Querying for Reviews

Let me go ahead and reveal something to you right now: I never quite connected marketing and publishing. I know, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s true. Before I launched The Wheel Mages, my thought process went something like this: 1. Write a good book 2. Make sure said book is technically sound 3. Publish book 4. Wait.

This thought process is not from lack of research. I read tons of books and articles and accounts from other indie authors. I listened to Joanna Penn’s podcasts and her Facebook live events. I did webinars. I knew marketing was a thing, and an important one, but for some reason, it wasn’t until recently that I somehow miraculously connected “good book” with “marketing”.

Here’s the deal—through this entire research process, I was continually frustrated by all the information out there about marketing. There is a wealth of information about Facebook ads and Twitter campaigns and cover art and promo material and mailing lists and Amazon reviews. In all this advice which is sometimes conflicting and sometimes a scam and is all kinds of confusing, the one thing I felt was lacking was this key piece of advice: Write a good book. Full stop.

Will everyone like The Wheel Mages? No. It’s not for everyone. That’s fine. What it is, though, is technically sound. I put a considerable amount of effort into making sure it was as good as it could be. I wanted the product to speak for itself. If the book is good, I shouldn’t have to put tons of money into marketing.

Right. Makes sense. But for whatever reason, what I didn’t connect was that I’d have to put the legwork into making sure people read it so it had the opportunity to speak for itself.

Over the weekend, as I despaired about book sales (I’m almost 2 weeks in post-launch and have sold 43 copies, for the record), I had an epiphany. I need people to talk about the book. I need people to “buzz” about it. Duh. People need to read the damn thing for it to speak for itself—which will take marketing.

Ding, ding, ding, Aimee, you win the prize you miserable idiot!

Reinvigorated by my newfound knowledge (I say this with a shake of my head), I jumped back into the whole marketing thing. I decided I’d start with reviews from bloggers and Bookstagrammers. (Sidenote: If you don’t know what a #bookstagram is like I didn’t until recently, check it out and start following these people. Not only is their work beautiful and interesting, a lot of them are reviewers too. You know, people with an audience who might want to read your book).

Which brings me to the point of this post: the query letter for reviews.

Now, there isn’t as much information about querying for reviews as there is for querying for an agent or publisher, but it’s out there. Here are a few articles to consider:

There are others as well, but these sum up how to query pretty well. I’m not going to talk about how to query, so if you’re interested, read those. What I’m going to talk about is how querying feels and how I’m working through it.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I’m more interested in the emotional journey of self-publishing than the technical aspects. Of course I share technicalities along the way and am happy to talk shop, but I think there’s plenty of information like that out there without me getting involved. My aim is to be open and honest about the emotional experience behind the industry because I sort of wish there had been a little bit more support out there for me in my moments of despair.

So… about querying for reviews.

It’s a lot like applying for a job, to be honest. Anyone who has had to search for a job knows it’s miserable. There are rules you have to follow about resumes and cover letters. You have to appear professional but also genuine. You have to research and cater each cover letter to the appropriate person. You have to tweak your resume to put different focus on different aspects of the position you’re applying for. Writing a cover letter or email to a potential employer is like being told to “smile” through your words. It’s frustrating and awkward.

Querying is exactly like that. What’s especially difficult for me is that I have a completely different “internet” voice than my actual voice which are both different than my writing. My book does not sound like these blogs (thank goodness, right?) and to hear me speak is different than both of them (there’s a lot more cursing, for one). I have a friend who is a Communications major at Cornell who once told me my internet voice is annoying and disingenuous. At the time, I told her she was a jerk and didn’t much care.

Now, I care.  I care because my internet voice is what I use to query for reviews. It’s what I use to market. It’s what I use to try to convince people to read the book so it can speak for itself. I have to speak for it first. And that’s a real problem for me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being I’m terrible at self-promotion. I don’t like to talk about myself. I have an issue with arrogance, and I’m constantly second guessing whether or not what I said makes me sound arrogant. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this here or not, but full disclaimer, I have intense anxiety issues that coupled with post traumatic stress disorder make me worry about things I probably shouldn’t. This is the fourth time I’ve read this post, for example, and I’m still fretting about whether or not it’s appropriate to publish it.

Writing query emails sets every awkward bone in my body on fire. Be professional, they say. Okay, that’s actually something I’m pretty decent at doing. I’ve worked at a law firm for the past six years. I’ve learned how to be professional over the years. But being professional and genuine? Well, that’s a different dance, my friends.

Because to be genuine, my query email would like this:

Hey [book blogger],

I’m Aimee. I’m the author of the debut novel The Wheel Mages. I’m super self-conscious and talking about myself and my book really aren’t my strong suits, but I’m told I have to do it because… sales, so here we are. Please don’t think this query is representative of my work, because it’s not. I have a totally different voice in my writing than I do in this email, but I’m told writing in the voice of your character is gimmicky, so I guess I’m stuck with my own lame voice.

I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I studied creative writing and English. If you asked me who my favorite author was, I’d tell you either Tamora Pierce or John Milton, and you’d probably be pretty confused. According to my therapist, I’m a confusing person, but she thinks that’s part of my charm. I’m still learning to embrace it. My characters are a little bit confusing too, but not in a bad, plot-hole sort of way, in a deep, emotionally complex sort of way. I’m rambling, aren’t I? Sorry about that.

Back to the book. It’s a new adult fantasy set in the Trade Nations, a federation of countries not unlike the European Union. It’s written in first person and the protagonist is the first water mage to be inducted into the Sanctum, the magical world’s institution, in fifty years. There’s romance and mystery and a bit of dramatic flair… [insert more rambling, terrible summary here].

I really hope you’ll read it (and love it, and give me all the stars).

Genuinely,

Aimee

Okay, I might have over dramatized that a bit, but you get the point, right? Not very professional. Walking the tightrope between professional and genuine is hard for me. In my case, I tend to lean more professional and come across as rigid or disingenuous (hence my friend’s comment), or it sounds like I’ve created a form letter of some kind. It’s agonizing and completely draining, but it has to be done.

So how am I doing it? Well… slowly, for starters. I’m making sure to pace myself. I know I’ll receive rejections and probably a lot of radio silence (which is a rejection but for some reason seems better to me, I guess I don’t like clean wounds), and knowing that makes me want to rush. As my dad always says, “Every no you get is one no closer to a yes.” True. Meaning I should send requests out to all the reviewers as quickly as possible so I can bypass the nos and get to the yes’.

But every no I get also takes a toll on my spirit, so I want to make sure I’m not rushed into overwhelm. Also, I really do think it’s important to know your target audience in terms of reviewers, which means I have to dedicate time to researching them. The people I’ve asked to review my book are people I actually like. I like their photos or their blogs or their taste in books. They’re people I imagine myself connecting with and befriending, which is maybe another reason the review request takes a toll on me. It’s like the worst parts of applying for a job and asking someone out on a friend date. Do you want to be my employer/friend? No. Well, that’s cool, I guess. I’ll just… thanks for your time… *silently sobs in corner*. They don’t LIKE me.

I have to remind myself it’s not personal. It’s not actually a reflection on me (well, it sort of is, but only the part of me that can be shoved into a two paragraph email which isn’t much because I’m complicated, like everyone else). I have to take it slow but most importantly, I have to do things that reinvigorate my spirit and remind me I’m more than a query email. I have to read and write and spend time with friends and family and play with my dog who will love me unconditionally and my cats who will love me as long as I continue to feed them. I have to take care of myself because if I don’t—who will?

It’s all right, I say. You have time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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Why my cat? Because the internet loves cats, that’s why.

For anyone querying, best of luck to you and all the virtual hugs I can give. We’ll get through it, promise.

❤ Aimee

8 thoughts on “Querying for Reviews

  1. This was a super interesting read! As somebody who is currently working on a novel, I enjoy finding others who are on the same path as I or, as in your case, father ahead! I understand what you mean when you mention caution around arrogance. There’s a fine line between talking up your work and coming across as arrogant, right? But there is an element of drive to the whole thing in that we (writers) should be the biggest advocates of our work. I’ve just subscribed. Best of luck with the Wheel Mages and all future projects! I’m looking forward to reading some more from you.

    Like

    1. Welcome! It’s great to have you 🙂 If you’re interested in hearing about the creative journeys of others might I recommend Joanna’s blog as well? She’s in the comments above and is chronicling her journey at a different stage. I’m a firm believer that in an industry which can be competitive and sometimes cutthroat, we should all try to stick together and support one another as much as we can 😉

      As to your comment on arrogance… yes, I absolutely agree. It is certainly a fine line between sounding arrogant and not standing up for our work enough. We have to be the champions of our own creations, but arrogance is not an attractive quality except in fiction, especially from a new author. It’s definitely something I’m learning to navigate, and I’m sure it will come up again.

      Best of luck to you, and I hope to see you around the blogsphere!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I follow Joanna! Seeing her progress in her journey is a joy.

        I agree that community is an integral thing for writers to engage in. WordPress is a great place to build relationships and support structures through sharing and interaction. I am certainly happy to be here.

        Furthermore, thank you for stopping by my blog. All the best.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Aimee,

    The effort you put into making The Wheel Mages a good book was quite evident. I’d also say that a debut self published author selling 43 copies in two weeks is not a bad thing at all. There’s a bunch of competition out there, and it can take a while to establish an audience.

    I totally get your frustration regarding marketing, but unfortunately, the business side of things is something you absolutely have to master if you want to sell books.

    Some thoughts, if you’re interested:

    – Selling books is hard, but so is writing fiction well. If you can master that second part, there’s no reason you can’t handle the first part as well.

    – A book speaking for itself is great, but it has to speak to people who might want to read it. Marketing is all about how to find the people who might want to read it so that the book can speak to them.

    – Most astute marketers (of which I definitely am not one, so please take any advice from me with a huge grain of salt 🙂 ) seem to give similar advice. Step 1: Write a series of 3 or 4 books. Step 2: Set the first book free or $.99. Step 3: Try for a Bookbub (the unicorn of promo sites). Failing that, schedule a lineup of the other heavy hitters in the promo world. Step 4: The surge in rank from the promos pushes your book up the category lists, gaining you new buyers. Sell through to the remaining books in the series (all at full price) gives you your profit. Step 5: Repeat Step 1.

    – The indie authors whose views I most respect also all seem to give the same advice on what features of your book are most important for sales. 1. A cover that indicates the book’s genre. 2. A pitch that indicates your book’s genre. Pretty much every post that made kboards that says “Hey, my book isn’t selling. What did I do wrong?” is answered, “Your cover isn’t right, and your pitch isn’t right.” (Not trying to say that your cover/pitch aren’t right; just saying what the first step in the troubleshooting process usually is.)

    As always, best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your insight 🙂 I will take every bit of advice I can get, for sure! I agree with the series advice (this is a trilogy), and book 2 is headed to the editor January 20th. Once the trilogy is complete, I have every intention on reducing the price of book one and going up from there, which I know will be helpful as that’s how I consume books as a reader lol. I actually just received two responses to review queries in the last couple of days that I’m super excited about, so despite my complaints and frustrations, I do think things are falling into place! My pitch is certainly something that falls into the “work in progress” category and I know it needs a lot of kinks worked out before it would be ready for something like BookBub. Querying for reviews (though exhausting) has been and I believe will continue to be, an invaluable help with this. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the small community I’m slowly starting to build. I had a physics teacher who always used to say that failing helps us build character. At 17 I did not appreciate this, but now it’s starting to ring true 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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