Friday, 8 July 2011

Advice for Self-Published Authors: How to Approach Reviewers/Bloggers

Since I have started accepting self-published novels for review, I have been receiving a number of email requests to review particular books. These range from the very professional, to the charming, to the downright awful. I thought I would provide a few hints and tips to those self-published authors who are intending to start sending out requests for review. After all, if you’ve done all the work involved in actually writing a novel and then putting it into an acceptable format, and getting it on a website for sale, then why skimp on the details when it comes to publicising?

First of all, make it clear in the subject line of your email what it is about. I’ve received review request emails with the subject ‘Hello!’ which doesn’t reflect well on the author. Something along the lines of ‘Review request’ followed by the title of the novel would be best.

Second of all, personalise your email. I’m not looking for everyone to have researched my actual name (Amanda) – using my blog name (Magemanda) is just as acceptable. I am less convinced by salutations that state ‘Dear Blogger’ or ‘Dear Book Reviewer’ – that is on a level with using ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ on a letter. It’s professional enough, but it doesn’t show a lot of personality or invite me to connect with you. Just as a suggestion – avoid anything like: “Dear Flr to Clg Bks” (yes, I received this) – if you can’t be bothered with vowels, I can’t be bothered with your book. Harsh, maybe, but fair, I believe.

Although flattery will get you everywhere in some cases, I actually find it very artificial when someone sends me an email that extols the virtues of my blog and then has a ‘by the way, review my book’ section on the very bottom. Sure, it’s lovely hearing that your blog is something that people enjoy BUT I don’t like flattery that seems circumstantial i.e. you’re only saying it because you think it might get your novel looked at.

This might sound obvious, but please spell check and grammar check your email. If I think that your poor spelling etc in your email is indicative of what I might expect from your self-published work, I’m not going to accept it, I’m afraid, no matter how good the story might be. I accept that there are more errors and hiccups in self-published work than edited books professionally produced, but I like to believe they will be limited.

A few details about the novel you’re offering would be appreciated. I received one email that simply said: ‘Will you review my book?’ The quick answer to that is ‘no’, because I know nothing to make my judgement on. At the least provide a little background – what genre it is, a few plot points etc. I actually like receiving a novel blurb – for me, if you’ve produced one of these, it shows you’re taking the endeavour seriously. Sometimes I’ve been sent the book covers as well, and I also like these, although it isn’t essential.

Please pay attention to the genres accepted by the book reviewer you’re pitching to! In my case, it isn’t AS important since I read most everything, but some reviewers are very definite about what genres they care to review. If you’re sending them a novel that doesn’t fit those genres, then be prepared for either a quick, sharp no or to be ignored (after all, if you’re ignoring their words, they’re more than entitled to ignore yours!)

Along with personalising your salutations, some of the best emails I’ve received have personalised the request. For instance, ‘I noticed that you enjoyed XXX last week, and I think that my self-published work would be something you’d also enjoy.’ It doesn’t hurt to let the reviewer know that you read their blog on a regular basis, and that you’ve recognised what novels interest them. All of this is going to make a better impression than a cold and formal request that looks as though it has been sent en masse to any blogger with a freely-available email address.

The best email I have received recently was the following:

Dear Magemada,

My name is Matt Xell and I am a writer and artist based in Zambia, Africa. TOWER OF PARLEN MIN is my debut novel and the first in a series of six books featuring Ves Asirin. It is an Urban fantasy/adventure epic (Speculative Fiction) that will appeal to young adult readers aged 14 to 18.

I would like you to consider the book for review on your blog .Unfortunately the book is not available in Hard cover or Paperback formats at the moment, but I will be sure to send you a free copy when it becomes available in these formats.

The synopsis of my novel is as follows: Ves Asirin, an orphaned and introverted boy with a complicated memory loss disorder, wins a trip to the TOWER OF PARLEN MIN, the home of the wealthiest inventor of the time, Jacobius Trent. There, with 19 other children, he must compete in the Sword Challenge; a series of intricate puzzles and daring tasks, for a prize of $12 million. As dazzling, glorious and liberating as the Tower seems to be for him, Ves finds that it keeps a dark and secret history that he has been unknowingly connected to for over 150 years, a secret that will define his future and destiny ... if he can escape The shadow; a powerful and seemingly unstoppable, supernatural serial killer.

If you are interested in reviewing my novel, please let me know the ebook format you prefer and I will send it to you as soon as possible (PDF, epub, .mobi, LRF, PDB), along with a PDF version containing the 'Black chapters' which encompasses these bonus chapters.

For more information, please feel free to contact me at this email address at any time.

Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Matt Xell - Tower of Parlen Min

If you look at the above example, Matt uses my blog name, which is a nice start. Then he gives a little bit of information about himself and the book he’d like me to review, including what age range the novel is directed at. This allows me to see if it is something that fits with my tastes. He is very clear about what formats the novel is available in – some reviewers don’t have eReaders as yet, so this query would probably be turned down by them on that basis, although Matt is clear that HBs and PBs will be available at a later date.

In all, the email is to the point, professional and gives all the details that I might require. It is personalized to an extent and, in general, shows decent grasp of spelling and grammar. When I receive a request like the above, I am more than likely going to accept a copy, depending on my review schedule, and then you, as a self-published author, are one step ahead of the person who didn’t send a professional query. At least your novel is being read!

I hope this helps, and would welcome other reviewers making suggestions that can be added for self-published authors, so that they can present the best possible review query.


  1. I generally don't accept self-published books for review, but some of the emails I've been sent from self-published authors have left me shaking my head. This one time I received an email from an author letting me know that it was impossible for her to get her book published for a number of reasons that I am not even going to go into here. She then asked if I could buy the book from Amazon to review it on my blog, as she couldn't afford to send copies.

    I agree with all the points you made in your post. I'm just pointing out an extreme example of how not to do it!

  2. What I dislike is when I get self-published authors sending us emails at Iceberg Ink with a link to a free amazon ebook copy link. I don't like that they think it's a forgone conclusion that I'm going to download it. This is technically a business proposal and it should start with an email like the above one you posted, not a presumption that I'm going to click the link.

    All in all very well put Amanda! Out of the like 50 emails we've received for that sort of work, I'd say 3 or 4 followed those rules.

    Good post!

  3. Hi Leanna - you're not the only one I've heard of having that experience, where the self-published authors has asked the reviewer to buy the book. So far, I haven't encountered that approach, but would give it fairly short shrift!

    Hi Scott - agree that the presumption is bad form. After all, we pick and choose which books to review from regular publishers, let alone self-published authors!

    Thanks for the comments both :-)

  4. The things that annoy me are people (a) stressing in their emails that their publisher is a "traditional publisher" when it clearly is not, which immediately gets us off on the wrong foot, and (b) not sending the version of the book that is on sale.

    The other thing that tends to strike me is that so many of the self-published books we get are very, very long. I haven't got around to reading A Game of Thrones yet; if I'm going to spend three weeks reading a fantasy book it'll be that one, rather than one that's been self-published.

    Self-publish short books and I'll be much more likely to read and review them.

  5. Great post. I get a lot of emails that basically look like press releases for a book. No letter or request at all - just a digital flyer advertising the book and then at the bottom, "If you'd like a copy of this book for review, email...". I don't even respond to those. Automatic delete. Many authors would benefit from your guidelines.

  6. I don't like attachments or links in the requests I get. I don't know you and so I'm not going to click on anything or use a link. If I'd like to find out more about you, I'll goggle your name and see what comes up and something should come up. Even if it is just a blogger page with some information about the author and their book.

    I also don't care if they aren't a regular reader but I do like seeing that they at least checked out my blog and saw that I read books like the one they've written. Mentioning that they saw that I enjoyed XXX book and might enjoy theirs is completely acceptable to me.

  7. They need to actually visit the blog and read any submission guidelines provided. My submission guidelines specifically state that I don't read self-published books, vanity books, and e-books. Yet I get near a dozen emails a day from some self-published or vanity published author asking me to read their ebook.

    Oh, and don't try and cover it up with some semantic BS by calling it 'Indie Publishing'. That only pisses me off and makes it more likely that I'll lump in traditional and inovative small presses who deserve the title of Indie with vanity and self-published.

  8. My personal bugbear is when the author tries to portray their ebook being available on Amazon as something that adds legitimacy to the text rather than something the author can do for easily, for free and with nobody from Amazon having looked at the book!

  9. I am a traditionally published author and self published and it astounds me when I meet SP authors who have no idea of the publishing world. There is absolutely no reason why a self published book cannot be as a good a quality as any mainstream novel (maybe even better in some cases.) Get a good editor - for a full edit and a copy edit. Then a proof read. Publish the book with a good printer, ensure it is set out properly - then market it professionally. Hard work, costs money - but so is anything worth doing well.

  10. Superb advice! I totally agree with the part about how authors should at least research who they're pitching their books too beforehand. I've had more than a few people try to get me to review their Christian fiction. Considering I've reviewed 2 books in a year and a half that even have to do with Christianity (and one of them was nonfiction), I can't imagine why on earth they think I'd be a good choice for reviewing their book.

    Unlike some, I don't mind if the author assume that I'm going to accept and thus attaches a copy of their book or a link to where it can be downloaded. It costs me nothing to download if I so choose, and eliminates a step in which I send them back an email that says yes and then they send me yet another email with the e-book. Just cuts out the middleman. And if I refuse the review request, then they're not out anything but the second or two it took to attach the file or link. I prefer when they do this; it just saves time. But that's just me. I can easily see why the presumption could get on some nerves.

  11. I agree with most of this but disagree with the part about having to personalise the email.
    When you think that the author must be a very busy person, most indie authors are also employed in another job l believe (may be wrong) and l think we should just be considered lucky to be getting any books for review.
    To personalise every email they are sending would, l guess, take 4 times the amount of time and for me, l am no more likely to accept the book. If l like the sound of it, it doesn't matter if its a personalised email.

  12. Thanks again for all the comments, everyone. I appreciate you stopping by.

    @BooksforCompany - I just want to address the point you've made about personalising the email. You talk about indie authors being involved in other jobs - well, guess what? I have a day job. I'm an accountant. I run this blog and read books around my day job in my limited time. Consequently, I don't think it is much to ask for someone to treat me with respect when they ask me to review their book. Let's put it another way: I've received well over 150 books from traditional publishers for review this year. I have more than enough books to read for a lifetime. For me to pick and choose which self-published novels to review, it will take a decent professional personalised email. Maybe that's just me.

  13. I don't accept self-published books. The reason is because I have YET to be approached by a self-published author who isn't out of their minds. Well, there have been a few normals here and there, which really helps me look at the authors favorably. For example, this week I got a letter from a self-published author who CALLED ME JENNY. Uh... it's not hard to see that my name is Sarah. A few months ago, someone said they'd give me a free iPod touch if I'd read their self-published book. A few weeks after the iPod thing, someone wrote me, asking me, "Please, Melissa, I know you'd love my book...."

    I don't know what it is, but if I was approached by someone who wasn't ridiculous, I might consider accepting their stuff for review....

  14. Wait, I can't forget to mention the "h r u" letters I get almost on a weekly basis. Seriously, why the hell would I read your book if you address a letter with "h r u" at the start of it.

    -- end of rant --

  15. To follow up regarding personalising - I have found on some blogs that it is really hard to find the 'owner's' name, therefore, I've not been sure whether to put "dear I read Books" or not, as it sounds a little odd.
    So if I can't easily find a personal name (or a blog name) I put :

    To 'I Read Books'
    Dear Sir or Madam ......

    I look at it like this - if I was writing an old fashioned letter on paper to someone I didn't know, I would write 'Dear Whoever' or 'Dear Sir or Madam'. Traditionally, e-mails don't use "dear ????" but I think, if writing a business e-mail, be business-like.

    And I'm sorry @Booksforcompany - if a writer hasn't the time to do a little basic polite research, then they should not make approaches in the first place. It goes with the job of becoming a professional writer, the excuse of "I haven't the time" is not a valid one. I haven't got the time to be adding my thoughts here - or the time to do my Facebook, or answer e-mails from readers, or read an opening chapter from a "wannabe" writer - I would much rather be getting on with editing my completed novel or getting on with writing my next, but taking an extra half hour of a morning or evening to do these things is all a part of the job.
    Believe me if someone seriously wants to "make it" as a respected writer, and they haven't time to do even basic things, then my advice is don't try to become a writer. If you think you haven't time, now, at unknown MS stage you certainly won't later once you actually get published! I write full time - which includes doing all the above as marketing a book is part of writing a book. I work 10 a.m to beyond midnight seven days a week, with the occasional hour off to watch one TV programme. I have a quick lunch and dinner, then back to the keyboard.
    Even with mainstream publishing, or with a supportive agent authors still have to manage their own marketing.
    If you want to market your book but you haven't the time to make time to do so in a professional manner - don't become a writer! :-)

    @Sarah (Bookworm Blues) *laugh* - if I wasn't barking mad I don't think I'd be doing this darn silly job in the first place! :-D
    (Hmmm, if that person is reading this..... I could do with an ipad..... :-)

  16. Haha, oh dear, there's a lot of dreadful emails out there. I'm a book blogger that focuses on small-press and self-published speculative fiction ebooks, and I've been surprisingly getting a good ratio of good well-thought out emails to bad ones. The few ones that I get that clearly did not follow my guidelines make me all snarky, then I edit my guidelines and put stuff in bold, then I have to re-edit it later to make myself sound less mean.

    One book blogger I know kept on getting addressed as "Simon", because several indie book bloggers are on a blogger list managed by an author named Simon. *headdesk*. Because all blogs that link to each other are run by the same person? *rollseyes* I got peeved enough about it to write a snarky guide called "How to Get Book Reviewers to Ignore You" ;D

    Oh yeah, and you know what I really dislike? Amazon email gift-bombing. The worst part is, you can't even contact whoever sent it, because it's send from an Amazon no-reply email. *facepalm* And then there's the *repeat* gift-bombers... gnaah. I should end there because I can go on forever.

  17. Well l know everyone is different.
    I don't really mind if it's personalised or not. I get around between 10-20 requests a week and all give them the same attention and read the whole email.
    I would prefer that authors spend their free time writing books than spending extra hours on personalising emails. I got a lovely email requesting a book review and it was so personalised, yes it made my day but l still didn't review the book as it wasn't for me.
    All l was saying is that it shouldn't mean you don't review the book if the email isn't personalised but you like the sound of it ..