How to approach a Reviewer

I’ve had a few review requests over the past few months. Most, but not all, followed my review guidelines so I thought I’d give a few tips on how to approach a reviewer or editor to request a review.

  • Read at least one copy of the magazine or a couple of blog articles to get a feel for what the magazine/blogger reviews and whether they’re the right target audience for your book – sending a book of traditionally written verse isn’t going to get a great reception at a blog that only focuses on contemporary poetry. A woman reviewer is unlikely to be interested in reviewing an anthology that features only male writers and vice versa.
  • Don’t just focus on one blog or magazine, make a list of several. Ideally, you want more than one review and your first choice may not be able to give you a review.
    Think about your timing. Do you want the review to appear on or around publication date or are you looking for a review to keep your book on the radar after the initial launch publicity and sales?
  • If you’re looking to link a review to a specific date or few days, mention this in your approach and give plenty of notice. Good reviewers don’t have to sit around and wait for requests, they often have reviews scheduled in advance.
  • Give the reviewer chance to respond to your request before following-up. I try to respond within 24 hours, but sometimes life gets in the way. If you chase a response before a reviewer’s had chance to read your original request, the answer will be no.
  • Give the reviewer time to actually read the book. Reviewers often have other commitments, may be writers themselves and already have a ‘to be reviewed’ queue. Asking a reviewer to review a novel within a working week simply isn’t practical. Tight deadlines will encourage a reviewer to refuse your review request.
  • Don’t dictate when the review should appear. By all means ask if the review could be published to coincide with a launch, but keep in mind a blog or a magazine publishes to a schedule so be ready to compromise by the reviewer saying that they will post on the scheduled date closest to your launch.
  • Check the magazine or blog’s Review Guidelines (if any) and follow them.
  • If a magazine editor or reviewer asks for a request first, send a request. I ask for a request first so I can check my schedule and commitments and give the requester a time frame for publication of my review. It also gives the reviewer chance to request their preferred format. Some reviewers don’t like electronic copies. I’ve not met a review who likes NetGalley or similar platforms which use DRM software to limit the reviewer to one download to one device. This places restrictions on when/where the reviewer can read the download and can mean a reviewer has to alter their regular schedule to fit in the review. A review copy that can be saved to a flash drive or a print copy offers more flexibility.
  • Don’t send an unsolicited manuscript. If someone just sends a book with the hope I’ll review it, I’m more likely to say no. Some magazines send a list of titles for review to their reviewers and then will ask you to send the review copy direct to the reviewer which cuts down on postage, minimises the risk of review copies going astray and you have the reassurance your book will get reviewed.
  • When requesting a review, request the review, give the reviewer a bit of background about the book, e.g. the blurb or publicity sheet, and then a brief writer’s biography. It’s polite to mention you read the blog/subscribe to the magazine or say you enjoy the reviewer’s reviews. Don’t just send a link to a website that features your book and expect the reviewer to do the leg work. It’s easier just to say no.
  • Expect to send a review copy and mention that you will in your request. Reviewers do not expect to buy a copy of your book to review it since a copy of the book is often the only payment for a review. One request I had was along the lines of ‘Please find attached details for my book for you to review’ with a link to a sales platform. I declined because the implication was that I had to purchase a copy to review.
  • If there are practical reasons for not sending a printed copy, e.g. postal rates from one country to where the blogger is based, then mention in your request. I’ll accept electronic or hard copies and a review who prefers hard copies may accept an electronic copy if there are practical reasons for doing so.
  • Do not tell the reviewer how long their review should be. Magazines usually have word count limits (even online magazines) and blogger-reviewers tend to keep reviews to similar lengths. Asking a reviewer who usually writes 500 word reviews for a detailed 1500 word review is likely to result in refusal. If you want a 1500 word detailed review, find a blog that offers one.
  • Remember you are making a request and the reviewer has every right to say ‘no’. Reviewers are not obliged to explain their decision. Although most will give a brief explanation and it’s likely to be ‘I’m over-committed already’.
  • Think carefully before you respond to a reviewer’s refusal. You could end up on their blacklist and all future requests will be automatically rejected. A busy reviewer simply doesn’t have time to enter into a lengthy correspondence about why they’re too busy to review your current publication in the next month.
  • Don’t post on social media about a review’s refusal either. Instead of one reviewer blacklisting you, you’ve now given several reviewers reason to blacklist you. You don’t have the right to be reviewed and harassing a reviewer into giving you a review won’t end well.
  • Accept that a reviewer has the right to an opinion and that includes disliking your book. However, a good reviewer will still give a flavour of the book in their review so, although they didn’t like it, readers of the review may still want to buy a copy.
  • Do ask a reviewer to correct inaccuracies and typos, e.g. if they said a book was set in the 1920s when it was actually set in the 1940s or got the publisher’s website wrong or spelt your name incorrectly.
  • Do not ask a reviewer to alter their review to one you’d prefer. It’s your book but their review. One negative review will be drowned out by five good ones.
  • If you like the review, please share on social media. More of your potential readers will see the review which might encourage them to buy your book.
  • Do not complain about a review on social media. Reviewers are avid readers: it’s why they review.

Jolting Reviewers out of their comfort zone

The New York Times seems to be overdoing reviews of Jonathan Frazen’s “Freedom” and writer Jennifer Weiner comments,

Schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the pain of others. Franzenfreude is taking pain in the multiple and copious reviews being showered on Jonathan Franzen. It’s about the establishment choosing one writer and writing about him again and again and again, while they are ignoring a lot of other worthy writers and, in the case of The New York Times, entire genres of books.

Before this gets written off as “commercial women’s fiction writer complains about the lack of reviews for women”, consider New York Times editor Sam Tanenhaus’s reaction, “For us as editors, reviewers and critics, what we are really try[ing] to do is … identify that fiction that really will endure,” and further argues that his goal is to find books that will engage New York Times readers and interest their reviewers.

Ironically Jane Smiley, who has been cited by Jonathan Franzen as a source of inspiration, points out that critics don’t choose the writers who will endure because that’s the job of readers.  Since most readers of fiction are women, that would strongly suggest the New York Times really is choosing the wrong books.

Let’s return to Sam Tanenhaus’s comment about reviewers and critics identifying “fiction that will really endure” and whether this is a good approach to reviewing. 

It’s worth pointing out that the New York Times has the luxury of choice when it comes to selecting what to review.  Like most publications, they receive more review copies than they could ever reasonably review so some selection process is always present.  But should book reviewers merely select the fiction they hope will stand the test of time or should they review a wider representation of what they are sent?

Could you image the music reviews page focusing purely on a handful of bands on independent labels and ignoring commercially successful music?  Could the film reviews team get away with focusing on arthouse productions and ignoring the last Disney offering or star vehicle?

Whether reviewers like it or not, taking away the choice of only reviewing what they want to review, actually improves their skills as reviewers.  A reviewer focusing on a niche, whether that’s novels by Jonathan Franzen, music by Bob Dylan or films directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is fine but eventually the reviews and critical writing will become increasingly narrow and insular.  Exposure to a boarder range stops the insularity and provides the reviewer with a wide frame of references and a sense of context.  Jolting writers out of their comfort zones occasionally produces better writing.  The New York Times view is too narrow and their reviewers need to read (and preferably review as well) commercial fiction.