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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Angling for reviews

Well, there has been an intriguing Whoops!  Following close on the heels of my last post, where I quoted a letter from Jason Boggs, a startlingly similar letter arrived from another novice writer.

Hi Joan,

I noticed you wrote an Amazon review of one of my favorite books, Dune. I've recently finished my own novel that I thought you might enjoy. 

An Amazon New Release, Aspiria Rising, is the story of a naive cadet forced to rebel against the Meritocracy at the intellectual capital of the galaxy.
Bestselling author Scott Nicholson wrote the back cover blurb: "Barton is inventive and fresh. Don't miss this shooting star's debut!"

I’m giving away several copies to reviewers in the hopes of getting more reviews – I’m starting out so reaching new readers is more important than profit at this point. But no obligations of course, only review it if you actually like it. If it’s not for you or you don’t have time right now, I totally understand and please accept my apologies.

 If you are interested, I'd be happy to send you an ebook (mobi, epub, or PDF, whatever you prefer).

Thanks for your consideration!

Douglas Barton

What was going on here?  I asked Jason Boggs, who confessed that my contact details came from a site called Book Razor.  Along with the boilerplate letter, it seems. So, of course, I investigated.

YOU WRITE, WE HELP YOU GET BOOK REVIEWS, the home page declares.  In return for a fee ranging from $29.99 to $224.99, and a list of books that the author thinks are similar to his or her own, the staff (which may be robotic) will search Amazon for the names and contact details of people who have reviewed one or more of the listed books, and send them along, with a template email letter.

This is alarming.  Does Amazon know about it?  It certainly impelled me to go to my profile and update the privacy boxes, along with changing my public name. 

And how fair is it to the new author? The site stipulates that the books that the author considers are similar to his or her own must have reaped at least 50 reviews.  This means that he or she is going to include a classic or a bestseller, one that is very likely to be in a class that the new author can only aspire to, Frank Herbert's Dune being a very good example.

And, while the site is very careful not to promise good reviews, or (for that matter) any reviews at all, it does not point out that there are alternatives -- that it is possible to get reviews without having to pay a cent. 

The great book review magazine, Publishers Weekly, has a list of contacts for free, professional reviews, that is aimed at Indie authors.

First, there is IndieView, which links Indie authors with enthusiastic volunteer reviewers.  By going through their lists, it is possible to match your book with a reviewer who reads your kind of thing.  A big plus is that those reviewers often post their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and so on.

Next comes a list of blogs that review books -- The Book Blogger List -- listed according to genre.  It is up to the author to contact the blogger directly, but the site is very well managed, with blogs that lapse being delisted promptly, to save wasted effort from the hopeful author.

A similar site is Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, which was set up by Christy Pinheiro, who once produced a very useful guide called "Step by Step Self Publishing".  This is a list of 200 book bloggers.  Again, the author has to make his or her own approach.

A favorite of mine is Publishers Weekly's BookLife, which is well worth belonging to, as it has a useful newsletter, as well as offering free reviews.  While there is no guarantee when you submit your book that you will get a review (and you usually don't), there is the annual Book Life Prize, which is well worth the entry fee.  With this, your book gets a rating, a short analysis, and (if you are lucky) a useful blurb.  

Publishers Weekly also advertises a listing in PW Select, at a cost of $149.  This, I do not recommend, mainly because the pages in the magazine that feature these books are headed PAID LISTING, letting the world know that the listing is there because the author shelled out the cash, and not because the book is outstanding.

Getting back to Book Razor, it is interesting that the site mines Amazon -- and only Amazon -- for the contact details of book reviewers.  The quality of reviewing on Amazon is variable in the extreme: there are thoughtful reviews, and petty ones, and few (if any) of the reviewers are professional.  There are also spoof reviews, some of which reach cult status, mainly because people have fun checking them as "helpful".  I particularly liked one for Island of the Lost, where the reviewer solemnly wrote, "The best description of sea-lion sex I have ever read."

And it seems that Douglas Barton has had a similar experience, judging by the top review in the dozen he has gained:

After reading it, I felt smarter ... thinking at a higher level. 
Perhaps I have ascended, my brain cells seem to be expanding, 
which is extraordinary since 
I only have three of those suckers left. 
(I'm old, but I had a good time killing them.) 
See, you will like this book!

"A parody of the U.S. current political mess," wrote another.

Sounds like fun!

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