Monday, October 5, 2009

Zen and the Art of Requesting Reviews and Books

(This goes for bloggers AND authors AND publishers so don't think you should skip over this post! Thanks. *grins and ends shameless attention-grabbing section*)

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 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:

1. Personalization

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!

2. Professionalism

Authors are immensely grateful to copyeditors for a really good reason: no one likes to read sloppy, ungrammatical writing. I can't stress how important and easy it is to glance back at what you've written before you send the email off. Sometimes you can catch potentially embarrassing mistakes. For example, an author whose review request I finally said yes to after several days of hemming and hawing--will I like it? Is it worth adding to the pile of books I have to review?--answered back, very kindly, but wrote another reviewer's name in the email. Eeeeeek! A mistake that we've all made at some point or another, but definitely cringe-inducing in the back-and-forth dynamic of formal submissions.

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.

3. Compatability

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.

4. Expectations

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!

Another thing to watch out for is unofficial feedback, like exchanges that go on to Twitter. The 21st century is a small, small world, baby, and if you say something offensive to just one person, it's highly likely that the rest of the world--or at least the people who matter regarding you--will know about it. Publicists for independent publicizing companies will wax eloquent on bloggers they like (which is, you know, good for us!), and I'm sure that authors will tell their author friends which bloggers they recommend for reviews, promotion, etc. Bloggers talk amongst themselves when one comes across an author who is inexcusably impolite, who forget that bloggers are also human--and then these authors are far from being a priority on our to-review and to-be-friends-with lists.

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:
  1. How do you go about turning down requests? Do you simply not respond?
  2. 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?
  3. For authors: how do you decide which bloggers to send ARCs to, and which bloggers' ARC requests to accept or refuse?
  4. Do you spread the word about particularly good or horrendously impolite bloggers and authors with others in your field?
  5. 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?
  6. 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? 
  7. 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?
  8. Anything else you feel that I haven't addressed?


  1. Great post, Steph! You've hit all the nails on the head. As for your questions, as an author, I'm terribly flattered to get arc requests, but please remember that authors only recieve a very small, limited numbers of arcs, and cannot get them out to everyone who asks. Its not that we don't want to send you an arc, we just don't have the numbers. :)

  2. I think this is a pretty awesome post! Thanks for posting it! :) TO answer some of your questions:

    How do you go about turning down requests? Do you simply not respond?

    If the author or publicist personalized their email to me and I'm not interested, I'll politely decline. If it's something broad, where the email is likely sent to a numerous of people, I just don't reply back to it.

    Do you spread the word about particularly good or horrendously impolite bloggers and authors with others in your field?

    Nope. I haven't exactly came across that and I doubt I will. I might say a thing or two but without mentioning who I am talking about.

    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?

    Authors to contact me. The only time I request to review, I would contact the company directly.

  3. How do you go about turning down requests? Do you simply not respond?

    I've only had to do one and I chose not to respond. My review policy clearly states that I don't accept the inquiry's format/type. I felt that the inquirer should have read my policy before shooting me a form letter.

    Do you spread the word about particularly good or horrendously impolite bloggers and authors with others in your field?

    I do recommend a lot of YA review blogs for librarians unfamiliar with YA to watch. If you're a good blogger, I've probably suggested you to a colleague. I don't talk about negative bloggers/encounters with colleagues though.

    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?

    I prefer them to contact me. If someone wants me to review their book, I'm quite flattered. I've never requested for a book though because I'll likely either buy it or get it from the library if I'm interested in it. I know times are tight (and authors get few review copies) so I'm grateful for whatever review copies I can get without requesting.

    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?

    Oooh. I like this. I have absolutely no idea how to work the schematics of it though.

    Right now, I would probably just recommend that the requester go to the YA Book Blog Directory, BBAW Directory or The YA Blogosphere to find another blogger.

    Anything else you feel that I haven't addressed?

    Nope, it's pretty well addressed, I think.

    You always cover these subjects in such a thoughtful, considerate manner. I love reading these posts and responding to them!

  4. Great post. I haven't yet dared make a request, and haven't received any either. But I love reading all the reviews on these blogs and wondered how you got the books. Fascinating to learn how it's done.

  5. As a new blogger, this was a really interesting and thought-provoking post. I guess I don't have any answers to your questions though. Like Katie, as a Librarian I do recommend my favourite book blogs to other School Librarians.

    I haven't requested any ARCs. My blog is not big enough yet and I don't feel an author should give them to me if they are aiming to spread the word. I only have a small following and as Julie said authors only get a small number to give out so it would make more sense to give them to an established blogger.

    Having said that, if an author sent me a personal email then I would most certainly review their book at their request. Unless of course it was something I know I will hate because that would not be doing them any favours.

    This is a really interesting discussion and I'm keen to see others' thoughts.

  6. wow awesome post. This was really interesting to read. Unfortunately I can't answer any of the questions since I'm basically a new blogger I don't really have a huge following, but this is great for future reference if I ever have to deal with #'s 1-5.

  7. Great post!

    Nine times out of ten I'll engage with the person requesting the book. if I turn it down, it's done nicely.

    Just a few days ago I got an unpersonalized blast email from a publicist promoting some YA rich kids in a prep school book. Um, yeah. Looking at my blog for a nanosecond would tell you that I'd tear that shit up if I deigned to waste my time on it. If that person can't be bothered to 1) address me directly or 2) consider what it is I even review in an attempt to get good press for it, I can't be deigned to even respond. DELETED.

  8. Fantastic post! Amen to all of these :)
    I think you should ALWAYS anser a request even if it's to decline. It's just rude not to respond. Also, I contacted some authors for books that I wanted to give away in a special contest and I was very nevrous about doing that but everyone was so kind and even if they declined, they were polite! My preference is for authors to contact me for review requests and contest/interview/anything else requests.
    Thank you for this refresher and I hope all bloggers (really all readers because they may be future bloggers!), authors and publishers read it!

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  10. Great post, Steph! I just deleted my previous comment because I realized it addressed something that wasn't one of your questions. LOL Tired from a long day of writing, methinks. ;-)

    I do want to reiterate what Julie said about authors only receiving a few ARCs. Most review requests need to go through the publisher because they handle the lion's share of those mailings. So if you actually get a signed copy of an ARC from the author, that's kind of a big deal. :-)

    Most of the review requests I get are very professional and sweet. I might get an occasional "Would love to review your book. Thanks!" without any reference to their blog, but those are few and far between. I do try to reply to every request even though I'm unable to grant them an ARC personally. I just think it's the right thing to do.

    Even though I can't grant review copy requests, the ones that impress me and that make me want to follow that blogger are the ones where they take the time to mention why they want my book in particular. This lets me know they understand the kind of books I write and think it would be a good match for them. That makes a big difference. Some bloggers have mentioned that they read my blog (even referencing a particular post that they liked) or that they follow me on the Living Your Five site, etc.

    All of those things help authors realize that you're genuinely interested in them and not just checking that author off a list. As you said in your post, nobody likes to be a number. Thankfully, most of the bloggers who've contacted me have been both gracious and sweet (and not at all list-check-ery). :-)

  11. Excellent post! And you're so right about the personalization. It goes a long way. In my review policy, I listed that I didn't read historical fiction. On another line, I mentioned that I did have a special interet in women's issues, and so I got an email mentioning about how although I might not read his. fiction, the character in their novel was a strong woman, and etc. I accepted and ended up loving the book.

    1. I respond politely (I hope) with a reason: I don't read that, I'm not intrigued, I'm too committed, etc.
    4. Um.. no.
    6. I've never contacted an author for an ARC. I just say people may request me. I tend to ask the publicity departments..
    7. I've referred to other bloggers when people are organizing book tours, or if I can't handle their request, so I like it!

  12. Great post! Although I'm not a big name blogger, I get quite a lot of requests for reviews and I confess I generally only answer the ones that personalize their requests. It is especially irritating to receive requests that suggest that I'm a perfect match for the book in question when it's clear the person emailing me has never looked at my blog because if they had they'd know that the opposite is true. Those are the ones I tend to ignore.

    I have very occasionally (maybe only once!) approached an author about reviewing her book and she very graciously passed on my email to her publicist. I wound up really enjoying her book! These days I'm behind in my reviews, so it's unlikely I'd do that anytime soon again.

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  14. wonderful highlights, absolutely. I too have been pitched to review books on my site, and it can get uncomfortable if someone presses too hard.

    And yes, what a small world it is.

    I am sad about the anonymous hate comments.

  15. I did a post like this on my blog awhile back and I was surprised by the controversy it generated. I had a of anon comments from authors complaining about bloggers begging for books. Here's to hoping the situation has improved since then, though I doubt it.

  16. This is such a good post! I definitely agree with the idea of personalization and making sure your pitch matches the blog you're approaching. I recently got a very good pitch, but it was for a book that wasn't at all related to the books I normally read. That's frustrating!

  17. Wow, it's so great you've put all this out there on the table. It is so true about personalization and being polite, and it totally goes both ways. I've had people tell (not ask---tell) me to send them an ARC. Even though I have a post on the front page of my website, lj, and blogger that explains I'm just keeping a list of people who want to review Shadow Hills, and that list then has to go through my publisher. Not to mention the fact that I don't even have an ARC yet. I won't refuse to add a blogger just because they send a form request, but they aren't going to be the first person on my list. We all want the right match in this situation and it's important to take at least a few minutes to see if you are a good fit before sending a pitch email. That said, when I get an email from a blogger who loves the sound of my book and really wants to review it, I get unbelievably happy. Ecstatic even. So I would hate for someone not to contact me and then I miss their blog and they don't even get considered for an ARC.

    Thanks for the informative post, Steph!

  18. What an awesome post! I've been wondering about some of these things as well, so I'll give you my answers and then check out everyone else's:

    1. How do you go about turning down requests? Do you simply not respond?
    Depends on what's being pitched to me and how it's done. If I get a personalized email but I don't want the book for whatever reason, I'll try to email them back saying that. If it's a form email I don't worry about it and just don't reply. I'm not sure what to do about self-published authors, though; I got one request from an s-p author who offered me a copy of their book, but it looked so bad I wasn't sure how to turn it down with a) lying (it was a genre I read and said I'd accept for review) or b) insulting them. So I just didn't respond.

    2. 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?
    Definitely I most remember the ones that were not only personalized but made me feel as if the requester read my blog, understood what I liked, and was really excited for me to read their book. It makes me feel really good, and I'll more likely than not read that book even if it's not something I'd normally read.

    6. 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?
    If I want an ARC I'll try to contact the publisher or publicist before I contact the author. I feel like it's almost too impolite to email the author directly and ask them for something free, especially if we haven't emailed each other before. I'd feel like a leech!

    But publishers are much more impersonal (though I've met some lovely editors), and they're so used to getting requests for free stuff (and are also prepared for it) I don't feel weird asking them for anything.

    7. 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?
    I've done something like this before (and had another blogger do it for me), and I think it's a great idea! If one book doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but my friend might like it, why shouldn't I refer them to the requester if I think it's a better match?

    I suppose it'd have to be a pretty big list, though, with lots of details like what genres each blogger reads, how much free time they have, etc. Hm.

  19. When I turn down requests I specify that I primarily read YA and some women's fiction. I also always point out my review policy for -- it's a recommendation site, not a review site. So if I don't like a book, I won't review it.

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