For indie authors, few free marketing efforts match the power of book reviews and blurbs. But many authors don’t pursue reviews and blurbs, and that’s a shame. Those who try are often disappointed with the results, and inexperience at querying reviewers is usually the cause.
To make this process more approachable, I’ve tried to streamline it into three simple steps for indie authors, with an emphasis on crafting an effective query.
1. Identify Targets
This is the most important part of the process. You only want to approach reviewers who are at the “top of the mountain” in terms of the influence they have over potential book buyers and readers. That’s why it’s so important to know who potential readers are, and who influences them.
And you shouldn’t put limits on yourself. Instead, think of the perfect review or testimonial—the one that could really affect book sales—and what it would look like on the cover of your book or in the first paragraph of a press release. Then, go for it, and make sure to include the influencers identified on the list of reviewers and bloggers to contact.
What’s key is to only approach review sources or individuals who have a proven interest in the kinds of books you’re writing. Don’t send a book on flower arranging to a publication for kayakers—it will just waste everyone’s time.
2. Send a Well-Crafted Query
A query letter can make or break a review campaign, so it’s important to spend time on it. Here are some tips.
Keep it short. People are busy. A four-page letter explaining the book and marketing plan in detail won’t be read by many people. Make it as short as possible to get the job done—no more than one page.
Introduce yourself. Include information on who you are and why you’re qualified to write this particular book. But skip the résumé or list of accomplishments.
Why is it important? Describe, in a sentence or two, what the book hopes to accomplish and why other people should care.
Connect to a common cause. This is crucial. Try to establish a “community of interest” between yourself and the person being queried. If the person’s work is noted in the book, mention that.
Be specific about what action should be taken. Include in the query exactly what outcome is desired. For instance, when requesting a testimonial, you might write: “If you enjoy the book, would you give me a quote that I can use in my book promotion?” When requesting a review, point out how the publication’s readers would benefit from reading the review.
Set a deadline. For testimonials, you will receive many more responses if you establish a deadline. Say something like: “It would help tremendously to have your response by February 1, but of course I would be grateful for any responses that come in after that if your schedule doesn’t allow you to meet that date.” A deadline isn’t needed for reviewers, who are working to their editorial schedules.
Make it easy. Don’t send the book with the query letter, but do offer it in whichever formats are available. If there’s a print or print-on-demand version, offer the printed copy as well as a PDF. If there’s an e-book version, offer that as well. Although PDFs look just like the printed book, they are also the format most prone to piracy, so consider using a service such as BookFunnel or NetGalley to securely distribute books to reviewers.
3. Follow Up
Getting reviews is a numbers game. By approaching enough people who are interested in the subject with a quality book, you will gather reviews or testimonials. But many won’t respond, and that’s just the way it is. Don’t take it personally.
You should make sure that all the materials needed to follow up with respondents are on hand. If there are printed books, make sure they are in hand, along with the media kit or other press materials useful to book reviewers.
There is no better boost for a book than for it to be recommended by experts in the field and to have positive reviews right where the intended readers will see them. Far more effective than paid ads, reviews can be the lifeblood of an indie author’s marketing campaign.
And there’s no reason to stop looking for reviews after a book’s publication date. If you have written a solid, professionally produced book that delivers real value, reviewers will be happy to find out about it.
Joel Friedlander is a book designer and author; he blogs about book design, marketing, and the future of the book at the Book Designer.