Wednesday, August 30, 2017

So, how do you ask for reviews without being obnoxious?

Yesterday's blog post about idiot book promotion prompted a question about how would you solicit reviews without sounding obnoxious.

Here are some bullet points:

1. Remember that a blogger is interested in building his/her readership. A sentence that shows you've actually looked at the blog and have a clue about the readers is step one.

Then you say "I think your readers will find value in/enjoy/benefit from" TITLE because it does this/says that.

What's implied is that the recipient will discuss the book on his/her blog.

2. If you're sending to non-bloggers: "A lot of people ask me how they can support writers and one of the best ways is to leave a review on Amazon or GoodReads."

3. If you're sending to a college newsletter or some other information source to which you have a connection: You say "Hi I'm Felix Buttonweezer (Class of 06) and my first book will be published by HotStuffPress in September 2017. The book is inspired by my college roommate who kept a 10 foot python in the closet, which was all good and well till someone left the door open."

In other words, you mention the connection of both you and the novel to the audience.

This goes for the local newspaper too. They're always looking for Local Person Makes Good kind of stories.

Notice that you aren't asking for a review as such.
You're stressing the value of your book to the recipient's audience.
In other words you're answering the "why should I care" question without it being asked.

Any questions?


Colin Smith said...

The main problem with asking for a review, in my estimation, is the implicit expectation of a favorable review. Especially if the writer is the one asking, and he's a friend (either online or off). I try to write honest reviews, and since I tend to review books because I want others to read them, I usually only review books I enjoyed. If I didn't enjoy the book, there has to be some other reason why I'm reviewing it (e.g., J.K. Rowling's first "adult" novel, THE CASUAL VACANCY--not my favorite read, but I reviewed it precisely because it was JKR's first published non-Potter novel).

I can only speak for myself, but here's how I prefer to be approached:

1) Let me know you have a book coming out, or you have a book out already, and why I might enjoy it.
2) Send me a copy of the book--I'm at least more likely to read it if I have it in my hand than if I have to make a trip to the library or buy it myself.
3) Don't put me on the spot asking for a review. I hate to say no, because I know why you're asking. Yes, it's very flattering to be asked, because it means you think my review could make a difference to sales, as if anyone pays attention to what I say (just ask my kids *sigh*). But I don't want to commit to writing a review only to hate the book and end up either lying (which I won't do), or having to tell the world why your book sucks as nicely as I can. And I'm sure you don't want that either.

For me, the mere act of sending me the book, or at least telling me about it, implies that a review would be appreciated. You don't need to ask me. If I don't review the book, that doesn't mean I didn't like it. I might just not have time. After all, book reviews are not the mainstay of my blog. But you can be sure that if I love the book, I'll tell the world. Isn't that right, Gary Corby? :D

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This seems a far off worry, but it is already upsetting my belly. If a writer lands a decent size publisher, not a boutique or small just starting out job, will the publisher help get reviews? Say a Harper Voyager or DAW type outfit or is all of this on the author no matter what publisher takes on the book? Will the agent help guide them to the best avenues for generating these reviews? Stop them from being total boneheads about the whole thing? Or from hiding under a rock(my default position)

On a downstream topic, what about author blurbs? How does your book get some established author to blurb a little something for the publisher to squirt on the inside jacket of the book? I saw Robin Hobb had a blurb from George RR Martin and it was pasted onto the inside jacket of every book in one of her series. That can't have hurt her sales.

Sherry Howard said...

The blog today is talking about reviews from influencers, but most writers also need simple reviews on Amazon, or B &N. I really appreciate people letting me know they need those reviews. Notice, not asking me directly to do one, but letting me know they need one. Because I often love a book, and forget to review it. But, when someone reminds me that they need one, I get it done. I'm in a lot of writers groups, and it's very common to offer a copy of the book (even a picture book text at least) so the person doesn't HAVE to buy the book. It's a common discussion among the authors I know: how to use the few complimentary books they get to their best marketing advantage. Almost every author I know struggles with that first book especially to get the discussion going: you one the one where everybody LOVES the book.

OT: please celebrate with me. I think I forgot to mention my small publisher picked up another picture book and a chapter book of mine.

Donnaeve said...

Congrats Sherry!

Elise, I can answer your questions, although I'm sure each publisher is different maybe in the way things get handled.

1)..."will the publisher help get reviews?"

Yes. For instance, in my case, Kensington did the work on getting reviews from national media, sending galleys out to a list of close to 100 sources, many of them very high level (think Oprah). I was astounded when I saw it. They also placed ads in magazines, and participated in Books On The Subway, and had other high profile ideas. Where I came in was to seek out and approach book bloggers. I created a list of close to 150 sites Kensington approached. It was daunting work, but once it was done, I now assume they will use this list over and over.

2)"On a downstream topic, what about author blurbs?" Again, in my case, my editor at Kensington approached many authors on my behalf (Susan Wiggs, Colleen Faulkner...) and I had a handful I provided to them as well. For my second book, no blurbs were needed, but we did approach a few new ones...I was thrilled to get a blurb from Julia Franks, (OVER THE PLAIN HOUSES) and one from Sandra Dallas, (she's written so many I can't list them all here)

Colin Smith said...

Sherry: Woohoo!!! Congrats!!

Another consideration: sending ARCs. If I'm sent an ARC, I will note when the book is due for release, and try to read it well in advance of that date in the event I want to review it. So I'm told, pre-orders are very helpful for publishers to gauge expected sales. So I know how useful it is to help create buzz about a book prior to publication.

I, too, often forget to post a review on Amazon/GR/BN. However, some of these don't allow pre-publication reviews, which sucks if you've just finished an awesome ARC and want to help generate pre-orders. You then have to try to remember to post your review when the book comes out.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Thank you, Donna That helps as I am really intimidated by self-promotion. I know, if I manage to hurdle the agent/publisher part of this, I will have to do it. Still, it's good to know I might have help along the way.

I am really frustrated at the moment, I have written 3 books in last 3 years. I have one that I am ramping up to query, but my life's inner circle are all being super impatient with me.

I have had feedback from my first 2 beta readers and am doing another revision before going to another 3-4 beta readers.

I am slow on revisions, but I don't want to shoot myself in the foot by putting less than my best work out in the trenches. And traditional publishing is slow even once I get there. I don't know what I would do without the Reef.

It is getting to point that friends and family are bullying me about the whole thing, a few of them saying I should stop writing and take a management position in technology to secure my future instead of living like a bum on my school system wages.

I love working for my school system, I love that I get time to write. Still, I do get down that I take so long to polish a book. But I do not want to repeat the mistake of sending out a book before it is ready. Am I taking too long? I started the book I am querying over a year ago.

Sorry for the rant. I needed to vent.

CynthiaMc said...

Congratulations, Sherry!

EM - George RR Martin takes forever on his books. He seems to be doing okay.

Joseph - Hugs and prayers for your Houston family. My cousin over that way said they saw the sun for the first time in a while yesterday.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: "Secure my future"--which is more important than being fulfilled by doing the things you love, the things you believe you were put on this earth to do? Unless your financial situation demands an increased income, don't give that another thought. Craftsmanship takes time. And it's a well-known fact that the first novel will always take the longest. JK Rowling spent 7 years over the first HP novel--most of that time taken in world building. You're right to want to put out your best work. Don't sell yourself short because others want you to put financial "stability" (let's talk to the folks in Houston about securing the future and security, shall we?) ahead of the joy of laboring over things you love.

Stay the course, my friend! :)

Unknown said...

Sherry, congratulations!

E.M., I'm sorry about this, it sounds very frustrating. A year ago is not long at all in my opinion. I started my current MS about two years ago, just finished draft #7, and am about to start querying now. (Actually I sent some initial queries back in December before realizing I wasn't ready.)

This is a helpful blog post today (aren't they all?). The point I would like to get across to people is just how much reviews help authors, not that I need to get a review from any one person. I always feel bad when authors struggle to crack 10 reviews on Amazon, and it makes me want to shake their friends and family. Suggestion #2 above sounds particularly helpful in this regard, say as something that could be included when telling friends and family (i.e. non-publishing folk) about one's recently-released book.

Susan said...

Popping my head in real quick...

Janet, glad you're feeling better. A huge congrats to Sherry! I hope you'll tell us more!

As an indie author, self-promotion kind of comes with the territory. I find that I often have to walk that fine line and find the balance between being annoying and being assertive. Sometimes it's not so easy, but the only way forward is to ask for what you hope for (*waves at Colin, who was super nice when I asked if he was interested in reading my book*). I know that essentially people are helping me when they review, tweet, share, etc. so I try to give back as much as I can however I can to show my appreciation.

I haven't even tried to hit up heavy-hitter influencers. That still scares the crap out of me. But I've reached out to organizations and newspapers and have had a lot of success with that--the only thing someone can say is no.

With reviews, I think it's something like 1% of readers actually write a review, which can be frustrating since reviews can help encourage a reader to purchase/read. So every once in a while, I'll try to encourage people who I know have read the books to help spread the word. Again--it's a fine line that I sometimes forget and mistakenly cross, but I think authors have to remember that after the art of writing comes the business of selling, which is super uncomfortable but necessary. So don't be an ass and do things with great tact as a balancing act.

I'm paraphrasing the great Dr. Seuss.

Susan said...

Elise: Please don't ever ever ever let someone discourage your dream. You are right on track with where you need to be with your life. As long as you're moving in a forward direction, you can take all the time you need to get to where you want/need to go. *Hugs!*

RosannaM said...

Sherry Congratulations! I hope you have someone nearby to do a proper celebration with-think champagne, dinner out, chocolate...

Elise That is so rough that the people around you are not just not supportive, but downright discouraging. Unfortunately they see "success" as just $$. I prefer to see success as setting a goal and moving forward in whatever increment possible. And, unless you are living in their basement, eating their food, I don't think anyone else gets a vote on what you do with your life. Carry on! You'll get there--and a year is not that long for an entire book!

Prayers for Houston and the rest of the region affected.

BJ Muntain said...

EM: If a writer gets a traditional publisher, that publisher will be able to get the book reviewed in bigger spaces than an author can. But the author does need to work on getting reviews, too - and reviews on the Big A website are something anyone can request.

Blurbs, on the other hand, are different. Sometimes a publisher will get one of their own authors to blurb a book. Other times, an author will approach more successful authors they may or may not have some sort of contact with.

My favourite blurb ever, from one successful writer to a newer writing friend is Scalzi's blurb for Sam Sykes' novel Black Halo (link goes to Scalzi's blog).

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Some book review blogs/publications provide guidelines for sending them an ARC or copy of your published title. When there are no guidelines, reaching out to ask a reviewer if you may send a copy is acceptable. I've never had one turn me down, and follow through reviews have always been favorable.

My three nonfiction titles are with a small publisher. They were very helpful (and handled) getting blurbs for the jackets, and were also involved in marketing while providing me with steps I should take on my own. I would think any reputable publisher will, in varying degrees, have your back. They want the book to succeed.

In the beginning, I was terrified of "all of it" but gained confidence with every stride. One of the bravest things I did was phone Temple Grandin's office in CO. I wanted to speak with her about offering a blurb for some new marketing we were planning for my first two titles. I was startled when her assistant actually put me though. *gulp. Ms. Grandin and I had a wonderful conversation. She was gracious and brilliant. And I ultimately got my blurb.

Conversely, I'm now being asked to blurb books in my genre. I'm always willing to read an ARC, but as Colin noted, I won't lie. One awkward situation was a request from Simon & Schuster (nonfiction/equestrian). The writing was good but the story was awful; I couldn't align myself with it in any way. Author friends encouraged me to find "something nice to say" so my name and books would be on the cover of this upcoming title. Couldn't do it... I sent a polite note to the publisher with a brief explanation about why I had to decline.

Sherry Howard said...

Reason #78 Why I Love This Blog: The Queen and her Reiders are so supportive of each other!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

You guys are the greatest. Without this Reef and all its information and support, I sometimes don't know what I would do.

And Colin Yes, the people in Houston and Port Author and in the path of those floods- praying for them. That is a heart wrenching situation. Just saw a picture of a little girl rescued- she was clutching to her drowned mother. Money is a bit meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Lynne Your son sounds amazing. I am glad you have that support. I have heard the "get a real job" my whole life.

I was told growing up that I owed it to my family to be a doctor or lawyer or banker, something "stable" and lucrative because I was smart, whatever that means. Otherwise I should marry well. Ugh! A lot of my family thinks everything about me is wrong and corrupt. They call me a hippie, a rebel without a clue, and plain weird and a few really unflattering things.

I pay my bills just fine on my school system wages. I raised my kid in a way that suited both of us. Not that it was easy but it sure has been an adventure. I live modestly and that suits me. Maybe it will always be that way. Ok fine.

Ah well, thank you all. You can't imagine how much reading your voices every day keeps me going. You guys, all of you, are amazing,

Unknown said...
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Lennon Faris said...

Thanks Janet for the post. Great insight in the comments too.

EM, if you work best slow, then it won't be your best work unless you spend the time. I'm that way too and occasionally do something crazy and fast. It never works out. Keep polishing till you're happy!

Lennon Faris said...

And, congratulations, Sherry!!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Sherry Excellent! Congratulations. Colin's super baker offspring will make cake I am certain :)

Unknown said...

EM you're very welcome. And I do have a great son...actually, I have two great sons. Success shouldn't be defined by how much moolah you have in the bank. Success is when you're at a happy place in your life, and you got there on your own terms.

At least that's how I look at it...

Congrats, Sherry! That's so awesome.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Unfortunately, my super baking offspring is in college right now, so she's not baking anything for anyone except herself and her friends up there at UNC-G! Which means, of course, when I do eventually get a Janet... I mean an AGENT, it'll have to be when school's out, and before she gets the call for Broadway, so she'll be home to make suitable celebratory sweets... :D

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin Quick. Have another offspring learn super baking - have another offspring. I mean once they go to college- it all goes so fast. And then New York. Then what do you do?

But hey, my kid is doing casting in New York so when your kid gets called by those city lights...

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Actually, SixthBorn (who turned 13 a few months ago) wants to step into big sister's shoes. She made some good chocolate chip cookies the other day. :)

Amy Johnson said...

Sherry: Congratulations! I'm throwing confetti. And here come the balloons falling from the ceiling! Hooray!

Elise and Lynne: I can relate. Lynne, that was such an encouraging thing you said about your older son learning to follow his dream by seeing you follow yours. Elise, I have a feeling your wonderfully brave daughter learned something from her mom about following dreams too! :)

Adib Khorram said...

Sherry: Congrats!

Elise: Ditto to what everyone else has said. If there are people in your life who aren't supporting your dream, it's time to stop sharing it with them. Let them be pleasantly surprised by the result, but cut them out of the process if they're sapping your energy. Also, three books in three years is a tremendous creative output and you should be proud of that alone!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

What a heart-warming, encouraging comment stream.

Elise: I've been working on my story since 2013 (ohoh, should I admit that?) and I work part-time in my parish. I love working part-time although another side of me that says, you're going to regret not working full-time when you retire... But the days when I can stay home and write? I wake up full of joy and anticipation (when I'm at a good streak with my writing, which I am now). As others have already said, No, 1 year is not a long time to work on a book. And don't shoulder other people's "you oughtta." If you're able to live on a small budget (that's what I'm doing) then do it. And more joy to you.

On-topic: I have done a couple of book reviews on my blog. Or maybe I should call them sort-of reviews?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

oh! Sherry Congrats! That's wonderful news!

Joseph S. said...

We’re close to the same spot in our manuscripts. Except instead of writing three books in three years, I’m on the same book for nearly seven years (If it was a child it’d be entering first or second grade this month).

For two years it was just a story being developed in my mind. Then for two years I wrote it in my spare time. I had thought of it so much I felt like I was recreating a story I had read before. I thought I had a good story but a few agents I tried didn’t. I took another year to revise it (mainly in the summer). Friends who read it thought I made it worse.

Julie Weathers stepped up and guided me to a better path. I went on a steep learning curve thanks to her.

I’m a slow writer, too. It’s taken me 19 months to revise and rewrite Escape from Brazil. I don’t have beta readers for it, but I have two for my query letter (writing it has been a really stressful experience). One has replied with some good points. I’m close to querying for the book. With a little good luck, it can get published so Colin and other famous people can read it.

Joseph S. said...


Our writing paths are converging or at least paralleling. I quit teaching to concentrate on my manuscript, to many people’s surprise. I still have to push people away who tell me to give it up or to write something completely different from what I’m writing. I also get a lot of moral support so it balances out in my favor.

I also caught a lot of grief when I got into teaching since I was doing reasonably well as a Tax and Corporate Attorney. (When I see how well my old compadres are doing financially now I sometime wonder if I made the right choice, but only briefly. Very few things beat the energy-generating level of being a teacher and being around other educators and the students themselves).

One of the highlights of my life was my English professor my second semester in college chasing me down and catching me at the steps of the University of Texas Tower praising my weekly assignment and strongly encouraging me to spend the summer with other writers in Colorado or Wyoming somewhere. No way I could do that. I was the first of my family to attend college. I had to work summers and I had to major in something that would get me a job.
So I put off writing except as it pertained to jobs until relatively recently. Now I’m playing catch up.

Beth Carpenter said...

Congratulations, Sherry!

Thanks, Janet, for the examples of how to ask without directly asking for reviews. Very helpful. I especially like the how to support writers part.

Joseph S. said...

and before I forget, This was much needed blog entry - Thank you Janet Reid - and some great comments.

P.S. - Follow upon family in Houston. My cousin was taken from her home in a boat. I watched a national Cable news network reporter in a boat on television travel through her Kingwood neighborhood - that's a dead giveaway her neighborhood got hit bad, and the Houston mayor mentioned her subdivision by name, also a bad sign. A nephew's house backs up to a creek, and reportedly he had 7 feet of water in his house yesterday. My sister's street flooded and when water started rising up her tiny frontyard, her husband tore out fence boards in the backyard and they went out the back to where they had parked their truck just in case. They returned this morning to the good news the water made it up to the flower beds outside her home and stopped before receding! Most of their flooding came because the authorities released water from Lake Conroe and they live down river from there.

Unknown said...

Amy, thank you. I'm very proud of my son. I'm constantly encouraging him with his writing--I refuse doing to him what my parents did to me when it comes to having big dreams.

My son and I have already agreed whoever gets published first we'll celebrate with lots of iced coffees. Not only does my oldest share a love of a writing with me, but also an addiction to java. :)

Joseph, I'm glad all your family members down in Houston are okay. Hope they all stay safe.

Laina said...

I've been book blogging for... 9 years minus 28 days. My experience:

Personally I don't care if it's an author, publisher, or press person who emails me if I'm interested in the book. It's kind of fun when you get to chose more than one book, but that's because I'm a book nerd. Who isn't excited about books? XD I tend to not notice that on the first read of the email as I'm more focused on whether I want to read the book or not.

The main publisher I review ARCs for regularly wants their reviews posted about 2 weeks before the book comes out or about a week after publication. I'm not gonna say who because that seems tacky, but that's part of our reviewing agreement. They send out an email every season with their upcoming books and I pick a few I want, if anyone's curious how that works.

Things that I really notice are if you personalized it - I notice if you use my name or actually know something about my blog. I also notice the opposite - when you call me "Dear Blogger" or you're emailing me about something that isn't remotely what I read. I don't mind if you're sending a form email, but the super duper "Dear Blogger" stuff turns me off. I also have a detailed review policy and I don't like it when people don't follow it. (Please don't get upset that I live in Canada.)

I'm kind of turned off by authors emailing me asking to buy their books and then review them. Specifically if you found my blog on a blog list, and you don't know me at all and we've never interacted before, and you email me going, "Would you like to review this? Buy it here!" basically, I'm probably not gonna do that.

I review books I've bought because I like them, or wanna talk about them for some reason. I don't buy books to review.

Some dude once emailed me probably 6 times. The exact same email. After the third I emailed back saying no thanks (I usually go no response means no because awkward) and... he continued to email me until I emailed him back AGAIN. His excuse was that I was on a lot of blogger lists. So don't go through blogger lists emailing absolutely everyone and not keeping track of who you've already emailed.

...this is so over 100 words. Sorry, 9 years of book blogging.

BJ Muntain said...

I wanted to be a writer. My parents said, "You can't make money writing." And since they were paying for school, I didn't have much choice.

When I said I wanted to take computer science - back in the early 80s - my dad said, "You need a job when you get out of school, not 'in the future'."

In my 30s, I started technical writing. I made more than my mother ever got as a bank teller. My parents admitted they'd been wrong.

Moral of the story: Don't listen to your family. They don't know the industry, they don't know the future, and they don't know what you're able to do. You *will* prove them wrong, because they *are* wrong.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Joseph - so glad your family got out safe but what a tough situation for everyone in the flood. This will be a long recovery for Texas and Louisiana (Is Port Author in Louisiana?)

I suppose only other writers and those closely involved in publishing really get what an insane and endless process getting a book published is,and how hard it is to stand out once the book gets there. Hence, today's topic.

I keep thinking of posts on this blog about poorly selling first books and how difficult that makes it for the next book. And that makes me work all the harder to make sure my debut is top notch. At least I hope it will be. It can be hard to be patient during the revision stage. Thank you guys again.

Cyn said...

Thank you, Janet for the great post!

I'm overwhelmed by the love/caring/sharing comments from everyone.

I was told from day one I would never "make it" as an artist. That, from my parents. But I'm stubborn. I started my first novel in 2013(later in life), and after a very steep learning curve (which is still curving!)the ms is finally taking shape. I had a marathon day recently, revised/edited all day long, and into the evening. Finished. It was so late, I didn't celebrate with a glass of wine (which was my plan). Maybe tonight!

I *wish* I could quit my day job and focus on writing. That is not possible yet. So burning the midnight oil, (if I can use a cliche), is my life. And no one is giving me grief for it...

What I did was, when I started writing the ms, I only told *select* people. Only those who I knew would be supportive. In other words, not my immediate family. Now that I have accomplished my personal goal, I'm letting those people know gradually. And even though I struggle financially sometimes (well, most of the time), I love the fact that creativity does not have a dollar amount on it. It's priceless! There is GOLD in that mind...

Congrats Sherry! Such an accomplishment.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those in the path of the flood waters, whether natural or man made.

Joseph S. said...


Port Arthur (birthplace of Janis Joplin) is close to Louisiana but it's still in Texas (or was before Harvey hit).

My cousin emailed me. I can't believe anybody can have such a positive outlook on life. She wrote:

Great advice was to move a car to higher ground. I felt my ML350 was high enough in the garage until 4am yesterday morning. All 3 of our vehicles and home were not spared. We were rescued by boat around 9:30 am in 3-4 foot water. We are safe at Cheryl's for now working on getting rental cars and deciding where we will stay during restoration, cleanup, and remodeling. Waters are not expected to recede until Friday - Monday, so we cannot return to our home until possibly Friday. Cheryl is still without power, but does have a small generator. We are all comfortable and grateful. Interesting, our home still has power and we turned the downstairs off when we left. Crazy that we have power, yet over 3' of water.
We are all safe, grateful, and are looking forward to clean up.