Category Archives: Helpful Tips

Friendship Friday: How to create book reviews that write themselves.

Last week I created a post about getting free books from big publishers, including links on contacting them. This week, I’m making things easy for you: creating reviews that write themselves (almost). Granted, this won’t turn you into Ron Charles, but maybe someday…or even better!

DON’T BE NERVOUS

I’ve run into several people who are nervous about writing a good review because they got a free book from a publisher. Two things:

  1. The publishers rarely read your reviews.
  2. Everyone else rarely reads your reviews.

CopyBlogger.com says that only 2 out of 10 people that click on your posts actually read them. If you don’t believe me, let’s take two quick tests. First, here’s my review of Jonathan Franzen’s PURITY. Did you click the link? No? Point proven. You did? But you didn’t read the whole review, right? Point proven. Second, have you ever hit “like” on a Facebook post that your friend posted of their 3-year-old daughter in a ballet recital (but you didn’t really watch the video)? Point proven.

Here’s a great comedy sketch from comedian Louis CK about that same thing:

In my review of SUPERBETTER, Jane McGonigal says that we can reprogram our brains by telling ourselves that our nervousness is energy. It works! I’ve also found that having a plan helps, too.

WRITE DOWN QUOTES FROM THE BOOK YOU’RE READING

I love book quotes. Warning: sometimes book quotes can bog you down. Capture your favorites and log them. If you want to be really lazy (aka cheating) you can go to Goodreads and see some of the best quotes from your favorite book, selected by the community.

If you followed the advice I gave last week about getting free books, you may have discovered that many publishers include press releases or publicity sheets. These may include anything from a longer version of the book’s description to copies of news coverage. It’s awesome! Some people may balk at possible “spoilers”, but I prefer to call them a roadmap of what you’ll be reading. They help you read faster and retain more.

START WITH YOUR HEADLINE FIRST

In one sentence (come on Twitter users!!) come up with the one thing you want to tell other people about the book. The more salacious or captivating, the better. If you want to tell us about the sex scene with the Martian queen, awesome!

This may be the most difficult part of writing the review. That’s a good thing. This exercise will inspire you and set a direction for the rest of the review. The co-founder of Twitter said that confinement inspires creativity. Give yourself one sentence to get our attention; you’ll be amazed at how everything flows from this.

WRITE DOWN AT LEAST THREE SUBHEADINGS

Book reviews are like the cheesy movie trailers from the 80s. The best reviews give a flavor of the book with a bit of commentary. Like those trailers from yesteryear, you’ll get scenes from the movie/book and you’ll get narrative that tells you what to expect. Look back at the headline you wrote and now write down three or more bullets that capture the main themes from the book.

Let’s pretend we’re going to review THE KARATE KID, the book. The headline may be: “Can a kid find love and win the karate championship?” Your subheadings might include:

  • Bullied in L.A.
  • Karate fixes all
  • True love (note: ALWAYS have a subheading about love)
  • Wax on, wax off

DUMP YOUR BUCKET OF QUOTES

Remember your bucket of quotes that you collected? Dump them out! Give your subheadings some space and put the quotes in, under the appropriate subheading.

Let’s go back to THE KARATE KID for example:

  • Bullied in L.A.
    “Friend? Oh, yeah, those guys.”
    “No the problem is, I’m getting my ass kicked every other day, that’s the problem.”
  • Karate fixes all
    “Go, find balance….Banzai, Daniel-san!”
    “Karate come from China…hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa.”
    “I thought it came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that.”
    “You too much TV”
  • True love
    “Hey, you got a name?” “Ali…with an I. Hey, what’s your name?”
    “Why next time?” “Because we didn’t bring a bathing suit!”
  • Wax on, wax off
    “Make block. Left, right. Up, down. Side, side. Breathe in, breathe out. And no scare fish.”

PLAY A GAME: CONNECT THE DOTS

You don’t have to be a grammar wiz to string this together. Say something you like or something you don’t like about the book, and then lead to a quote. Say something about the book’s premise or happenings, then lead to another quote. Bounce from quote to quote until you feel you’ve completed the picture.

Don’t feel like you have to use all the quotes. Don’t use any if you don’t want. They are there to help you if you want them. Make sure there’s plenty of YOU in the review. Talk to ME. It’s a conversation of you, telling me, about the book. These are tools to help you.

USE MULTIMEDIA (CUE SONG)

As you can tell, I enjoy a good GIF image. I’ve also been known to include links to other reviewers, outside sources, and my own, horribly drawn pictures. It’s all about telling the story. The more pictures and media you include, the less people read, the more people say “great review”. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. (Admit it: you do it, too.)

For example, here’s my favorite music from THE KARATE KID. No, it’s not “you’re the best…there is….”. It’s the beautiful song that plays as Daniel practices his crane kick on the beach in front of the setting sun.

Fast forward to about 1:20 into the video for the MOST BEAUTIFUL music and scenery you’ve ever witnessed.

Friendship Friday: How to get the biggest books from the best publishers–for free!

New segment! On Fridays, when I’m able, I would like to give back to the awesome book community. I’ll share any knowledge I’ve gained, or spotlight other fabulous book bloggers/social media users who are ROCKING it!

Today: How to get the biggest books from the best publishers–for free!

STEP 1: BECOME A PUBLICITY VEHICLE

There are a TON of books out there. Publicists these days are going crazy trying to get your interest. It’s tough. Between cute kitten videos and Friends marathons on Netflix, trying to get public interest in a particular book, let alone a stack of books, is enough to make anyone go bonkers.

They need YOUR help. Before the books come rolling in, you need to build a publicity vehicle. For me, I started getting books at the library (free!) and posting my reviews on Amazon (free!). Warning: that’s a humbling experience. Folks can vote your reviews up–and down! I suggest going with a free blog like wordpress, blogger, or tumblr.

Next, take your vehicle for a drive around social media: Twitter, Instagram, YouTube (you don’t want to see my face on YouTube). Most importantly: INTERACT. You’ll find people and they’ll find you. Make a game out of it; keep track of your social standings with Klout.

Another tip: if your goal is free books, make sure your vehicle is painted bumper-to-bumper in books. When publishers start looking at you, they want to see you talking about books. Cats and wine are totally acceptable, but make sure you let them know you love talking about and promoting books!

STEP 2: FIND THE BOOKS WORTH PROMOTING

Now that you’ve built a platform for yourself and have connected with some other bookish friends, find new books to review. Key word: NEW. Find what the publishers are promoting and help them promote it. I like to go to the “coming soon” sections on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Both have some neat sorting features. If you’re in with your librarian or local book sellers, they’ll have some great catalogs and newsletters as well.

Here’s the ultimate first stop for free books: Netgalley, Edelweiss, and Blogging for Books. The two former ones require that you have an e-reader or computer, the latter one sends out physical copies of books. Go there! Netgalley especially has tools to sort through publishers and books to see what is coming out and what types of people the publishers are interested in giving books.

STEP 3: KNOW THE PUBLISHER, KNOW WHERE THEY LIVE

Okay, so digital ARCs aren’t your thing? You want something in the mail? You want to hold the new books? You want to hug the new books? You want to SMELL the new books?

First, you have to know who publishes the new books. In the tools above, you’ll find the books and most often see who is publishing the new books. Goodreads is also a great source. Once you know the publisher, you’ll need to know where to contact them. It’s uncouth to ask in public forums like Facebook and Twitter.

Go to the publisher’s website and look for “contact us” or “publicity contact information”. If that fails, Google the publishers name along with the words “publicity contact”. I’m going to make it easy for you. Here are some of the biggest publishing houses in America and their publicity contact pages:

Hachette Book Group (Little, Brown, Grand Central, Center Street, etc.)
HarperCollins (Harper, Ecco, Dey Street, William Morrow, etc.)
Macmillan (St. Martin’s Press, Tor/Forge, Holt, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, etc.)
Penguin  (Dutton, Penguin Press, Riverhead, Viking, etc.)
Random House (Crown, Doubleday, Dutton, Knopf, etc.) This page has merged Pengiun contacts.
Simon & Schuster (Atria, Scribner, Simon & Schuster, etc.)

That should keep you busy.

STEP 4: WRITE THE REQUEST FOR A NEW BOOK!!

There are two types of books that you may see ahead of publishing date:

Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) that are bound copies sent out months in advance that may still be edited before the…

Final Copies, which are the finished deal. These are the books that the public will see and buy in droves.

You’ll want to write a nice note to the publisher telling them how awesome you are (publicity vehicle) and which book(s) you would like to receive. Generally plan to write your letter 3-4 months in advance for ARCs and about a month in advance for a finished copy. Each publisher is a bit different, but those are pretty good averages based on mine and other bloggers’ findings.

Make it easy for them! Connect the dots. Tell them who you are, why you want the book, and how you can promote the book. Include links to your sites and profiles. Perhaps give examples of how you’ve helped them in the past. And–very important–give them your address.

One of four things will happen: they’ll respond and tell you they are sending the book!; they won’t respond and still send the book; they’ll say “no”; or, instead of saying “no” they’ll usually opt to ignore you. Remember: they are super busy. It’s nothing personal. Don’t feel bad if they ignore you.

If you send your request far enough in advance, and you haven’t heard anything in a couple of weeks, don’t be afraid to send a follow-up request (or two). I like to tell them that I already sent a request and I’m following up with another request. I know they’re busy. Again: make it easy for them.

The more you drive your vehicle, the more books you’ll get.

STEP 5: KEEP YOUR PROMISES, LET THEM KNOW ABOUT IT

Another crucial point. If you say you’ll post a review, make sure you post a review. If you say you’ll take a picture of their book with a pack of elephants, make sure you have the elephants ready. Whatever it is that got their attention, follow through.

This is golden: send them a follow-up email. Give them the links to your coverage. They may not respond, but they’ll definitely appreciate the email. It makes a world of difference for them. And, chances are, they’ll remember you next time!

There are some other great articles about getting free books. You’ll definitely want to check out this from ReadWriteLove. She includes a TON of helpful links with plenty of her own helpful advice. Be sure to follow her blog, too!

Do you have any tips or personal advice for getting books?
What has your experience been?