My, what an interesting range of approaches there are in the publishing world as to how they think a reviewer can be best inveigled into reading their new book.
In the interests of good relations between reviewers and the publishing industry, here are the methods that work for me, and why; some that could be risky; and a few that annoy me. This is a personal view, obviously, and probably a hardcore response. I am the world’s least persuadable potential customer. I am a nightmare for sales staff instructed to offer their unwanted help to shoppers, and my rebuttals to telephone cold-callers are failsafe (pro-tip: reply in a language different to that in which they have confidently greeted you). So, if I say a marketing approach works for me, it might work for a lot of other people too.
- Send a short informative email with the name of the author, the title of the book and a one-para description (this is often forgotten, but is crucial) giving the basic plot, the genre, historical period, and cultural setting(s) (for example). Say who to contact to get hold of a copy. Leave it at that.
- Prove that you’ve actually researched the reviewer you’re targeting and have an idea of the kind of books they review.
- Reply to response emails quickly.
- When a reviewer has asked for a review copy, tell them (briefly) when a book has been posted, and then follow up to see whether it has arrived. This makes a reviewer feel that you care about the book, are keeping an eye on them, and want to see a review.
- Be brave if you’re a new author. Reviewers don’t (shouldn’t) distinguish between big-name publishers and the self-published, and we don’t care two hoots if we’ve never heard of an author before. The book is what we’re interested in, not the writer. So tell us about it!
- If you employ a temp (and I do mean EMPLOY: you do pay your interns, don’t you?) to do all the publicity for a book, this is your lookout. But don’t make it glaringly obvious that you’ve delegated publicity to an anarchist school-leaver, or a cocky student who doesn’t know that they’re out of their depth. Giving them an email account to use called ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, or ‘email@example.com’ does not inspire confidence. (Those email address prefixes exist: believe me, I’ve seen them.) Especially when we read the results of their unsupervised skills of persuasion.
- Being witty. This is a risky strategy because you don’t know our senses of humour, or the humour we’re in when reading your message. Here is a real example that I’ve read: ‘It’s a rough life being a book marketer. Half of the time I’m flogging five hundred page doorstops on crusty old dudes no one’s cared about since the mid 1850s. The other half of the time I’m stuck selling the fluffiest fiction known to man.’ If we can be bothered to get past your idea of wit to the book you’re trying to market, you’ll be lucky. We’re not likely to be impressed by your comedy audition.
- Being shy. New authors can be very nervous about telling the world how good their book is. We need to know about your book, not about your palpitating nerves, so please do give us the blurb in your first email. Please don’t bother being conventionally polite by asking meekly if we are interested in reading an undescribed first collection of short stories, because we will not bother to email you back unless something outstanding strikes us. Just get it out there! Tell us why you’re proud of your book, and why we will be interested, in your first contact.
- Don’t tell us that your best friends and relations think your book is great: of course they will! Tell us if it won a prize, or was mentioned somewhere (positively) by an objective person you’ve never met: that will cut more ice.
- Only making e-book versions of your book available. Some of us don’t do e-books, for eyesight or technical reasons, a simple preference for reading on paper, or plain Luddite stubbornness. We completely appreciate that some publishers can only publish in e-book formats, for sound economic reasons, and we would rather a book was available in e-book versions than not at all. But be aware that only making e-book versions available may lose you reviewing opportunities.
- A relentless chirpy cheerful approach. This makes you sound infantile, or on drugs. You also have no idea at what time of day or in what mood the reviewer will be reading your email. Keep it calm.
- A frenzied tone of urgency and drama. It’s only a book, for heaven’s sake. Keep a sense of perspective. Remember also that if you maintain this tone for all your book plugging emails, we’re not going to believe any of them.
- Over-familiarity and gushing false friendliness. You probably don’t know us, we probably don’t know you: don’t pretend otherwise. Just be pleasant and polite. Assume that we might do you a favour if we’re not irritated by you, and adopt the appropriate tone.
- Assuming reviewers are your own age, share the same cultural background, have the same educational level, or like what you like.
- We don’t want to know what you did last night that’s making you feel so ill this morning, thank you.
- Telling us what the book is not (as in ‘It’s not Fifty Shades of Grey but …’) We really could not care less what the book is not, but we would like to know what it IS.
- Comparing your novel to another one in a good or bad way: how do you know that we’ve read, or even heard of this other one? Or, what if we have and do not share your opinion of it?
- Trying to get our sympathy and interest by deprecating your own book in a humorous fashion. If you don’t think it’s that good, why send it out?
- Trying to pique our interest by being mysterious, and withholding the facts. We won’t have the time or inclination to email you back to ask for more information if you can’t be bothered telling us in the first place. Tell us all we need to know straight out. Then we can make our minds up whether we want to read the book.
- Sending a perfunctory list of your upcoming books with only their titles and prices: why would anyone be interested in that?
- Sending an email that begins ‘Dear Kate NAME, We’d like to tell you about The Name of the Rose
/ How Momma Bear Won a Fish / Economics for Beginners. It’s a great novel / storybook / work of economicswe’re sure all your readers will love.‘ (Based on an example received within the last 2 months.) Please pay attention to what your emails look like from the recipient’s end, no matter how well you think you know mail-merging. Send yourself one first, just to check.
While reviewers know that marketing people have to create marketing emails to sell books, your emails will work better if they are businesslike, efficient and cautious rather than loopily outrageous or offensively ingratiating. (To me, at least.) Bonne chance.