Do Your Research
It can be tempting to carpet bomb every review site in the English-speaking world with review requests. It’s also about as effective as carpet bombing employers with resumes. Work from the assumption that the recipients of these review requests are at least as adept as you at spotting form letters. Now, take your own level of annoyance when you get a form letter asking you for something and multiply it by the number of form letter review requests you think these reviewers get in a week. I usually multiply by something between 500 and eleventy-kagillion. Not pretty, is it?
There are plenty of sites out there that have already done a lot of your legwork for you. These sites contain extensive lists of places that review in a given genre, at least in theory, and usually provide links to the relevant site or websites for print publications. These are where you begin your research. Yes, sadly, I said begin. Even though a place says it’s open to reviewing a particular genre, the age of the subgenre is upon us all. For example, some places will review “Fantasy Novels” when what they mean to say is that they will review high fantasy, sword and sorcery fantasy, and maybe a few token alt-history novels somewhere along the way to keep things interesting. Even sending a review request for a contemporary urban fantasy or dark fantasy is pointless because those genres just aren’t in this review site/reviewer’s wheelhouse.
Picking out 20-40 places that consistently review books in your particular genre/subgenre vastly increases your odds of getting picked up, if for no other reason than because you’re offering something that is right inside their wheelhouse.
Look at Previous Reviews
Even if you find a site that does review indie books and does review your particular kind of indie book, that doesn’t mean you want them to review your book. Some reviewers seem to take a perverse delight in simply ripping apart every book that crosses their desk. (Author Cindy Vallar discusses this and several other useful things in this article over at Writing World.) Unless you’re particularly masochistic about your writing, it’s best to avoid these sites. You want to look for reviewers that, minimally, point out the good, as well as any bad they might find. Some of the bigger review sites have teams of volunteer reviewers that only tackle specific genres or subgenres. Figure out which of these people you’d most want to have review your book and make a note of it, as these sites will sometimes allow you to direct requests to specific reviewers.
Build Relationships with Reviewers
The Internet and social media make this so easy it’s almost laughable. Reviewers are looking for comments, site traffic and followers, just like everyone else. Start interacting with these reviewers when you’re not looking to get something reviewed. Compliment their reviews, if they lead you to good books. Offer short snippets of critical commentary that agrees or disagrees with their position. Direct other people to the reviews that you thought were especially good. It can take a while, but if you handle the relationships with care, you can set yourself up in their minds as someone who is knowledgeable about the art and craft of writing and whose opinions they respect. Plus it gives you a chance to demonstrate that you can construct meaningful, coherent sentences. Six months down the road, when you are ready to ask for a review, you’ve already established yourself with that reviewer and they’ll probably be a lot more willing to take a chance on your book or even to push it to the top of their reading list. (Note of caution: if you immediately stop interacting with them after the review, they will feel used by you and you’ll probably make an enemy for life. So be ready to actually be friends/friendly with these reviewers over the long haul.
Follow the Review Request Guidelines
Let me rephrase that. For the love of all that is holy, follow the review request guidelines! As this post by Shelli Johnson and Alice Wisler over on Novel Publicity & Co. points out, reviewers are looking for reasons to disqualify your book. If they ask you for specific information in a specific way, give it to them. Don’t try to stand out by getting creative and violating their guidelines. It makes you look unprofessional and will get your request deleted or thrown in the trash.
If, on the other hand, the reviewer or site does not provide specific guidelines, you have a bit of a quandary on your hands. I tend to view this situation the same way I do any other professional correspondence and keep it as short as I can without sacrificing clarity. There are things the reviewer doesn’t care about and that shouldn’t be in your review request, unless it is somehow crucial to the book. Those things include pretty much any details about your personal life. Those kinds of personal details are great fodder for interviews, but read like an attempt to emotionally blackmail or charm or somehow convince the reviewer to read your book on emotional grounds. As an added negative, it also sends the meta-message that you think the book doesn’t stand on its own merits.
The request should include the reviewer’s name. It should also include a statement of some kind that indicates that you have actually read the blog. This is the one spot where flattery and one personal detail can help you and I’ll come back to that. You should include a description of the book, but shorter is probably better than longer. Think Amazon blurb. If it runs over 100 words, it’s probably too long. Publication details, such as the publication date, number of pages and the genre. Don’t forget your contact details. Yes, your address is on the envelope or your email came directly from your email account. Put them down again.
So, how do flattery and one personal detail help you out when you’re showing you’ve read their work? You get two birds with one stone here, actually. You can say something along these lines: “I really enjoyed your review of (insert title here) and I think you’re right that the author (insert thing the reviewer claimed here).” The personal detail you give is that you read their review, which is instant credibility for you, and by agreeing with them or praising their work you essentially butter them up just by being honest. Do be honest here, though. Why tempt fate or accumulate bad karma when you don’t have to? Then, when you say the review made me think my book in the same genre/subgenre/field is a good fit for you, they have a good reason to believe you.
This post really only scratches the surface of the topic, so here’s some other articles and posts that include some useful thoughts:
How to Get Bloggers to Review Your Book: A Very Thorough Answer to an Important Question by Emlyn Chand
How to Get Book Reviews Without Spending (Too Much) Money by Joanna Penn
How to Get Your Self-Published Novel Reviewed by C. Patrick Schulze