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Six thoughts on seeking advance book reviews

By Carol / April 15, 2014 / 14 Comments

Laying the foundation for a strong launch.

The manuscript of my historical novel Go Away Home was edited and ready to publish in February. With today’s technology, I could have had the book on sale in a matter of days. But I didn’t. Instead, I set the launch for July – five months out. The reason? I wanted to secure advance reviews.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Traditional publishers build lead time into publishing schedules in part to allow time to line up the glowing reviews used on the book cover, in “Praise for …” comments inside the book, and for other marketing. Third-party endorsement for a book helps springboard the launch.

I don’t have evidence that says having a certain number of reviews makes a difference in book sales, but reviews do add credibility. Reviews matter to me personally when I check out a book. Reviews appear to matter to Amazon in terms of marketing they do for a book. Reviews also come into play with many book promotion sites.

As an indie publisher, this is yet another of the decisions I get to make. So, I’m giving the strategy of sending out ARCs – Advance Review Copies – my best shot.  I don’t have a magic target number; my goal is as many reviews as I can get. I found a really useful article on the topic at Your Writer Platform that set me on the path.

Time will tell whether my efforts are successful; I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve done and how I think about it.

Give yourself time – Reviewers get hundreds of review requests, and you may find yourself in a very long queue. Most reviewers ask for 10-12 weeks. One blogger I contacted wasn’t promising a review before January 2016.

To pay or not to payYou’ll find many sites will review for a price. Sometimes a hefty price. I make no judgement about whether paying for a review is a good idea. I lean toward not paying because I’m giving reviewers time. I also hope the concept of my novel will be strong enough to attract on its own merit. Plus, not paying fits my budget.

Target reviewers in your genre – I’ve sought out people and organizations that specialize in, or have an affinity for, historical fiction. The Indie View has a list of bloggers willing to review.  It’s a long list and you have to search for reviewers in your genre. Morgen Bailey offers reviewers by genre on her writing blog.

It takes a lot of time to identify the right bloggers and to tailor pitches according to each blogger’s specifications. I created a table to keep track of my contacts, format requested, ARC distribution, and follow up. I’ve been meticulous in giving reviewers what they want. No form letters. I’ve made all e-formats available, plus paperback.

Utilize the social networkI put the word out to my social media contacts to see if any were willing to read and review, preferably in time for my launch. Questions have been raised about the value of reviews by author friends, so I’m judicious in asking. I also make it clear to each volunteer that I expect an honest review. That the bonds of friendship don’t apply for this task. I mean it.

Playing the numbers game – Again following the lead of publishers, I’ve created ARC giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing. These giveaways run through the month of April. I state specifically that the objective is to give out copies to garner reader reviews.  Of course there are no guarantees. I understand from other authors that if 10-20% of the people who win a copy actually post reviews, that is a high return.

Keep breathing – Seeking reviews is a marathon, not a sprint. Finding the right contacts, sending the right information, waiting, waiting, waiting. Then there’s the anxiety regarding whether any reviewer will actually like my baby. When I began sending out review copies, I realized I spent a lot of time holding my breath.

Kara Logsden reading Go Away Home

Kara Logsden reading Go Away Home

And now for some good news:  I heard from two reviewers this week. “Well written. Compelling. Engaging,” said Kara Logsden of the Iowa City Public Library in a review posted in her blog. She took my book to a radio interview and posted the picture on Facebook. I was in heaven. To read more of Kara’s review, click.  A second, equally positive review, won’t be live until July when the book is for sale and Amazon lets readers post reviews.

The review process can seem arduous. But now I have early confirmation of my effort. Now I can breathe again.

What do you think? Authors: What was your decision regarding seeking reviews? What worked best? Readers: How much do reviews matter to you?

Carol

14 Comments

  1. Chuck Robertson on April 15, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Even if you’re self published, you’re still a publishing company. Whatever works for them will likely work for you.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 15, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Chuck. Theoretically, yes, by definition I am a “small press.” However, I’ve found some reviewers make a distinction. Since most reviewers are adamant about following their guidelines to the letter, I’ve been reluctant to push for fear of ticking them off. Have I been to cautious? If any readers have thoughts on how to tackle this, I’d love to hear them.

  2. Morgen Bailey on April 16, 2014 at 1:35 am

    Thank you very much for the mention, Carol.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 16, 2014 at 8:28 am

      Thank you for writing such a helpful post, Morgen. And thanks for visiting here.

  3. Stephen Crabbe on April 16, 2014 at 5:51 am

    You raise some very interesting questions, Carol. My first book went straight out into the cosmos without reviews; I just assumed people on some planet or other would see the shooting star and go to find where it fell. After seven months I’ve had nearly a dozen reviews, generally very favourable; but in that time, as far as I can tell, the sales are not proportional to the number of reviews. With your strategy and thoughts in mind, I’ll be considering this matter deeply as I work on my next book. Thank you!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 16, 2014 at 8:26 am

      I used the same strategy you did, Stephen, when I published my memoir. Reviews happened over time, initially through no effort of my own. As I learned more about the publishing business and watched how the big publishers do it, and the more I observed my own book buying habits, the more I saw the value of these reviews. Even though I don’t know a way to calculate the reviews-to-sales value, my observational research leads me to believe it matters.

  4. Chenelle on April 16, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Did you wait until your book was ready for review before reaching out to bloggers-or did you start initially engaging as you neared the completion of your novel?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 16, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Good question, Chenelle. I started researching bloggers well in advance to see what kinds of books they reviewed and what kind of reviews they wrote. There are many sub categories of historical fiction, and I wanted to be certain I was asking people most likely to be interested in my book. I waited to ask until I had a manuscript ready to send. I didn’t want to have someone interested and then not be able to put the book in their hands. When that time came, I had a list of bloggers and other reviewers ready.

  5. Lee Fullbright on April 16, 2014 at 9:28 am

    This was great (shared it on my page). I obtained an editorial review before I put my book out (I wasn’t sure I’d publish; the decision to move forward was based on that review, which I excerpted on the covers). I launched, then immediately began a blog tour (and giveaways), which, though somewhat pricey (but also tax-deductible once you sell a book to your next-door neighbor), was very effective (caveat: not all blog tour facilitators are the same): those reviews begat readers, which begat more reviews. I added the “Praise for” pages six months after launching.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 16, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Thanks for sharing my post and for sharing your experience. I’m glad you received a review that encouraged you to move forward with publishing The Angry Woman Suite. It was a great read. A blog tour is also part of my launch strategy. The snowball effect you saw with readers, reviewers, more readers, more reviewers is just what I’m hoping for. Your excellent story had earned 353 reviews. You’ve given me a goal to aspire to!

  6. Sherrey Meyer on April 16, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Great post, Carol! It provides a lot of important information for those of us who’ve never launched a book before. Hanging onto this in Evernote!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks, Sherrey. I’ll do a follow up after the launch to analyze how my process worked. I expect to learn a lot – and share it with everyone.

  7. Madeline Sharples on April 16, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Carol, this is such good advice. I’m about a year away from getting ready to launch my historical novel, so I plan to save this and use it when the time comes. Going slowly is important in all phases – especially revision which is where I am now. That takes about a year and then another six months to get advance reviews makes a lot of sense to . Thanks so much.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on April 16, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      Glad you found the info useful, Madeline. The revision process took me easily a year. Worth every day of it. I look forward to reading your novel when you publish. Good luck with the process.

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