One of the panels that BEA Bloggercon has had for a couple of years is managing relationships between publishers and bloggers. Bloggers bemoan the seemingly relentless focus on statistics, something a new blogger often stresses over. From speaking with other reviewers at BEA, there was a desire for greater discussion about relationships and not numbers. Here’s what I’ve learned in my past six years of blogging.
1) Relationships don’t happen over night.
The first review copy I received from a publisher was about six months after I started blogging. I actually did not know that there was such a thing as review copies. For six months, we had reviewed books we purchased ourselves except for the couple of books sent to us directly by the author. After six months, we started to receive a few review copies from Berkley, a paperback imprint of Penguin. I began looking up names of publicists on the internet. Six years ago, these publicists weren’t responding to emails. I had to fax my requests in on “letterhead”. I didn’t have a fax machine and I had no letterhead.
I created letterhead using a Word template and I signed up for an internet fax account for which I paid about $10 per month. I sent out multiple faxes to different houses and often received zero response. But I persevered and eventually, six years later, I feel like I have a fairly good relationship with most publishing houses; albeit not all.
It can be challenging when there is regular turnover and the houses have many, many publicists that work on books and you have no idea which one to email. Simply do your best. Begin with one book, one author and build upon that block. Each time you show a publicist that you take his or her work seriously; that you understand that they are trying their best to do their job; and that you are willing to follow through so that their efforts with you aren’t wasted, you are adding another block to your relationship.
It takes time and effort to build relationships.
2) What goes in a review request.
Let me tell you what I would say in these faxes.
Dear Publicist (except I would state their name):
I wanted to introduce myself. I am Jane Litte with the romance review blog called Dear Author. My friend and I started this blog in April of 2006 and we have been steadily reviewing books on a daily basis. I am a particular fan of Suzy Author and her series “The Amazing Stories of Unicorn Horns”. I’ve reviewed the last two books here [Fake URL] and here [Fake URL]. I understand that her next book, “The Horn’s Heart” in the series “The Amazing Stories of Unicorn Horns” is due to be published on September 1, 2012. I would love to read and review that book for my blog.
If you do not have a review copy available, perhaps you would consider sending me a finished copy closer to the release date. I hope you won’t mind if I contact you again in August regarding this.
Please let me know if you need any additional information from me:
Even today, I will start my request for review copies with the same introduction. I don’t assume that the publicist knows who I am or who my target audience is. I follow the introduction with my strongest asset. Right now, I feel like my statistics (sorry) are my strongest feature but when I was first starting out, I felt my strongest feature was the fact that I was regularly reviewing and had reviewed that particular author in the past.
One additional thing of note, don’t be greedy. Start out with one book and one author at a time. You build a relationship by convincing the other party that you are a good risk and you can do that by requesting a book, receiving it, and reviewing it in a timely fashion.
Here’s the elements that you want to include in your letter:
- Introduce yourself
- Define your audience
- Tell them why you are excited to read this book
- Show them you have done your homework by naming the book, the author, and the future publication date
- Express that you are willing to be flexible
- Show them your past body of work
- Be willing to give statistics or other blogger references
- BE POLITE!
3) Learn the lingo.
There are two types of promotional copies a publicist can provide: an Advanced Readers’ Copy (known as ARCs but also known as Uncorrected Proofs) and a finished copy. In today’s world, a publicist has three ways she can get you a book: a paper review copy, an electronic galley, and a paper finished copy. Generally speaking, the paper review copies are the most expensive. I’ve been told that they can cost around $25 or more to produce each individual copy. An electronic copy is also not free. Services like NetGalley or Edelweiss cost money. A finished paper copy generally is the easiest form of promotional copy to obtain.
Why should you be concerned about the cost? You shouldn’t, really, but it does explain why everyone can’t get an advanced look at the books.
Let me tell you more about finished copies and why they could help you establish a relationship with a publicist.
4) Finished copies
Finished copies are the actual finished book. The copy that goes to the bookstores. These are available to a publicist generally about 3 to 4 weeks before the on sale date. It is often easier and cheaper for a publicist to send you a finished copy.
It makes the most sense to send a request to a publicist around the time that they have access to finished copies. In other words, don’t make them keep track of your requests. Make it easy for them by sending them a specific request for a book. Don’t expect a response. Oftentimes a request will be followed by a book appearing at your doorstep.
If you do a follow up email, do only one and make it a week to ten days later. If your request is ignored, resign yourself to purchasing the book. After you purchase the book and review it, send an email to the publicist with a link saying something like:
“I know we were unable to connect with book “The Horn’s Heart”. I reviewed it on my blog the other day (link here) and hope that we can keep in touch about future books by Suzy Author. I would also be interested in hearing about any other books like The Horn’s Heart you may have in your catalog.”
Never never send a link saying something like:
You are totally incompetent for not sending me The Horn’s Heart. I bought it and reviewed it anyway and you can see by the 12 comments it got that you really were wrong in not sending me the book. If you were doing your job, you would have sent me the review copy months ago.
Guarantee you go up on their bulletin board on a do not send list.
5) Go to a conference and meet some of these people in person.
While I admit that conferences can be no fun and that socializing with strangers can be agonizing for even the most experienced people, meeting editors and publicists face to face was one of the best things I could have done for the blog. They were able to fit a face to a name and I think, although I don’t know this for a fact, that seeing me at a conference made me more real to them. It’s harder to turn down someone you’ve met in person. This is not to say that you interrupt a business meeting to get face time, but that you take advantage of whatever networking opportunities available to you.
Networking is a tough skill and it’s worth reading up on it to know how to do it right if you’ve never had to engage in that process before.
6) Be willing to read unknowns.
Nalini Singh’s “Slave to Sensation” was my first review copy I ever read. She sent me a Word doc. Nalini once told me that I was one of the first bloggers she reached out to. Nalini Singh is now a bestselling author and I feel thrilled that I was one of the first people outside her immediate circle to read “Slave to Sensation.” At the time, though, six years ago, Nalini Singh was virtually unknown with only a few category titles to her name. We both took a chance on each other.
One of the best things about blogging, though, is finding new to me authors and sharing those with the reading world. That’s an amazing feeling. If you are willing to take the lesser known authors’ books and not just chase the big names, you may have a greater chance of getting a review copy. Additionally, it helps to tell the publicist that you are flexible and willing to try new things.
7) Follow through
If you say you will do something, then you must follow through. If you tell a publicist you are going to review a book, you need to follow through on this and notify the publicist that you have followed through.
Being reliable is important.
8) Remember that this is their job
While blogging is a part time hobby for many book reviewers, being a publicist is how the people on the other end pay their bills. They have budgets (how much money they can spend on each book) to deal with. They have performance evaluations to meet. Their future in the business, whether it is moving up the corporate ladder at their current company or moving to another company for a better position, depends on how well they carry out their current position. So while you just want books or access, they are trying to determine how to best spread the word about their books.
9) Don’t take a rejection personally
We all get rejected and ignored. It happens to me yet today. Don’t take it personally. Understand that not every publicist will know you or recognize that you have reach. Go on to the next book. It might be frustrating to see every blogger friend of yours coo over their latest acquisition but dwelling on this will only cause resentment and possibly impair a relationship that you are trying to build. There are hundreds of thousands of books to read out there. Move on to the next book.