Getting Advance Review Copies in the Hands of Readers
Have a handful of book blurbs ready to go before your book is published.
Reviews are the marshmallow pieces in your lucky charms. The toy in your crackerjacks. Reviews don’t just sell books and entice readers, a five-star constellation can also feed the ego, or a lone star in the sky can motivate you out of spite. Seeing a new review appear on your amazon page is proof of life, letting you know your book is alive and not just gathering digital dust.
Getting reviews starts way before your book is published. Publishers know this so pay hundreds of dollars to give their books away to reviewers on sites like Netgalley. It’s like the first shot of heroin you get from the drug dealer. “Here you go, first one’s free. Go tell your friends how good my stuff is.”
The good news is, like most things publishers do, you can do all of this yourself with some time and perseverance. There is no reason you should have a book published without a handful of book blurbs and reviews ready to go. Advance reviews create hype, allow you to populate your amazon page as soon as it goes on sale, and gives it some credibility.
I’ve been slinging advance copies of my upcoming release MILK-BLOOD the last few days, and came up with some tips. Of course, everything you hear could be wrong and based on my own insanity. But listen anyways.
Some Do’s and Don’ts on handing out ARCs
Do tons of research. Your target audience should be readers and authors in your genre, as well as bloggers who may cover the same subject of your book. Your main character is a tattoo artist? Look for tattoo bloggers.
Do take a liberal stance in giving out ARCs. You’re better off giving away too many than too few. Stop worrying about losing sales. Someone’s reading your book, with a vague promise to tell their friends how good your stuff is. Do cartwheels. Once it’s written, your book is both product and marketing tool.
Do approach authors who are in your genre, and as with all approaches, get to know them. Don’t just send a form letter where you plop their name on top. Explain why you are reaching out to them and why they’re a good fit, and prove that you know what they write. In this day and age, you can reach most any author. (Unless you tried and now have a restraining order. My apologies to Ms. Gillian Flynn). Everyone’s got either a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or a Goodreads profile.
Don’t expect them all to say yes. Not even close. Most will not. Be gracious even for a response back. The beautiful thing about social media is it connects reader to writer like no time before, but that doesn’t mean they owe you a darn thing.
Do offer your ARCs on Goodreads groups that match your genre. Of course, mingle in the group first. If you are just popping in to try and ‘use’ the readers, then you may be fought off like a foreign invading agent.
Do appreciate those who agree to accept your ARC and give it a look. They are doing you a favor. Be kind, be grateful. Of course, this should come natural, if not, you may be an ass-hat. Remember, they are giving you their time. To be read by someone is one of the greatest gifts they can give you. They are serving you by accepting an ARC, you are not serving them.
Do prepare to reciprocate to other authors. There’s a karmic law out there. The love you take is equal to the love you make. You can’t dish out ARCs and ask other authors to read them if you’re not willing to do the same. In fact, you may need to read two books for every one of yours is read.
Do give time frames if you are hoping for it back before publication date. If you need it back in a month, three months, three days, let them know, but be flexible. Have a ‘best’ goal time frame, but also a back up. You don’t want a reader not to read something just because they missed your publication date.
Do tell them how long the book is. You’ll be met with disdain if you send along a ‘quick read, a real page-turner’ but there’s 568 pages to turn.
Don’t ask for a certain type of review. This may be obvious, but it happens. I once agreed to accept a review copy of a book on marketing advice for authors. Of the many points offered, one suggested to set up auto-direct messages when anyone follows you on twitter, (which to me is like a dog eating its own throw-up). The author emailed me later requesting that I “only post a review if it is a 4 or 5 star.” I hunted the author down, chopped him up, and his body parts are in my basement freezer. They fit perfectly in galloon size bags. The ones you buy at Costco. I gave a 5 star review to the bags instead.
Do express you won’t take it personal if the book is not to their tastes and they choose not to finish. You do not want to force a laborious read onto anyone, and it shows confidence in your writing to ask a reader to quit if they aren’t compelled to keep reading forward.
Do let them know what formats you have, and send all of them if you need to be. Keep in mind you can make a Createspace paperback copy and mail a proof to the U.S for 6-7 dollars.
Don’t make it difficult to read. Make sure your copy works and ask them to write if it doesn’t. I’ve been sending the preview copy from KDP that you can download, and it seems to work just fine.
Don’t write them while they are reading it, unless they ask questions or engage you. Readers don’t want the author looking over their shoulders.
Do remind them that it’s an ARC, and that it may get more polish before the final product. This is why ARCs come from publishers with the little label that says, “do not quote from this version or remove this label under penalty of law.” You don’t want a review lamenting on some misspelled words if they are to be changed in the final.
Do try to pimp your ARC to those who have a track record of doing reviews on at least one venue. Active reviewers are more likely to post. Of course you can’t be too choosey else you’re being an ass-hat. I denied one reader an ARC after I saw zero reviews on her Goodreads page, and I had asked if she had ever reviewed anywhere else. She had not. (She is now in my basement freezer. Costco bags.)
Do follow up after a fair amount of time has passed after sending out the ARC, but don’t hound the reader. One email works, two is pushy, three is just wrong. You may not be getting a review back.
Don’t be hurt when you don’t get a review back. Don’t expect all to review it. Some won’t post at all. Get used to it and move on. “To be read” lists are long and life is short. Emergencies happen. Life twists suddenly. Your mind plays tricks on you, you play tricks back. Readers over-commit (as a reader and reviewer, I also over-commit)(sorry Netgalley) If you get a 75% return rate, you’re doing awesome, 50% seems closer to right.
So, do not go gently into that good night. You’re a walking Piñata, full of ARC copies, asking readers to smash you with bats so that ARCs come spilling forth.
Mark Matthews is the author of 4 novels. His latest, On the Lips of Children from Books of the Dead Press is available for $2.99 on amazon. He also has a stock of ARCs for his upcoming release MILK-BLOOD which ‘The Horror Bookshelf’ called “one of the most anticipated reads of the summer.”
Here’s what a couple ARC readers of MILK-BLOOD have already said:
“The originality and tension of the urban horror story, Milk-Blood is evident on every page. Matthews takes you to some very dark places, twists and turns, with the rabbit hole going deeper and deeper, until there is no way out. Not for the faint of heart, this story of love, loss, family and acceptance is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.”—Richard Thomas, author of Staring Into the Abyss
“This is a helluva story. MILK-BLOOD is a discomforting story of true inner city horrors, told by characters so real they pop off the page. But when Matthews adds the supernatural to the mix, the story really leaps out and grabs you by the throat. It’s a bleak, bleak piece, with some really horrible (in a good way) scenes. I read it in one sitting. Very much recommended!” —John F.D. Taff, author of Little Deaths and The Bell Witch