The DOs and DO NOTs of getting your book reviewed

Writing a regular column for The Guardian on weird books, I get asked by writers of all kinds to read their latest tome. And sometimes that question becomes “how do I get my book reviewed?” In the age of social media and the internet the book review is a much different beast than it once was. A tweet from Neil Gaiman can be much better publicity than a national newspaper book review today. And a groundswell of interest from fans talking on blogs can shift more copies than old style book clubs. So while I’m discussing this in terms of “getting reviewed”, it might just be better to think of this as some thoughts on how to get people talking about your book. And as most authors – whether indie or traditionally published – have to do their own publicity these days, I think these apply equally in both cases.

There are two overarching issues to consider in relation to publicising a book. The first is quality. The brutal, but eminently fair truth, is that good books attract more reviews than bad ones. So if the following advice garners you 0 book reviews, the bottom line is you need to write a better book. The second is to put yourself, as a writer, in the shoes of the people and publications who review books. Book reviews, for better or worse, do not exist to help writers. Or to sell books. Consequentially, reviews and the wider conversation about books are not fair or balanced. There is no committee giving reviews out to the writers on the basis of merit. It’s not difficult to think through what any given outlet gets from its book reviews, but you have to see things from their perspective before that will happen. These do’s and don’t will help you see it that way.

DO NOT issue a press release.
Press releases are a relic of the mass media, when a limited pool of news sources communicated to a limited number of news outlets. If you want to hear cursing and swearing, go and ask anyone who works in the media how they feel about the relentless torrent of press releases from incompetent PR agencies clogging up their email inbox.

DO put coherent publicity information on your website (and have a website)
Have a page for media enquiries on your website. On this page have an extract from your book, a synopsis, your author bio, author photo and book cover. Images at resolutions for print and the web are a nice bonus. Make it obvious all this material is rights cleared. Also useful can be a few bullet points that help shape what a review might say. IE if I want to write about Jeff VanderMeer and his first bullet point describes him as “ultra-orthodox amphibious author Jeff VanderMeer” then that’s likely how I will describe him in the review.

Whoever it was this week who spammed the entire membership of the SFWA begging for award nominations has probably done themselves no favours in actually getting any. Email exists on a trust system, the trust being that you do not abuse the time and energies of people who make themselves publicly available. But how do I get people’s attention? I hear you cry. Read on.

DO win the respect of super-fans

You can try and get reviewers like myself or newspaper and magazine editors to review your work. But in truth, most such people don’t decide what’s new and exciting on the basis of who emails or tweets us. If I want to know what the tastiest fruits of the science fiction genre are, I wait for a super-fan like Paul Weimer to tell me. If Paul, as a fan who dedicates a lot of his time to reading new writers, tweets that he loves anew book, I take that very seriously. In the US / UK spec.fic communities, there are a few hundred serious and dedicated fans who, when you really get down to the way things are, are arbiters of much of what succeeds in the genre. And of course, many of these super-fans are also writers, editors, reviewers etc etc. DO NOT SPAM THESE PEOPLE EITHER. How do you win their respect? Engage – respectfully – with the fan community. Get involved in their discussions. Go to conventions. By definition, fans are paying attention. If you build it, they will come.

DO NOT make overblown and hyperbollic claims
“BOOK X by AUTHOR Y is the next Stephen King IF he had given birth to a love child with Daphne Du Maurier.” OK, so, I would probably read that. But in general the hyperbole that hits my inbox and fills out too many book descriptions on Amazon is not even that imaginative. When an unknown indie writer makes these kind of absurd claims, it makes them seem naive. When it comes from major publishers, its actually more off putting. Think about the super-fans above. These are not stupid people, and they know their beloved genre very well. If the new author is NOT the next Stephen King (they never are), then they will rightly wonder why you said they were.

DO tell people what your story is
And by this I do not mean the story of your book. If you want a publication of any kind to publish a story about your book…then what is the story? News stories, are, by definition, new. We’re in a little bubble where “indie author becomes Kindle millionaire” is a story. But it’s already deflating. The new story is “indie author turns down publishing deal”. Anyone who does that in the next six months is a story, but not afterwards. “Random unknown man publishes horror novel”, isn’t a story. “Stephen King publishes horror novel” is a story because King is a famous public figure. But here I make a guarantee, if your book is creative and good in its own way, there is a story behind it you can tell people to engage them. Finding that story behind the story is the key challenge in any marketing / publicity task.

DO NOT fake popularity
If you follow 52,345 people on Twitter, you may well get 52,345 people to follow you back. They are about as interested in you as you clearly are in them, which is not at all. If you buy 52,345 Twitter followers, or 523 Amazon reviews, a three page spread in the kind of publications that will sell you such a thing, people can tell. Authenticity is in fact the most valuable thing of all, and by faking you’re public popularity you resign all claim to it.

DO talk about your victories…and your defeats
A lot of people are scared to promote themselves. The simplest advice I can offer to overcome that fear is, just talk honestly about what you are doing as a writer.  Did you just sell a three book deal? Great, tell me. Did your book die half way through second draft? Great, tell me. Sometimes it can seem, as a writer, like the world is full of writers. But the truth is, you’re doing something both special and hard by dedicating your life to the art and craft of writing.  If I follow your blog or Tweets, it’s because I want to check-in on how your journey is going, and how it is changing you. So tell me!

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

14 thoughts on “The DOs and DO NOTs of getting your book reviewed

  1. Great post!

    I have to confess to not having a marketing plan. I’m too lazy to spam anyone or pursue reviewers and book bloggers etc. I’m very random in my Internet marketing, doing only what I like when I like. I suppose you could call it the hit and miss approach. What can I tell you about my writing that is different? I’m a Swede who writes books set in my adopted country: Ireland. My writing voice is Irish/Scandinavian, my stories quirky, romantic, both dark and light, heavily laced with a tongue in cheek irony. Would a Guardian review change my life? Would it help me sell more books? I doubt it.


  2. I have nowhere to begin; such a novice at promotion. I wrote a book and… so did one million other people. Now what… clueless.


  3. Hi Damien, I am working on a very difficult subject matter, domestic abuse. Its taken me almost 10 years to get the guts to write it and so I haven’t got the skin to talk about it in a promotional way, but I am going to try. Thanks for the post, I will get a twitter account now just for me and follow you.


  4. Dear Damien Walter, thank you for ‘The dos and do nots of getting your book reviewed’. I have had a book on Amazon, my first (The Street Party by Cara Browne, might as well get that in), since last autumn and it’s not moving. I can’t afford to pay for reviews and would object to doing that anyway. I’ve put the word out among family and friends, left piles of flyers at the hairdresser’s, the dentist’s, the local newsagent etc. and pinned them to public notice boards, expecting at least a trickle of sales. Wrong. Can I see you grinning? Lots of people said they loved it. Hmm. But maybe they weren’t all lying, and in any case I still believe in the book. Then a young friend (I’m a granny myself and not a young one) said what about book blogs, and explained what blogs, essentially, are, so yesterday I did book blog surfing and was astounded to find that book bloggers actually like writing free reviews for people. I can’t imagine why, but the young friend explained to me that they get more out of it than just a free book. Well, good, but from my point of view I now have a new lease of optimism which, added what you wrote, has encouraged me to try a bit harder before throwing the thing away. Thank you.


  5. Damien,
    This is such great information. I especially appreciate the insight that the story behind the story is key. I’ve written a book about how to make music for life that’s coming out this year, and now I’m going to work on how to talk about my own journey with music after forty. A timely blog entry to stumble across! Thanks.



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