Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Business of Writing: Book Reviews #MFRWOrg #ASMSG #IARTG

Have you ever bought a new car, and then suddenly you're seeing "your" car all over the road? That's what happened to me this past week when I decided to write about book reviews. Suddenly bloggers were sharing "my" topic all over the Information Superhighway!

It's a good thing that there's plenty of room for all of us out here. :)

I'm going to share those links first, and then I invite you to come back and read my tips on requesting reviews. Oh, and don't forget to scroll all the way down to enter the $25 Amazon/Barnes & Noble gift card giveaway I'm sponsoring!

Review meme (c)2015 by Kim Headlee.
Sunset photo (c)2008 by Alexstar, Dreamstime ID 10088688.
The importance of book reviews.
If you have even one title in a retail catalog, then more than likely you have noticed the fluctuation in sales in response to receiving a new review. Instinctively we authors know that reviews are important, but longtime author Gail Z Martin offers an interesting perspective about why in her guest blog post on No Wasted Ink.

Reacting to reviews.
The first review I ever got, for the first edition of Dawnflight in 1999, the reviewer sent me a copy via email. I think I must have stared at the subject line for at least an hour, terrified to open it! But I'm glad I did, for it was a glowing one.

Since then my books have received dozens of reviews, falling at all points across the starry spectrum, and for numerous reasons.

You know how to handle the 5- and 4-star reviews, right? Since chances are I'm old enough to be your mom, I will do my "Mom Thing" and make sure you know: be gracious and humble. And then tweet/pin/share the bejezus out of them! :D

I've found 3-star reviews of my books to be a mixed bag of anything from ripping my book a new one to containing far more praise than the star rating would seem to indicate. Sometimes I find tweetable tidbits in these reviews, and sometimes not. Either way, I read them and then go about my day.

But how should one react to the 2- and 1-star wonders?

If you are a member of the Romance Writers of America, then perhaps you may have heard the humorous presentation given by Sarah Wendell from Smart B*tches, Trashy Books. I don't have a link to share for this proprietary presentation, but for those who have purchased the audio collection from RWA National 2014, I direct your attention to Session 19-159.

Indie Author News gives an excellent list of tips in 10 Ways for Authors to Respond to Bad Reviews. Don't have time to click the link? I will give you my #1 tip, which is their #2: Never interact with reviewers in a public forum regardless of the review's content or star rating. Ever. Period.

The only exception to this is to post a "thank you," even in response to a low-star-rating review if it contains constructive criticism that you find useful for improving your work. A little courtesy goes a long way.

Tip #8 from the Indie Author News list is Don't rush to your favorite social media site to rant. You would be well advised to take that one to heart too. My first inclination upon reading Why Receiving 2 Horrible Amazon Reviews Made Me an Invincible Author was to not share that link in this post; the article came across to me as being incredibly egotistical, presumptuous, and, frankly, childish—even if the underlying message about thickening one's skin to the presence of bad reviews is a good idea. At the very least, that blog post ensured that I will never download, even for free, anything from that author. Ever. Period.

Writing reviews of other authors' books.
An excellent blog post about writing reviews for Amazon, especially given their recent announcement to begin weeding out "fake" reviews, may be viewed on A Word With Traci blog.

As a professional reviewer—and by that I mean that I have been paid cash for my content by the review site, never directly by publishers or authors, which is a violation of Amazon's review policy—I take a dim view of "review swapping." This along with the ethically challenged practice of purchasing reviews have done more to undermine the value of reviews than coercing your family and friends to leave good reviews ever will.

Requesting reviews.
Done correctly, this can be a tedious and time-consuming process. I confess that I now employ an assistant to work on this project for a few hours per month. Since I am now an independent publisher, I started her with the Indie Reviewers List maintained by The Indie View e-zine and identified the genres wherein each of my books fits. She conducts all the querying, submitting, and follow up. Her guidelines, which will work for you too, are:
  1. Pay attention to what the blogger prefers to read. Don't waste his/her time—or yours—by submitting your book anyway, unless the blogger specifically states that exceptions are made for exceptional works. When in doubt...
  2. Read a few posted reviews, especially the negative ones. You may decide that you don't like the reviewer's style, and that could save you and the blogger some time.
  3. Follow the reviewer's stated submission guidelines to the letter. If s/he does not want your book's file right away, for God's sake do not send it. That's the fastest way of getting it dumped—and potentially getting yourself labeled as an Author Who Does Not Read. This goes double for responding to sites that state they are closed to submissions.
  4. If the site is open to submissions but no guidelines exist, write a brief but courteous email giving your book's title, genre(s), and tagline, which ideally describes your book in twenty words or fewer. Don't waste his/her time (or yours) by including a twenty-page synopsis, a ten-page author bio, and your manuscript in its entirety.
When following up with potential reviewers after you have submitted your book:
  1. Heed their stated follow-up policies to the letter. If s/he specifies "do not contact us" and you go ahead and contact them anyway, then you run the risk of being labeled as an Author Who Does Not Read.
  2. Add at least one month to any stated follow-up period, if follow-ups are permitted.
  3. If no follow-up guidelines or review-posting turnaround times are stated, and the site has not posted a "do not contact" policy, wait at least three months before following up with the blogger. Reviewer-bloggers are busy people too, and they do not need to be hounded by anyone.
If all of this seems daunting and you wish to explore the idea of hiring my assistant to do this type of work on your behalf, leave a comment indicating some way that you can be reached, and I will be delighted to put you two in touch.

Less tedious and time-consuming is the blog tour. In a properly coordinated tour, potential reviewers might be incentivized to participate via the chance to win a gift card in a bloggers-only giveaway, but they are not compensated financially for writing the review itself, because they are never under any obligation to write it. To protect authors, the usual stipulation is that if they dislike the book and cannot rate it more than two stars, the tour coordinator asks that the review not be posted until after the tour is over.

Of course "less tedious and time-consuming" equals greater cost, but all of my books have benefited from being featured in blog tours, and I feel that they are marketing dollars well spent.

To learn about Sir Robert Alain de Bellencombre, hero of Snow in July, and my unique challenges in writing about him, please visit the RLF Blog. (And help me earn "Top Blogger" points there, thanks! :)

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