiences. Clients ask me all the time for marketing advice, and since I am a marketing cretin, mine is not much good.

Today, I get some help from someone who likes reading at least as much as I do. Today we have the perspective of an acclaimed reviewer with an impressive body of work: ajoobacats, who seems to read and review about as many books in a year as there are business days. She has a significant audience, and authors seeking to promote their books are very fortunate to land on her reading schedule. In this guest post, she shares what you need to know and do–and not do–if you hope to shift into that promotional passing lane. Without further ado, and with my thanks for her willingness to share what she has learned:


So You Need a Book Review…

ajoobacatsI am a prolific reader and reviewer. In 2015 I read 235 books and reviewed the majority of them. I am ranked within the top 1000 Amazon UK reviewers. I have been receiving book review requests since I registered myself on various websites like Tweet Your Books, The Indieview, Netgalley etc in 2012. I receive a heavy stream of review requests from authors and publicists, the majority of which I have to pass on as there aren’t enough hours in the day. However, if you want your book to be in the small percentage of books I and other keen reviewers read and review, here are some tips on how to approach a reviewer.

Remember reviewers are voluntarily donating time to review your book to help you market them, simply for the reward of reading. Most of the reviewers you approach are enthusiastic bibliophiles, who have towering to-be-read piles of books and are inundated with book choices both free and paid from numerous sites on the internet. Those that like the sound of your book description really do want to like your book.

Firstly, and this might seem very obvious, but is frequently overlooked, see if the reviewer reads the genre your book belongs to. I get a huge number of review requests to read Non-Fiction books by writers who have obviously not read any of my blog including the guidelines page which outlines what type of books I read. Requests for such reviews often get deleted without even opening them. Why? Well, I don’t enjoy every book out there and in order to maximise my chances to spending the finite time I have on this earth to read on books I have a greater likelihood to enjoy I must limit my choices by genre.

Try to approach a reviewer like you would want to be approached by a stranger asking for your time. You’re more likely to get someone to read your book if you are personable. Rubbing people up the wrong way does not entice them to give you time or anything else. When you contact the reviewer do so according to guidelines given on their blog or profile. Just like you reviewers are busy and need to organise themselves in order to devote time needed to read and review. If a reviewer has given a certain email contact for book requests, please do use that email to contact them. Personally, when I get review requests by other means I’m less likely to accept and read that book. I compile my reading list according to the date I receive a review copy by email.

Make sure you understand the reviewers policy completely. Not all reviewers will leave a review if the book doesn’t appeal to them. I personally do not write reviews for books I would award two stars or less and do not routinely publish three star reviews on my blog. Reviewers who are accepting review requests are usually bombarded by review requests and for most their extensive reading lists are booked weeks in advance, but a lot of them do try very hard to get reviews published in time for book release dates, provided you give them a reasonable period of time (for me 6-8 weeks) to plan the review according to your book release schedule.

Please try not to heckle the reader. The majority have other jobs and obligations and if they keep having to answer emails from you about how the book is going it slows them down. Also, it can be very difficult to have your work criticised and I personally hate writing negative reviews and do so very reluctantly, so if the reviewer does not give you a favourable review, please just move on. There will be other readers who will like it, but if you give up based on a small sample of reviews you may never find those readers. If the same points keep coming up on review it may be prudent to find an alternative proof reader or editor. Unfortunately, it’s not a level playing field and reviewers reading your book are also probably reading big publishing house books too which have been expensively marketted, edited and packaged. The scale of rating your book will be the same as the one they apply to other books, so it isn’t realistic to expect typos, errors and other editing issues to go unnoticed because you’re an independent writer. If you’re charging money for your book, the reader has a right to a certain level of quality from your work.

In summary, marketing your book may not be your most favourite part of being an author but if you’re trying to reach people a little research and information about them will cut down in the time you spend effectively requesting reviews. You may do everything I’ve mentioned above and a reviewer still may not pick up your book, but with several thousand readers/reviewers out there and finding the right ones is definitely rewarding. Organising contact with a group of reviewers who share the same taste in books as you will pay dividends in the long run.


 

To read more of ajoobacats’ work, you can visit her blog, its Facebook presence, or Pinterest., I’m not very good at social media, and made an unsuccessful attempt to create a link to her Twitter presence, but the blog has one that I presume will work. I took the time to read a number of her more recent reviews, and was impressed with her insight. I believe you will feel likewise.

 

The worst thing about book reviewing

…is a bad book by a good guy.

I mostly don’t donate free content to Amazon any more, and when I do, there’s usually a motive beyond the desire to share my opinion. There are many reasons why, from the basic dumbness of the rating system to Amazon’s whoring of the content to not donating work to for-profit enterprises. In the past I’ve talked about how not to solicit book reviews. That’s another reason why: most of the books whose authors wish me to review them, I don’t care to read. Either their book is in a genre I’ve never shown that I cared about, or they want me to review galleys or e-copies, or they write badly enough in the letter to make me decline. After you get one bite of a rotten egg, after all, do you keep eating?

Now and then, an author does it all right. I had such a situation just before we moved to Idaho. Author seemed mature, pleasant and sincere, pitched the review correctly. I really don’t like thriller stories that much, but I’ve reviewed enough Laurell K. Hamilton books that if he imagined I liked thriller/mystery, it only meant he’d done his homework. He offered a complimentary print review copy, as authors (or publishers’ reps) must. They simply must, for it’s the only compensation the reviewer gets in return for committing to read a book which may be agony to finish, donating hours of time to a tragic cause while looking wistfully at the pile titled ‘Books To Read Which I Know Are Much Better Than This.’ The only way he could have hit the ball harder was for the subject to just happen to line up more with my preferences; say, a travel biography. If there were a book I’d take a chance on, this author’s would be the one.

So I did. My custom is that when I’m sent a review copy, I drop any other unpaid work in its tracks and get to reading. The author deserves that courtesy. I let the author know the book (actually two) had arrived, grabbed a diet cola and sat down to read.

The ideal result for all is that I love the book. I don’t want to shamble through 300 pages of suffering. I also don’t want to write a review that leaves blisters. I don’t want to write a Gentleman’s C review (a three-star review given out of mercy to a one-star book). If the author is famous, or has committed offenses against historical writing, I don’t one bit mind hammering the stake, decapitating the corpse, sewing holy wafers into the fangy mouth, and chucking the head into a river. That sort of author will probably never see the review, and if he or she does, probably won’t care. S/he will probably do another line, say ‘those who can’t do, pan those who can do’ and tell Araceli to do a better job on the kitchen. To an aspiring author, though, a very articulate but harsh review is a serious problem.

Most people work more on the principle of suggestion than they like to admit. In this context, if Joe Reviewer highlights a dozen glaring weaknesses in a book, anyone who reads that review and then the book is likely to watch for those weaknesses. And to post ‘me too.’ The whole picture can unravel. One could always take the ‘tough luck, be a big boy/girl’ approach, write a brutally honest and balanced review, and let the chips fall. And if I took reviewing more seriously than is the case, I might. In fact, I really don’t even give a damn about Amazon reviews. Too many fools, too much gang-rating, and too many people with no taste. They are the worst metric going that does the most needless damage to good books and promotes bad books. Yes, the people have spoken, but the people are stupid. This is why McDonald’s is more popular than Fuddrucker’s, and why democracy breaks. It follows that, not wanting to suffer though a bad book, I try to avoid reviewing them. Now and then I get surprised in a bad way, as in the case under review.

I’d expected to yawn over the story but not the writing, yet it was the other way around. The author had a great story concept, but the presentation was pure tyro. If he engaged an editor, he or she needs to be fired. Typos, typesetting mistakes, bad character introductions, perspective all over the place, forgetting what the reader knows and does not, dialogue not very credible, passive voice everywhere, inconsistencies of tense. If I had been asked to edit it, the author would have paid what I charge for a complete rewrite. And yet the fundamental tale was excellent, with plenty of surprises and good discipline in pace of revelation. Even as I groaned over the flaws, it held my interest to the very last in a genre I barely like.

What do you do in that case? Hammer the stake? Deceive the public? Welsh on your commitment?

Sure, you have every moral right to post a completely honest review, and in the take-your-quarts big boy/girl school of professional writing (where being mean is a way some people like to show off their cred, and where being arrogant and smug is taken by so many as a sign of authorial coolness), you would. You’d also hurt a human being. Remember, I care minimally about my rep as an Amazon reviewer. Amazon and its reader base don’t pay me enough to care. The only pay I got was a copy of a book, and I’m not generally inclined to turn around and hurt people who paid me…if I can help it. I also would rather not leave behind me a trail of slain dreams. To get me to play Simon Cowell, they have to up their bid. A lot.

When I realized that an honest review would skewer the book, I wrote to the author and said so. I offered him three choices:

  1. The big boy/girl method, posted with no holds barred.
  2. Same review, but sent to him privately.
  3. A more informal yet candid critique, without the writing-for-public-consumption gloss.

What I did not tell him was that 3) would be far and away the most painless and helpful for both of us. Happily, that’s what he chose anyway. If I have to say it, I did not pitch my own services as a book mechanic. Now that would be sleazy: lurk for writers needing help, lure them in, beat down their will by panning their writing, then offer to save them for a fee. Marketing in disguise; the car dealership service department where you take your vehicle in for an oil change, and they ‘find’ $2000 worth of stuff to fix (that would cost $750 at a real mechanic’s shop, except the real mechanic would tell you that $250 would cover what you actually need). The HVAC company in Kennewick that came out to diagnose a minor noise, kept breaking my heater a little worse with each visit, then wanted to sell me a new one. I despise it and I’m not going to do it. I was approached as a reviewer, and should stick to that.

He took the critique well, considering I was telling him he couldn’t write. What he does with that is up to him. It’s the worst thing about book reviewing: trying to remain halfway considerate without sacrificing honesty. And it’s why I decline most requests for reviews. I am in this situation too often for my liking, I end up doing lots of extra work, and there’s always the chance I’ll be punished for it anyway (making me wish I’d just adopted the big boy/girl approach).