Whether you’re published traditionally or independently, from the moment your work is publicly available, someone can review it. Reviewing is an integral part of publishing. And so is asking for a review.
If your work is available for sale online, having reviews can really make a difference in your sales. Think of it from the reader’s perspective: A book with hundreds of reviews is more likely to attract your attention than one with three or four reviews.
As a result, most authors—whose name isn’t Stephen King and who lack an army of marketers—try to find readers who would be kind enough to review their book. However, asking for a review isn’t a simple process; you can’t just ask for it the way you ask someone if they like chocolate (who wouldn’t, but I digress).
Asking for a review is a delicate business, with things you should do and things you shouldn’t. The right tactics not only increase your chances of having your request accepted, but also portray you as a serious professional. Conversely, doing the wrong thing not only means your request will likely be rejected, but it can make you look really unprofessional.
In this post, I’ll share with you everything that I’ve learned in my long—and occasionally painful—writing career so far regarding the process of asking for a review. Not only will I show you what worked for me and what didn’t, I’ll also reflect on why or how something worked or not. We’re all different, and something that didn’t work for me might be a great fit for you!
Review Request Etiquette: What You Should Do
Broadly, asking for a review falls under two categories: solicited and unsolicited.
An example for the solicited category is when you find a blog on books and literature accepting submissions. Another case is a reading group—there are many such groups on Goodreads—where members read and review each other’s books.
Requesting unsolicited reviews is basically a cold-calling process: You contact a person—or, far less likely, a newspaper, an organization, or other such entity—and offer your work for free in exchange for a review.
It goes without saying that each of the two categories requires very different tactics.
Solicited Reviews: Just Play by the … Book
If the review falls under the solicited category, the only thing you should be worried about is following the guidelines. If, for instance, the blogger has specifically asked for fiction and your book is nonfiction, simply move on—otherwise, you’d be wasting your time and theirs.
Similarly, if the reading group requires you to follow a certain procedure, you must really do that. I’ve participated in such groups, where the rules were simple: You read and review someone’s work first, then someone reviews yours.
Asking for a solicited review is great because you’re expected to do that. It works as intended, as long as you follow the rules. This is particularly the case with reading groups, because it’s more or less guaranteed that you’ll get a review—this, of course, depends on the particular group, but it’s something that will be known to you beforehand, precisely because there are clear guidelines.
With bloggers, it’s different. Getting a review isn’t guaranteed—they might be busy or simply not interested—even if you do follow the guidelines. But following the guidelines is a must when asking for a review.
I’ve gotten many of my reviews through Goodreads reading groups, and it’s probably the best, easiest option to get a review for your book—particularly if you’re a fast reader so that you can read and review others’ work as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Having said that, it really depends on your genre. I’m a literary-fiction writer, and let me tell you, it’s very hard to find relevant reading groups. In mixed-genre groups, most people prefer to pick genre fiction, like romance, crime, or fantasy, which means I have to wait longer before my book is chosen by someone for a review.
If you write genre fiction, the process will be much easier. If you write nonfiction, you might have to search a bit more for a suitable group, but it should be fairly easy, too—provided it’s accessible nonfiction, and not an academic thesis.
In regard to bloggers who accept review submissions, I have had mixed experiences. Although I’ve received reviews for my work this way, I’d say the process wasn’t worth my effort. It was too much work, too much time, for minimal results.
I probably spent dozens of hours searching for suitable blogs and contacting them, and got maybe two reviews in return, together with a few polite rejections. The rest—maybe 40 or 50—never replied to my emails.
But it could work for you, depending on your genre—as I said, literary fiction is difficult to market, even in the context of asking for a review.
Unsolicited Reviews: Honesty, Professionalism, Brevity
Things are more complicated when it comes to unsolicited reviews. Not only is there no established procedure and guidelines, but the potential reviewer doesn’t expect your request, either. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a cold-calling process.
And, as with any such process, you should be honest, professional, and to the point. Be kind but brief; you’re basically taking up their time. A very short paragraph explaining how you found that person—for instance, through a blog post or one of their other reviews—followed by another paragraph clearly stating why you’re contacting them is more than enough.
I have also tried this form of asking for a review, with similar results; that is, although I did get reviews, it was too much time and hassle. But, once again, your mileage may vary. There seem to be many more reviewers willing to read genre fiction, though at the same time there are many more such books, meaning increased competition.
Additionally, one reason that asking for a review unsolicitedly didn’t work for me was that I’m not a social person. I’m a bit too self-conscious to contact random people and ask them to review my work. This made the process too stressful, which limited the number of requests I could’ve sent. Perhaps it even affected my success rate—it’s hard to put your whole heart into something you don’t feel comfortable with.
However, if you’re communicative and you find it easy to approach strangers, the process will likely feel less arduous to you.
It’s also worth mentioning an interesting case that is somewhere between solicited and unsolicited: asking for a review from someone who has already reviewed one of your earlier works.
Although it’s basically still unsolicited—unless they explicitly said “send me your next one, too”—some of the rough edges are smoothed out. You no longer need to explain who you are or why you contacted them, and you have a competitive edge of sorts, since they know your work.
There is one thing to make sure of in this case, and it should be obvious: Send more work only if they really liked the previous one. If you were a reader and a book was merely “quite okay,” would you want to read and review any more of the same author, or would you rather try to find something you loved?
What Not to Do When Asking for a Review
So far, we’ve seen what to do when asking for a review, but it’s far more likely to be denied if you do something you’re not supposed to. The thing is, if the advice above seems more or less self-evident, this won’t necessarily be the case when it comes to avoiding pitfalls.
The problem with doing the wrong thing when asking for a review is that such traps aren’t just the negation of what to do. In other words, although it goes without saying that you shouldn’t disregard guidelines, you shouldn’t be rude, and you shouldn’t be verbose when asking for unsolicited reviews, there are other blunders to avoid, too.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t insist. We are often brought up to think that persistence is a virtue, but I assure you, this isn’t the case here. If your submission has been left unanswered, this virtually always means “Thanks, but I’m not interested.” Accept it and move on. It’s highly, highly unlikely it means “Your email ended up in the spam folder. Alas, I lost the opportunity to review a masterpiece.”
If they do reply and tell you they’re not interested, it’s alright to send a very brief, professional “Thanks for your time” kind of email, but do not, under any circumstances, send one in the style of “Well, what’s wrong with my book? I saw book B reviewed on your blog, and mine is better.”
Another thing to avoid is sending your manuscript with your initial message. If the review submission is solicited and the guidelines tell you to do it, it’s, of course, alright. But otherwise, always contact the person first. If they agree, they’ll probably let you know what they prefer—some want a .pdf file, others might prefer a .mobi (it works better with Amazon Kindle, for example).
Some reviewers might agree and suggest a reciprocal review—that is, you will have to review their book, too. My personal experience with reciprocal reviews is that you shouldn’t do it. Not only is it against Amazon guidelines, but it will be really, really awkward if their book is awful. Yes, I learned that the hard way, too.
Strictly speaking, the next tip is a bit further down the “asking for a review” process. It sometimes happens that you’ve gotten a positive reply, and you’ve sent the manuscript to the reviewer.
And time passes … and passes … and passes.
No matter how eager and impatient you might be, don’t contact the reviewer. They might be busy, they might have changed their mind, or they might even be going through some hard times. Sending an “I just thought to see if you’re enjoying the book” email is entirely pointless, unprofessional, and can only cause harm.
My final piece of advice is also the final link in the chain of the process: the most important thing to avoid after you have received a review. Never get defensive about a review—this is the case with all reviews, but especially if it’s a review you have asked for.
Personally, I recommend completely ignoring the review—even if it’s positive, and especially if it’s negative. Act as if it didn’t exist. Don’t thank the reviewer, and don’t discuss the review. About the only acceptable comment you could add is to correct a serious factual mistake that could mislead other readers. Another possible case is a serious spoiler—say, to reveal the identity of the murderer in a whodunit.
In the End, It’s About Respect
As I mentioned in the introduction, having a lot of reviews can make a difference in terms of sales, at least when they’re (mostly) positive.
But—to quote the Bard—aye, there’s the rub.
What’s worse, negative reviews, or no reviews? They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I’m not convinced this applies here. Most readers might be reluctant to pick a book with few or no reviews, but perhaps they’d be even more reluctant to pick a book getting consistently negative reviews. If you care about sales, ratings do matter, in their quality as well as their quantity.
These tips won’t directly affect the former—though you can find plenty of great articles on Craft Your Content that can help you improve your writing. But hopefully, this article can help with the latter, that is, increase your chances of success when asking for a review.
In a nutshell, it’s about respecting others’ time and their individual situation. If there are guidelines, follow them; be brief and professional in your communication. Similarly, don’t assume the universe will stop spinning in wait of your review—reviewers have their own things to worry about.
Yes, reviews are important for sales. But having a lot of reviews, even good reviews, isn’t everything in writing, not even from the perspective of developing a writing career.
After all, reviews are continuously superseded by others. Your reputation for professionalism and respect, on the other hand, follows you throughout your career.
Featured image by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash