How to Get Into Book Reviewing as a Blogger
Every Thursday the crew at Follow the Reader host a twitter chat about some publishing topic. Yesterday was about what readers would like publishers to know. (This discussion will be summarized and posted at the Follow the Reader blog in a week or so). One of the tweets was by someone who wanted publishers to do a guide for how to get into blogging. My instinctive reaction was to tweet back that it isn’t really the publishers role to do this.
I realized then that I have never really done a post about blogging and book reviewing and at the risk of sounding like a pretentious twat, it is something that I have knowledge of. Here are my tips about getting into the book reviewing circuit as a blogger.
Edited to add: NetGalley is a company that facilitates getting digital ARCs from a publisher to a reviewer. You can sign up for free and then request books for review. I believe that the publisher will have to approve your request.
1. Be professional. The people who have the ARCs that you want are professionals and they want to work with professionals. To me professionalism includes being polite, having knowledge of the person you are contacting, providing them with the information that they need to make a decision without having them ask for it, being respectful, and timely. Here is a form email that can be used to contact a publicist. Most everyone’s name is available via google. What I used to do in the beginning (and still do from time to time) is google the name of the author whose book I want to read and the word publicist. Oftentimes I can hunt down the name of the right publicist to whom to direct my email.
Dear Ms/Mr Last Name (if you can’t tell by the first name then write Dear First Name Last Name):
I am writing on behalf of [name of blog]. We specialize in [genre speciality]. We are an [established, growing, new] blog in the genre. We review on a [regular, semi regular] basis and would like to discuss with you about increasing the exposure of your books on our blog. While our blog is smaller in traffic than the major sites, we want to devote attention to the titles that other blogs may overlook.
I’ve provided links of reviews that we have done in the past. As you can see, our opinions will vary from book to book but we treat each book with respect. Please contact me either by email or telephone at ______ to discuss a possible partnership.
If you treat your blog as a hobby you cannot expect others to regard you seriously. This does not mean that your blog needs to be a business, just that your emails and the way you conduct yourself with the publicists, editors, and authors, GENERALLY, needs to be done in a professional and businesslike manner.
2. Be involved. In order to grow your blog audience and justify the expense of an ARC, you need to interact with other bloggers and websites within the area of speciality you have chosen. Comment a lot, offer to guest post, and read, read, read. Don’t stay on your blog and expect people to come to you. Frankly, I love reading what other people have to say. Being part of the community is important to me and part of what I perceive to be the benefits of the blogging community.
3. Gain some knowledge about the industry. There is a ton of information out there about the book publishing business and having some knowledge about how the publishing industry works will help you obtain the books that you want/need to further your book reviewing aspirations. Google is your friend.
For example, ARCs or galley copies are expensive. Individual copies can cost at least $25 because of limited print run and offset printing costs. You need to prove that you are worth the expense. This may mean building up a library of reviews based on books that you bought yourself.
Publicists, Authors, and Editors all get galley copies of a book but Authors and Editors get a very small number. Publicists maintain the reviewing list of who gets what. Not every review blog will get a review copy of every book, not even Dear Author, so don’t be upset or piqued if they tell you that there isn’t a copy for you.
Many publicists believe that bloggers don’t need a large lead time and will offer finished copies. These are copies of the books that are sold in the store but can be sent to you a month in advance. Take these and use them to build up a repertoire of reviews and trust with the publicist.
Try to develop the relation with the publicist instead of trying to get ARCs from just the author or the editor. It is their job to curate the publicity for the book. Going around them or behind their back could result in negative feelings toward you.
4. Be patient. At Dear Author, it was probably 6 months before we received a paper galley and it was probably a year before we got on most publishing reviewer lists. It took me several months of sending faxes (back when I started out, publicity departments would not accept email queries) and following up with emails showing that we had, indeed, reviewed the book that they sent to us.
Being patient also means not inundating the publishing house with emails simply because you haven’t received a response the same day or even a couple days later. Wait at least a week before sending a follow up email even to another person within that same publishing house. Those publicists will talk to each other.
Relationship building is not something that happens immediately. You must work to gain respect of others and that takes time.
5. Be consistent. If you are serious about being a book blogger and you want to get ARCs on a regular basis, then you need to be consistent in providing content to your readership and to those who are supplying you with the ARCs. Don’t ask for an ARC, especially in the beginning, and not review it.
Also, don’t compromise your principles. Most publicists and editors appreciate the honest review. We have never stinted in stating our opinion, either good or bad, about books and this has not hurt our ability to obtain review copies for most books. I won’t lie and say it hasn’t hurt us from time to time but it’s more important for us to be honest in our opinions than to compromise the opinions for the sake of the getting ARCs. Your reading audience relies on your unbiased opinions. Never abuse that trust. It’s all part of being consistent.
6. Be clear. It’s important to have open lines of communication and an understanding expectations on all sides. Don’t be afraid to ask the publicist what his or her expectations are of you and your blog. I.e., Dear Fabulous Publisher, I received five books this month and I know I won’t be able to review but one of them. If this will be a problem, let me know what I can do in this regard.
Take all these tips and make them your own. In other words, I am far more reserved in my emails than others are. I know that other successful bloggers have a much more personable email tone, but that’s not me. (at least, not until I get to know you) so all my business emails are conducted in a fairly reserved manner. If your personality is more cheery, don’t be afraid to inject your personality into those business dealings. Just remember, though, that for the publicists, editors and authors, your reviewing is part of their business.