Today we’re featuring Paul Morin, publisher of Old Harbour Press, a small independent publisher in Greenville, North Carolina. Paul discusses garnering book reviews—I’m so glad he does because many of my author clients have posed this important question to me as well. Paul will also be joining us at Wonderland Book Club in 2014 on Fri August 29th. Enjoy and thank you, Paul!
Recently, while preparing to approach reviewers about the first book from our new publishing company, Old Harbour Press, I began to run across all sorts of horror stories about the difficulty of getting reviews. I heard about writers who tried every day for months and couldn’t get a single review; about writers who’d mass-mailed thousands of reviewers (literally), and didn’t hear a word in response; about writers who paid good money to get a review so poorly written it brought to mind monkeys at typewriters, and which didn’t bring in a single sale.
I suspected their approach. So for our first book, the novel Silk Armor, we took our time, and worked patiently to get free, honest, genuine reviews. We’re now up to eleven, published or soon to be published, all gained without the aid of a publicist. I pass on here some of what we learned while seeking reviews of the book.
Eureka! Reviewers Are Human
One: Aim for specific reviewers
If you go to a reviewer’s blog, you can usually see right away what kind of books he or she is interested in. If you’ve written a young adult novel, and on the reviewer’s website you see a lot of book covers depicting bare-chested males wearing cowboy hats, then it’s probably best simply to move on, even if the blogger wrote, “Sometimes reviews young adult.”
Do not waste a reviewer’s time. It should also go without saying: Do not mass mail reviewers. Approach each one individually. They’re human, and don’t like spam any more than you do.
Two: Tailor your pitch to that reviewer
Once you find a reviewer who might be interested, try to identify why. Ask yourself, why am I not leaving this website? Spend some time on the site. Read previous reviews. Figure out why that reviewer might be interested. And then put that in your query to the reviewer. An example: “I really appreciate that you care as much about character as you do about plot.” Or, “I notice you review a lot of books that deal with family, which is what my book deals with.”
If someone accepts your book for review, immediately go to his or her blogroll. Often you will find like-minded reviewers, and they are the first people to approach next.
Three: Create a sell-sheet—and paste it into your pitch email
A sell-sheet gives a potential reader or reviewer everything they need in order to decide whether to read a book. An image of the cover is essential. Also make sure to include a thumbnail sketch of the plot, the ISBN, and where the book can be purchased.
You can attach it to your email, of course, but to make sure that anyone who opens your email sees the sell sheet, it’s better to paste it directly into your email. Otherwise you can be sure that some recipients won’t click on the attachment, and thus won’t ever see your cover.
For an example, you can see the Silk Armor sell sheet here.
Four: Constantly hone your message
When we first started marketing Silk Armor, we included an entire paragraph describing the novel in our emails to reviewers. It was short, but it was still a full paragraph. As we continued to make contact with reviewers, we began to see that some of the information we were including was not relevant for first contact, and thus was wasting the reviewers’ time.
The reviewer has to be interested in the basic premise of your book. If they are, you don’t need much information, and if they’re not, no amount of information will help. We eventually boiled our description of the book down to a single sentence.
Finally, if your book is well-written, it definitely has an audience. So keep in mind that obtaining reviews is a numbers game. Keep improving your approach, keep plugging away, and you’ll eventually find the folks who want to write about it online. Good luck!
Paul Morin is the owner of Old Harbour Press, publisher of the novel Silk Armor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Old Harbour Press page on Facebook. The company is currently accepting manuscripts for review.