As you all might remember, I’m in the process of querying for reviews. This is a long and ongoing process, but during it, I’ve come to realize something quite interesting: book bloggers and authors have a lot more in common than one might suspect.
The relationship between book blogger/reviewer and author should be a symbiotic one. From an author’s point of view, the book blogger is a valuable marketing tool who can open the book up to different audiences the author hasn’t been able to reach yet (especially in the case of us debut, indie authors). From the book blogger’s point of view (book bloggers, correct me if I’m wrong), the author is offering a free product the blogger enjoys (hopefully). The relationship also works both ways in that the author is pitching to the blogger, but the blogger is also pitching to the author.
A brief Google search tells me there are as many articles out there about how to develop a good book blog as there are how to market your book to book bloggers. What I didn’t see, though, was talk about this from the author’s perspective. My guess is this might be because it’s sort of faux pas for an author to discuss what she’s looking for in a book blog, but I try to be real here, so I’m going to go ahead and do that, and hopefully, we can learn some things together.
Okay, so for new writers who are reading this who aren’t reviewers, let me set this up very briefly: The author/publisher solicits to book bloggers via query asking the blogger to review the book. If the blogger accepts, the book is provided free of charge in whatever format the blogger desires and the blogger reviews it based on his/her review policy.
The part of this equation I want to hone in on is the part before the query—the part where the author/publisher searches for the book blog to query. This is the part I think book bloggers (especially those who are trying to develop their blogs) might be interested in. Because, just like you choose which queries to accept, we authors choose which bloggers to query to in the first place.
So… you as a book blogger want to attract authors to your blog, IG, etc.? Fantastic. I’m going to share with you the things I look for when choosing which blogs to query.
1. Review Policies – Have one, and make it readily accessible. A review policy is the very first thing I check on any book blog. The reason for this is because there are some bloggers who won’t accept indie authors. If you don’t want to solicit to us indies, that’s totally fine. I understand why you’re not interested, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings, but if you don’t take indies, go ahead and put that right up front. It saves me time and effort, and I very much appreciate it. If you do accept self-published books and authors, make sure to put that in there, too. Also, if you’re not currently accepting requests, please put that in your review policy (and keep it up to date). I keep a list of bloggers to check back with periodically, so I won’t forget you. No need to take on more than you can handle. It sours the experience, and I want you to love reading my book!
Review policies are both our friends. They make everything simple for both parties, and I’ll make sure to follow your policy to the letter. As an aside, I think you’re completely right for rejecting someone who doesn’t, and if I fail to, shame on me.
2. About – The “About Me” section of a book blog is the second thing I check. I personalize every query I write, and I want to know a little bit about you so I can figure out if my work is in your wheelhouse. I don’t want to waste your time (or mine). If you say you’ll read anything, but you actually like mystery, you’re either not going to like my book or you’re not going to read it. There are so many books out there, there’s no need for you to waste your time reading books you don’t like. Tell me what you enjoy. This is important from the author side too, because every book I send out costs me money, so I want to make sure every book goes into the hands of someone who at least enjoys the genre.
In addition to knowing what books you like to read, I also want to know about you—how old are you, where are you from, what are some of your hobbies? I want to learn a little bit about you so I can determine if my work will speak to you. An author who’s doing her homework will do her very best to make sure she presents you with something that’s enjoyable to you. You’re special, and a query should make you feel that way, so give me some material to work with.
3. The Website – I have, at this point, looked through literally hundreds of book blogs. I’ve queried to 22. I strike a lot of blogs at this stage, but because this is the most variable, I can’t really speak to what all authors/publishers are looking for in terms of website. I can, however, speak to what I’m looking for.
- Links that work. This is important. If I click on a tab that’s supposed to take me to reviews, and I get a page unknown error, I will strike the blog. If I can’t get to your reviews, how are other people supposed to get to them and read about my book?
- A clean and simple design. I am not a website designer (obviously), so I try not to make too many judgments, but I do like clean sites. If the website is jumbled and confusing or has too many tabs or topics, I will usually pass. Remember, this isn’t only a book I’m trying to sell, it’s a brand, and I want to associate it with clean, simple, accessible, professional.
- Followers/Social Media Links. The amount of followers you have on your blog is not a deal breaker for me, but if you’re trying to solicit big names (especially publishers), it will be. Don’t despair, there are indie authors (like me) and authors from smaller presses who are willing to grow with you. That said, if you have a bookish Instagram or a Twitter or a Facebook or a Snap-it (sorry, was my disdain for Snapchat coming through there?) absolutely link it to your blog. I check that, too, and if you’re willing to share my work over more platforms than your blog, that’s a HUGE bonus to me.
- I should probably note, too, that number of followers isn’t the only important thing, I also look at the number of people who are engaging with your posts in the form of comments and likes. Like I said, not a deal breaker for me either way, but I want to add it because if I’m noticing that, it would be a wise bet to assume publishers and agents and marketing professionals are noticing it too.
4. The Reviews – Are you surprised to find these so far down my list? Yeah, interesting that, isn’t it? Okay, so if your blog has made it this far, it’s time for me to really sit down and delve into things.
First, let me put this right out front: I do not expect a five star review from anyone, but I do expect my work to be treated with respect. If I see you trashing other authors from here to Venus, no matter how much I may agree with you, I will not query you. Plain and simple: Every time you trash an author there’s another author reading it and thinking, “That could be my book.” I’ve read this same advice given from very successful book bloggers to new bloggers, and I couldn’t agree with it more. Listen to the people who are doing it well. They’re right. This industry means we have to have thick skins, but we’re still people, and we’ve put a lot of time and energy and money into these books. When we send you a book, we’re not sending you a $10 lump of paper or a $3.99 chunk of internet ether, we’re sending you a piece of our souls, thousands of hours of time and, in the case of indie authors, thousands upon thousands of dollars of our own hard-earned cash. It matters to us, especially to those of us who are new to the industry. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows how much I care about honesty in all things, but I also believe very strongly that you can be honest and still respectful.
Okay, less heavy stuff:
- Keep your blog up to date. If you haven’t posted a review in three months, I’ll likely strike you. I’ll also check to make sure the reviews are coming at a relatively steady pace. I completely understand you’re busy and it’s not perfect, and you’re not getting paid to do this, and I’m happy to wait, but if I see month-long gaps in posts happening regularly, I hope you’ll understand when I say there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get around to reading my book, so it’s better if I go to someone who will.
- Along those same lines, make sure your posts are dated. If they’re not, I can’t determine the above, and I’ll err on the side of caution and hold on to my book.
- Have some reviews of big names in the genre you’re reviewing. Even if you’re specializing in reviewing indie authors (you’re an awesome soul if you’re doing this), throwing in a few of the big names from the big presses can be helpful to an author trying to gauge what kind of books you like. I write young adult high fantasy so the first reviews I read on a blog are any written on anything by Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, Marissa Meyer, Kiera Cass, Victoria Aveyard, or Veronica Roth. I’ve read all the works of most of these authors and know how I would rate their work compared to my own, so knowing how you do it gives me a better idea of whether or not you’ll like my work. If you only gave Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury 2.5 stars, I can pretty much assure you that you are not interested in The Wheel Mages, and I won’t send it. That is not to say your opinion isn’t valid, it’s just to say there are authors out there for you that aren’t me.
- Side Note: J.K. Rowling is not on my list of big names because I almost never read reviews of J.K. Rowling’s work. Everyone loves it, so it isn’t a good indicator of preference for me.
- Other than what I talked about above, I don’t really care about stars, except to see that not every book is getting five stars but some books are. Like I said, I don’t expect my book to get five stars every time, but if you’re not giving five stars to anyone, I’m leery. That said, if you’re giving five stars to everyone it’s also a red flag to me. I also want to add that I appreciate how hard your job is to assign ratings to something so subjective. It’s not one I think I could do – so kudos to you.
- If you don’t give stars, that’s almost better. There aren’t many book blogs that don’t give stars, but I really like the ones that simply write a review. They’re refreshing and from the author’s perspective, a little less scary. Of course, readers probably feel differently, and you have to appeal to us both, so it’s all good either way.
- Make me want to read the book you’re reviewing (if your objective is to say it was really good and everyone should read it). After I check for the authors I know, I will read a review about a book I don’t know that’s received a good review. If I walk away wanting to read that book, I’ll query you. You’ve done your job for me and that’s admittedly hard to do, so I know you’ll do it for others as well. There are tons of ways to accomplish this, but the way I find most persuasive is precise language with a spark of personality. I know, it’s tough, I’m telling you, I don’t envy you guys.
- Review lists are great. I won’t strike a blog for not having a clickable list of reviews by title or author, but they’re awesome when I see them.
Wow, okay, this post is long, but I’m hoping helpful. I just want to add something really quickly here: This is obviously not an exact formula. Nothing about this industry is exact. It’s simply a set of ideas from the other side of the equation. And please note I realize I am not like every indie author. I’m sure there are plenty of authors who don’t put as much time into querying as I do, but I happen to think the amount of time I put into it speaks to who I am and what my book is. If you like that, this is how to catch someone like me.
Finally, I think I made it clear throughout, but in case I didn’t, I want you to know, book bloggers, that I appreciate you so, so much. I actually think authors might be able to commiserate with you more than most. We’re all writers who love books, struggling to make ourselves stand out in an over-saturated market, driving ourselves crazy in the process. So much love to you.
Keep on keeping on, and if you have anything you’d like to contribute or ask about, sound off in the comments.
P.s. If you’re a book blogger interested in enticing indie authors and don’t know where to start, get on this list! http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/