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Navigating the Befuddling World of Book Blogs

Yesterday, I almost drowned.

Okay, not literally, but I felt like I was drowning.  You see, I had a couple free hours, so I decided to dive in and get a head start on my marketing plan.  And oh what a deep, deep dive it was…

As anyone who uses Amazon probably knows from personal experience, buying a product with few or no customer reviews just feels a little bit shady.  There are millions of people using Amazon every day, so if not even a handful of those millions have purchased a particular product, it begs the question of why.  Why am I the only one buying this?  What does everyone else know that I don’t?

Or maybe that’s just me…  But I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not just my own shopping paranoia, because there are hundreds and hundreds of blog posts and books and articles about how to get people to review your book on Amazon so that other people will actually want to buy it.  And according to all these sources, the number one way to do that is to plead for help from book bloggers.

The idea seems simple enough.  Find blogs who review books like yours, email them to see if they want a free copy, send it out to the takers, wait for the reviews to flood in.  Yay!  The only catch here is that:

1. There are A LOT of book blogs.  Like THOUSANDS.  Which means you have to go through each one and spend 5+ minutes evaluating whether they’d be a good match for your book or not, b/c if they’re not, asking them to review it would not only be a waste of your time and their time, but will likely also result in some less-than-stellar reviews…

2. Once you find a blog which you think would be perfect for your book, you go check their Review Policies page and find out, oh, whoops!  They’re not accepting any review requests b/c they’re already backed up with 6 months of reading.  Or more likely, they’re not accepting self-published works b/c they’re already backed up with 6 months of reading and self-published idiots who can’t write or proofread have been flooding their inbox with requests to read their crap, and since you’re self-pubbed too, they can only assume you’re one of them.

3. After going back to the drawing board, you find a list of book bloggers who do read self-published novels, and start checking out those Policies pages, and luckily many of these bloggers are interested in your genre.  Except, your book doesn’t *quite* fit into any one genre so neatly (which was the entire point of writing it, because as a reader you were ready for something different and figured other people were too), so there are some bloggers who like paranormal romance but don’t say anything about dystopian sci-fi.  Should you bother asking that person?  Some are devoted to Young Adult books, but if your main character is in college or their early twenties, are you really YA?  And there are tons and tons and tons of posts out there from book bloggers saying, “please don’t email me if your book isn’t in a genre I’m interested in!” so you really don’t want to irritate these people by sending them requests that aren’t up their alley, but you just don’t know if yours is a book they might like.  So do you send it, or don’t you?

4. Okay, so after hours of sifting, you’ve picked a list bloggers who you’re fairly certain would enjoy your book and who are actually accepting submissions and who are open to self-pubbed authors.  So then the question is, when do you send your request?  Should you send an Advanced Reader Copy before the launch date since a lot of reviewers seem to give preference to ARCs and you want to build buzz?  But many bloggers need 6-8 weeks to read it, and you didn’t really want to wait that much longer to launch your book…  So maybe you should just launch the book and do the marketing thing after it’s already available?  But will that hurt the book’s reputation in the long run, to come out to a fizzle instead of a bang?

5. And finally, what can you offer these people in return which will make them want to read and review your book?  Yes, you’d love to think that the simple enjoyment of your compelling and well-written narrative will more than compensate them for their time (hah!), but that is not reality.  Reality is that this person is going to need 10 hours to read the book, another few hours to think about what they want to say and actually write the review, another hour to post it on their own site and Amazon and Goodreads and wherever else they’re kind enough to post it, and in the meantime they all have day jobs and these successful blogs to keep fresh with content.  And what they are giving to you with all these hours is incalculably valuable towards helping your book to sell, so what could you offer that could ever return the favor?  There’s the usual interview, a giveaway, a guest blog post, etc., but how do you know what they actually want?  How do you make this complete stranger like you enough to do you this huge favor??

So as you can see, this book blogger thing is not as simple as it sounds.  I’ve started compiling a list of blogs who might be interested in reading and reviewing Stitch, but I still have a lot of doubts about whether I’m going about this the right way.

On the bright side, the book blogging world seemed very supportive of authors in general.  Most bloggers who were too backlogged to accept review requests said they’d at least be happy to do an interview or host a giveaway.  And many also seemed open to being included in a “blog tour” (basically like a virtual tour where the author visits blogs instead of bookstores).  So there is hope left in me yet that with enough persistence, this will all work out.

The good news is that if you are an avid reader and you want free books in exchange for writing reviews, there is plenty of demand out there for your services!  If you’ve been thinking of starting a book blog, do it.  My recommendations would be to 1) make sure your blog is listed on directories of book bloggers (like this one) so that you’re easy for authors to find, 2) post a Review Policy page with an easily locatable email address (you’d be surprised how many blogs don’t do this!), and 3) be specific about what genres you like (and what you don’t like).  And pretty, pretty please take submissions from self-published authors!  (Maybe request that they include the first few pages of the book in their email so that you can weed out the garbage…)

Oh, and if you want to review Stitch, be on the lookout for future posts…  :-)

Update: This post was written in 2012, but a lot has changed since then! Many bloggers have moved over to other social media platforms like Instagram, so finding book blogs is not as easy (or effective!) as it once was. BUT, these new channels more than make up for it, so just adapt your methods to look to other platforms, and otherwise the advice above still holds! There are also super helpful and very cost-effective Book Tour Services (I've worked with Prism Book Tours several times and they are wonderful!) who can help you organize and eliminate some of the guesswork and grunt work!

Also, I've found that it makes a HUGE difference if you specifically *ask* reviewers to post their reviews on Amazon/Goodreads/wherever (some boycott Amazon for totally understandable reasons, so don't be surprised if some are not comfortable doing so!). After a review goes up on a blogger's site/social media, I always make sure to follow up with a thank you email (of course!) and I usually throw in a PS with a request to also post their review to Amazon & Goodreads, if they don't mind. More often than not, they are more than happy to help!


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