For almost a year now, I’ve been writing reviews of books and posting my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. At first, I began doing this because I started signing up for giveaways on Goodreads. My plan was to read the books, review them, then use them as prizes for the participants of National Novel Writing Month in my region. When I realized it was also easy web content for my website, I dove wholeheartedly into these reviews. After all, I had been writing movie reviews for many years, so 300+ words on a book I just read shouldn’t be too difficult. What I did not expect was that soon people would be contacting me to review their books.
When I received my first request to review a book, I was flattered that someone had found my review on Amazon and decided that they liked my review enough to send me their book to review as well. However, I soon realized what I had gotten myself into when the frequency of these requests increased. What I did not realize when I began writing these reviews is that authors will essentially lurk around particular books and will send out request once they see someone has rated it favorably (or even at all, regardless if they liked it or not). For instance, since I reviewed Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory, a publisher who publishes books in a similar way approached me with the opportunity to review Esper Files. Because I reviewed Hard Road, another independent author sent me Lonesome Cowboy. Because I reviewed Ender’s Game, an author gave me Julia Dream to review. When they see that someone read a book and followed through with a review, they realize they have a good chance of receiving a review if they query the reviewer.
Reviews are key for authors to be seen.
As an author myself, I understand the importance and benefit of having reviews on Goodreads, but the reviews are much more important on Amazon. The more reviews a book has, whether or not they’re good reviews or not, the better chance it has of showing up in Amazon’s suggestion algorithm. Consequently, I’m seeing a lot of independent and self-published authors trying to game the system by spamming reviewers with requests to read their books. This is the trouble with this spamming approach: to reviewers, these requests are just . . . spam.
Once I recognized what was happening, I decided to put in place some protections so I’d receive less of this spam. After all, I am committing my time, effort, and energy to review a book. I have plenty of other, authorly things I could be doing, so it has to be worth my while. Some reviewers are probably content with accepting every unsolicited request an author throws at them, but my time is much too valuable for that (especially when I can tell I won’t like the book from the title, cover, or synopsis). For me to review a book, an author has to do one of three things for me:
- Send me a paperback version of the book as a donation to the Colorado Springs NaNoWriMo.
- Review one of my novels on Amazon and Goodreads.
- Review one of my in-progress works as a beta reader.
Unfortunately, while a few people took me up on Option #2, I have yet to receive any reviews out of them (probably because I gave them poor reviews on their books). Still, enough have opted for Option #1 to give me a sizeable number of books to give away this November (potentially earning them a second review from whoever wins it as a prize). What genuinely annoys me, though, is that I know people have to click through my Amazon profile to find my email to even send a request, which means they should have seen these conditions before sending me a request. I still receive requests that don’t include which condition they are willing to meet.
Just because you think your book is great, doesn’t mean it’s on the same level as a classic.
Another trend I started to notice amongst these review requests was that they would try to tie their book to a famous book I had given a rave review. Honestly, as a reviewer, these requests just make me roll my eyes at the ignorance of these authors. When I get a request like, “Hey, I saw you loved One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, then you’d probably like to read my comedy book,” I almost always ignore them. After all, I don’t know these authors from anyone, so there’s no way that their book will be nearly as good as the famous one that I sincerely enjoyed. In fact, I added a note to my Amazon profile that explained how an author comparing their book to a famous one will backfire on them:
NOTE: If you send an e-mail comparing the book to be reviewed with a book I have given a rave review (especially best sellers and well-known books), I WILL directly compare the requested book to the one you have drawn a comparison to. If you think your book is at least as good as, if not better than the comparative book, you might receive a good review. More often than not, your review score will be much lower because you compared it to a book I thought was incredibly exceptional and your book did not live up to that expectation.
The worst offender of these comparisons is Ender’s Game. Everyone thinks they’ve written the next Ender’s Game, and none of them even come close. The book was perfect the first time, so stop trying to imitate it. If you feel the need to compare your book to a famous one just to get someone to read it, you need to go back and write a more original idea, or at least work on your pitch so you don’t use the famous book as a crutch. If the comparison is needed, then at least describe what “twist” you’ve made to make it interesting.
A polished product is more likely to receive a better review.
Finally, I have found it’s easy to separate out the neophyte authors from the more experienced ones. Not only can I tell via the cover art, but if the only edition of a book is on Kindle, then your inexperience is showing. Yes, I know putting together a paperback can be time-consuming, but it’s not that cost-prohibitive. The fact that it is so incredibly easy to “publish” a book on Kindle means that there are very few barriers for an author to enter into the marketplace. This also means there are a lot of books out there that aren’t that good. As a reviewer, I want to know how much of a stake you have in your writing. If it costs a little bit to send me a paperback copy of your book, then I know you’re serious about receiving my review. If you’re willing to just send me a Kindle or PDF file with your book, there’s no real impetus for me to review it since it’s free for you and merely takes up my time (which is why I provide Options #2 and #3 to even things out). Just know that giving someone a free copy of your book does not automatically entitle you to a five-star review. In fact, it’s best if the reviewer gives an honest and unbiased review, so it doesn’t look like you’re gaming the system.
So, what does this mean to you, the author who wants your book reviewed? What can you do to maximize your potential reviews? My advice comes in three points:
- Before sending out a review request, check to see if the reviewer has any requirements. If you don’t indicate how you’re meeting their conditions, you’re probably not going to hear from them. Respect their time and what they’re doing for you by reviewing your book.
- Don’t send out “form letters.” There have been many requests I have rejected outright because the name in the “Dear ____” section wasn’t even mine. Some personalization goes a long way. Just make sure you are sending your request to someone who reads the same genre as your book, as that will also be an automatic rejection (often without a reply).
- Don’t compare. Like I said above, I will accept review requests from unknown authors more often than not. As an “unknown” author myself, I understand the struggle of marketing and distribution. That being said, your work should be original and interesting by itself. The moment you make that comparison, you’ve doomed your review.
If you’re an author or publisher who is interested in having your book reviewed by me, you can send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will review your book and post a review on Goodreads, Amazon, and my website www.benjamin-m-weilert.com.