Review Etiquette

(This article will be copied to the author support section.)

As any indie author knows, reviews are the life's blood of your work. You can sing your own glories all you want, but reviews, whether they are good or bad, at last show that people are reading your book. Of course you want those reviews to be good ones, but even if they aren't, at least you will know just what gripes people have.

So how do you get those glorious gems called reviews?

Well, you can pay for them. There are a few review services out there (Kirkus Indie is one) that will produce an polished, professional review for a fee. These reviews carry weight which is of course a good thing, but bear in mind that most of these services have a reputation to think of, so before you plunk down the somewhat scary prices these reviews can cost (hundreds of dollars -- owch!) keep in mind that they will be impartial (as they should be). If you're not confident in your work, you might be purchasing a big old bucket of well thought out, influential...negative pain for your book, and potentially your reputation as an author.

I have nothing against going the above route, but this blog has always been focused around the idea that anybody with talent and a dream can become a writer, regardless of their bankroll. So that's as far as we're going to touch on shelling out money in this article.

How else can you get reviews?

There are several methods, but this article is going to focus on one that a lot of authors start out afraid of initially. Plain and simple? You can get reviews by asking for them.

It seems pretty simple, doesn't it? Maybe you already do this and can't imagine why people wouldn't, but you'd be surprised. Writing can be a solitary trade, and the result can sometimes be a skilled author who's shy and modest to a fault, and wouldn't dream of troubling people by contacting them directly to ask for favors. After all, won't you just annoy the people you are hoping to impress by nagging them over basically doing your promoting for you? Well, you could annoy people, but the fact of the matter is that in the literary world, asking people for reviews is a perfectly kosher thing to do, so long as you do it with a certain level of tact.

First you'll need to identify potential reviewers. I'll be going into that in more detail in a future article, but for now the best thing to keep in mind is that it's best to stick with people who are already interested in the type of book you've written. Did you write a horror story that's inspired by Needful Things? Why not pop over to the Amazon page and check out who gave your inspiration novel good reviews? Look up their profiles and see what sort of books they're interested in. Did they post an email address on their profile? (here's a hint -- people don't usually post things like email addresses in public places unless they are expecting to be contacted). Don't stop there -- is your book listed on goodreads, shelfari, or similar sites? People who use these sites typically make a note on them once they have read the book. Is anybody out in the world talking about your book, even just in passing? Google your title along with your own name, and find out! Don't forget to search on Twitter, too!

There are plenty of ways to find potential reviewers. When you're ready to write a message to ask for a review, make sure to include the following:

  • How did you find this person? Start out by telling them what profile/review/et cetera of theirs you read, and be sure to say what about the content you read makes you feel as though they would be interested in your book.
  • Explain your purpose. Be direct. You are looking for unbiased reviews of your book. We'll talk about the word "unbiased" a bit more in a minute.
  • Include a very brief bit about your book. Remember to keep this sort and sweet - "Harry Potter is a story of a boy's adventures in a magical realm, where he enrolls in a school that teaches magic and encounters a myriad of unique people and places." Can you keep this to one sentence? Great, do that.
  • Include an even briefer bit about something they've already read (and liked) that is similar to your book. This shouldn't be anything more than "this story is told in a vein similar to [blank] book". If you can't find anything to fill in the blank with, you might want to consider contacting somebody else.
  • Provide a link to a sales page for your book, where the person you are contacting can read a description of the book and see what other people (if any) had to say about it.
  • Offer a complimentary copy of your book. Yes, this is pretty common etiquette for this type of review hunting. To save on costs you can certainly restrict your offerings to digital copies which cost pretty much nothing to produce, but what would you say if somebody wrote you a letter asking you to read their book, and then requested that you buy it? Right, whatever you're thinking is the same thing they are thinking. Some people think that providing free copies of a book in return for reviews is compensating the reviewer, but I disagree. If they didn't want to read your book to begin with, a free copy is hardly of any value to them. You're simply providing them with the tools they need to complete the task you've asked of them.
  • Thank them for their time and consideration.

Did you read all that above? Great. Now, do you think you can do all of that in less than six sentences? It's more challenging than you think, because you're going to be tempted to say too much about your book, flatter them too much, or add in too much irrelevant jargon. Pinch yourself every time you start writing anything like that and make yourself stop. It's not helpful. Writing a review request is a lot like writing a query letter -- you need to get to the point quickly and efficiently, or you will lose your reader and that will be the end of it.

At any rate, that's a crash course in review etiquette. A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Don't ask twice. Some people who aren't interested might be so kind as to let you know this, but most won't. Let it go.
  • If people do show an interest, tell them that you appreciate their interest in the book or words to that effect. Don't gush or overdo it with gratitude, as it makes you look desperate (not to mention "overthanking" is often a good way to make people feel uncomfortable). Tell them you look forward to reading their opinion (stay neutral on this, so it does not appear as though you are expecting them to write a positive review just because they are interested in writing one at all).
  • NEVER NEVER NEVER ask people for a positive review! You're worried about being annoying? That's annoying. Don't ask people to compromise their professionalism and do a disservice to the community by talking about how wonderful your book is, if they didn't think it was wonderful. Keep in mind that if your book is available for sale to the general public, anybody and everybody can potentially purchase your book at any time, read it, and then write whatever they want about it. If you lack that much confidence in your work, you might want to consider going back to the drawing board for a bit.

Have you ever tried directly asking for reviews before? Share your experiences here!