Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What I Want To Know

Welcome to TNBBC's "What I Want To Know" - a mini series of sorts that will hopefully answer some of the questions and quiet some of the concerns I know fellow bloggers, authors, and publishers have regarding how to choose a reviewer or book to review, review etiquette, how to pitch and be pitched.. among other things.

I sent out a request via Twitter a few weeks ago, soliciting feedback from various publishers, authors, and bloggers to get their take on 5 specific questions. Those that expressed interest were emailed the same 5 questions and asked to answer them openly and honestly.

My hope is that this series opens up some discussion - Share your thoughts and feelings on the questions and topics we cover here, recommend other topics or questions to help the series grow and evolve!

Let's get started!

The first question I wanted to tackle was this:

What do you look for in a reviewer? What catches your attention? What turns you off?

This question was sent out to the authors and publishers, and I thought it was a great place to start because, really truly, as bloggers, how can we ever stand a chance at building a relationship with them if we don't even know what they want from us? What is it about us that makes them agree to ship out review copies? What can we do to keep them coming back?

Here is what they had to say:

"At Graywolf, we really try to be selective about only approaching bloggers to pitch our books if we think the book is a good fit for the publication/blog and that publication’s audience. We don’t want to waste a reviewer’s time by sending a poetry collection to a reviewer/blogger that only reviews mystery novels, for example. So we try to pay attention to what the publication seems to focus on.

Enthusiastic blogs really catch our attention. Certainly we love getting coverage in a publication with a huge circulation rate or a huge audience, but you don’t always have to have the biggest circulation to have the most passionate readers. Even if a blog has only ten followers, if those ten followers are all voracious literature lovers that are going to read your book, get behind it, and tell everyone they know about it, then you have an extremely valuable readership. Word of mouth goes a long, long way in selling books
." - Marisa, Graywolf Press

"Traffic numbers, word-of-mouth recognition, a vibrant community, and a destination site." - Lucinda, Book Marketer

"I like reviewers who are succinct and can sum up their thoughts in 2-3 paragraphs, because when I'm reading reviews I like to read quite a few to get an idea of the range of emotions and ideas that a book can inspire. I understand that there is a market out there for longer, critical reviews, but I wonder if blogs or GoodReads etc. are the appropriate place for such analysis--I personally don't have the time to read multiple reviews that are 1000 words or longer. I would rather devote that time to reading the book in question." - Andrew Shaffer, HuffPost columnist and author of GREAT PHILOSOPHERS WHO FAILED AT LOVE (Harper Perennial, Jan '11)

"I want someone who is going to read the entire book, not just skim it. It's easy to tell when a reviewer has only read part of the book and relied on other reviews, jacket copy and publicity material to flesh out the piece. I HATE reviews that move into personal attack, rather than offering critique of the work. It seems lately that many reviews have become more entertainment writing than actual critique." - Collin Kelley, Poet, journalist, social media consultant, author of Conquering Venus

"Comments and interaction from and with readers, Interest and familiarity with our genre, and Google Page Rank.

We look to see if the blogger has lots of visitors and interactions with their readers. The more readers, the more likely we will want to pitch them. So, lots of comments catch our interest. We look and see what kinds of books they review and if they review the kind of work we publish. We check their google page rank, which is the number that indicates their traffic and how likely they are to come up in the top for listings on search engines." -
Vagabondagepress, Arts/Lit Online 'Zine The Battered Suitcase

"Obviously a certain amount of erudition is something I look for. If the reviewer writes well, doesn't make spelling errors (for self-edited blogs) and can describe why they liked or disliked the book without at the same time revealing too much of the plot, that's a rare and good thing. Turnoffs would be if the reviewer has basically the same thing to say about each book." - Gene Doucette, author of Immortal

I was amazed by the similarities, and the differences, in what publishers and authors look for.

Sometimes bloggers get hung up on their blog stats - # of comment, # of unique hits, # of returning hits, # of sites that get traffic through them - and while these comments give some weight to stats, it appears that publishers and authors are more interested in YOU and how you blog. They understand the power of a review, and pay attention to what you are reading, and what you like.

When I first started blogging, I pitched publishers and authors for novels to review more often than they were pitching me. Even though I had been running TNBBC on goodreads for 3 years, I was still fairly unknown in the publishing community - at least concerning my status as a 'reviewer'. I had no stats to speak of, so I had to sell myself, my confidence in what I liked, and my ability to give them the word of mouth their novels deserved.

Don't sell yourself short, and assume that if you aren't raking in 100+ hits a day, and have less than 500 followers, that publishers and authors won't take you seriously. Work hard at developing your writing and identifying a unique style, create a niche to market yourself through or an easy way for authors and publishers to know what you types of books you like to review, and those review pitches should come pouring in!

What did you think?

Was this post helpful and insightful? Was there anything here that shocked you? What interactions have you had with publishers or authors that support or negate what you read here?

Next week, we turn the tables, and ask the bloggers what they look for in a review pitch. So authors and publishers, be sure to check back and see what they have say!


  1. What a great post! I've been watching my numbers lately, and worrying that I hardly get comments, but my numbers are fair. Despite that, I genuinely love books that I write about. That was the whole reason I started my blog in the first place to connect to people I couldn't connect to once I left my job as a bookseller. And I'd wonder if there was a certain length to a review that made publishers happy. Some reviewers write 2 sentences, others write their own summaries and reviews. But this has some food for thought!

  2. That was really interesting! I'm always intrigued about what publishers want and expect from book bloggers. I was a little surprised at the one who said he liked shorter reviews, because I always thought a longer review showed more thoughtfulness and interest in the actual book than something only three paragraphs long.

  3. Hi Bri, thanks for the comment. I am glad the post helped you with the way you blog, and hooray for being able to keep in touch through blogging.

  4. @ Anastasia - I think that no matter how great a review is, it usually takes more than just one review for me to pick up a book. That review might be the jumping-off point, from which I'll seek out other reviews to compare alternative opinions. Then again, sometimes just one positive review from a blogger whose opinions I really trust is all it takes to make the cash register ring.

  5. Anastasia, the funny thing about review length - I love to write and write and write when reviewing a book. I actually sometimes have to condense what I want to say to keep them as short as they are (which is still quite long!). However, I tend to prefer to read reviews that are a bit shorter in length. I know, I am a hypocrite, right?!

    I also prefer reviews that talk more about the experience of reading the book, than an entire summary with very little personality.

  6. Great post, thank you for sharing! I found it very interesting and helpful, as I'm new to book reviewing.

    I personally also prefer reviews of a shorter length, and I'll usually compare them across the board if I still can't get a fair sense of what the book is like. I especially like book reviews that offer (by way of links or some reference) me something to explore as a sort of supplement to the book, or a precursor.

    I look forward to more posts in this What I Want to Know series!

  7. Thank you Lee. I am glad you were able to take something from this post. I really enjoyed seeing what the authors and publishers had to say. It helps when you understand what people are looking for.

  8. I guess I am weird in that I prefer long, thoughtful reviews. I'm not talking a long rehash of the summary, but when someone posts about why they connected with the book and how, especially when those reviews include a personal story about why the book resonates. To me, that is fascinating and makes the book more fascinating.

    ALSO as far as review pitches go, please use my name. Don't pitch me stuff that I don't read, i.e. picture books, RELIGIOUS fiction. Oh man, that is the worst.

  9. April, thanks for the comment! You bring up a great point regarding pitches, as that is one of the questions I threw out there to the publishers, authors, and bloggers. You will see their likes and dislikes over the next couple of weeks! And I couldn't agree more - address the email to me, make it personal, did you look at my review policy or what type of books I like? If so, tell me. If you did your homework on me, I will definitely do my homework on you!!