2009 so far has been a monumental year in terms of blogging. On the good side, the YA blogosphere exploded, my blog has reached proportions the likes of which I had never dared to dream of, and I have been noticing an increase in the number of review requests I've been getting in the past few weeks. On the other hand, there was (and still is) controversy over bloggers requesting books from authors for review; bloggers have begun receiving anonymous hate comments; and I now need to figure out a better system for reading books. (But the last one is an okay thing to deal with.)
I've been thinking lately about the process and technique that goes into requesting, whether it's bloggers requesting review books or authors/publishers requesting bloggers to review their books. I receive review requests from a variety of sources: authors themselves (those are always incredible--hint to authors *wink wink*), publicists at major publishing companies, smaller "indie" publishing companies, people from companies that specialize in publicizing books for major publishing companies or particular authors...so on and so forth.
I can't--and don't--accept every review request offered to me. There are a number of reasons for that. But I've noticed differences in the way I respond to different requests, depending on how the request is made. It's a lot like agents reading query letters, I assume, and no one should assume that in this modern age of the email that any sort of requests between two parties of the book industry can be less than polished. I've considered what motivates me to say "Yes!" to review requests, and elements I always love to see in requests. Behold, the list of what I consider important when pitching a request for reviews or books:
This is number one for an indisputable reason. No one likes to be considered a number, and if you think anyone gains respect by treating people as one giant entity, all alike, then think again. An industry such as book publishing thrives on intimacy and connectivity: we read books to get to know and love the characters, we love authors who make an effort to connect with their fans, etc.
And so the same thing applies to requests. I'm not saying that one should avoid form emails at all costs--I've had to resort to them once in a while myself. But I love seeing a personalized salutation, even something as simple as a "Dear Steph" or "Dear Stephanie", at the beginning of an email. A lack of salutation or something like "Dear Book Blogger"? I'm not so impressed and inspired. These are classic rules of socializing: use people's names in conversations with them. It creates a more intimate interaction, even if you really are two people who don't know anything at all about each other!
I'm especially impressed and moved by requests I receive that contain specific mentions about my blog or books I've been raving about lately. It's not asking for much to include one detail unique to the email receipient, is it? The rare times I work up the courage to ask authors if I can review their books, I always try to put in a reference to previous books of theirs I love, our Twitter interactions, or something they posted about on their blog or website. It's really easy to take two minutes and visit someone's website, glean something about them!
Yes, the development of the Internet has definitely put a dent into classical rules of writing. Online speak makes its way into academic papers, and many people can't distinguish between sets of homonyms like they're, their, and there anymore. However, it just makes it that much more important to proofread your work, because everything lasts forever in cyberworld. Would you publish your writing if it's anything less than the best it can be? Yeah, I didn't think so.
I run a book review blog that focuses mostly on young adult literary fiction, though I'm most willing to review middle grade (another not-so-subtle hint to authors). Because of that, I'm most confused as to what I'm supposed to do when I receive review requests for things like adult thriller pulp fiction. I'm flattered. Thank you for thinking of me.
My abbreviated review policy at the top of the left-hand sidebar, as well as my longer review policy post, explicitly state my reading tastes and preferences. To me, advertising and marketing is all about promoting your product in the right areas, pitching it to the right audiences. For the most part, readers of my blog focus mostly on YA and MG; many are not interested in adult thriller/mystery pulp fiction. It only makes sense for those pitching genres outside of my range of interest to NOT pitch me, as I will be neither A) interested, or B) the right person to publicize your product. It's all a matter of getting the most out of limited resources, and understanding who to pitch your books to is an important thing to consider before hitting that Send button.
NO ONE--no matter how well established or prolific--should assume that they are automatically entitled to the goods. No matter how many credentials you sport, it still doesn't give you the right to consider yourself superior to others; remember the meteoric fall of Alice Hoffman in her disgruntled Twittering state after that one review? No one is excused from being impolite, pretentious, or boastful. My interest is piqued not by arrogant, in-your-face, "if you haven't read this you haven't really read" review requests. I'm much more likely to respond positively if you're friendly, seem to be easy to talk to, and genuinely know what you're getting yourself into when you contact me (see above, #3).
5. Feedback, Followup, and Popularity
A lot of times it's not even the official request that goes bad: it's what happens after someone politely declines. Why in whatever-deity-you-believe-in's name would you write something sassy and offensive back in response to a declination? When I refuse requests, I try to give a good reason: I'm overwhelmed with review books and your request doesn't fit my interest, I'm not the best blogger to publicize your book due to differences in interests, etc. Very rarely do I get an obnoxious review request, one that focuses on numbers (1234098 weeks on a bestselling list! winner of 1304945 writing awards! 13049824986 copies sold since publication!) instead of personalization and quality.
Review and book requests are not games of persuasion, in which, if you badger the person long enough, they will most likely give in to you. Much like you would pitch an agent, you get one shot for one product, and then you're done. So you better make it the best one possible!
Yes, it happens in all aspects of the field. Anything you write--ANYTHING, include random stuff on Twitter--can and will be used against you if the material is offensive. And this goes for anyone. Bestselling authors are not excluded, much like how celebrities who get in trouble with the law make the front-page news (even if they are later given leeway in court. Sigh). Feedback occurs in all different forms, and anything you produce becomes part of your identity. Don't let your identity have a negative reputation.
If you're interested in reading more about Book Pitches Gone Bad, check out the eponymous article that I discovered on Twitter through Natasha of Maw Books. Talk about a "professional publicist" who's got it wrong. Don't be that guy, please.
Like my post's title says, pitching requests is an art: it's subjective, and what works for some requestors and request recipients might not necessarily work for others. Overall, it's about balancing your own interests and manners of expression with knowledge of the "big picture": that authors, bloggers, and publicists are human and appreciate common courtesy/humor/non-sycophantic compliments, just like anyone else does.
I don't profess to be a master at online etiquette, of course, and you may or may not have something to say, add, or correct in response to my above list. Here are some of my questions for you, and I'd love to hear your answers to them:
- How do you go about turning down requests? Do you simply not respond?
- Think about some of the most successful review or ARC requests that you've received. What makes them memorable to you? How did it make you feel, and how did you respond?
- For authors: how do you decide which bloggers to send ARCs to, and which bloggers' ARC requests to accept or refuse?
- Do you spread the word about particularly good or horrendously impolite bloggers and authors with others in your field?
- Authors: do you prefer to contact bloggers for review requests, or for bloggers to contact you with ARC requests? Have you expressed this preference somewhere that's easy to locate? How many requests is too many?
- Bloggers: do you prefer to contact authors for ARCs, or for authors to contact you with review requests? Have you expressed this preference somewhere that's easy to locate?
- How does the idea of a referral list--a list of bloggers to recommend when another blogger can't fulfill requests--sound? How would you decide which bloggers would go on your referral list?
- Anything else you feel that I haven't addressed?