But You Promised to Review My Book

sad author baby-cougar-1065101_960_720At first glance, my assignment seems straightforward. Write a post about what authors can do to not get taken advantage of by reviewers who ask for a print version of your book and then don’t come through with the promised review. The short answer is probably “not much.” But Ms. Brooks says one paragraph of seventy words won’t cut it as a “real post.” So, I’ll ramble on.

The reality is that once this has happened, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. It doesn’t matter whether the “reviewer” is a scam artist looking for inventory to sell at his or her local used bookstore, or a well-meaning reviewer who didn’t follow through. (The latter might be because life got in the way, they discovered reviewing really wasn’t their thing, or maybe you’re better off that they didn’t review it because they thought your book su … wasn’t very good.) My advice is, if you’ve gotten to this point, the best move is to drop it and move on. Next time, remember your mom’s advice about an ounce of prevention.

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a cliché at this point, but it got that way because it’s so true. What can you do to prevent yourself from getting to the point of needing a cure instead? I’ve got a few ideas.

The first idea is guaranteed to work. Don’t send print versions of your book out to reviewers. On the one hand, I can see this from the side of the reviewer. If they prefer to read in print or (strange as this may seem in today’s world) don’t have an eReader or a tablet or a smartphone or anything else that can be used to read an eBook, I can’t blame them for insisting on paper. Even if their only reason for insisting on paper is that they plan to read the book and then get a couple of bucks selling it at the local used book store, I can’t fault them for that. Whatever the cost for you to get the book to the reviewer short of sending it overnight to the other side of the world is a low price for the amount of time you’re expecting the reviewer to spend reading, evaluating, and writing a review of your book. (That doesn’t excuse the reviewer for lack of follow-through, but the cliché about beggars and choosers comes to mind as well.) If a reviewer not reviewing your book after sending him a paper copy is that big of a deal, not sending it to begin with is the only sure answer. (A short detour for a bit of self-promotion. I run a site with a list of reviewers who all are willing to accept electronic versions of books for review. Check it out. http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/ And we have an entire resource page here at IU dedicated to helping authors get reviews…)

If you’re willing to send out paper copies for review and sometimes do, a percentage of those aren’t going to come through. Just like a percentage of those reviewers that you send electronic copies to won’t come through. That’s the nature of the beast and you aren’t going to change it. However, if you’re willing to accept some failures, there are things you can do to help minimize them. Some of these ideas are good when chasing reviews, even for those who will take or prefer an electronic copy.

  • Follow the site’s instructions. If they say query first and include these items in your query, then query first and make sure to include whatever else they ask for. (If they say “send me a paper book to this address and I promise I’ll review it,” be suspicious.)
  • Look over the site and make sure that your book seems like a good fit.
    If they’re insistent on a paper copy, do a quick Google search looking for discussion among authors to see if anyone reports issues with this reviewer.
  • Look at how often they publish reviews on their site. At least every week or two is okay, more often is better. If it’s only every couple months, it’s probably not worth your effort to even try.
  • Last, you’re a business. A review from this site has some kind of monetary value to your business. What that value is, only you can say. But if that value isn’t at least the cost of the paper book, shipping, plus a little more to make up for those reviewers who don’t come through, then it might make sense to move on to the next reviewer.

I’ve rambled enough now. What are your thoughts? I’ll bet some of you have ideas to throw in the mix, too.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage.
During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

35 thoughts on “But You Promised to Review My Book”

  1. Good piece, Big Al.

    I’ve repeatedly been disappointed by many to whom I’ve sent paperback copies and even by a fair number of people to whom I’ve given copies personally (and some are even in our community). There is no excuse for this, and the fact is, I’m done with it.

    As well, the Goodreads Giveaways just enable the scammers. I’ve run eight such Giveaways, each offering multiple copies of my books. None (!) resulted in a review. I did, however, find one of the books I sent to a winner listed on Amazon.com at a Texas-based used book site within two weeks after sending the book (don’t ask how I determined this!). And adding insult to injury, I even received an e-mail from one participant, who requested, if she won, I don’t write her name in the book . . . only mine.

    These days, it’s an eBook or nothing. And even then, books are given only to those I consider “sponge worthy.”

    1. Thanks for the comment, Theodore.

      That’s wild about the Goodreads giveaways. Your experience makes it seem that those who enter to win in the Goodreads giveaways are, rather than the typical Goodreads user who would typically review or at least rank a book, that it is people just there to enter giveaways. I’m not surprised that there is a percentage of those there to scam, but I am surprised that the percentage is as high as your experience makes it appear.

  2. While I’m aware that there are scammers out there who just want free books, I have to jump to the defense of reviewers. I make it a point to tell authors that if, after reading their book, I can’t give it at least four stars, in order to avoid getting into a messy dispute, I will not review it. Of course, I only ask for paper copies if the author offers them up front – I’m perfectly happy reading e-books–some of which don’t make the cut. The best defense is to get it clear before you mail the book just what the reviewer’s conditions are. If you’re okay with the fact that the book might get a bad review, then make sure the reviewer knows that. It’s a two-way street. I’ve had authors become furious when my review didn’t live up to their expectations, and when I’m not sure, I take the e-book to avoid at least getting into that dispute. I do a review each day, sometimes more than one, if I have several short books. Fortunately, most of the books I receive are actually quite good, but now and then I get one that’s so bad, I’m forced to quit reading after 8 – 10 pages. Given my review schedule, and my own writing agenda, I can’t get into a long-winded conversation about a particular book, especially when that conversation should be held with a proofreader or editor who gets paid for the time.

    1. Charles, I think we mostly agree. (I’m a reviewer, not an author, so I’m definitely coming at this from the reviewer’s side more than not.) Thanks for weighing in.

    2. I am of your mind, Charles Ray. I review quite a few books. But until reading this by Big Al I hadn’t realised that I should probably have been setting ground rules. A while ago I offered to review books on Goodreads. I was surprised how many people expected me to buy the book they wanted me to review (not going to happen, although a free soft copy is fine). Back in the day, if you wanted a review you send to physical copy to the reviewer. A lot of those books did not generate a review. I used to review books sent by all sorts of publishers to the Students’ Union at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth in the late Seventies when I worked on the student newspaper there. There’d be a stack of 6 or so books every month. I couldn’t possibly do them all and nobody else was up for it. Lovely hardbacks they were, usually. Such a waste! But nobody seemed to mind. Now we are all conscious of this dreadful development called ‘free content’. Giving a book for review feels like giving free content. A review is expected to be free content. One is doing this for love, right? Well, er, ish. I do it because I enjoy it, I like to share what I’ve enjoyed, but also to raise my own profile as a writer.

      For those three reasons, I don’t want to labour through a poor book and give it a poor review. Apart from needlessly upsetting the author, it doesn’t redound well on me as a reviewer or a writer.

      If I read something of my own choice that is good I always make a point of reviewing that, even if I only give it a few words.

  3. I have a list as long as my arm of books I need to write reviews on. Oh, if only I had the time! Working 9-hour days kind of gets in the way, especially if I’m exhausted at the end of them–which is how it usually goes. I started writing reviews, and putting my name out there to do so, back when I didn’t have steady employment. Now I’m at the other end of the spectrum–a lot of work and very little me-time. So–I apologize here to all, but those reviews will take a lot longer than I originally thought.

  4. As to getting reviews for MY books–well, since I’m struggling with time, I can see where other non-professional reviewers may be having the same problem. Perhaps a bit of follow-up on the part of the author would spur said reviewers to actually get the review done. I know that if someone keeps reminding me, I will eventually get the review done.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Kathy. I think your idea of prodding the reviewer might be a good move in some cases. (Maybe with you.) Prodding me is just as likely to backfire. As with everything, a one size fits all solution is only going to be the best approach a fraction of the time.

  5. I accept reviews in all formats, so I don’t feel guilty about dead-tree submissions, a problem which will probably disappear as the progress of technology grinds its inevitable path, solving the deficiencies of the Old Ways.
    However, there is a concept about which I wish to remind all authors: human failings, specifically in the memory department. Once it a while, going through my computer files, I find a manuscript that looks familiar, but not familiar enough. I say to myself, “Did I read that?” then I say, “Did I review that?” And then I say, “Oops.”
    If a reviewer promises a review, he or she probably means it at the time. So don’t be hesitant to send a couple of reminders. Who knows, maybe the reviewer did the job and you missed it.
    So keep the lines of communication open. Maybe you’ll get that review after all.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Gordon. It’s reaching the point where I doubt there are many people who don’t have the capability to read ebooks. Between smartphones, tablets, and computers there is a way, even if they don’t have an ereader. Now preferences are another story. I can’t stand to read a paper book anymore, but if I had to read one using either my smartphone or on paper, I’d take the paper. Or more likely, not read it at all. :D)

  6. Nice ramble, Al. 😀
    The postage from Australia is many times the value of the book, so I don’t think I’ll be feeding the scammers any time soon. And they are out there, multitudes of them. They’re not interested in stories. They’re only interested in products to resell. They can spread the word but, even as advertising, I’m not sure they’re worth the money.
    We’ve created a huge cottage industry of ‘makers’ and that has spawned a huge industry of takers. It’s the cost of doing business, I guess.

  7. Great article, thank you. I’m amazed at how many people read books and don’t bother to review. I’ve given away many books, and asked for a review, but many just don’t do it. I have all five-star reviews (barring one who threatened to post a bad review and did, getting the country of my story wrong) so that’s not an excuse that it would be hard to write something good—no matter how many stars offered!
    Perhaps the answer is to keep requesting from the same people until they do it? I find that hard to do!

  8. Great piece, BigAl! I’ve taught myself to have no expectations when I send a book to be reviewed. I know that life gets in the way, etc., etc., etc., and even if the print book gets sold to a used-book place, there’s still a chance someone else might read it eventually. (Or at least I like to think so.) Also, the cost of print books and shipping is my cost for doing business. All part of the deal.

  9. When I was a kid, my father told me to never lend money I needed back, because some people just weren’t going to repay you.

    I think of book review sites the same way. If you can’t afford to send a book and have it not be reviewed, then don’t. Reviews are always a crap shoot. Book reviewers are deluged with submissions, so I expect more to say no than to say yes. Most reviewers don’t ask for paper nowadays, and many of those who do, do it to cut back on unsolicited submissions.

    Unless the reviewer has a huge following, I’ve often found it’s just easiest to bypass those who request paper.

    No matter what you want, you can’t make someone review a book. And if you try to make someone review a book (by harassing or trying to online shame them), the review you get is usually not one you’ll be happy with.

  10. Nice post. Those of us who write have all had reviewers disappear into the void.

    I do fault reviewers, good or bad, who sell the review copy. Those who can afford it, really need “ARC” or words to that effect printed on print review copies. Times have changed, and people are more expedient and greedy, but I’m sticking to the traditionalist stance that REVIEW COPIES ARE NOT TO BE SOLD FOR ANY REASON.

    Donate them to a library or throw them away.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Malcom. I’m thinking something like that makes sense. I’ve never reviewed hardcopy books, so hadn’t thought of that. However, there was a time when I reviewed music CDs. Some of them had verbiage along the line of “review copy, not for sale or resale” on them. Not a very high percentage, but some.

  11. If the reminders are for review of a book that really isn’t very good that’s just going to get embarrassing all round. RJ has it bang to rights, for me.

    I wish the scammers would show me how to shift books. If I can’t shift kosher kopies of my stuff (and I kan’t) how the hell are they managing it? Strikes me they could have a legit business as book sellers there.

  12. Hello BigAl,
    As a top reviewer, author, and review expert I found a simple solution to all of this. It only takes a bit of planning.

    Authors:
    1) Plan your release timely
    2) Regardless of whether you proofread your copy on the computer or order a proof copy, order 5 proof copies before you release the book. (CS won’t give you more than 5. If you need more than 5 you need to make a tiny change like adding a dot or whatever and order 5 more proof copies).
    3) The proof copies cost the same as paperbacks, so you aren’t spending more money.
    4) If a reviewer requests a paperback tells them you’ll be happy to send them a ARC (advanced reader copy). This proof copy has the word “proof” stamped in the back, hence the reviewer can’t sell it.
    5) If the reviewer is a reviewer who prefers paperback (like my sister who is a programmer and avoids looking at any screen after work) they won’t care.
    6) If the reviewer is a scammer who wants to sell your book, that’ll say “No, THX.”

    Problem solved. Happy review seeking. :)))

    1. Now that sounds perfect, Gisela. At least if the author can anticipate how many paper copies they’re going to want for reviewers. There’s still a risk that legitimate reviewers might not follow through, but this approach should make them more confident that the scammers are leaving them alone.

      1. BigAl,
        Additionally, authors can use ARCs for media people in general. They don’t care. Media people only want to see a copy of the book but they don’t intend to sell them.

        I have been pondering the “Goodreads problem” for a while. There are people who enroll it hundreds of giveaways to acquire free merchandise for resale. Though I am a big Amazon fan it seems to me that they are part of this specific problem.

        In my last book I wrote,
        “…In theory, Amazon/Goodreads could put a stop to this potential abuse, easily. For instance, they could impose their own Goodreads “3 Strikes, You’re Out”-policy. People who are lucky enough to win three books, yet don’t even review a single one of them would not be allowed to enter in additional give aways. Obviously, these readers are not skilled in picking books they like enough to write at least a mini review…”

        It’s impossible that Amazon/Goodreads doesn’t know what’s going on at these giveaways. It’s time that they do something about it.

  13. We’ve seen this happen a few times, even having the book end up on eBay on the day it arrived for review– prior to it being publicly released– like that wasn’t going to appear in our Google Alerts! The pros tend to be happy with a digital copy, and if they like your book enough then they’ll usually ask for a physical copy, or we’ll supply them with a personal, signed book as a thank you if it’s clear that they enjoyed the book from the review.

  14. I give some of my books away free and hope to get a review in return. I do not make it a package deal though. I also review books but I buy the ebooks so that I am not obliged to either review the book if I don’t want to or review it within a specified timeframe.

  15. Thanks for giving us a reviewer’s perspective on this common problem, BigAl. I currently have a couple books on NetGalley. A number of readers have requested said books – for free – but only a small percentage have reviewed them. Whether because they don’t like the book or simply haven’t read it yet, I don’t know, but I haven’t lost anything, since my submissions are in ebook form. I only give away paper copies as contest prizes or to friends who I trust not to sell them.

  16. You speak to truth! I’ve given so many copies of my books away…I did get on Net Galley though, and even though I had to write 26 emails to thinks those who selected by book and reminders to half of them, then thanks yous – I got 26 reviews!

  17. I have a book blog. I review fairly often, though as a human being with a day job and a time limit, I do still have a TBR pile. My reason for wanting paper copies is that I run a school library in a disadvantaged school and have a budget that might be petty cash at a private school or a middle class state school. My review books, once done, end up on the shelves. You can’t do that with ebooks. I suggest reading a blog’s guidelines before inquiring. Mine say I don’t review ebooks, but this doesn’t stop authors from offering them, saying,”I hoped you might make an exception.” Sometimes I feel sorry for them and offer a guest post, if I think the book might be remotely interesting to my readers.
    The thing about giveaways is that they’re – well, giveaways! If a review is a compulsory part of the deal, say so. If you don’t say so, you shouldn’t expect a review. And I hate, hate, HATE authors who follow up inquiries with a “I was just wondering if you got my email about my amazing new science fiction novel Zombie Lords From Mars, you didn’t reply…” Pushiness is not going to get you more reviews, or not positive ones, anyway.
    And yes, if I do get a book and don’t review it, I probably didn’t like it. Better not to ask!

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