How to: Ask Bloggers for Review Requests

I’m about to dive into my third round of book blogger request emails; I had a friend ask me what that entailed as she is getting ready to start her first round. I thought maybe you could benefit from my process as well. This one’s a doozy, so let’s jump right in.

ReviewReqButton

Blogger review requests are super easy but pretty time consuming because of the work you want to put into it. It’s pretty common sense stuff if you take the time to do it right.

First off, let’s talk about your own database. I use an excel spreadsheet for my contacts. It includes Blog Title, policy review link for quick access, blogger name, their email, what formats they accept, when I contacted them, and the results (yes, no, review link if available).

BLOG TITLE      REVIEW LINK    NAME    EMAIL           FORMAT    CONTACT?     RESULTS?
Liz’s Blog          www.link.com        Liz     liz@email.com    MOBI/PDF   12/10/13         Yes! Review to come

This keeps me organized as well as from contacting the same blogger more than once (seriously, don’t do it. And don’t follow up with 14 emails to them either – if they didn’t respond to your first email, 99% of the time that was their nice way of saying no thanks, ain’t nobody got time for that.)

One really important thing is to make sure the blogger is accepting self-published books, as well as understand the genres they accept. Bloggers get super annoyed at tons of requests for things outside of their list and usually immediately delete it (for example, don’t send a fantasy book to someone who only reads contemporary or ask about erotica when they specifically say they will not read them). They don’t typically make exceptions. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and you’re not hitting your market.

It’s also important to address them by their first name and include their blog title so they know you’ve taken the time to do your research. I typically also follow them on FB and Twitter while I’m researching, sometimes they see my name and remember it later or auto-follow. Never ever request over anything but email. Drives ’em crazy.

I’m specific in my emails and include an intro (who I am, why I’m contacting them), a book synopsis to catch their interest, availability of title, and offer of the book. Sometimes I attach a cover image to get their attention, but who knows how many of them actually look at it. Don’t attach anything else though – only send them the book if they accept the request or want to read a piece of it.

Here’s a sample blogger review request email from GIFTED’s first run:

Hi Katie!

My name is Liz Long and I’ve self-published my urban fantasy book Gifted, A Donovan Circus novel. Unless you don’t love strong chicks, hot boys, or supernatural murder mysteries at the circus, I’d love to be considered for a review on your blog Katie’s World of Books!

(See that opening line? That hooked the majority of bloggers into at least reading the rest of the email. I got so much response from bloggers that began with, “With an opener like that, how could I say no?!” Who doesn’t love any of those three things, provided you’ve done the research and know they love that genre?)

Here’s what Gifted is all about: (you can skip down to the next italics)

Even in a world of freaks, being a Firestarter is considered a dangerous Gift.

Lucy was born with the ability to create and control fire. She longs to leave the human world for one filled with Earthshakers, Transporters, and Chameleons, to name a few. When she rejoins the circus, it’s everything she hoped it could be—new friends, a potential love interest or two, and a place where she can be herself.

When troupe members begin turning up dead, however, Lucy is suspected of foul play. She must not only prove her innocence but also realize the full extent of her power. To find the real murderer, she must uncover the truth behind her father’s fiery legacy while figuring out whom to trust within her new circle. Little does she know the history of the Donovan Circus and its enemies might actually destroy the entire gifted world.

(There’s your synopsis or hook, if you will. Explain what they have to look forward to and get them interested in the book itself. Same as you would expect any book to catch your eye on the shelf, right?) 

The book will be released on May 1st, though I don’t mind if it takes longer to get reviewed! It will be available for purchase in paperback and ebook form at Amazon. I would be happy to gift you a copy for your e-reader or mail you a paperback copy when they become available in a couple weeks, whatever your preference. If you’d simply like to check out the first few chapters to see if they grab your interest, we can do that too!

(I let them know where the book will be available for purchase. I also make sure they know when the book will be released, though I’m laidback about when they can get to it. I’m in no hurry for reviews as I appreciate the time behind every one – and bloggers are busy. They often have huge TBR piles and feel like they have to tell authors “no” if they’re on a time crunch. This way, the blogger doesn’t feel pressured but might still consider at least adding it to their list.

Offer up different options, since many bloggers need different files – epubs for Nooks, mobis for Kindle, PDF for other tablets or on the computer. I don’t give up too many paperbacks since that gets expensive and I need them for signings, but if that’s the only way it’ll work, then I’ll make an exception. Also, I offer up a few chapters so that if they are sort of interested but not completely hooked, it’s no pressure. If they end up not wanting to read it, no harm, no foul and they didn’t lose 2 days reading something they didn’t really want to read – which means no poor review making you cry in your corner.)

Gifted is my debut title, the first in its series. Thanks for any interest in this. I really appreciate everything you do for spreading the book love for authors and readers! Even if Gifted isn’t something you’d like to review right now, please let me know if I can be help you out with anything (interview, guest post) in the future. Have a great week!

(I also tend to offer up anything else that might help if they don’t have time to read – a guest post, excerpt, interview, whatever. Bloggers love to fill up their calendars and if they don’t have time to review you, sometimes they still accept your help which will still give you some exposure. Plus it builds a relationship with that blogger which is the ultimate goal because they may help you out later when they can. And of course, I always thank them profusely for their time. I know they appreciate it.)

I sign off with my name, double and triple check everything (especially that the name and blog title are correct), cross my fingers, and hit send. More often than not, I get great responses back. I’ve been lucky in that regard, but part of that is targeting the correct demographic – ie, asking the RIGHT readers instead of ALL the readers I can find.

I hope this helps in your quest for book blogger reviews. Honestly, the key is to be polite and friendly. Don’t take it personally if they say no – just move on to the next person on your list. Book bloggers also talk to one another, so chances are your book may end up in their hands once they’ve heard positive things from their peers. Do your research, spell correctly, and, as my mother says, be sweet. The indie community is a great one for authors and readers alike!

Why Authors Shouldn’t Read Reviews of Their Books

In preparation for the upcoming release of the second Donovan Circus book, I had to make sure I remembered all the bits and pieces from the first book. (We talked a little about continuity and establishing different titles in a series here.) Naturally, I have my spreadsheets and documents to refer back to, but sometimes, it’s easier just to pick up the paperback and flip to a particular page to double check something.

Okay, great. Let me just check out page 22 here…aaaaand I’ve read 14 chapters of my own work and now I want to go back in time, punch myself in the face, and tell younger me to never publish a book. What the hell was I thinking when so-and-so said this? When THAT happened? Was I drunk when I wrote that?! And who talks like that? Long, you’re an idiot. Don’t ever write anything else, ever again, for readers’ sakes.

Uhhhh, yeah. See how we are our own worst critics? I don’t need bad reviews to tell me that. All I have to do is read my own work and cringe with disbelief that I ever put out such a book.

I’m only sort of kidding, of course. I’m proud of the work I’ve achieved and I’d never take it off anyone’s bookshelf (because as I’ve said before, get a grip Long because someone likes your damn work). All the same, I am definitely my worst enemy when it comes to my own work (and that doesn’t just include my writing, either).

If you ask me (and you didn’t, but you’re here, so keep reading), I think I’ve got to stop reading my work once it’s been published. I read a great article this week about how authors should never read their reviews (I’m sorry, because for the life of me, I cannot find it again. Rats.). The reasons were surprisingly simple.

Reviews are for readers. They exist for readers to connect and engage, to discuss what worked and what didn’t, and why other readers might enjoy a title or want to make a different choice. Reviews are not for writers. The book bloggers I know are honest and blunt – and their reviews are meant for their readers, not for me. They don’t want to be called out by writers – half the time, it looks like the author is throwing a temper tantrum or defending their work. Guess what? That’s called being a poor sport and it makes you look bad. (Side advice: Keep quiet and work on writing the next book. You’ll get more respect in the long run for sucking it up and taking the high road, no matter how much you want to shake them and ask why they don’t understand your plot.)

Good ones make you feel good, sure. They make you feel all warm and fuzzy and like you can conquer the world. They also motivate me to get my butt in a chair and work on my next book. But at the same time, those good reviews only feed the ego and that might not necessarily be a good thing, either. Not all readers are writers. It’s great that they loved your book. But they might love every book they read for different reasons. You don’t want to get pumped up with so much expectation that when you see lower stars, it makes you want to leap off a cliff, right?

Bad ones, however, make you want to go back into the story and edit the hell out of it. Once you wipe the tears from your eyes, they make you want to re-read and tear it apart, and maybe do it with a bottle of Grey Goose on your desk. And the ones who say you’re just eh, okay? Sweet Jesus, talk about a kick in the ladyballs. “Mediocre” is NOT a word I like. (Neither is “diet.”)

When we set out to write our books, especially a series (or trilogy or whatever), we have a goal in mind, an overall arc of how things will happen and who the characters will be. What happens when you start hearing the reviews (good or bad) in your head about how they LOVED this character, but couldn’t stand your protagonist’s love interest? Or that this storyline was boring and wouldn’t it have been great if THIS had happened instead? If you ask me, that’s going to affect your book. Let me repeat: YOUR book. (If they want to see a story done a certain way, then they can write, it dammit.) Readers can love or hate your story, but they shouldn’t affect the outcome.

Good reviews, bad reviews, or somewhere in the middle: all the same, I’m starting to realize reading reviews is a waste of time. My product is out there. I worked hard at it, paid for professional editing and cover design, had 17 drafts rewritten, got feedback from beta readers, and god knows what else. Now it’s up to the rest of the world to do with it as they see fit. I can’t sway their minds – and if I could, that’s not exactly an honest review now, is it?

This one is especially for the nice kids who want to be liked: You can’t make someone like you anymore than you can make me eat chicken livers (never gonna happen). As Dita von Teese says, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches.” You’re never going to have 100% positive reviews. You don’t love every book you read, do you? Even Harry Potter has some one-stars (I know, I’m as insulted and flabbergasted as you, but it’s true. 124 one-stars on Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s blasphemy, I tell you.)

Are poor reviews disappointing? Sure. But your goal, as a writer, is to produce the best work you can and keep chugging along. The only person who can stop you, is YOU. Not your momma, not your day job, and certainly not a handful of 2-star reviews. Five stars might lift us up, but we all know it’s the 1 stars that slam us to the ground and leave us there, dazed and hurt for weeks. Why should we do that to ourselves?

It’s going to be difficult, I know. But I’m going to try very, very hard with future releases to cool it on the constant review refreshing. After all, I’ve got to get cracking on those other stories in my head. And so do you.

Book Review: Smokeless Fire, Samantha Young

I’m not a spoiler person, so let me please forewarn you that while I will talk about the book, I won’t give away too many details. I don’t want to give away the twists that come with reading the plot, so I’ll give you a basic rundown, but I won’t ruin it for you. Promise!

“For the last two years Ari Johnson’s life has been anything but normal, and on her 18th birthday, when her friends surprise her with a gimmick genie claiming to grant wishes, Ari discovers the truth. The tragic and strange occurrences surrounding her 16th birthday were not coincidental and her life is never going to be the same again. Ari’s real parents are not normal. They are not loving. They are not human. They are myth. They are Smokeless Fire. They are Jinn.”
Smokeless Fire, #1 in the Fire Spirits series, follows a teenage girl named Ari Johnson, an astoundingly beautiful girl who also happens to be a loner. No mother, a father who’s never home, friends who are self-absorbed, and then there’s Charlie, the sweet best friend turned asshole addict from his little brother’s death by car accident. (Ari’s pining over Charlie gets old quickly–thank god hot Jinn Guardian Jai comes in fast.) After some developments, Ari is whisked away to her true father’s palace, and I gotta say, The White King gave me the heebie-jeebies immediately. (The description of his deformed yet vicious Jinn pet truly gave me the creeps). There’s a big ol’ twist about who she really is and why she’s such a desired being, but again, I’ll save that for your own fun surprise. There’s another smaller twist involving Charlie, which I thought was just okay–it seemed like an excuse strictly to keep Charlie around for the love triangle/connection to Ari’s past. Although I do grow to like Charlie (more in the 2nd book, though), I still mostly wanted to smack the dumb, stoned expressions off his face and tell Ari to get over it already. (I think that’s due more to my own personality than anything, though. I can’t handle whiners.) Anyways, that’s where Jai comes in, a young Guardian working for his father’s security firm. There’s a whole bunch of bad blood from Jai’s family, giving him firm reason to be a hardass guardian at first. Of course, the more he grows to know Ari, the more he starts to fall in love with her, which is a huge no-no. Ari must learn how to survive in a dangerous new world while figuring out who she really is–which leads well into Book 2, Scorched Skies.
I loved the chapter when Ari finds out what she is, who her real father is, and especially why he wants her around. The White King is a scary motherfu–dude, sorry–and he means business when he says she’ll regret turning him down immediately. They’re well-written and give me plenty of setting descriptions. When he tells her he is not human, that he is Jinn, it’s such a great section in the book that it’s probably my favorite part.

The storyline is very unique–Jinn, or Fire Spirits, are far from vampires, werewolves, and faeries. There’s a long and built up history the author has designed and I’d explain it all, but it’s pretty tedious (plus I don’t have my book on me). I felt like I was being forced to read something for class, which made my eyes immediately skim for important keywords and move on to the next scene. I have trouble processing information given to me as a history book–I get why Young chose to do it this way and I don’t mind it terribly, but it’s just not how I want to read. It’s important for Ari to read it, but perhaps we could’ve gotten her Cliff Notes version.

I love the Red King–I think he’s not only the comedic relief, but also the supreme wild card of the story characters. He’s well-written, full of personality (I love that he has such a fascination with humans and their world), yet mysterious and just dangerous enough to make us not trust him, despite how Ari feels. We never really see what his true intentions are, except to serve his father Azazil. He may or may not come to care for Ari, but that doesn’t mean he won’t throw her to the wolves if it’s required of him.

And where do I even start with Jai? Okay–for me, Jai saved this storyline. He’s the best character in the story, especially where character development is concerned. As the youngest therefore impressive Guardian, he comes from a very complicated family history that really supports his viewpoint. With such awful family, I get why he has the attitude and personality he does–his silence or anger, his anguish over the new feelings for Ari versus the idea of responsibility towards an unloving father–it’s easy to like him and I found myself wishing more than a handful of times that we saw his POV more than just a couple times.

The language was sometimes a little varying–characters would speak as adults with logical issues, then turn around and call someone an “asshat”–which of course I still giggled at, but given the life-threatening situations, I found it difficult to believe there wasn’t more serious freaking the eff out going on. I think Young was trying to balance it, though–to keep Ari as a human teenager while hanging very serious situations over her head and it didn’t always compute well.

While reading, Ari gave me some frustration. I wanted to throttle her at times when she allowed herself to be a human doormat. She’s a loner by nature, which is perfectly believable, but her attitude to do whatever everyone wants drives me crazy. For someone who’s alone a lot, she spends the majority of her time thinking about Charlie or Jai and instead of making me feel bad for her, I want to tell her buck up (or be all, “Okay, we get it already, Ari.”). I also think she’s a little too cool for school–when she finds out she’s Jinn, she sticks her ostrich head into the sand and pretends she never heard a word. She flat out refuses to accept the news and when she finally does, it’s in a shrugging “meh, okay”  way that made me grimace. There was no freak out, no uncontrollable crying or screaming…I’m sorry, I get that Ari likes ghosts like Ms. Maggie and whatever, but her reaction to the insane news supernatural creatures and of being a powerful, targeted Jinn is unforgivably unbelievable. I need reaction to circumstances and while she gives one to every other situation, this one was a biggie that fell flat. Like once she accepted it was all real, that was it. No problems, no questions asked, and suddenly The White King is her father in narration as opposed to “that scary motherf–dude.” Once decided she will leave her home to save family and friends (a fine hero personality), she’s very robotic about it. Other than Charlie, she seems to have no real problem about leaving home. I get that Ari’s making the “right choices” but there probably should’ve been a little more self-struggle with the decisions.

However, I will say she flashes a different, much stronger personality in many points of the story, which gives a good indication that it’s only a matter of time before she comes into her own. (In fact, I’ve read Book 2 of the series and while I won’t give anything away, I will say Ari is much more likeable when she realizes what needs to be done to save her existence.)

None of these things I listed, however, keep me from reading the series. As soon as I finished Smokeless Fire, I bought the second book (and I’ll hint that I think the second book is even better) and I’ll keep reading the series until she’s done. I was able to invest in these characters, despite their flaws, and that’s extremely important to me. It’s not necessarily about relating to them, but I do like them enough to care about them and wonder where they’re headed. I’m looking even more forward to Book 3, Borrowed Ember, to finally see how Ari is gonna nut up and take back her life. At the very least, she’s not a damsel in distress and that I can appreciate.

Wednesday and Friday we have interviews with Samantha Young on her favorite passage, her inspiration behind the series, and her advice to aspiring indie authors!