One of the primary benefits of reviewing books on a blog is that people will work hard to get you to give their book a chance. Now if you have a big publisher behind you, the stress of marketing is lessened by their salaried employees whose job it is to contact their list of book bloggers with well written letters or press releases detailing what the book is about and how they can get a chance to review it. In my experience you don’t need to have the backing of a massive multi-national corporation to reach out to book bloggers. I have seen professional level communications from small press publishers such as Elsewhen Press and World Weaver Press. The real problems occur with self-published authors.
I have a read a handful of good self-published works and a couple of great ones. Most, however, have been bad. In fact, I am starting to notice common issues that are red flags that the story is going to be terrible long before I read the opening line. These flaws range from a bad cover photo, unchecked political bias in the description and unacceptably high price. The very first alarm, however, is in the initial email asking for a review. I kid you not, here is an example of an email I once got from a self-published author wanting me to review their novel:
Do you want to review my book?
Names have been changed to protect the innocent, but this email is real. An extreme example, I know, but still useful in making my point: aspiring authors need to work on their communication skills. Yes, the Internet has made communication easier, but that doesn’t mean our communication skills have improved with it. Why should I review John’s book when I don’t even know what it is called? I run a blog on alternate history and related genres, do I even know if his book is relevant to the subject? Where can I buy this book? What does the cover look like? Who the hell is John?
Needless to say I deleted the email and moved on. Perhaps I should have taken some pity on poor John, but there are a lot of other authors who know the proper way to communicate with a book blogger about a review. In my humble opinion the best emails are the ones that look like a cover letter you send with your resume when applying for a job. The author provides his or her full name (or at least pen name they are using) along with their contact information and links to their site. This can go pretty much anywhere, although at the end or in the body of the email is best.
The email starts with a short introduction which offers the blogger the opportunity to receive a free copy for review (free is important, one author once demanded I buy the book). The next paragraph describes the story and really tries to sell me on the book. Let’s face it, that is what you are a doing as an author. You are trying to sell your book and you think this person who you are emailing you is going to help. If you can’t sell it to them, what chance do you have on the general public?
For the next paragraph, you need to describe yourself. Is this your debut novel or are you a veteran author? What are the names of your previous works and what did people think about them? Is writing you day job or are there other important aspects to your life that you want people to know about? Finally, end with a conclusion, thanking the blogger for their time and letting them know you are available for interviews or guest blogging. This is especially important and, although I may only be speaking for myself, it is nice when someone else does the work for a change.
I realize marketing is hard work, but the good thing about emails like the one I described above is that with a few small changes you have a form email that can be used for every book blogger you are contacting. Just make sure you double check everything before sending it. It can be very annoying to accidentally call a guy “Alison”.
Trust me, first impression go a long way, even through emails. Spend a little extra time doing it right and hopefully your due diligence will be reflected in your writing.