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.