Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How NOT to get reviews. Three top turn-offs reviewers HATE.


You’re a writer, right?  So you’re only one letter away from being a WAITER, which isn’t a bad way to think of yourself when it comes to getting reviews.

Like a waiter, you have to serve up your book to reviewers in the most appealing possible way.  And if you forget the basics of customer service, it’ll bounce back to bite you in the form of a lousy tip – er, review.

Here are three ways you may be turning off reviewers – and what to do about them to make sure those reviews keep rolling in.

Ask them to buy your book first

I just came across a post by an writer asking on a forum for reviews but assuring us we wouldn’t have to buy her book if we clicked the included link.  The link led to her Etsy shop where (surprise, surprise!) we could buy her book (in PDF form) for 99 cents.  Where I come from, that’s called buying.  And  I don’t want a PDF, which doesn’t work well on our ereaders; I’d much rather have a proper ebook.

Quick fix:  Offer your book in a variety of formats based NOT on your technical limitations (“but I don’t know how to do an epub!”), but on what works best for your reviewers.  Find out what they like, and give it to them.

Make them your first readers

You’ve read your books, and maybe a few family members and friends.  But don’t force reviewers into becoming unwitting beta readers by tossing them a manuscript full of garbage.  Spelling errors, typos, even continuity errors (how did your character get to Toledo all of a sudden in the middle of the book?) should be long-gone by the time your book gets to a reviewer.

Quick fix:  Find a critique group or someone else to test-drive the book before you hand it out for reviews (or to customers!).  And, of course, if your book is for children, always read it out loud first.

Write a lousy product description

image When someone asks me to review their book, I look at two things before I decide:  the cover and the product description.  This book, Billy’s Tenth Birthday, by James Minter, got the cover exactly right for its genre, according to Joel Friedlander, in his October 2014 Book Cover Design contest.  But in my opinion, the book’s description is muddy and utterly lacking in joy. 

The author offers three dense paragraphs about how the book addresses bullying (a very common theme, unfortunately, among self-published kids’ books).  Shouldn’t it at least pretend to appeal to kids, not just parents and educators who are buying the book?  A couple of paragraphs down, it does get into the plot, a little:

Billy's Tenth Birthday, by James Minter “Billy, like any other child, is looking forward to a big birthday. However, the local bullies hear he’s been given a twenty pound note and challenge him to hand it over. Billy realises he can’t fight the gang so has had to agree to their demands. At first Billy doesn't dare tell a grownup as he feels guilty about losing it. Billy and his friend Ant try to hatch a plan to get it back. But it’s not until Maxine, Ant’s sister, hears about the problem that she realises an adult needs to be involved. Grandad who does party magic, is the ideal person to get it back. Max and Grandad hatch a plot. The bullies don’t realise what is happening until it’s too late. Grandad recovers the twenty pound note leaving the bullies bemused.”

(Just for clarify, I should point out that I haven’t read this book; just the product description and a few pages of Look Inside.)

If I was a reviewer (wait, I am!), this description would turn me right off.  The main character fails at his task and grown-ups need to step in and rescue him (wondering why this is a problem?).  Is this a book kids will pick up and enjoy?  Doesn’t sound like it to me from the description.  And as a reviewer, ultimately, I’m looking for books kids are going to adore. 

I sure hope other reviewers are as well.

Quick fix:  What are kids going to love best about your book?  This is probably what will appeal to reviewers most of all.  Is it a rollicking adventure?  Full of slapstick humour?  Let some of the joy and delight between the pages of your book shine through FIRST in your product description.  Making it sound like medicine (“Like many young people, Billy has to make sense of his environment.”) may turn on some parents, but it won’t make your book a hit with kids – ever.

As writersWAITERS!, it’s our job not only to write a great book, but to change that R to an A… flipping over our artsy writers’ berets into waiters’ hats to deliver our books to reviewers on a delicious platter. 

What's your secret for getting reviewers excited about your book?  I’d love to hear it in the comments section.

More stuff that makes makes reviewers grumpy…

(waiter photo:   Jeremy Keith via flickr / swirl of books:  Judit Klein via flickr)


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