Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting reviews: self-published authors

Ah, the biggie. "Yes I could self-publish, but how will I get my name out there? Who's going to buy a book from an unknown author?"

First, make sure the writing, editing and cover are top notch. If you want to compete with the majors your product has to be in the same league. I don't mean it has to be the most beautiful literary creation in the history of the universe, just that it needs to look professional. When you flip through the pages and examine the back cover, it should be close to something you'd see in a bookstore.

Okay, it's professional. How do you get people to buy it?  Reviews, reviews, reviews. Word of mouth. More reviews.

You can approach major review sites, but they're unlikely to review self-pubbed books. Personally I'd concentrate on bloggers. There are lots out there, and as long as you read their review policies and act like a professional (there's that word again), you'll be fine. Many will post reviews to their blog, Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing and others. Every one of these multiplies your exposure. Many will allow you to quote snippets from their reviews, properly attributed, which is gold when you're trying to convince people your book is worth reading.

If they only accept paperbacks, don't try and talk them into ebooks. If they only accept ebooks, don't try and post them paperbacks. If they accept either, ask which they prefer. This is all common sense but you'd be amazed how many people think they're the exception. (What if you've published an ebook and your chosen reviewer doesn't accept them? Find another who does!)

I wrote a query letter which explained who I was and what I'd published in the past. I told them why I was excited about my new book and asked whether they'd care for a review copy. Then I thanked them for their time, attached a press release (optional) and hit send. (A word of warning: one reviewer wrote a brief reply with a link to her reviewer policy, reminding me she didn't accept e-copies. She hadn't realised the attachment was a press release, not my novel. In future I wouldn't attach anything.)

Wherever possible I start my email with their name, as long as I can find it, and if there was anything relevant to my novel in their contact page I'll mention it. For example, someone mentioned they loved Middle Grade science fiction and couldn't get enough of it. I altered my email for that reviewer so SF and MG were right there in the very first sentence.

Remember you're not fighting a battle here. If they don't want self-pub books, don't try and convince them otherwise. Some self-pub authors are combative, resentful, insecure and overly protective of their work, and your chosen reviewer has probably had to deal with all of those responses and more. Be professional, and know when to move on.

Other bloggers say they will only review books they enjoy. Cherish these people! If your novel isn't up to scratch, it's better to be widely ignored than tagged with one- or two- star reviews all over the internet. By the same token, don't send follow-up emails asking when they're going to review your book. They're not getting paid to review it. They owe you nothing.

Lastly, how do you find reviewers? I picked a novel in the same genre and searched on the title, the author, and the word 'review'. Google allows you to search blogs instead of websites, and there you go. Don't pick a really famous author because that'll return thousands of hits, many of them one-off reviews by fans.

So, that's my review plan laid out for all to see. If anyone has any feedback or comments, let me know! (If you don't have blogger I'm also on Facebook and Google+, or you can email me.)

Remember: reviewers are a precious resource. Don't annoy them, because they have even longer memories than authors do ;-)

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)


Sean Wright said...

Interesting and sound advice. I review some self pubbed stuff. I have a review policy and contact form on my site.

What I prefer as a reviewer is someone to engage in a conversation with me, to treat me like a real person. I receive copy and paste emails all the time and they go to the bottom of my pile.

Simon Haynes said...

When I write these blogs I feel like I'm stating the obvious, and discussing matters which have been covered at length elsewhere.

Fortunately has plenty of web space.

Sean Wright said...

The thing is that it needs stating. I have received stuff that has broken every one of the guidelines you outline.

Matthew J. Beier said...

Great post. This part is going to be a challenge! I haven't published anything before, so nobody has a reason to want my book. Should be an interesting process...

Simon Haynes said...

Thanks! My goal with self-pub is to end up with a book that looks like it was professionally designed and published. That way I don't have to make excuses or feel it's second best.

If you haven't been published before it's doubly important to make a good impression. Good editing, quality cover art, effective jacket design ... and your initial offer of a review copy should reflect all of this.