Monday, August 31, 2015

Review as Preview

It won’t come as any surprise to you that good reviews are important to a successful book, but did you know it was vital to get good reviews before the book is even released? If you did, than you are a step ahead of where I was when I went to publish my novel.

My publisher mentioned wanting a review or two for the back cover but never stressed what that would entail. In fact, there is something I'm about to tell you, which I only learned long after the book was for sale. It was so completely absent from the information and advice I received that it felt like a great secret when I figured it out.

Judge a book by the cover

We’ve all seen them, those snappy reviews on the back of books. Unless you are already familiar with the author, you will probably read them and use them in your decision whether or not to buy it. This applies if you’re standing in a book store or browsing online. Even if the book has hundreds of user reviews online, these “official” reviews are right up top and could be by an author, a reviewer, or a publication you know.

Depending on the route you take to publication, perhaps your publisher will take care of this for you. Or maybe your agent will ask one of her other clients to read and review it. But what if it’s left up to you? How do you get them? 

Well, it isn’t easy.

One of the major problems you’ll find with getting a nice blurb from an influential reviewer is that there is only a narrow window when this can be done. You can only hand the manuscript over once editing is complete (although not necessarily the proofreading), and you need to have that quote in time to finalize the cover design.

In my last post, I urged writers not to rush. This is exactly one of the areas that a tight timeline will hurt you. My schedule had so little room there were only scant weeks to find someone to review it, have them read, and respond. It was of little surprise (in hindsight) that my marketing manager couldn’t find anyone to agree to this. Even if we had a reviewer lined up in advance there wouldn’t have been enough time to expect them to turn over a review.

What I didn’t know was that I should have been trying to get reviewers for my book before the ink was dry on my publishing contract. No one told me this and I naively thought someone else would handle it. When it came down to the wire and reality crashed in, there was a mad scramble and a few tears.

So who should you ask? Successful authors who write in the same genre or publications and blogs that review books similar to yours. Now to be honest, how you go about all this is new to me. I will be doing this with the next novel I publish, but I didn’t do it with the first one. So I will keep my advice to the old golden rule: ask them the way you would want to be asked. Remember this is a favor. Be respectful, considerate, and follow any guidelines for submissions that might be posted.

This search for reviewers will be a long slog. Authors are busy and unless they know you and like you, they probably aren’t going to want to read your book, never mind review it.  And publications and major book blogs are inundated with requests.

The real goal is to make connections. You want this person to want to help you. Mass e-mailing your galley print will have a low success rate. You need to find a way to stop being an anonymous first-time author and become a recognized colleague.

Before the galley print is ready, schedule with your prospective reviewers when and how they’ll get their copy. Schedules are tricky and you will need to coordinate with theirs because they’re unlikely to bend to yours.

For this back cover blurb you only need one good high-profile name to consider this step of your marketing a success, but you’re going to want to line up several people, because it is possible someone will drop out or miss your deadline. Also you can’t count on that catchy usable blurb or even a good review from anyone. So there will be safety in numbers.

A good first impression

But reviews aren’t just for back covers. Getting a good review in a publication will help spread the word and hopefully generate excitement and pre-sales. But they is something else you can do to help give your book the best possibility of success (and here we will get into that secret I mentioned): build up user reviews for your book on Amazon and Goodreads before it comes out.

Get friends, family, other writers, and anyone you can appeal to personally (even if this is social media followers) to review your book. You will have a lot more time to gather these reviews because you won’t have that cover design deadline hanging over your head. And they can start going up as soon as the book is available for pre-order on Amazon and as soon as you have an ISBN on Goodreads. I am going to write a whole posting on the importance of reader’s reviews, but in short, they are both going to help buyers decide on your book instead of the competition and they will make your product look more professional and credible.

You will have to provide a way to get free copies to people and electronic is the way to go. If you’re like me and write on Wattpad, then you have an ideal tool for giving people a chance to read for free. Alternately, you could send the e-book to people but publishers aren’t always eager to have their authors mailing out the product for free. An awesome option which I just learned about is It’s a site where you can post your book and verify who gets a free copy to review. And the best part is that there are reviewers on the site and it is possible for them to request a copies based on your book’s profile.

I keep learning

A few weeks ago a friend asked me to read and review her new novel prior to launch. This author didn’t only introduce me to NetGalley, she also opened my eyes to the pre-review. It had never occurred to me to ask one person for a user review before my novel’s release. It seems so obvious now that the same principle of the power of endorsement applies both before and after launch but neither my publisher nor my marketer ever mentioned it to me. I had never read a blog post about it or had a friend tell me about.  Maybe everyone assumed I knew or maybe they didn’t know themselves; the publishing landscape is forever changing. The important thing is that I know now and I’ll do things differently next time.

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