The truth about book blogger reviews (part 2)

The question I asked myself recently was whether I felt like the nine months of promotional work I did for By the Feet of Men – which mainly consisted of contacting book bloggers – was worth it. The answer: yes and no.

The good

The novel has managed to carve out its own niche, no matter how tiny, in the massive dystopian fiction genre. The response has been mostly positive from reviewers. I gained a few good pull quotes to use on the Amazon editorial section. A couple of reviews even gained a little traction on Twitter (100 retweets, 100 likes, etc.).

The bad

Out of the 30 book bloggers who received a paperback copy of the novel, only 4 (13%) actually read the book and posted a review before or in the month after the publication date. I actually received a higher response rate from bloggers to whom I sent an electronic copy. That’s a poor return on an investment. I do, of course, understand that to send somebody a book is not a contract under which they are obliged to provide a review. As stated, these people are extremely busy and their bedside tables are probably overflowing with books. It’s a gamble, and by and large it didn’t pay off on this occasion. Next time I may receive a higher return – or I might restrict myself to sending out electronic copies only.

The ugly

The only part of the book-blogger promotional process that bothered me is this: I followed up with a few of the reviewers who had seemed most keen on being sent a paperback copy and who promised to read it in advance of (or by) the release date. My email was a thing of curiosity more than anything – I asked only if they had indeed received their copy and if they were still planning on reading it, so that I could gauge whether any more reviews might be coming in post release. Of the 10 emails I sent to follow up on the paperbacks, I received three responses: one stating they had forgotten about it, one assuring me it was still on the pile, and one saying that they had never received the book. The other seven never responded. I was ghosted by my book bloggers.

There’s no judgement here from me. After all, there are no certainties in business. And book blogging is a business. But there are a few lessons to be learned from this experience, especially for authors who are just setting out on the promotion trail:

1.      Perhaps most obviously, giving somebody a paperback does not guarantee a review. Your novel may be forgotten or end up on the bottom of the pile, or the recipient may experience a change in their personal life that puts a stop to their blogging career. In other words, it’s a good idea to think twice about whether to spend the money on posting physical copies or channelling the funds into another way to promote the book.

2.      Even if a blogger sends you the most enthusiastic response in the world stating that they are dying to read your novel, you may never hear from them again. It’s important not to take it personally. Tastes and opinions change, and what seemed appealing back in March may be unpalatable in September. Sure, it would be polite for a person to say if they no longer wanted to read your work, but how many times have you decided to ignore an email rather than get into a potentially uncomfortable back and forth with someone?

3.      This is something I’m working on: don’t obsess over reviews. Contact bloggers, magazines and relevant people by all means, but restrict checking in on the various review platforms to once a week. If you do it too often, those numbers will take over your life. And you’ll forget why you wrote your book in the first place.

a book blogger in the wild

a book blogger in the wild

The truth about book blogger reviews (part 1)

When I started looking at ways to secure some advanced publicity for my dystopian climate fiction novel By the Feet of Men, book bloggers were at the heart of my strategy. As my book was being released with an independent publisher, I didn’t have the luxury of relying on a curated list of contact, and few big-name publications have the ink to spare on indie releases when there are already so many titles being pushed out by the Big Five. There was also the matter of my publicist failing to respond to any of my enquiries before abruptly quitting a month prior to the book’s release, leaving me to take care of everything.

     But that was okay, because the book bloggers were there for me. I’d read numerous accounts about how awesome they are. I’d checked out Goodreads and seen how influential some of them could be in generating interest among their followers. I’d made a few casual searches on Google and seen that there were literally thousands of them out there, all around the world, eager to read the latest in whichever genres it was they preferred. I read somewhere online that a new novel needed at least 25 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads by its release date to look credible to a casual browser. I had my publisher send me 40 review copies – their policy was that they only sent out review copies themselves up to six weeks prior to publication, a time window that I thought was much too short. With so many novels being released year in, year out, it was important to get a head start and contact people as soon as possible. Besides, by starting seven months before the publication date, I was sure to get the 25 reviews I’d set for myself.

     It didn’t take me long to realise how misplaced my confidence was. Book bloggers are busier than a department store at Christmas time. Checking out their ‘About’ page is like reading the biography of three people at once: full-time lawyer, mother or father of two, fundraiser at weekends and bookaholic who receives 300 review requests per month. In many cases, I felt guilty at contacting these people and asking to take up the free time (if any) that they had left.

     In general, it was more difficult than I’d imagined to actually find bloggers who were open to receiving requests. Trawling a book blogger index was like looking for survivors after a battle, the vast majority having been rendered unavailable or taken offline altogether by a relentless barrage of emails. Even when I did unearth one, I had to make sure my book complied with the list of accepted genres and formats and time frames. In total, perhaps one in seven were suitable for what I needed.

     I sent out around 200 queries to book bloggers over the course of six months, and received approximately 30 positive responses from people willing to read the book by the end of August 2019 (the official release date was on 1 September). I bought a bale of padded envelopes, stuffed the paperbacks inside, took them to the post office and accepted the financial hit required to send a book from Berlin to places like Missouri, Perth and Glasgow. The books disappeared into the postal system and into the world, and I put them to the back of my mind.

     As the release date drew closer, I checked in on Goodreads, Amazon and Twitter every couple of days to see how the reviews were coming along. Amazon was dead, but there were some signs of life on Goodreads: a couple of bloggers posted their reviews in April, three more added theirs in May. June was quiet, but things picked up again in July. As expected, August was the best month, with 15+ reviews being added to the title’s listing on the platform. Since the first week of September, things have stalled a little, but the novel has been marked as ‘to read’ or ‘currently reading’ by 117 people. For an indie title with virtually zero backing from the publisher, that sounds like a pretty okay return.

So how did I feel about the whole process? That’s the exciting cliffhanger that’ll be resolved in part 2.

they sort of look like books. sort of.

they sort of look like books. sort of.