I'm an author of four (and a bit) indie novels, as well as a book reviewer of indie books. As a result, I spend a lot of my life riding the interface between authors and reviewers. It isn't always pretty, but it can be wonderful for reviewers and authors when it works well.
This post looks at the process of requesting book reviews from both sides, considering what authors can expect and how to maximise the chances of getting a positive response from (unpaid) reviewers.
The Author View - What to Expect
In a perfect world, what I would like from book bloggers is:
1. A clear review policy in an obvious place on their website, including details of how to submit a request;
2. A reply to every review request I send, even if it's just to say 'no';
3. If they ask for a copy of my book, an indication of when the reviewer will finish reading the book and when they will post their review;
4. A link to the review when it goes live; and
5. Cross-posts of the review to Amazon and Goodreads.
But, I don't EXPECT this.
As an author, I've always been treated very well by reviewers. Sure, a lot of them never reply to my review request emails, and a lot of them never review my books even after I've sent them a copy, but that's exactly what I expect. If you read book bloggers' review policies, most of them make it very clear that those things that may happen. Honestly, I've had less transparency from some literary agents, and they get paid for their work.
Book bloggers generously donate their free time for free to review authors' books, so they get to set the terms of the author/blogger relationship. You won't find me complaining about their services, because some of them have been a huge support to my fledgling career. FOR FREE.
BUT I'm going to be honest about the responsiveness of most book bloggers in this post, because if authors know what to expect then they can adjust their hopes accordingly. So what can they expect? I'm going to throw some figures at you to illustrate this, because I LOVE MATHS.
Over the past eighteen months, I've submitted a whole ream of review requests for my first book to reviewers of the relevant genre (either by email or by filling in forms on bookblogger websites). This has required solid weeks of painstaking research, drafting and pure data-entry grunt work. Identifying and finding reviewers is HARD WORK. So, here's what I got out of it (so far):
413 requests sent
272 - no reply at all
77 - blog has since closed
39 - took a copy but posted no review (yet)
19 - posted reviews
6 - replied to say no
That's right. NINETEEN REVIEWS. From 413 requests.
Digging into these figures a little further:
TWO THIRDS of my review requests went completely unanswered
14% requested the book
Only 5% (a third of those who requested the book) have actually posted a review so far
Now, more popular authors will obviously have better hit rates than me, but the point of this is not that book bloggers are unresponsive (they are, but book blogging is a hobby and they don't owe authors a response). The point is that authors should expect that two thirds of their requests will go unanswered. I hope sharing the above figures will help indie authors to calibrate their expectations in terms of the amount of work they have to put in to get a decent number of reviews. It's a slog.
So how can you make your hit rate better than mine?
The Blogger View - How to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Review
I'm a compulsive person, so I manage my own book blog in a very compulsive way. I reply to every email I receive, usually within a few days, even if it's just to say 'no'. Very few other book bloggers seem to do this, so you probably won't know why your request has been ignored, but in my experience, indie authors commonly fail to do one thing:
READ THE BLOG REVIEW POLICY
and, more importantly
80% of the time, the emails I receive to my book blog are professional and courteous. The other 20% of the time, authors have clearly failed to read my review policy. Most book blogs have one now, so just read it, okay? If you don't, I guarantee that the majority of book bloggers are putting your review request straight in the trash.
Other important factors (for me) are:
Whether or not you will supply free print copies. A huge number of bloggers will only read print copies, which means investment from you. If you are prepared to spend money on sending out print copies, then you will get more reviews. You'll also probably get posts of your book on Instagram, which is always nice.
How good your cover is. I made my first cover with an iPhone camera and the Apple preview app. This is probably why the response rate to my first batch of review requests was so abysmal. I've also seen some real shockers submitted to my blog (I won't name and shame). No book blogger wants to review a book with a rubbish cover, because the cover has to be posted to their blog and will mess up their aesthetic. So pay for one early, or pay for it later in low review numbers.
How good your blurb is. Some requests I receive have blurbs that are barely literate. I judge the contents of the book on the blurb, and will reject a request if the blurb is poorly edited and written. It should be given more attention than the contents of your book, not less.
And most importantly, never forget the Golden Rule:
You can follow the Golden Rule in numerous ways, including but not limited to the following:
1. If a blogger rejects your review request, don't send four more hoping they'll change their mind.
2. Don't get grumpy with reviewers if they'll only review certain formats, particularly if that was clear in their review policy.
3. Don't write angry messages when you get negative reviews. Even negative reviews have a positive effect on your rankings, so embrace all of your reviews. Say thank you for the bad ones as well as the good ones.
4. Don't add bloggers to your mailing list without their permission.
Remember that this is supposed to be fun, for book bloggers and for you.
We write because we love it, and because we can't imagine a better profession. We sit at our desks as lawyers, engineers, doctors, telemarketers, clerks and secretaries dreaming of the day we can pack it all in and write full time.
Book bloggers provide review services because they love books, and they want to share them with the world. It's why they devote their free time to their blogs. Always remember that they work for free, whereas authors are (ultimately) using their reviews to sell books.
It can be a marriage made in heaven if we approach it with the right mindset.
Josie Jaffrey is the author of the four-book paranormal romance "Solis Invicti" series, available on Amazon. The first book in the series is currently available for free via Instafreebie here. She wouldn't say 'no' to more reviews!
She also runs The Gin Book Club, which offers review services to books in certain genres. See her website for more details.