Getting Book Reviews: 10 things reviewers hate

Karin Cox of indiereviewtracker.com invited me back to write another piece for her site, this time on how to get book reviewers on your side from the start.

So you’ve written a book. Now it’s time to start promoting the next bestseller. It’s no good just tweeting that your book is for sale, or telling your mum on Facebook. You need to take determined action if you want more people to read it than read the average Christmas card.

Book reviews are vital to this process. While not necessarily a rocky road, there are ways to make finding and impressing a reviewer a smoother path and to get reviewers to actually pick up your book, read it, and (hopefully) give it a good review. Getting reviews is “not necessarily about unbiased opinion, it’s a more to do with hype and increasing exposure,” explains Derek Haines in How To Get Amazon Book Reviews.

When submitting books for review and contacting book bloggers, many authors get it wrong with the first steps. It takes many hours to read a book and then write a review, and there are ways of getting reviewers onside right from the start.

Not doing things on this list of 10 things that annoy reviewers, will help you avoid promotional mishaps.

10 Things Reviewers Hate

1. Authors who review their own books

Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari (owned by Amazon) are all excellent networking sites that can help raise your profile and obtain reviews, and they enable you to look at a member’s previously reviewed titles to gain an understanding of what they enjoy reading. Many of these sites will enable indie authors to add their own books, and even to review their own books, but don’t make this amateur mistake. Firstly, if you review your own book, you’re going to be tempted to give yourself a five star. That’s a lot to live up to. It will also be obvious that you’re talking yourself up. And do that too much and someone is bound to start tearing you down.

There are thousands of reviewers out there, especially for fiction. All you need to do is contact them. Check where you competitors are getting their books reviewed, and then follow suit, or use Indie Review Tracker’s extensive database. If you think a reviewer might be interested, don’t be afraid to “pitch” your book to them for review. The recent Taleist self-publishing survey showed that some of the  best-selling survey respondents had the most reviews and had specifically asked high-ranking Amazon reviewers to review their work. This strategy can also work for Goodreads and Shelfari.

Many book reviewers and book bloggers are also online, and Facebook and Twitter are the perfect forums to share your reviews and your books. Many groups such as Review Seekers invite authors to request reviews. Reviewing your own book, or having your family or friends review it, is not only transparent, it is downright embarrassing, and it will make legitimate reviewers wonder about your ethics.

2. Authors who don’t follow submission guidelines

Once a reviewer has been located, you need to follow their submission guidelines detailing how to proceed. This is vital to getting a good review. All the reviewer wants to do is to read and review your book as quickly and easily as possible. Really, they do. Don’t make it hard for them.

Read the guidelines, and then read them again. And don’t just read them; treat them like comprehension in primary school. Read and understand them, or you could already find yourself one star down. In the case of real ignorance, all five stars could be lost because if you submit a PDF when the reviewer requests only .Mobi files, they won’t bother reviewing you—and they might not bother with you ever again.

The reviewers at Alexia Chronicles have heard plenty of bloggers  complain about this. In fact, so many reviewers name this as their No. 1 criteria for not reviewing books that I would list it twice if it weren’t for the risk of sounding like Fight Club. The first rule of getting a good book review is: Follow Review Policy. The second rule of getting a book review is: Follow Review Policy. You get the picture.

3. Receiving generic or non-personalized requests

Politeness is a quality that can get an author much further. Yet some authors go wrong even before a reviewer reads the first page, by being rude or stupid. When contacting book bloggers, take the time to personalize your review requests. Get the reviewer’s name correct and use it. Sure, it happens, names get misspelled—in my day job I often get called Alan or Andrew, instead of Alexander, but my email address is a usually a clue, and my signature at the bottom of my email is another (if only they’d taken the time to look).

Donna Brown at theindieexchange.com  lists seven things that make her hate review requests, and how her name is—or isn’t!—used, is the top one. Take your time to get it right. Mistakes of this nature make people wonder how much time you took writing or editing if you spent so little time bothering to introduce yourself correctly and get their name right.

Even a cold call email could be the start of a possible business relationship, so be personable and friendly. It counts. It also shows that you have spent time seeking a reviewer who suits  your style of book, which brings me to another way to annoy reviewers…

4. Being sent submissions outside of their genre

Who is likely the best judge of whether your book is going to top the Zombie-Ghost-Detective-Thriller charts? A reviewer who loves Zombie-Ghost-Detective-Thriller fiction! It’s a simple piece of advice, but send your book to someone who is best placed to know what the readers of that style expect, someone who can tell you that your book has more life to it than that half-eaten one-eyed zombie corpse over there.

This little bugbear is exactly why Indie Review Tracker was started in the first place, and why it enables users to search for reviewers by genre—to take the effort out of finding reviewers who are more naturally inclined to like your book because it’s the style of work they prefer.

5. Being asked to read unedited work

While apologizing for sounding like a frog, book blogger Cathy Speight offers a simple tip for impressing reviewers over on Indies Unlimited: edit, edit, edit. Poorly edited work will be overlooked for a review even if the book has great content or the story shows promise. Don’t risk it. Reviewers will get a much better feeling for your book if it has correct punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

But editing involves far more that just those three issues. Editing is also about tightening up the story and making sure it works on all levels: plot, pacing, character development, and a solid conclusion that will make readers want to read more of your work. Cathy sings the praises of editors who have the patience to help you craft and care for your creation. As authors, we should have some respect for reviewers just as we should respect our readers and ensure we give them our best work. If you can offer as close to a perfect copy of your book as possible, the reviewer will feel you have put the time and effort in, and they will reciprocate.

6. Getting spammed

“Sending an e-mail that’s trying to sell something to someone you don’t know is called spam.” Catherine Ryan Howard elaborates at length in How Not to Get Your Book Reviewed over on Catherine, Caffeinated and warns that not only is spam annoying and unprofessional, it can also get your e-mail account blocked. Spam is partly covered under the umbrella of point 3: not personalizing requests. Spam makes people think your book is a useless item being flogged to you by cunning, underhand door-to-door salesmen who just won’t quit. There’s no need to get that sort of reputation. Don’t run the risk of losing an email address, Twitter account, or website with your name on it by being blocked as  a spammer.

7. Authors who proclaim their own greatness

Having the courage to write a book and having belief in your book’s greatness, doesn’t automatically crossover into quality. If a reviewer is worth submitting a book to for review, then surely their knowledge and opinion is also worthwhile. There is no need to brazenly announce that your book is a prize-winner and that they’ll love it. “Sell me the book in a line or two,” suggests Donna Brown. Telling a reviewer that your book is “the best book ever written”‘ or that you’re “sure they will love it because everyone else has” is a surefire way to make them look for your book’s flaws, and to tell others about them to tone down your bragging. A certain amount of humility is required. By all means write that you “hope they enjoy it” but suggesting that you know for sure they’ll love it is setting yourself up for a fall.

8. Being given ultimatums

You’re not the Godfather, so avoid delivering ultimatums. By dictating terms (such as that reviewers must only post a positive review or must review it by a certain date, or must not reveal a major plot point) you are already losing out; nobody likes to be threatened or muzzled. Even if your suggestions are well intentioned, reviewers don’t wish to be under pressure to deliver to your time line. And if you force reviewers to drop everything to read your ARC or new release NOW, and your book’s a dud, you really are in trouble. Maybe it will be you sleeping with the fishes!

9. Getting insulted for their troubles

Word soon spreads when authors start insulting a reviewer who left a poor review. Just as birds of a feather stick together, so do reviewers. And just as some authors rebuke reviewers and send their friends over to complain in the comments thread, you can be sure other reviewers and book bloggers will pile on. This might even culminate in no more reviews for you from said reviewer or from close associates of the insulted blogger. If a review contains constructive criticism, take it on board and implement it. Look to get something out of the experience. If it isn’t constructive, ignore it and pick yourself up off the floor. Don’t ruin your career by attacking a reviewer.

10. Poorly designed covers

Heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Of course you have. But it doesn’t matter, we all do it anyway. To catch the eye and draw people in, your book needs a beautiful cover that gives an insight to what is contained inside. As a graphic designer, under no circumstances would I suggest the so bad it’s good route. If you’re bewildered by these beauties, imagine what the reviewer thought!

So there you have it. Simple steps indeed, but often disregarded. Writing a book is hard enough. Don’t fail at the straightforward task of getting it reviewed.

This article first appeared on indiereviewtracker.com on 13 August 2012.

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Comments
One Response to “Getting Book Reviews: 10 things reviewers hate”
  1. Angharad Sanders says:

    Sounds like common sense, but simple advice that some may not have thought of x saw a really good article on book covers and how they still matter even In
    these days of kindle etc.

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