How to Solicit Indie Book Reviews Effectively

So you want to know how to convince people to read and review your self-published book? Here's my secret:

Ask nicely.

Okay, now that I've shared my genius strategy, I'll provide you a bit more detail. Why should you listen to me? I've sent requests to hundreds of reviewers and have refined my approach and found better acceptance rates as a result. This is not rocket science, but having a plan can make your soliciting more efficient. By being polite, friendly, professional, patient, and informative, you may not only obtain a book review, but may also receive valuable advice, build a network, gain a fan, or even discover a friend.

If this sounds like simple common sense, understand that an army of bridge-burning self-published authors have come before you, alienating reviewers en masse. Their legacy has left you, today's indie author, an uphill battle in finding reviewers. In their mad scramble to success, many self-publishers forgot to treat people how they'd like to be treated themselves. Admit it--that's easy enough to do. After all, common sense is often exceedingly uncommon.

In 2012, I released my epic fantasy novel Crimson & Cream, and tackled my first attempt at requesting book reviews. Last month, I released the second edition of Crimson & Cream, which followed my second concerted attempt at securing legitimate book reviews. What I learned between these two events appears to have increased my likelihood that a review request will be accepted. In 2012, as a total, floundering newbie, I averaged about a 10% hit rate on review requests. This year, with a little more polish and planning, I received reviews from about 20% of the people I asked. One potentially significant difference between the two events is that the first time, I anticipated rejection, and the second time, I planned for success.

The main fact to remember is that you are asking someone for a favor. Just because you're offering them your free book does not change this fact. They likely receive more free book offers than they can ever read, and unless you're paying them, your request meets every definition of a favor. That being said, the easier you can make it for a reviewer to say yes to your request, the better. Therefore, before requesting a review, do the following:

Prepare ahead of time: When a blogger agrees to review your book, they often ask for additional materials for their post. At a minimum, have the following promotional materials polished and ready to e-mail: book cover image, author bio, book blurb/summary, author photo image, and a collection of your Internet links (social media pages, your website, blog, sites where your book can be purchased, and your author pages - Amazon, Smashwords, Goodreads, etc.).

Read their review policy. If it doesn't jump off their web page in glowing, blinking, neon font, search for it. Most reviewers have a review policy on their website somewhere, but they're not always easy to find. The review policy is your instruction manual. Don't ignore it. Ever. The reviewer explains what they want and how they want it. If you search and still don't find their review policy, look one last time. If it's still not there, then do everything below:

Research what the reviewer likes to read: Read the reviews posted on their blog. Find the reviewer on Goodreads, use the 'compare books' function to see how your taste compares with theirs, and definitely read their book reviews. Do they read the genre of book you've written? Did they enjoy books similar to yours? Do you enjoy their reviewing style? Answer these questions first, and then decide if you want this person to review your book. If the answer is yes, follow their reviews on Goodreads, expecting to see your book featured in their future stream. Following them on Goodreads is also a great way to keep track of the book reviewers you've discovered.

If they blog, follow them: There are a variety of ways to follow a blog, and it certainly won't hurt your chances if the reviewer recognizes you as one of their readers. Plan for success and assume they will say yes and review your book. You'll be sure to notice when they post your review if you're already following their blog.

Learn about the reviewer: Assume the reviewer will say yes and review your book. You'll want to know who they are, so you can ask them again for your next book, no? View their facebook, G+, twitter, and other social media pages. 'Like' them, follow them, add them to your G+ circle. Keep track of this person who is doing you a favor, and stay in touch with them.

Personalize your request and be polite: Address the reviewer by name and explain how you found their site and why you're contacting them. Don't cut and paste generic form e-mails and don't assume every e-mail they receive is a review request. Explain what you would like them to do for you. This leads to the next item:

Answer Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How: Introduce yourself and your book, politely ask for a review, indicate where you would ideally like the review to appear (their website, Amazon, etc.), list any deadlines you may have (release dates, blog tours, etc.), explain why you think your book appeals to the reviewer, and offer to provide the book in a reviewer-friendly format (epub, mobi, print, etc.).

Compliment them on their work: I'm not suggesting you fabricate compliments or become a sycophant, but if you've examined their website and read their reviews, and haven't found something appealing, you may want to ask yourself why you want their review in the first place. And if you did see something you liked, mention it to the reviewer. After all, what you're hoping they do is compliment your work.

Offer to Reciprocate: Offer to do a guest post on their blog, or a giveaway, or any other feature they may be looking for help on. Many bloggers enjoy extra content for their page, and the extra exposure won't hurt you, either.

Suggest a Plan B: Often, when a reviewer can't review your book, they may still be amenable to a guest post, a book feature, excerpt, author interview or other exposure avenue for you. Consider mentioning this in your request, or as a follow-up if you receive a rejection e-mail.

Maintain a list: Tracking who you've asked for reviews serves many purposes. Maintaining an organized list helps prevent duplicate requests, which are time wasters for both you and the reviewer. Your list should contain relevant contact information, so when a reviewer asks you for a book or blog information, you can send it to them quickly, to the proper address, in the correct format. Keep track of what you send and who you send it to. Don't lose a review opportunity because an e-mail got lost in the shuffle or you missed a deadline. And when you go to request reviews for your next book, the list will provide an excellent foundation to build on.

If you found any of this post interesting, fellow indie author and book reviewer, Sadie Forsythe, has an excellent article with tips from a reviewer's point of view, and it's worth a read: Tips for Submitting Ebooks to Bloggers for Review.