by Sara Chatterjee
Let me first confess, I didn’t start out as a book reviewer. It was certainly not a natural outcome of my love for books. I hardly knew anything about book-blogging. I was a clueless writer trying to get some feedback.
That’s how I came across a whole bunch of websites dedicated to helping out self-published authors. Prior to this, I believed that once a book is published and manages to get some readers, reviews start pouring in automatically. Of course, that was a very naïve assumption.
Indie books and books published by lesser known publishers don’t get the exposure they need. After investing a good amount of effort in marketing and publicity, Indie authors find it increasingly difficult to gain readership. That is partly because there are skeptics who doubt the credibility of self-pub books and partly because most potential readers don’t get to know about them.
There is Twitter and Facebook which are supposed to get the word out, but if you do the math you will realize there is very little chance of your posts being noticed. People have too much information in their feed and they obviously skip thru much of that. It is extremely frustrating for authors to come to terms with the fact that their work is being pushed towards oblivion and they don’t have sufficient time to do what they love doing—write.
“Many of the books I review are better than the ones topping bestseller lists. I truly hope these books get what they deserve and I, as a blogger, would be humbled to be a small part of their success stories.”
This is where book-bloggers come in.
I was very excited about approaching reviewers and I spent a lot of time navigating through pages of guidelines to make sure I was equipped with everything needed to send that perfect request. The result was complete disappointment. I did not receive any responses at all. At first I thought maybe something was seriously wrong with my work, but then I interacted with other writers on GoodReads and this gave me a picture of the whole situation.
I was almost annoyed with these bloggers for not even bothering to reject the request. This gave me the impetus to start my own blog. I was extremely determined to help other authors in my position and I made it a point to reply to every request I received. Things were easy in the beginning. I figured I had the opportunity to come across some amazing authors and their books. Blogging was fun. Frankly, I wasn’t a reader of Indie books before I took up blogging. But ever since my blog went live, my electronic bookshelves have been stacked with Indie books.
So, this book blogging journey began on a slightly bitter note because of my own attempts to solicit book reviews. However, it went on to become the best part of my internet ventures.
I have many anecdotes to share about the tons of emails I receive daily. Some of these emails are written in a cut-to-the-chase fashion, some of them don’t follow instructions, and my favorite ones are those that have a tinge of warmth. Bloggers don’t want to receive emails typed by a bot. It always makes me happy when I read an email that doesn’t have the appearance of an automated message. I like it best when I find that someone has actually read the ‘about me’ page in my blog.
There are some classic pet peeves that I see with review requests. The funniest of these is the tremendously exaggerated nature of many requests. I remember there was an author who had written, “My life is literally in your hands.” Someone else wrote, “I would be eternally grateful.”
Another pet peeve is the kind of request that totally digresses from the topic in question. A perfect example of this is an author who gave a description of her boyfriend before mentioning the book she wanted me to take a look at. I guess authors need to learn how to hit a happy middle. But I don’t have any problems with out of the box thinking and prefer innovative emails. The description of the boyfriend, however, was more than out of the box, it was a complete non-sequitur.
A different type of problem I face that is unique to me is with my name. Most people don’t read the “About Me” and guess my name from my email. I understand the situation, but when someone guesses a name that’s nowhere in my entire blog, I wonder whether it was originally meant for another person. I would suggest that authors look up the about page just to be sure. A name mess-up certainly doesn’t impress a reviewer.
I had new perspective and understood the difficulties of blogging when the number of requests shot up. I still try to reply to all requests, but it becomes a chore. Keeping track of schedules is also hard because there’s the need to balance real life with online life. I won’t go on about this because it is the usual story. I would like, instead, to share certain things I learned as reviewer.
“Authors expect a lot from review blogs. But it’s better not to assume that [book reviews] will have immediate effect. It’s just an initial step in an uphill journey.”
There are two kinds of writers. The first kind wants to get their book reviewed in order to know what readers think. The other kind of writers wants reviews to boost sales. Well, my opinion is, reviews don’t guarantee an increase in sales. A review is primarily meant to be an appraisal of the work. Each review depends on individual opinion and no one should feel let down by a particularly harsh critique. I don’t normally look at a lot of reviews before buying a book. But recommendations are extremely important when it comes to self published books. (Here I’d like to mention that some reviewers take pride in dismissing certain genres. I am totally against this snobbery. Every book has its worth and every person has unique choices. So when I review, I mention which kind of readers I’d recommend it to.)
A question I’m often asked is: “Do review blogs and social media promotions really work miracles to take your books to a skyrocketing level of popularity?”
Authors expect a lot from review blogs. Of course, getting featured in blogs will help in acquiring a wider range of readership and it might also earn you some loyal fans. But it’s better not to assume that it will have immediate effect. It’s just an initial step in an uphill journey. I don’t want to appear negative or sarcastic, but I have a feeling that the number of writers visiting a blog is far greater than the number of readers checking out updates. You can say that writers are readers too, but I think the first thought they have in mind when they visit a book blog is finding out how to approach the reviewer.
For instance, I have always been a bibliophile, but I had not known anything about indie books until I tried to publish my own. I have hopes that someday these blogs and the books they recommend will be better appreciated by readers. So far, the book blogging journey has been a wonderful one for me. It has been more rewarding than I’d ever expected it to be. Many of the books I review are better than the ones topping bestseller lists. I truly hope these books get what they deserve and I, as a blogger, would be humbled to be a small part of their success stories.
Find more writing and publishing tips at Nothing Any Good.
About the Author
Saradia Chatterjee is the host of the wonderfully cheeky review blog The Page-Hungry Bookworm. She is the author of the romantic novel Beyond Tragedies and the psychological thriller In the End. She is a bibliophile who takes a sneak peak at every book lying around. Sara is currently working on a short story collection centered entirely around animal protagonists.