Hi guys! I have no Five Star Only Review today because I ran out of backlog! I’ve read a lot of four star books lately, but nothing that made me go WOW.
Accordingly, I’m now seeking recommendations for books you think are Five Star Only Review worthy! If you’re new here, you can read some of my previous Five Star Reviews in particular genres by clicking the links below. The genres and age groups I read in most are as follows:
Young Adult Fantasy: I like my fantasy books with strong female characters (but not necessarily warrior-types, I like to explore different kinds of female power, including magic and emotional strength, not only badass lady warriors, though I like those too!) and a romantic element. The more romance the better to be perfectly honest, and I don’t care what kind of romance (either in trope or sexual orientation/gender identity). That means I’m good with love triangles, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, cis romances, LGBTQ+ romances, whatever as long as it is fluffy and makes my heart flutter!
Young Adult Contemporary: I don’t read a ton of contemporary, and it isn’t usually what I go for first, so for me to really love it, it has to shine. If I’m going to read contemporary, I want it to be diverse (like the world around us), and usually like to see romance here, too, though I don’t necessarily expect it. I also really like authentic teen voices and problems in my YA Contemporary, because it’s a break from the fantasy I read wherein “save the world” is usually the task at hand.
Diverse Stories: I am always looking for diverse stories in any and all genres!
Though I hate to say there’s anything I won’t read, there are some things I won’t read. It is as follows:
Sci-Fi (any age group): I know fantasy and sci-fi are usually lumped together, but in my mind they could not be further apart. I am not interested in space, aliens, robots, tech, or dystopian futures. Sorry sci-fi fans! It’s just not my thing.
Erotica: I won’t lie, I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to sex. I think it has something to do with my trauma/touch aversion, but whatever it is, erotic is not for me. I love romance, just not the uh… culmination of it, I guess.
Middle Grade (any genre): I have tried to read a bunch of middle grade (again, no shame, but I’ve done this to boost my Goodreads numbers and get some more books knocked out quicker) but it’s just not for me.
That’s about it though! Otherwise, I’m willing to give anything a shot, so hit me up with your favorite books in the comments, and maybe you’ll see one featured here in an upcoming Five Star Only Review Tuesday!
P.s. My boyfriend and I are buying our very first house on Friday, and I am SO HYPE.
Sorry I haven’t been around! If you’ve read my last two posts you’ll know I’m still struggling with mental health issues as well as trying to find a proper work/life balance. I think I’m getting my head back in the game slowly but surely and hope to come back to regular posts soon!
Because of everything going on I unfortunately didn’t get a newsletter out this month, but the next one will be sure to be action-packed! At least I hope 🙂 If you’d like to sign up you can do so here.
Hey all! So with The Blood Mage due out this summer (official launch date and cover reveal happening here on Tuesday), I’m currently looking for book bloggers/reviewers to receive a digital ARC sometime in June. I don’t care about the size of your social following or how many blog readers you have. If you’re new and trying to build a following, great! Me too. Let’s work together!
Here’s the deal. To receive an ARC for The Blood Mage you must meet the following requirements:
You’ve read The Wheel Mages. Haven’t read it yet? No problem, if you’re a book blogger and you’re interested, shoot me an email and I can hook you up with a digital copy of The Wheel Mages. You can then decide if you’re still interested in receiving The Blood Mage.
You have to have a way to read the book digitally. I’m not doing hard copies of ARCs, this is digital only. I’m self-published and operating on a dwindling budget, so physical copies of ARCs were just not financially viable. That said, I’ll have the book available in epub, mobi, and PDF, so I can accommodate almost all ereaders.
You’re willing (and able) to post a review of the book between July and August, 2017. I know this is a time crunch, but never fear! If you can’t meet the deadline, I’d still love for you to read it, just send me an email, and I’ll get you a final copy after it’s been published.
Haven’t read The Wheel Mages and trying to decide if it’s worth it for you to commit to reading two books in a short time frame? Let me give you some bullet points about the Changing Tides series!
Young adult, high fantasy
Self-published, professionally edited–developmental and copy/line editing
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.
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).
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.
For anyone querying, best of luck to you and all the virtual hugs I can give. We’ll get through it, promise.