In the second of our posts on book reviews, Catherine Ryan Howard discusses the fine art of the please-review-my-book pitch email. Catherine's hilarious and insightful blog, Catherine Caffeinated, is a great resource for indie authors. And quite the giggle.
I’ve written posts about what to do and—more importantly—what not to do when e-mailing potential reviewers of your book. But it’s very difficult to put into words what exactly is an effective strategy to get your book reviewed. Which was why, when the perfect review request landed in my inbox, I e-mailed the author to ask him if he’d mind being an example for the rest of us.
He was Christopher Stone and the book The Trials of Arthur and this is an edited version of the message he sent me, with my thoughts in italics.
Dear Catherine, (my actual name! We're off to a good start.)
This would come under your ‘interesting non-fiction' category. (There’s a list online where I’m registered as a book blogger and I mention that I’m into interesting non-fiction; Christopher has checked what I like, instead of just mass-mailing everyone he can find.)
It's a a genre busting book.
It’s a true story, but it reads like a novel.
The central character is a druid, who is also a biker.
He claims to be King Arthur, but he is actually very sane.
It is set in the UK in the mid-nineties, but it is still relevant today.
(I scan through e-mails quickly; you really only have a very short space of time in which to convince me to stop and pay attention. These short, snappy sentences keep me reading, and the contrasts they highlight are making me think, Hmm. This sounds like it could be interesting. Also note that everything above is about the book. Most please-review-my-self-published-book e-mails open with how brilliant the author thinks the book is and how much they're convinced that I'll think it's brilliant too. All the while leaving me wondering: is this book any good?
Here are some of the reviews:
‘Am I alone in thrilling to this noble throwback to the age of Celtic romance?' AN Wilson, Evening Standard.
‘A haunting elegy to all those people who refuse to accept that they cannot make a difference in a world they know must change.’ Deborah Orr, The Independent.
(As I'm sick of trying to explain to newbie self-publishers, it doesn't matter a damn WHAT these people are saying—because it's all glowing, otherwise it wouldn't be here. What matters, above all else, is WHO they are. And the Evening Standard? The Independent? They're national UK newspapers, so presumably unbiased, professional critics. Or better than your mum or your friend who reads, like, all the time. So now I'm thinking it's far more likely to be good than bad.)
If you would like a complimentary review copy for Kindle please let me know. The paperback will be out later in the year.
Thank you for your time,
Publications *The Guardian Weekend*The Observer*The Big Issue*The Independent*The Independent on Sunday*The New Statesman*The London Review of Books*
Books *The Trials of Arthur (with Arthur Pendragon: Big Hand Books 2010)*Housing Benefit Hill (AK Press 2001)*Last of the Hippies (Faber & Faber 1999)*Fierce Dancing (Faber & Faber 1996)*
(All this information assures me that this isn't some weekend, get-rich-quick self-publishing experiment, but a career writer who has just released his latest book. At this point there's no doubt in my mind that Christopher is a talented writer.)
Now I know what you're thinking, or perhaps even screaming at the screen or page out loud: this is obviously a book that was previously traditionally published that the author is now re-publishing himself, and your average self-publisher is not going to have credentials like the ones above. That's absolutely true, but that's also absolutely besides the point.
What this e-mail does—and what your please-review-my-book message has to do—is:
1. Get the reviewer to actually read the message
2. Get the reviewer thinking, Hmm, this book sounds interesting
3. Present the reviewer with evidence that this book is likely to be good.
Think of it this way: if you were accused of being a good writer and put on trial, what evidence would the prosecution present? What evidence could they present? Have you been shortlisted for a writing award? Did you or do have a famous agent? Did your previous book get 1,000 five-star reviews? And if you don't have any of those things, there's the text of the e-mail itself. Just like a query letter you'd send to an agent, the words themselves are important here.
So few authors get it right. Just this morning came another good example of what not to do—or at least, what doesn't convince me to do anything except let my eyes glaze over and press “delete.” There must be a template of this somewhere because the majority of book review requests I get seem to follow this pattern. Identifying details have been omitted to protect the innocent.
Hi (You didn't even bother to add names when you were doing your mass reviewer mailing? Wow. You sure know how to make a girl feel special!)
Would you be willing to review my novel on your blog? (I wouldn't ask me this right off the bat, but the answer at the moment is no.) These are the details: (Details? DETAILS?! I don't want mere details, I want reasons to read your book.)
Length: 95,000 words
(So far this is reading like the production information section of an Amazon listing. BOR-ing!)
My Website: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Format: ePub, .mobi or PDF available to reviewers
Synopsis: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (There's no way I can show the synopsis, obviously, but it was just one small paragraph that would've been—and probably is—on the back cover of the book if it's available in paperback. And it’s not very interesting.)
So…. thank you but no thank you.
While we’re on the subject, my favorite e-mail review request ever—if that's in fact what it was; it's hard to tell what this was supposed to achieve, was this:
From: [email protected]
Subject: The Novel's Name
My book, THE NOVEL'S NAME, needs to be read.
RELATED POST: How To Get Your Self-Publishing Book Reviewed