I get emails every week asking me to review, promote, or endorse someone’s book, and it’s an honor to know that someone thinks I’d be able to help them spread the word about their work. It’s also becoming extremely unsustainable for myself and most other bloggers I know to help everyone who asks. I wanted to offer some alternative ideas for authors and publicists in the thick of book promotion and some best practices for working with bloggers:
A Bit of Perspective on Blogging about Books
I’ve been blogging since 2005, and I remember how awesome it used to be when a publisher sent me books for free every once in a while. Sometimes I didn’t care for the books, but the lure of something new was still pretty exciting. However, more publishers and authors started to catch on, and now it’s just been a tidal wave of PDF’s from publicists and authors every month.
Based on the conversations I’ve had with fellow bloggers, most of us now dread getting asked to review books on our blogs. Most bloggers I know dread the drop in traffic from book review posts that eat up hours of time. One friend considered adding a page titled, “Will I Review Your Book?” and the body font had a single word: “NO.” So free books have gone from exciting perks for bloggers to a major time drain now that we receive so many. If you’re promoting a book, you need to keep this in mind: A FREE BOOK IS NO LONGER A TREAT.
Just to put this shift in perspective, if I read, reviewed, endorsed, or blogged about every book I’ve received, I’d never read a book of my own choosing or have time to write about my own ideas. It’s really gotten to that point—especially since I’m a slow reader. Some of the more popular bloggers would never sleep if they read every book offered to them.
Many new authors and publicists will say, “But this book is unique…” or something like that. I get it, but the problem is that to most bloggers, especially the ones with big platforms, every email about a book sounds EXACTLY LIKE THAT. It may be true for your book, but in the split second that a blogger reads your email, the most likely response is, “Not another one…”
I’m an author myself, so I can see both sides of this issue. The good news is that bloggers and fellow authors may be able to help you at times. You just need to rethink your approach.
Make Your Ask Natural
Bloggers can recognize someone who is just trying to make a connection for personal advancement. In fact, when I talk to bloggers with huge platforms, it’s something they dread. They want to help, but they also hate to feel used.
On the other hand, authors and publicists trying to promote books often feel desperate.
When people ask me for ideas on growing their online platforms, I suggest that they try to follow and dialogue with at least 50 people with whom they share common interests. They could have large or small followings. As long as you actually care about that person’s perspective, you’ll be able to have real interactions with them that will benefit both of you.
Your first email or tweet at a blogger should not be a request to review, blog about, or promote your book!!!! This is the kind of thing that bloggers roll their eyes over, but so many new authors and even, unthinkably, publicists make this mistake.
It’s also a major, major mistake to do the following: send a form letter, start off “Dear Blogger,” or fail to mention anything specific about the blogger’s site. I hit delete immediately when a publicity email starts like that.
When it’s time to make an ask, consider what would be appropriate based on your relationship with the blogger in question. Your request should never feel out of the blue. If you think this blogger’s platform is important, why haven’t you been interacting with that blogger on social media and in his/her comments? If you haven’t had the time to do that, why are you asking that blogger to spend hours reading your book and reviewing it?
When it comes to making an ask of bloggers I know, I often ask friends if I can write a guest post that speaks directly to their audience—but that’s something I only ask of friends I know fairly well. You can also offer to do a book giveaway or simple interview (around 5-8 questions). I’m also quick to offer my blog and social media platform to help them with their own projects with the caveat that their book needs to fit my audience. That also keeps me focused on networking bloggers who share the same readers and goals. I never ask bloggers to review my books, and I always offer a few options, such as, “If a guest post doesn’t work, could you mention my eBook sale next week?”
Give people a few options to help you based on their capacity, and give them simple ways to help if your bigger ask isn’t possible or desirable. Most importantly, keep the email short and to the point with a quick pitch about the book, a few ways to help, and a thank you paired with an easy out like, “I understand if you aren’t able to help at this time.” If they can’t help, don’t respond with reasons why they SHOULD have helped—I’m serious, people have actually done that!
Where to Find Reviews for Book Marketing
Unless a blogger specifically blogs about books, I wouldn’t ask for a blog review. Ask for guest posts or organize synchroblogs in order to get noticed on blogs. Here’s an example of a synchroblog and how I wrapped it up. Besides, you need reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.
I would look to your friends on Facebook and Twitter for help with reviews. Are there a few people who always favorite your tweets or like your posts, especially related to your books? Ask them to review your book. Don’t chase the people with the biggest blogs for your reviews. You want to find the people who care the most about your writing to review your books.
While I know that some publishers are a bit hesitant to do this, my perspective as both an author and a blogger is that anyone willing to review a book should get it in any format they desire. I strongly prefer ePub files, but I’ve had so many big name publishers send me the crappiest PDF files that have chaotic paragraph breaks, repeated content, and disjointed headers that ruin the reading experience. I know they’re concerned about piracy, but this paranoia about piracy punishes the wrong people. The vast majority of bloggers and book reviews barely know how to load an eBook onto an eReader, let alone how to download a file to a piracy site.
So be prepared to offer print, ePub, Mobi, or PDF to your reviewers. Thank them profusely and remember that you’re lucky if two thirds of your reviewers follow through. That’s just how it goes.
You can also give books away through Goodreads and Library Thing. Both are reputable book discovery services that have excellent review programs.
The other option for picking up reviews is to set up a free promotion for your book. You can run a free eBook promotion through a few venues:
Give the files away from your site. If you’re an indie author, create the files from scratch using Scrivener or convert your Word file with Calibre. A tool like DropBox has a public file option that you can link to for file downloads.
Organize a Kindle select free promotion to get reviews.
Set up a long term free promotion by marking your eBook for free on Nook, iTunes, and other sites so that Amazon price matches to your free price.
Take a chance on a viral blogging program like SpeakEasy.
Find Amazon’s top reviewers in the Vine Voices program.
Price Pulsing to Promote Your Book
I’ve been told by so many people in publishing that I needed thousands of Twitter followers. However, the problem with Twitter is that it’s hard to get a lot of traction for your book without something that catches people’s attention. You need to tweet something other than: “Buy my book for $15!”
Many authors and publishers are experimenting with price pulsing to gather attention for their books and even switching their topic listings on Amazon in order to reach new readers with each new price promotion. They may drop the price to $.99 or $2.99 for five days and then raise it to something like $6.99 or $9.99 once the book has gotten noticed on some of the lists in Amazon. Price promotions are a simple way to get noticed on social media and to get your book more publicity in Amazon’s internal recommendation system and bestseller lists.
While you’re at it, make a list of eBook discount sites who may tweet or share your deal on Facebook. I would list a few here, but they tend to vary depending on your audience and topic. They typically tweet or share on Facebook new promotions each week. If you want to keep up on the competition in your market, you should already be subscribed to these services any way so that you can get similar books on the cheap.
You can also pay a service like BookBub to promote your discounted eBook to their email list—a strategy that many indie authors swear by if you have a book in the right genre. There are similar sites that cost a little less and operate with an ad-based model.
Work on Your Long Game for Book Marketing
The long game of publishing revolves around building an email list that you can control, and while it may be too late to build an email list for this current book project, you should start building your email list before you start your next book. In fact, you could use this current book as a means of building your email list, offering it as a free PDF if website visitors become email subscribers.
There are lots of email tools out there, but I personally use and recommend MailChimp. It’s a simple drag and drop email tool that allows you to create simple, minimalist email campaigns. A few friends have also enjoyed the related service called Tiny Letter, which is a stripped down version of MailChimp.
If you dive into the email marketing long game for book publishing, you should check out a service like NoiseTrade Books where you can let readers pay what they want and collect their email addresses when they download your books.
I wrote a guest post for Jane Friedman with some ideas about how to do this.
Read Reliable Books on Marketing
There are a lot of books on marketing that tell half truths, base recommendations on limited data, encourage shady practices, or just repeat what experts have said elsewhere. In addition, marketing veterans in the publishing industry are DEEPLY DIVIDED on how to market books. Having worked with several different publishers, I’ve seen a wide variety of perspectives. I have a few go-to books right now for book marketing that will be worth your time:
Your First 1,000 Copies
Let’s Get Digital
Let’s Get Visible
The first book is based on experience with commercial publishing, and the other two are based on self-publishing, but all are worth your time since I think most authors who want to make it for the long term need to do both. All three links are affiliate links with Amazon if you want to help pay for a few drops of my daily coffee. If you need more advice on book marketing, these books will point you to additional websites, podcasts, articles, and books that will give you additional perspectives.
I also wrote a big picture guide to book publishing that offers my lessons from nonfiction experiences from start to finish, including a chapter packed with lessons learned after marketing a bunch of books and working with fellow authors on their marketing campaigns: A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book. You can pay what you want at NoiseTrade Books or buy it for a few bucks through Amazon.
What Other Bloggers Have to Say
I mentioned on Facebook that I was working on a post discussing how to approach bloggers when promoting a book and quite a few weighed in with really helpful advice I hadn’t thought to mention in this post. I will add that they all have large followings and receive lots of book review requests, so take their advice seriously!
Alise D Chaffins: I always appreciate when someone comes to me with a page like you had that has graphics, quotes, links. It makes promotion way easier if I don’t really have to do much or scour your site for info.
Sarah Raymond Cunningham: “If you are writing someone whom you have never met, never send them a form letter. Always use their name, bother to learn something about them and their blog, and customize your request to offer them value.”
Megan Tietz: “The more you provide to make it easy for me, the more likely I am to say yes!”
Preston Yancey: “Along the exact lines of what Alise already said, make it as easy as possible for me to support you. Considering most days I barely have the focus to get my own posts out into the world, it’s a huge help when I have some ready-made things to do/share/send people to. I read every book I say I will read, but I can’t always get a review turned around fast enough, let alone find the brainspace to write it. Something I can easily share on Twitter or Instagram? Done. So done. I’ll do that in a heartbeat.
All that said? If I don’t know you at all, then all of that will be a harder sell for me. Make it clear in your request (along what Sarah said) how our interests or values intersect and why you’re reaching out. I’m 80% likely to read the book of someone I know, even marginally … and about 20% likely someone I don’t. So if you’re pitching me, make it clear that it has to do with the larger kingdom work and not just my followers. They’re kind enough to trust that I put in front of them what I really value … I’m not hawking something I don’t believe in.”
Rachel Held Evans: “Make sure it’s a good fit for their audience. I’ve been inundated with requests lately and the only way I know to narrow it down is to only endorse, review or mention those books I KNOW my readers will be interested in. Rather than seeing it as me being mean to fellow authors, I see it as me protecting and valuing my readers. They’re the “boss.” ”
Tsh Oxenreider: “Also, in addition to that landing page with all the stuff, I find it helpful to narrow down specifically in the email what you’d like someone to do. So, have a page with all the everything someone needs, but in your email, ask specifically if they can do an Instagram, or a tweet, or a blog post. Be open to anything they have time for, yes, but if you give too many options, it feels overwhelming and I end up doing nothing.”
Kurt Willems: “My policy is that if a book is something I’m interested in, but I can’t read and either A) Write and endorsement for the back or B) Write a review on the blog, I usually offer to give away my platform though either an interview or guest post about a theme in the book. It would be nice if meeting authors had the interview/guest post/excerpt in mind (in a way that requires nearly no effort by the blogger <me>) so to expedite the process, etc. I see my blog as a gift, one, that if I believe in something, I’m happy to share.”
Let’s Spread the Word
Can I help market your book on my blog? Probably not. Even if I did read and review it, my post would, at best, result in a few sales. That’s just the reality of these things as I’ve tracked my own sales through several marketing campaigns. I’ve seen much better results from everything I’ve outlined above with the caveat that a targeted guest post for a blogger in my field paired with a price promotion can really help.
I wish I could help all of the authors who reach out to me in more tangible ways, but perhaps the best thing I can do is to keep sharing what I’ve learned so that folks don’t repeat my mistakes.
In the spirit of helping as many authors and bloggers as possible, I’m also offering the content in this post (and this post only!) to anyone else who wants to post it on their blogs. I only ask for a clear attribution and link back to this original post. Here are two ways you could do this:
Copy the post word for word and lead off with a note that says something like this: “I am unable to review the majority of books authors send, but I have found Ed Cyzewski’s book marketing advice helpful as an alternative. Here’s a post from his blog that will help:” Then include a link back to this post somewhere in your opening note.
Rewrite the content in this post with your own experiences and opinions, but keep the ideas, links, and structure. You could begin with a note that says something like, “I have adapted a post by Ed Cyzewski about book marketing…” Then include a link back to this post.
Thanks for reading. I hope this post will help you take some positive steps forward in promoting your book.
By the way, you can subscribe to my e-newsletter to see how I keep in touch with my readers.