Monday, July 3, 2017

Book Reviewers Tell All!

I had the pleasure of speaking on the Book Reviewers Tell All panel at the Historical Novel Society conference last month with Sarah Johnson from Reading the Past and Meg Wessell from A Bookish Affair, where we each presented on different aspects of book reviewing. In case you missed it, or if you attended and would like to have a copy of your own, here is my portion of the presentation!

Book reviews are crucial to an author’s success. A quantity of great reviews can lead to more sales and ensure that your next book is published. The popularity of online review sites and book blogging means an author has more opportunities for exposure than ever before. But who are these reviewers? How do you find them, and how do you convince them to review your book? Longtime historical fiction reviewers will discuss what makes a good book review, how to find the right reviewers for your book, interacting with bloggers and review organizations, and handling negative reviews.

L to R: Sarah Johnson, Meg Wessell, and myself

Click here to read Meg's portion of the presentation on book blogging and tips for working with book bloggers!

Reviewer Jenny Q of Let Them Read Books will discuss the elements of a good review, the ethics of reviewing and soliciting reviews both as a reader and an author, how to approach negative reviews, and how to evaluate reputable review sites and reviewing-related services.

Do you have to have a blog to be a reviewer?

No! You don’t have to have your own website. But you do have to publish reviews somewhere to be considered a reviewer. Even if you only ever post them to Goodreads or Amazon, or you write them for your local paper, if you’re publishing reviews, you can call yourself a reviewer.

Ethics of reviewing:

·         Never ask for compensation.
·         Never share an author’s personal information.
·         Don’t share unprotected ebooks you received for a review.
·         Don’t sell printed books you received for review.
·         Limit your review to your honest opinion of the book. Don’t make personal attacks on the author or other readers.

Ethics of soliciting reviews:

·         Do your homework. Identify the readers your book is likely to appeal to.
·         Look for those readers’ review policies and abide by them.
·         Don’t harass a reviewer. If they decline, move on to the next. If they agree, try to agree upon a date for the review to be posted by. If that date comes and goes with no review, it’s fine to follow up with them, but remember that they are not obligated to review the book, even if they accepted a review copy. If that happens, it’s best to just write that blogger off and move on to the next. However, if you take the time to cultivate relationships with the bloggers you approach, you reduce the odds of this happening.

 Elements of a good book review:

·         A brief plot recap that avoids spoilers, that is, anything not revealed in the book blurb or the first quarter of the book. It’s very frustrating to other readers to have major surprises or twists revealed beforehand. If you do want to talk about them in your review, warn readers that your review contains spoilers so they can determine whether they want to keep reading. It’s frustrating for authors, too, to have their book’s surprises broadcast. Be considerate.
·         What you liked and didn’t like about the book
·         Whether you would recommend it to other readers and/or who you think it would appeal to
·         Proofread your reviews. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have a hard time taking a review that is criticizing another work seriously when it is full of errors.
·         Try to avoid nitpicking. We’ve all come across historical fiction novels that had factual errors or anachronisms in them, but simply warning a potential reader that there are a few may be sufficient. Try to avoid taking pleasure in someone else’s mistakes.

How to approach negative reviews as a reader:

·         Never be afraid to be honest.
·         Develop a policy about negative reviews ahead of time. For example, I only post reviews of books I like to my blog. If I can’t give a book three stars and recommend it to other readers, it doesn’t go on my blog. But I will post brief reviews of books I don’t like to Goodreads. I tell authors that up front.
·         If you’re an author or aspiring author, be careful about negative reviews. Don’t compare another author’s work to your own and limit your review to true constructive criticism. You don’t want to make your review too personal and earn a reputation for having sour grapes. Many authors avoid reviewing for this reason.

How to approach negative reviews as an author:

·         Your book is not going to please every reader. It’s impossible. Prepare yourself for negative reviews before you publish. And keep an open mind. It’s very tempting to write off the opinions of people who don’t like your book, but the savvy author who is dedicated to improving her craft will often find something of value to take away from an unfavorable opinion. Perhaps something to tuck away for future use, or a point of view not previously considered.

·         Don’t badmouth readers and reviewers. Unfortunately, this is a mistake I see new authors make frequently, and even seasoned, successful authors do it too. Nobody likes receiving a negative review. You can whine about it to your friends, but don’t comment publicly, either on the review itself or on your website or social media feeds. It’s unprofessional. It also makes reviewing your books less appealing to other readers.

·         You’ll have to decide for yourself how you’re going to handle negative reviews. Many authors have a policy of never commenting on or contacting readers who didn’t like their book. If it’s from a reviewer you personally solicited whose opinion you respect, reaching out with a thank-you for an honest review would not be amiss. But never berate or belittle a reader, never threaten them, and never ask them to revise their review.

Review sites and services:

Paying for reviews is still a somewhat controversial topic among authors. While many consider trade publications and professional review sites to be acceptable, most authors agree that paying individuals to publish reviews on retail sites is unethical. (And for the record, I agree.) So the services I’m talking about here are all professional sites that are considered reputable.

·         NetGalley provides a platform for authors to get digital review copies of their book in front of reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and bloggers. Readers can request your book, and you have the ability to review their bio and determine if you’d like to approve them for a review copy. Reviewers then post their reviews to NetGalley, and many also post to retail sites.
·         Kirkus is probably the most recognizable of the paid review services. They’ve been around for 84 years and they review 10,000 books a year from the big publishing houses, small presses, and indie authors.
·         Publishers Weekly is known as "the bible of the book business." This weekly news magazine focuses on the international book publishing business, targeting publishers, booksellers, librarians, literary agents, authors and the media. They publish over 9,000 reviews per year.
·         Various indie awards: Indie Reader, indieBRAG, Reader’s Favorites, etc.

Pros and cons of paid review services:

·         Pro: You know what you're getting. Things like word counts, turnaround time, options for posting the review to bookselling sites, etc. are all built into the package. A paid review can remove a lot of the guesswork that comes with pitching book bloggers.
·         Con: You are not guaranteed a positive review, nor should you be. So there is always a chance you could spend a couple hundred dollars for a review you will never share.
·         Pro: A professional review as part of the book’s description on Amazon (and elsewhere) may add a perceived aura of professionalism and lead to more readers taking a chance on the book.
·         Con: It’s just one review. Many indie authors feel their time is better spent attempting to get a number of free reviews from bloggers and reviewers. The general consensus is that purchasing behavior online is driven by a quantity of reviews that help indicate a book is worth the price.

If professional trade reviews are important to you, rather than paying for a review, you may want to consider sending review copies to trade review outlets four to six months in advance of your publication date and proceed through the process just as other publishers would.

Click here to read Sarah’s portion of our presentation on the only major trade publication focusing on historical fiction, the Historical Novel Society's
Historical Novels Review!


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