So you’ve written a book, hit that publish button (or gotten picked up by a traditional publisher either big or small), and you want to get a few hopefully-positive reviews and garner a little hype for the literary child you’ve been nurturing for months, maybe even years. That’s great! I’m glad you’re at that stage of things!
I’m here to tell you, though, a lot of people do this step wrong. Very wrong. And often a misstep at this stage means alienating those who could become big fans, and thus convince others to become big fans.
I’ve been reviewing books for over a decade now, and I’ve made many friends who have done the same. And there’s a few common common complaints that we all have about people pitching their book for review. I’m here to break down some of the process for you, to ensure that you and potential reviewers get off on the right foot. Positive reviews might make or break your writing career, or they may not, but believe me, it’s never a good look to alienate yourself right from the get-go.
Don’t send a request for review without checking the reviewer’s policies first. If they have a blog that’s been around for a while chances are they have a section that outlines their review policies, how they handle review copies, and what sort of books they’re open to reviewing. Check that page, and make sure that your book is something they’re open to being pitched. It doesn’t matter if you found the reviewer via their blog, on Goodreads, on Amazon, on YouTube, etc. If they have a linked blog, check it first. If they have their review policies in their profile, check it. And follow the guidelines they lay out.
Sometimes reviewers won’t have this information easily accessible, or might not have any stated policies at all. That’s fine. That’s on them to establish. But at the very least, check to make sure the reviewer deals with books in the same genre as that book you’re pitching. Why waste your time pitching your Wild West romance to someone who only reviews true crime?
Don’t assume that your book is the exception to the reviewer’s rules. Trust me, it isn’t. If someone’s review policies state they’re not accepting new review copies at this time, don’t contact them anyway and say, “Oh, but my book is so awesome that you should want to make an exception.” It isn’t, and we don’t. And trying to insist that you’re above our stated guidelines just establishes you as an author who can’t behave professionally. Nobody wants to deal with someone who can’t respect the rules.
Do use the reviewer’s name in your pitch. If the reviewer doesn’t have their name established somewhere, then at least use the blog name or channel name in your pitch. Personalize it, essentially. This tells the reviewer that you’re not just sending out a bulk email to everyone with an email address in their profile. It tells the reviewer that you have done your research, and that you’ve come to the conclusion that they are probably the right person for the job. That you’re willing to take the time to send out a personalized email, to address to an individual instead of a generic, “Dear reviewer.” Nobody likes to feel like they’re just an unwilling part of a stranger’s mailing list.
If the reviewer has positively reviewed a book you feel is similar to yours, do feel free to mention that in your pitch, and make appropriate comparisons. “I see you really enjoyed “[Title],” and I think you might enjoy “[My Book]” because both have strong themes of anti-disestablishmentarianism and also feature cybernetic kittens in prominent roles.”
A lot of authors include comparisons in their pitches, but I find that maybe only half of them are appropriate comparisons. I’ve seen pitches that include mention a title I reviewed in the past and then pitch their novel that sounds like it has absolutely nothing in common with what I already reviewed. I’ve had authors mention their saw a review I wrote and accurately compared it to their novel but neglected to consider that my review was not a favourable one.
If a reviewer declines to accept your pitch, don’t get angry about it. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to read your book right now. Maybe it’s something like you ignoring their review policies, but maybe it’s also something like them just not having the time right now, or having too many other books that they have committed to read and review. Some reviewers will just review books at their leisure, with no set schedule, whereas others devise a timetable months in advance, knowing what they’re going to read and review and when that review will go live. They might simply not have any slots left available for months. You don’t know, and to be frank, they’re not obligated to give you an explanation. Some will, which is great, but if someone gives you a polite, “No thanks,” then let that be the end of it, and move on. Yeah, it sucks that maybe your favourite reviewer doesn’t want to read your book, but they’re not obligated to.
Note that some reviewers might not even give you a reply. To be blunt, more often than not these days, I don’t bother replying to review requests when they come through in my email. What’s my excuse for being so incredibly, iredeemably rude? Well, my review policies say that unless we’ve worked together in the past (ie, you’re an author or publicist that I’ve dealt with previously), then I’m not open to review pitches. I don’t even need one hand to count how many times I’ve been emailed in the past year by people I’ve already got a working relationship with, and I need more than both hands and both feet to count the pitches I’ve gotten from people I’ve never heard of before, trying to convince me to read and review their book. My policies are clearly stated. Either people aren’t checking them, or they’re checking them and just ignoring them. Either way, I don’t have the energy to deal with replying to everyone who probably took more time to type up an email than it would have taken to check whether it was even worth sending an email at all. So if you don’t follow the rules, don’t get angry when you get only silence.
Also don’t get angry if a reviewer gives your book a negative review. I understand that this absolutely sucks, and was probably the polar opposite of what you were hoping for, but unless the reviewer is making personal attacks against you in their review, you don’t really have much ground to stand on if they just didn’t like your book. Accepting a book for review is not the same thing as guaranteeing a positive review. Some reviewers have the policy of, “If I can’t rate it at least 4 stars, then I won’t review it at all,” which is their prerogative, and if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, then check their policies to make sure that’s the case and then pitch your book to them. But you have to accept that not everyone will receive your book as well as you want, and that as much as reviewers thrive on books and that many may offer fantastic feedback that authors might want to pay attention to, we’re mostly here for other readers. We’re publicly offering our opinions on books so that other readers with similar tastes might get a better idea of what books they too might enjoy. Reviewers don’t exist to fluff author egos, and we don’t exist solely to advance your careers. If you pitch a book to a reviewer who does negative and/or DNF (Did Not Finish) reviews, you should know that you’re taking your chances.
Which is another reason why you really need to do your due diligence and make sure you’re pitching your book to people who are most likely to enjoy it.
Speaking of, do remember that for 99.999% of reviewers, reviewing is their hobby, not their job. It’s extremely rare that anyone makes significant money reviewing books, unless they’re lucky enough to review for a massive publication, or they have a very popular YouTube channel, or maybe they’re a huge big-name reviewer and have got some Patreon support. But this is a hobby, first and foremost. We work our butts off for our hobbies, usually without any compensation beyond the occasional complimentary book. Some of us might get lucky enough to get some paid editing or publicity work thanks to their blog, but that‘s paid work. Reviewing isn’t paid work. This isn’t our job, even if some of us put in so much effort that it probably ought to be, but it’s still a hobby. If your book earnings break even with the production costs, you still probably earned more money than most reviewers do. Nobody is obligated to read your book as part of their career advancement. Nobody’s blog is going to be made or broken if they don’t read your book specifically. There are always more books than we can conceivably read, and missing out on one isn’t going to ruin us. So remember, reviewers are donating hours of their time when they agree to read and review your book.
What a lot of this boils down to is basically stated in the first point: “Do your due diligence.” Make sure you’re pitching to the right person for the task you want them to perform, and treat them accordingly. I’m fond of saying that if you can’t be bothered to spend 5 minutes researching me as a reviewer, why should I be bothered to spend multiple hours reading and reviewing your book? And I will die on that hill. If you can’t make sure that your book is a genre that I read, if you never bother to find or use my name, if you disrespect the rules I set out for my hobby, then why should I devote many hours to reading your book, taking notes, organizing my thoughts, writing a coherent review, and sharing it with others to try and boost your sales?
I want to hope this article makes a difference. The cynical part of my mind says that it won’t, because the people who need it the most are the ones who don’t check clearly-stated policies or the ones who act like their time is more precious than the time of the person they’re essentially asking a favour of, and those people probably aren’t going to heed this any more than they need the aforementioned policies. But it’s my hope that maybe there’s someone out there who’s starting off on their writing career, hoping to make it in a cutthroat world, and just isn’t sure how to start gathering those much-needed reviews to help them along the way. Maybe that person finds this article and thinks to themselves, “Oh, I wouldn’t have even thought to check for policies; I didn’t know reviewers even established review policies.” Or, “I never really considered that I’m essentially asking someone to work for hours in exchange for a $5.99 ebook; that adds a different perspective that will probably affect how I approach reviewers in the future.” Or even, “The only reviewers who are appropriate to pitch my novel to are also ones who write negative reviews sometimes, and now I’m not so sure that I did a good enough job editing it, so maybe I should hold off publishing and give it one more pass to make sure it’s as polished and ready as it can be.” (If that’s the case, then by damn, can I ever recommend some fantastic editors who will help make your book shine!)
Because I didn’t say all of this to be mean or discouraging. If you’re trying to make a go of it as an author, then I sincerely wish you the best of luck, and I hope that you find the success you’ve worked for. But in the name of success and hard work, if you want to pitch your book to reviewers, then you need to know how to best do it without running the risk of those reviewers just writing you off as someone who isn’t worth it to work with.