Book Blogging 101: How to find Review Copies and stand out as a blogger #IndieMonth2017 #giveaway #BookBloggers
What will you post about? How do you get those coveted early review copies? In today’s #BookBlogging101 article, we’ll chat about all that, plus tips for making your article stand out from the crowd.
Read on to learn how to stand out from your very first post!
What to post about
When you’re putting yourself out there for the very first time, or perhaps for the first time in a long while, the fear of being judged or trolled is very real.
What if they don’t like your post?
What if people make fun of you?
What if you get trolled and no one defends your carefully crafted article?
What if no one reads it at all?
What if… what if… what if…
There’s a line Richard Gere’s Lancelot tells Guinevere in First Knight that I think about a lot. She asks him how he became so skilled at fighting…
“You have to not care whether you live or die.”
Yeah, it’s morbid, and no one should be in mortal danger over a little blog post, but the sentiment is the same. You can only be your best self outside the shadow of fear and doubt. Use those to temper your rough edges and polish your approach, but don’t let them control where you take your work. In short: write what makes you happy, not what you think other people want to read.
That said, you should absolutely introduce yourself!
Nobody wants to be preached at. The element of human connection is hyper important in social relations, and when someone reads your blog, they’re getting a little slice of you. Readers are more likely to stick with you and keep coming back to read your content if they know a little about you, especially if they can find some common ground to celebrate.
When you make a new WordPress site, it automatically comes with a “Hello, World!” draft post, WP’s way of encouraging you to introduce yourself before diving in. Doing one of these may feel cheesy and embarrassing (for you introverts out there), or it may energize and excite you (lookin’ at you, extroverts!), but it’s a smart idea, and people will read your intro post long after you’ve forgotten it’s there. Here’s my GraveTells Hello, World from back in 2010. You can see that I’ve branched out into Contemporary Romance since then, and my review rating system is totally different now, but I’m still the same person. =) For my editor site, I took a different tack: I have a static “About me” page in my top navigation, and I started with an inspirational “you can do it!” type post.
WP’s Hello, World! draft-post-nudge aside, there’s no single right way to introduce yourself on your blog, so be creative and be sure whatever you do reflects you!
I could (and probably will) craft a whole series on How To Be A Kickass Book Reviewer, but before you post your first one, think about what you want it to cover. Some things to ponder:
- Do you want to include the book’s blurb? If yes, do you plan to write your own summary or will you use the published bookseller version?
- Do you want to include quotes from the book? If yes, do you have some in mind? What’s the max # of characters you’ll paste in as a quote?
- Are you good at eloquently summarizing why you enjoyed or disliked something? Or are you better at bullet lists with direct statements or even fun gifs?
- How will you rate the book? Overall 5-star system? Additional “heat” ranking (and what icons will you use)? Your own custom rating system?
- When will you post your reviews? Do you want to aim for release day to help hype up early book sales? Or do you prefer to do whatever is convenient for you?
SPOILERS ARE BAD. M’kay?
So now that I’ve scared the pants off you, there are sometimes occasions when posting an intentional spoiler is called for. I can hear the collective gasp of shock now. Stop polishing your axes! Here’s what I mean…
It’s okay to be human.
When I first started, I probably did give spoilers (sometimes accidentally), and eventually I’d like to go back and clean those up, but for now my sins will just have to be on display. Remember how we talked about everyone having to start somewhere? Right? Right. Even so, there are times when I have chosen to give small book details away. This is usually because I felt some element of the story would be an unpleasant surprise to readers, and revealing a spoiler was better than letting people be shocked and pissed (or psychologically damaged) when they read it themselves. The key here is to tell readers right up front that the review contains spoilers, and on how large of a scale. I put a general “no spoilers” disclaimer at the top of every review post, so that’s an ideal place to announce the opposite too.
And it’s hard to define what “spoiler” means to different people, anyway.
Some people prefer to know as little as possible when they start a read, and some want to know enough details to judge whether it’s going to be a good fit for them before investing. For example, I don’t consider revealing a cliff-hanger ending in a book a spoiler. Romance readers expect HEAs, and when an author pulls a surprise cliff-hanger ending, it inevitably alienates some (many!) readers. What I would not do, however, is reveal that the big bad is actually the hero’s split personality. That would probably be the big emotional moment in the plot, and giving that away makes the read a lot less appealing.
Giving a Cliff’s Notes version of the story is also not a review.
I cannot stress this enough. The story blurb exists for a reason. Someone with marketing, editorial, or publishing experience spent a lot of time (and probably got paid) to craft that story description you see on bookseller sites and GoodReads and the back cover of a paperback, so what it includes is what it should include. Don’t try to one-up it. A review should be your personal reaction to the story. Whether your review is a page of fun, snarky gifs or a disposition worthy of an English Literature thesis, it is still yours. And that is PERFECT.
Back to prepping for your review
I often write my own story blurbs after reading a book. I also list the story blurb (using a convenient plug-in for WP called UBB), so readers can see the official version, then read my version for extra insight. I tend to be a sort of mimic, meaning the tone of my reviews usually matches the tone of the book. Snarky heroine? Snarky review. Serious story with gravitas and emotion? Review with a grounded feel and stark observations. My custom blurb is similar—which gives readers additional insight into the book itself—and I try to keep things as high-level as possible. Not everyone writes their own, and that’s fine too!
I also usually include quotes, but not always. When I’m reading, I just highlight (in my Kindle app) or copy out (to my Evernote review draft) whatever I might want to quote in the review, then keep reading. Sometimes I end up with an abundance of quotes, and my review is more quotes than actual review, and sometimes I end up with none at all. Some books just don’t lend themselves well to isolated quotes.
My writing style is verbose (duh, look at this article!), so my reviews are generally lengthy. Some people do best with short and to-the-point lists of reasons why they did or didn’t like a story. It doesn’t matter how you format your review as long as the opinions are your own (and are NOT SPOILERS OR RECAPS).
There are tons of possibilities for rating systems. Some bloggers use separate story and heat ratings, some use campy rating styles that match their site (like the little cats Anna of Herding Cats & Burning Soup uses), and some people just do their own thing completely, using either word-ratings or a different scale than 1-5 stars. I use a 10-point scale with with tons of targeted sub-ratings—you know, to make things extra complicated. Like I do. 😉
The absolute most important element of a review is YOU. Your reviews should be unique to you and your tastes. Readers will follow your reviews because something about your personality calls to them, so don’t be afraid to be yourself, whether that means boisterous, snarky, and loud or reserved, eloquent, and structured.
Did somebody say, “Review copies”?
How to find (& choose!) Review Copies
To write a book review, you don’t need a fancy blog or social media accounts. But you do need an actual book to read. Let’s talk about some options for scouting out books you may want to review. At some point in your book-blogging career, you’ll probably find yourself inundated with free review copies. Sounds like a good problem to have, but if you’ve taken everything that came your way, chances are not all of them will be a fit, and you’ll be miserable trying to get through them all. Here’s my checklist for considering a book for the never-ending review pile (which I literally schedule. In a spreadsheet and calendar. No, you’re not alone. Yes, we’re a little bit crazy. Did I say crazy? I meant organized… 🙂 ):
- Does the blurb catch my attention? A good blurb embodies the spirit of the book itself. If the blurb looks boring, that doesn’t bode well for the read.
- Is the genre one I usually enjoy? Sometimes you may like books outside your genre, but how often does that work out for you? Be your own gauge. Going into a read knowing you’re going to hate it and slam it is bad form. Don’t be intentionally mean. Authors are people, too. Look for books you think you have a chance at liking.
- What is the average star rating on GoodReads and Amazon? Handy for books already released or with a lot of pre-release buzz on GR. Try looking at the 3-star reviews and see if what those people didn’t like may be something you will like. NOTE: Amazon and GoodReads use different scales for their five-star metrics, so hold GR star ratings to a higher standard: A 3-star rating on Amazon means “It was okay.” and a 4-star means “Liked it.” A 3-star rating on GoodReads means “Liked it” and a 4-star means “Really liked it.”
- Check out the author’s GoodReads and Amazon book list and ratings. Are their ratings generally 3.5+ stars? Are the books’ ratings increasing over time (indicates the author is also improving his or her skill)? When looking at ratings, always see how many have been posted. A 5-star average won’t tell you much if there are three whole reviews.
Awesome! Now we know what to look for before just saying GIMME and taking a copy, yeah? Now let’s talk about where to find these review copies. Free books for review are more accessible than you may expect…
- Mine your bookshelf: This one is so obvious, you may miss it completely. Most book addicts—and, let’s face it, if you’re thinking of reviewing, you’re probably somewhere on the spectrum—have a literal treasure trove (har har, see what I did there? :D) of books on their e-readers or on their physical bookshelves that just never made it to the top of the stack. Reviewing these will cost you nothing extra and gain you some TBR sanity. I mean, you originally saw something in those books, or you wouldn’t still have them. Dust ’em off and give ’em some love!
- Directly from authors: I actually prefer this one more than most of the other options in this list. Part of the reason I started blogging was to get closer to the authors I adore (they’re my rock stars!), and they love hearing that their stories made enough of an impact that you wanted more. There are lots of ways to reach out to authors—social media, reply to their newsletters, email via their websites, approach them at conventions, etc—and I’ve found that most authors love meeting readers who are fans, especially reviewers. Don’t be afraid to tag an author in social media shout-outs with a quote from your review (although, try to be respectful and don’t tag someone to bash them!). I’ve made some fantastic friends and connections this way. I <3 authors so hard! NOTE: This tends to be easier with newer and less well known authors.
- FYI: I’m not saying you should bug an author for every book you want. Sometimes I buy them instead of asking people I know will give me one, because I want to give back. If a book has been released for a while, and they’re not promoting that one, just buy it and ask to be on their list for the next one they do want to promote.
- Author newsletters: Authors often trade newsletter promos with their peers in the genres they write in. These newsletters are a gold mine for free books. You probably won’t enjoy every single one, but some of them are REALLY GOOD, and all you had to do was open an email. Don’t be afraid to subscribe to newsletters! You can sign up for some at…
- Instafreebie, Bookbub, FreeBooksy, etc: The freebie mailing services out there are gaining popularity with both readers and authors. It can be easy to take everything offered, but do the checklist first to be sure it’s in your preference sphere. Check out this article by Instafreebie on finding the books that will work best for you.
- Freebies on Amazon*: Authors and publishers often drop a book’s cost to $0 for two reasons—to help boost sales ranking and to hook readers on the first book of a series. This is good news for reviewers, because these freebies don’t take up a slot in your Kindle Unlimited shelf, and they will sit on your device until you’re ready to read. A note of caution: Check the number of pages or length of a book in its listing info. If it’s super short, say 40-50 pages, it’s not a full book and you may feel pressured to buy the full after a cliffhanger. Avoid these for review copies, or reach out to the author personally and just ask for one.
- Kindle Unlimited*: If you already pay for the service, might as well review those books you’re already reading!
- Set up a review policy and submission form on your blog and let authors come to you. Your review policy doesn’t need to be as extensive as mine—we already know I’m chatty. 😉 The submission form is handy though, and if you don’t have a forms plugin, you can just use a Google form.
- Host for tour companies: Tour companies work on a sort of cattle-call approach. They usually need to pack as many blogs into a tour as possible, and not every event has available review copies. Sometimes review copies are limited, and you may not get one if you ask. But it’s worth asking! Usually you can request a review copy in the sign-up for the event, but don’t expect personal (or even timely) treatment. Look for tour companies that host different authors or genres to avoid overlap (you can be a host with more than one!).
- Partner with publishers: This is probably the least accessible method in this entire list. Big-name publishers keep groomed list of high-profile and well-established review sites with quality content, and they keep track of who delivers and who doesn’t. The best way to get a publisher’s attention is to build your blog into something dynamic and unique, then shout out to one of their publicists on social media. Promote the hell out of your reviews (even if you had to buy the books yourself) and tag the authors, publicists, and publishers in social media. Give them juicy review quotes to clip (but don’t lie, yo 😉 ). They’ll eventually (probably) notice you. Or, find the publisher’s table at a book convention, and talk to someone there personally. Sometimes they have sign-up forms on the publisher sites as well. Another way to get publisher attention is to build yourself a solid record of of quality and credibility on NetGalley…
- Netgalley and Edelweiss: I listed these last for a reason. While these will get you authentic early review copies, these copies have an expiration date, so you can also screw your credibility in a hot minute without even realizing…
- Netgalley is easier to get review copies from (especially those coveted Advance ones, or ARCs), but there is a backend scoring system that you can’t even see, and publishers use this to decide who gets access to their titles. If you have a record of taking review copies and never giving back reviews, your score will reflect it, and you’ll see less and less approvals. I’ve heard some publicists say they’d rather take a chance on a brand new reviewer than an established one who never delivers. So be very careful to take only what you will actually review! NG also offers free downloads sometimes (open to ANYONE without approval), and these are a good opportunity to build your credibility if you find yourself getting rejected a lot or just have no history.
- Edelweiss is trickier. I find the site less user friendly (even the new version) and the catalogue of titles daunting. I’ve also had trouble getting responses to my review requests (ignored for months and months) when I have a proven good track record with those same authors and series. So maybe Edelweiss will pan out better for you, but I tend to work more with NG.
How do you find your review copies? Got any “tricks” for finding new books to read? How do you stand out in the crowd?
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These are open to US & international readers! Leave a comment on today’s post, then fill out the prize widgets below to enter to win these fantastic prizes! Not sure what to chat about? Here are a few prompts to get you started…
- Do you know of any other “off the beaten path” tricks for finding review copies?
- Aside from Amazon and GoodReads, what are your favorite places to leave reviews?
- What do you look for when deciding what books to add to your review list?
- What do you do to stand out in the crowd?
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