Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Getting Good Reviews

I knew that would get your attention! Getting reviews, good ones, and plenty of them, is a constant concern to those writers who've not yet become fully established.

Now I am not suggesting by any means that you cheat, or 'game the system'. But without the slightest resort to low practices, there are a number of things you can do to improve your likelihood of getting a good review. Obviously, the first and most important thing is to write excellent books. But setting that aside, today we're going to look at the actual review process, from the point of view of one who reviews a lot of books, and used to review even more.

Getting Your Book Reviewed At All

The first hurdle you face is in getting people to accept your book for review. If it's your first book, you'll need to spend a bit of time and thought on this. If you've published a few, there will be 'go to' reviewers who've given you nice reviews in the past, but with your first book, you're starting from scratch.

One way, of course, is to have a free giveaway. With luck, this will net you a fair few downloads. The hit rate on actual reviews posted, though, is likely to be small, and the quality of review not terribly impressive. Of course it's wonderful if dozens or hundreds of readers post things like 'OMG I loved it', but you will probably want at least a few that you can quote on your back cover and in your promotional materials, and the best ones are going to come from people in the business, whether they're specialist reviewers or other writers. Therefore, at some point, you will be wanting to bite the bullet and ask people to review your book.

Before you approach a stranger with a review copy in your hot little hand, it's wise to pre-select. What do you know about this person's reading tastes? Does he, in fact, even like the kind of thing you've written? It's no use, for example, sending your hot-and-heavy cross-species shifter romance to someone who is mainly interested in ancient Roman history. Goodreads is your friend here. You can spy on people's reading behaviour and see what kind of thing they like. This is important, because if the reviewer doesn't enjoy reading your book, there is no way he's going to give you the kind of review you want.

The book should be something your reviewer is likely to enjoy.

The A List

As a writer, of course, I've got lots of writer friends, and a fair few of them are on my A List. When I say A List, I mean my list of writers from whom I will always accept a review copy, and for whom I will be willing to shuffle things around so that I can fast-track their review and meet their release date, if it's an advance copy. 

These people on my A List are people who a) have written excellent books in the past and b) have not caused me any problems by being overly demanding, pestering me every day, etc. Writers such as Lynne Cantwell, Rafeeq McGiveron, Carla Sarett, Patti Roberts, Joseph Picard, Andy Peloquin, Leonardo Acebo, Ray Anselmo, to name but a few. I know I will like their new book, I know they'll behave themselves in a professional way, and if it's an advance copy I know they'll have got the book to me a reasonable time ahead of the release date.

But wait, there is another. Another list. It's nameless, but this list is of writers whose work I will never, under any circumstances, review. There is no appeal from this; once you get on my Nameless List, that's it for you, as far as I am concerned. 

Now I'm not suggesting that I'm such a leader in the literary world that being on my Nameless List is the kiss of death to your career. But consider this: the behaviour that will get you on my list will almost certainly get you on other people's lists as well. 

How to Get on the Nameless List

Send your reviewer a sloppily put-together pdf. When reviewer requests a properly-formatted ebook, respond with a blast of whining, excuses and perhaps anger. Pretend you don't know how to make a mobi. Alternatively, demand that the reviewer pay for a copy.

A half-baked pdf is no substitute for a properly formatted ebook.

Once reviewer has accepted your book, message or email him at least once a day asking whether he has started it, what he thinks about some character who doesn't appear until halfway through the book, and requesting a list of proofing errors.

Don't be all demandy.
When the review appears, respond by a) requesting changes to it, b) arguing that any criticism is invalid because you have autism/ lost a leg in Vietnam/ are a single parent/ other feature of your personal life.

A missing leg is no excuse for bad writing.

Take offence at something before the review is even up, and retaliate by going to Goodreads and giving one-star ratings to all of the reviewer's published work. Yes, this actually happened to me! Thank you, Maggie Young!

Any retaliatory response to a review brands you as an amateur.

How to Stay Off the Nameless List

It's easy enough to avoid the last two of these behaviours, if you are actually a grown-up. To keep yourself from falling foul of the first two, consider the following:

1. Reviewing your book is not the reviewer's actual job. He is taking time away from either his own work or his leisure time to do you this favour.

2. In order to review a book properly, it is necessary to read the whole thing, with fairly close attention, which usually means a slightly slower reading speed than average. Even a quite short book is therefore going to cost your reviewer several hours of his time, before he even starts to write the review. This is a non-trivial request.

3. It has always been the custom, since the infancy of the publishing industry, that people who are asked to review a book are not expected to contribute their money as well as their time. This means that you provide a readable copy of the book, that if it is a physical copy you also take care of getting it to its destination, and that by no means do you ever ask the reviewer to pay for anything. Nowadays we have e-books, so it is easy to provide a review copy at little or no cost, and there is absolutely no justification for not doing so. This is why I do not accept for review anything from Nightchaser Ink.

Don't ask your reviewer for money. Just don't.
4. If the reviewer was willing to accept your book for review, he was also willing to do the same for other writers. Most reviewers have a stack of things waiting for review. This is where the value of the A List comes in. My A List writers can jump the queue. I'm sure other reviewers also have their versions of the A List.

A Final Word

I shouldn't have to mention this, but never, under any circumstances, offer your reviewer any compensation whatever for reviewing your book. Your contribution begins and ends with the review copy. Do not offer money or anything else. It is completely unacceptable to do so, and is likely to give grave offence.

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