A Letter to Aspiring Book Reviewers A Blog Series

4: Choosing Your First Book To Review

In the last post we discussed getting your “leads,” by posting to one or more threads in the various Goodreads groups that relate to the genres that interest you. In this weeks post we’ll discuss the way to follow up those leads with a mind toward finding a good, great or mind-blowing book to review.

One of the first things you’ll notice while browsing the responses that your post has generated is that indie authors are typically quite bad at following directions. You’ll have messages in your Goodreads in-box, and responses within your post, even if you asked the authors to use your contact or submission form at your blog. Bear with them. Don’t by-pass a book because the author is a little clumsy like this. Chalk it up to the fact that like most people, Indie authors tend to be rushed and hurried and even a little awkward where self-promotion and marketing is concerned. They tend to miss the details. You might want to give those authors who did follow your directions a little edge (priority) but don’t skip the others, there might just be a gem waiting there for you.

On the other hand, you will also find that some authors simply spam every “available to review” post without bothering to read your requirements at all. You asked for young adult science fiction, they offer “erotic shifter romance.” You said use the contact form, they replied to your post. Maybe they spelled your name wrong too. When it is all completely wrong, it’s probably spam, You needn’t respond to spam. Chastising the author will do no good and will only waste your time. Just move on.

You will need to respond to each and every request (maybe not the spam, but the rest) in order to maintain a proper level of courtesy and professionalism. Do this for your own benefit. Courtesy and respect benefits you as much as it benefits the recipient. Form letters are fine, they do the job and none of us authors expect more. We’ll look into responding to all of these offers in a future post. For now, let’s focus on your list and finding that “mind-blowing” book.

You might have hundreds and hundreds of requests pending. Don’t let the size of the list pressure you. Remember, your goal is to review books that move you—books capable of launching your career with a five star review. Slow down. Take your time. Like writing, reviewing is not a matter of productivity. It’s a thoughtful and considered kind of work. Don’t rush, but don’t dawdle either. You’ll find it’s a difficult balance to achieve, but with a little time and experience you’ll get it.

Personally, as a reader, I’ll usually give an author until chapter five or so to hook me. After all, something about the book drew me in. Maybe a reviewer I respect recommended it to me? Some books start slow. Some of these slow-start books are great, some are mind blowing. Some are classics. But I’m reading as a reader, not a reviewer. I can afford to give every work all the time and attention in the world. As a reader I can read a book all the way to the end, just in the hope that eventually the story will speak to me. You can’t. Not now. The most you can offer any author at this point is about one to two chapters. In some cases, much less.

Follow the link to the book’s Amazon page. Read the blurb. The blurb is the author’s talent at work. Does it pique your interest? If not, move on. If it does, use the look inside feature to start reading the book. If you don’t like reading online (and have a reader or app) go ahead and download the free sample. It’s the same text, it’s just formatted in a more comfortable way.

Read the sample. Read it until you can’t go on. If the reason you can’t go on is that you were so interested in the story that you’ve reached the end of the sample, you’ve just found your first book with some real promise for review. It’s not a done deal yet, but maybe, just maybe you’ve found the one book you’ve been looking for.

If you can’t go on because of the writing style, or poor craftsmanship, or because you just don’t care, close it and move on. This isn’t all that different from how you choose books now, but you’ll find that as you review more and more novels, you’ll be reading with a wholly different intent. You won’t be reading for entertainment. You’ll be “reading to review.” We’ll discuss how reading to review differs from reading for entertainment in an upcoming post. For the time being, use this process of reading the blurb and sampling the content to begin sifting through your many responses. Most will not be right for you, and that’s okay.

You may have to do this dozens and dozens of times before finding the first book with some real promise. Keep in mind that since this is your first review, you’re looking for a book with the potential for a five star review. Repeat this process as necessary until you find a work that will let you kick off your career with a real bang. There are some amazing Indie authors out there. There are newcomers with tremendous talent. It’s their books you’re looking for, and the only way to find them is by reading blurbs and samples over and over again until you do find them. You are in essence, doing the work for your reader. That’s the first part of what Indie reviewers do. You’re sifting though everything available in order to find a real gem.

In the next post, we’ll discuss responding to review requests and what to do once you’ve found your first potentially good, great or mind-blowing book to review.

-J

Suggestion: I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” It’s true. Ignore the cover. There are those who will say that “any author that does not respect their work enough to…” Nonsense! Any independent author with a checkbook can afford a slick cover. Money does not naturally relate to self respect, or quality or the author’s talent. The cover of a book serves a purpose, but that purpose is a very different purpose than yours as a reviewer. Ignore the cover. Judge a book, first by the blurb, then by the content. The text is the author’s craft and talent on display, and that’s how you judge a book. Not by the cover. Read the text.

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