books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The New Gatekeepers: How to Query a Book Review Blogger—an Interview with Danielle Smith.

Publishing insider Alan Rinzler said in a blogpost last summer that traditional book marketing is no longer working. “That $50K space ad in the New York Times?” he said. “Forget it. It’s only for the author’s mother…not even an appearance on the Today Show can guarantee more than a brief spike in sales. The old ways don’t work, and smart people in book publishing know that and say it openly now.” (If you want more on this, check out Meghan Ward's Blog, Writerland where you can read her brilliant interview with Rinzler and agent Andy Ross.)

Many agents now say they’re no longer interested in queries from unknowns. Some even suggest you self-publish first, then query only if you have good sales. 

So if agents are abdicating as gatekeepers, and the New York Times and the Today Show are no longer the best places to find out about new books, where does a reader go?

Increasingly, people are going to book review blogs. That’s why getting a good review from a prestigious blogger in your genre can be the best way to launch a book.

But how can you find the right reviewers? And how do you approach them?

You send a query—pretty much the way you approach other gatekeepers like literary agents and editors. (See, you didn’t entirely waste the two decades you spent querying every agent listed at AgentQuery.com.) 

Here are some general rules for scoring a review: 

1)     Read the guidelines carefully.
2)     Then, um, follow the guidelines carefully.
3)     Never send an unsolicited book or file: query first.
4)     Don’t query with books outside the prescribed genre. (Even if the blogger agrees to do a review, you won’t reach the right readers. People don’t go to a chick lit review site to hear about the latest zombie gore-fest.)
5)     Personalize the query.
6)     Keep queries short and intriguing.
7)     Don’t take it personally if they turn you down. Reading takes a lot of time and most of them are swamped.
8)     Understand the review is for the READER, not the writer, so negative reviews happen.
9)     If you get a less than stellar review, mourn in private and move on.

Who are the worst rule breakers? Turns out it’s marketers, publicists and other publishing professionals who don’t get social networking. People who blast generic review requests into thousands of bloggers’ inboxes only get thousands of deletes. (Kristin Lamb has a funny post on those “Dear Madam” email requests this week.) 

To get the real skinny on how to approach a book blogger, I decided to talk to one. I'm lucky enough to live near Danielle Smith, who has one of the most popular review sites in her genre.

I met Danielle long before I knew she was a reviewer—and before I knew she was my neighbor. I met her at the blog of Emily Cross--the wonderful Irish writer who started the Writers' Chronicle Forums--and I just assumed Danielle lived in Ireland like Emily. So I was blown away when Danielle introduced herself at the Central Coast Writers Conference and told me she lived only twenty miles from me.

Here’s how important book bloggers have become: after I introduced Danielle to one of my classes at the CCWC, two fierce older ladies came to my “table talk” and plunked themselves down, announcing, “We don’t want to talk to you. We want to talk to the book reviewer!” I explained that because Danielle wasn’t a presenter, she wasn’t part of the table talk, but the two ladies had staked their claim and they weren’t going to move. They may be sitting there yet.

But I can pretty much guarantee that their approach isn’t the best way to get a book reviewed. So what works better? Let’s let Danielle answer.

Anne: How can authors find the right reviewers for their books?

Danielle: Here are some great places to find book bloggers for every genre:
Book Blogger Appreciation Week
Book Blog Directory
Fyrefly's Book Blog Search 

Anne: What got you into book blogging?

Danielle: My kids. I've been a long time reader and blogger, but I'd never combined the two. My son actually started reading on his own at around a year and a half which lead to a giant problem...which books do I pick up for him? I felt overwhelmed in book stores and libraries and quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn't be alone in my plight. I started There's a Book to help others find the right books for their own kids, no matter their age. After about a year I connected with Leah from Chick Lit Reviews and News and started reviewing there as well. I love it!

Anne:  I know you review on two separate sites. Do you only review children’s and chick lit novels?

Danielle: Yes. I review picture books, middle grade and young adult books as well as chick lit/women's fiction novels.

Anne: What are your submission guidelines?

Danielle: Anyone requesting a review or feature I suggest they read over my review policy first and then contact me via email at the1stdaughter at gmail dot com. But, read the review policy first!

Anne: Do you like an author to approach you first with a query letter?

Danielle: Yes. I'd absolutely prefer a query letter first.

Anne: What do you want to see in the query?

Danielle: Think about this the same way you'd approach a publisher you hope to have publish your book. No, I'm not going to get you published, but I may just be able to help sell a few copies of your book.

Keep your query professional, but show me some personality. No guilt trips of course. Be concise and make sure to share a two to four sentence summary of your book. Also helpful is an image of the book cover if available, the age range of the intended audience, page count and publication date. I also like to know if you have an expected time frame of when you'd like to see the review posted for scheduling purposes.

Anne: What is most likely to get your attention and make you want to review a book?

Danielle: Cover and then the synopsis. Yes, I love a good cover. Then and/or if you've done your homework the topic will be something that appeals to me. It really frustrates me to get queries about books I list as specifically not accepting. Not only because it's a waste of my time, but a waste of time for the author. Think of all the excellent book bloggers you could be reaching out to who love the topic you write about!

Anne:  Do you give unfavorable reviews, or do you only review books you like? Have you ever had a bad reaction to one of your reviews?

Danielle: Yes, I do write negative reviews. Honesty is always my policy, but I'm also very constructive in my criticism. I understand how difficult it is to write a book, no matter it's size and I don't like to write negative things for the sake of being negative. Generally speaking though, I've gotten much better about selecting the books I read and review which cuts down considerably on the number of negative reviews I have to write.

As for bad reactions...not really for reviews. If anything, I've received negative reactions about my decision not to review a certain book. Which is unfortunate because I'm almost always happy to refer someone to a reviewer I know personally who may enjoy their book.

Anne: What are your pet peeves that authors and agents do when approaching you?

Danielle: There are only a few things that really get to me when being approached:

  • Contacting me for a review via Twitter. I will not take review requests via Twitter and this seems to be an increasing trend with authors unfortunately. Most book bloggers I know won't accept them either.
  • Not using my name in an email requesting a review. This is an immediate indication to me that the person hasn't read my review policy. It's also slightly rude. Often I get requests opening with "Hi..." and nothing else. Would you email a publisher or employer that way?
  • Requesting a review from me for a book I clearly wouldn't read. I recently had a request for a James Patterson novel and though his books are excellent they aren't exactly the right fit for either of the sites I review at, are they?
  • Too much personal info. I want to know about your book and not your cat, sorry! I love cats, but unless they appear in your book I don't really need to know them to decide about reviewing your book 
  • A synopsis for your book that exceeds a paragraph. I simply don't have the time to read more than that.
  • Authors who don't have a website and/or blog. Sometimes this can make or break my decision. If you don't have one I may not review your book. It doesn't need to be fancy, but often this is where I go to find more info about your book if I'm not quite sure if it’s a good fit.

Anne: Any advice you'd like to add to authors who want to approach you?

Danielle: Be fearless! If you love your book, which I know you do, then make it shine and show me why I should love it. Also, don't be afraid to contact me with a general question. If you know your book isn't a good fit and need help finding a great book blogger don't be afraid to ask. This goes for most book bloggers I know, we're generally a very friendly bunch and a tightly knit community so don't be afraid to reach out to us, we love authors!

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity Anne. I'll gladly answer questions to anyone who comments, so please feel free to ask away!

Thank you Danielle! There’s so much information here, and you’re so generous about helping authors find the right reviewers.

So scriveners—you heard the lady. Ask away!
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NOTICE: We've had some tech problems with the ebook of THE GATSBY GAME. If you've had any problems with downloads, or bought a copy with funky formatting, please let me know!  Email me at annerallen (dot) allen (at) gmail.com.

But now everything seems to be fixed and all is well!

But I would like to test it, so if you'd like a FREE EBOOK, email me at the above address. I'll just need you to download it in the next 24 hours and let me know how it looks. Thanks for bearing with me here. This is when it's awfully nice to have a publisher who can fight these battles for me. Thanks, Mark! 
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Remember that next week, November 13th, we have a guest post from none other than the legendary grand master of mystery writing, LAWRENCE BLOCK!

New on the blog this week is my page for the Indie Chicks Anthology--an anthology of personal stories and writing samples from 25 independent women. All sales go to breast cancer research.

I continue my blog tour this week at Florence Foisttoni's blog, Florence Fois in the City with a guest post on November 9th on women and body image.

40 comments:

  1. As a new writer, blogger and reviewer this year, Danielle's site was the first one I joined an started reading regularly (as well as joining her Read to me Picture Book Challenge) and I have learnt so much about reviewing from her site. Thanks so much for this interview and emphasizing that querying a reviewer should be as professionally approached as querying an agent.

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  2. Yet again, Anne, you write such comprehensive, readable posts. Thanks for this.

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  3. Good manners and a short, snappy blurb never hurt. Never!

    Terrific post, Danielle, thank you!

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  4. Great tips, Anne! Even those of us who've been around the publishing biz for awhile can feel bewildered by this brave new world of book bloggers. Thanks for the helpful how-to guidelines. Much appreciated and mighty timely.

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  5. Great post, Anne and Danielle! I hope authors and publicists bookmark and tweet it (I know I will). You both hit the nail on the head: Book bloggers are the next gatekeepers. Having one's book published (especially in this day and age of on-demand self-publishing) is only one part of the process because at some point, whether traditionally published or self, we can all agree it comes down the selling. And this is the arena where book bloggers are worth their weight in gold. A positive review from a professional book blogger can sell your book faster than any number of author signings at one’s local coffee bookstore (don’t get me wrong—I’m addicted to those places, but a good online review will hit thousands of readers in the span of time it takes an author to set up a nice-looking book table). They’ve built up an audience of trusting readers who have access to their blog posts at ANY time (even weeks/months/years later) who are constantly looking for a recommend of how to spend their hard-earned book allowances. Even the most casual book reviewer can steer readers to or away from a book. In this way, reviewers are doing much of an author’s work FOR them, but in a way authors can’t exactly do for themselves. It’s one thing to hear an author promote their work, it’s another to hear a trusted book blogger do so. With that said, treat us nice and with respect. Common courtesy goes a long way. Oh, and I heartily agree—please don’t pitch to us on Twitter.

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  6. Thanks for a great post, and especially for those links. I'm going to have to take a look through there. The most difficult thing about the process for me so far has been finding the right matches for my book - I sure set myself a challenge starting with a collection of short stories, and Westerns at that. Most book blogs that list historical/western among their genres are geared toward romance.

    There's one question I've been looking to get an answer for. What if bloggers don't respond to your query? Some state clearly in their submission guidelines that if you don't hear back it means they have decided not to review your book - but for those that don't state this, is it good etiquette to contact them again, say after a few months, maybe respectfully asking if they receieved and read your original email?

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  7. Great advice from a great blogger! Your request email is the blogger's first sample of your writing, so definitely check for typos, grammatical and other errors, and general professionalism. Excessive flattery is not actually necessary.

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  8. Thanks for the advice, Anne and Danielle! Now, time to prod my co-author into action - I want to write it so I can try my hand at querying now! :D

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  9. Joanna—Isn’t Danielle’s blog great? She updates so often, it makes me dizzy. And she’s got two of them! And you’re so right. It’s all about professionalism.

    Tricia—Thanks. I’m glad you found it helpful

    Ruth—It’s amazing how many things come down to good manners, isn’t it?

    Shelly—Glad to help!

    M. Christine—You’re right. Book bloggers are an author’s best friend. This is so true: “reviewers are doing much of an author’s work FOR them, but in a way authors can’t exactly do for themselves.”

    Elizabeth—There have to be some Western reviewers out there. Maybe Danielle can help. It’s a small but awfully loyal group of readers.

    Books (Veronika) Excessive flattery can be so creepy. “Professionalism” is the word I’m hearing from so many of you book bloggers.

    Spook—Yeah, getting the book finished first is always a good idea :-)

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  10. Joanna - Thank you so much! It's been wonderful having you as part of the Picture Book Challenge!

    Tricia, Ruth, Shelly, bookspersonally, Spook - Thank you for your flattering comments! I'm happy to help!

    M. Christine - Thank you!!! I love what you've added to the convo. It's so true that book blog reviewers can have a huge impact, more so than traditional means. Recently I was part of a group of book reviewers that worked together to promote a book that's now been sold out on Amazon and gone into a second printing even before the publication date. Obviously, it was a huge group effort, but on the right blogs an authors book can do amazing things! And yay! for another "no-Twitter pitch" reviewer, they're awful!

    Elisabeth Grace - Sometimes I won't respond to a query for a number of reasons, about 95% of the time it's because I'm overwhelmed at the moment and your book didn't grab me to beginning with. That doesn't mean I'd be opposed to another query later. I'd highly recommend sending another query IF you never heard back at all after about three to four months.

    When doing this treat it as if you never contacted them before. Make sure to read their review policy again (it may have changed), revisit your query to make it fresh and then...good luck! You never know, it may just be the right timing the second time around.

    That all being said...don't resend queries over and over again expecting something different (especially within a week or two weeks time). As has been stating before, this is the very definition of insanity and not to mention annoying.

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  11. Like a bad penny, I'm back :) Florence as anon. and let's hope this one makes it onto the page without your help, Anne.

    I may not need this info for a while, but the more we know at the front end, the less mistakes we make when the time comes. Thanks so much, Danielle. That was concise and to the point :) See you later in the week, Anne!

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  12. Elisabeth Grace - Another idea...could you think of "popular" books currently published that are similar to your novel? By doing this you could search for reviews of those books and approach those book reviewers. This might be easier than just seeking out reviewers that specialize in only Westerns. Hope that helps!
    Danielle xo

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  13. Florence - Thank you so much! I'm always worried I'm a bit too concise, but I wanted to make sure I got everything in and it sounds like you liked it. So yay! :)
    Danielle xo

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  14. Great post idea Anne and you couldn't have picked a better book blogger to query ;)

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  15. This was a fascinating post. I'm impressed to read how organised and professional Danielle is but, more than that, how helpful she comes across as.

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  16. Gwen - You're not so bad yourself! Thanks so much for stopping by to see how I fared. xo

    Sarah - That's such a wonderful compliment, honestly! I love helping when I can and this has been a fantastic opportunity to shed a bit of light on something I think a lot of authors/reviewers struggle with. Thank you so much! xo

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  17. Awesome advice. Especially 4 & 7.

    It's important to stick to what the blogger is accepting and never take it personally. Sometimes it's just a matter of time constraints and personal interest.

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  18. This is so helpful. I wondered if I would ever be using the brilliant queries I have constructed and endlessly edited over the years :) I so appreciate you keeping me appraised of industry changes. It all seems to be happening so fast. Does that show my age? Ah well...

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  19. Great interview, Danielle! Thanks for sharing the tips! And I think you are spot on, Anne - book reviewers really are becoming the new gatekeepers. I've had a wonderful time connecting with them while querying for book reviews for my latest release. They're friendly and do a great service for readers and writers alike!

    Thanks for the great post!

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  20. The best thing about the new gatekeepers is that they make judgements based on the quality of the story, not its commercial value.

    Long live the new gatekeepers!

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  21. I found this very helpful, especially the bit about keeping the synopsis to one paragraph. What I'm struggling with is the art of good synopsis writing. Today, I delved into one, for several hours. It was easier to write the whole damn novel than that one paragraph. Ugh.

    Do you have any links to a synopsis guru who might guide me on my quest to catch a reviewer's eye?

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  22. Extremely A--The synopsis is the toughest challenge a fiction writer has to face, so I feel your pain. I wrote a column about it for a writers magazine a little while ago, and I was sure I'd done a version of it for this blog so I checked, and--I HAVEN'T. So I guess I know what I'd better put on my "to blog about list"! Thanks for bringing it up. There are some good tips out there. Try the AgentQuery.com site--their guidelines for everything are pretty good. Remember to tell a story, not just list events. And leave out as many names as possible. Just the protag and one or two others. And in an official synopsis, don't leave out the ending. (You don't have to for a query letter.)

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  23. Juju - Exactly! Often it's just a case of bad timing. xo

    Christine - You'll absolutely get a chance to use those queries! Yay! So keep them backed up on your computer and ready to send away. xo

    Susan - Hi Susan! Thank you for stopping by and for the wonderful compliment. It's fantastic to work with author, like you, who understand how to work with book reviewers. I know we all appreciate the time you put in to make genuine connections prior to querying. xo

    Mark - Absolutely! If you have a great story and the right approach it can make a world of difference for everyone. Thank you! xo

    Extremely A. - Thank you, I'm glad to hear it helped! As far as a good synopsis and where to look for examples...I'd first look for ones you've been pulled in by. If you have a favorite book, look at it's synopsis and go from there. Another place I read quite a few synopsis' on is Goodreads. Also, Nathan Bransford's query letter is another great resource. Best of luck! xo

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  24. This was exactly what I needed, Danielle and Anne. I met you both at the CCWC this Fall, and realized that book bloggers were a key part of this business that I had overlooked. I was still fumbling with how to go about approaching the right reviewer when you answered my prayers with this post. I will definitely check out the links you provide.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and for reviewing!

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  25. Extremely--Danielle answered much better than I did: Nathan Bransford--of course. He is the source of the best writerly advice. Here's the link to his post on synopses: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/08/how-to-write-synopsis.html

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  26. A great post!
    I'd also suggest authors include a link to an excerpt or sample chapter. It gives bloggers like me a way to quickly assess your writing style to see if it is a good fit.

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

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  27. Awesome post. Thanks Anne.

    So Dana...Darla...Danielle, whatever...um I have a 237,000 word vampire-memoir-Christian-inspirational-Chik-Lit-thriller that I think you will LOVE (it's part of a 12 book series). I wrote it to appeal to ALL demographics, so I don't see why little kids wouldn't love it, too.

    You said not to ask for reviews on Twitter, but you didn't mention shamelessly soliciting my nugget of literary brilliance on Anne's blog. And I would love to send you a copy, but you can just download one for $10.99 on Amazon. A small price to pay for your life to be changed forever right? The only downside is that my novel might just ruin you on all other books.

    ...okay, I'll stop before Anne hunts me down and punches me :D. Thanks for this awesome post and I will have to send people over here to ge the REAL skinny on how to be professional in this new paradigm.

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  28. Bookdout--Great suggestion. I was thinking Ruth and I should have separate book pages, and a writing sample would be a great idea. Thanks for the tip.

    Kristen--You crack me up. :-D Yes, I think Danielle would add "pitching in a blog comment thread" to her list of no-nos. Thanks so much for being so supportive of this blog!

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  29. Great interview. Learned much. Thank you. Gotta add that I'm totally burned out on James Patterson and Baldachi and a few others. Each book is same-ole, same-ole. Daniel Silva started out great, then slipped into preaching *groan.

    The pub world remains in turmoil; the power lies with the bloggers, but I'm not quite sure many understand the power available.

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  30. Kittie--"The power lies with the bloggers." That's so true, and you're right: a lot of them don't realize the power they have.

    Dawn--I missed you up there--good luck! Glad we could help.

    Everybody--Danielle says her inbox is exploding since this interview went up, so if you've just queried her, it's going to take a while for her to get back to you. I feel bad--she was doing NaNoWriMo this year and had to drop it because of all the queries this post is generating. Now she knows how those agents feel!

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  31. Anne, this is such a wonderful interview! One question I have is how many books does Danielle review each year? Newspapers have a whole repository of reviewers, but an individual book blogger must either read very quickly or only review a few books per month (at most).

    The directories are especially helpful. I wouldn't know where to begin to find book bloggers to send my work to (I, by the way, get people sending ME their books, and I'm not a book blogger!)

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  32. This is some great advice. I find it funny that people want something but don't find the correct way to do it. I hope learn something about this post. I'm going to save the links.

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  33. Meghan, I'll get Danielle to come back with the answer to that. I know she does an awful lot. I have no idea how she does it. Book reviewers have to be very fast readers.

    Clarissa--You don't know the half of it. People are so amazingly rude. I saw a sample of a mass-emailed letter one book blogger got yesterday. It was about how "If you have less than x number of followers, then you have to pay for the book, but we'll let you have a free one if you have the stats of Justin Beiber." Laughable. And this was from a publisher. Good luck getting any books reviewed in the near future, Bozos.

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  34. Thanks for another great article Anne. I'm bookmarking this, as I have no idea where to start, but I know I'd love to have mine professionally reviewed.

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  35. Anne--I haven't done much research on this either, but I think those links will be a good place to start.

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  36. D. August - So happy you enjoyed the post and that it helped so much. You'll have to introduce yourself at the next conference! I'll be there with an entire panel of book reviewers. xo

    bookdout - That's a fantastic suggestion. I've sometimes found that after reading a sample chapter it's just not the right fit or sometimes it's perfect! Thanks! xo

    Kristen - I mean Kayla or Carla was it? I'd love to review your ridiculously long, I'm sure excellently edited, multi-genre novel. Sounds fab! LOL (And yes, Anne is right...no blog pitches either.) xo

    Kittie - Some bloggers do understand that, but finding them and catching them at the right time is often very difficult. But keep trying, you never know! xo

    Meghan - Thank you! As for your question...I usually read between 3 to 5 books per week, excluding the picture books I also read. This does include middle grade, YA and adult fiction so the size and text varies quite a bit. I'm a bit on the extreme end of things because not only am I a stay at home mom with kids that love to read as well, but I also read very fast (and have insomnia). Though I think you'll find that most book review bloggers read quite a bit more than a print publication has time for.

    I'm not sure why that is, but the bloggers I know (Pam from Bookalicious, Amy from My Friend Amy, Gina from Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers, etc.) all average around 3 books a week. What I would venture to guess is that not only do we not answer to anyone except ourselves, but we also all have a huge passion for reading. If we didn't I can guarantee we wouldn't keep doing it, it's a lot of work but incredibly rewarding. Great question! xo

    Clarissa - Thank you so much! You'd be very very surprised what people will do to hopefully get a book review. lol xo

    Anne - Thank you! A fantastic idea and certainly a great place to start! xo

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  37. A brilliant and timely post, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with. It's such a breath of fresh air when authors take the time to do their research rather than simply attaching a PDF and forwarding a blank email to fifty reviewers all at once!

    Reading and reviewing a book takes hours and hours of my time, and it really makes a difference when an author recognises that and treats me with respect.

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  38. Anne, I took your bog class at Cuesta a few months ago and my blog went live this week, as a result. Thanks for the inspiration. You can see what I did at boomerbabylon.com

    Cheers!
    Susan Kettmann

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  39. I know it's a very late comment but I have to say THANK YOU Ms. Allen and Ms. Smith. The timing of your post could not have been more perfect, because during that time I was getting ready to look for reviewers. The directories really helped (unlike the previous plan, which was to Google search for blogs) and while most of the guidelines were common sense (I say that in a good way), there were quite a few tips I didn't know about before. So far my query results have been pretty successful (I even talked about it at my site http://andrewcyrushudson.com/2011/11/review-safari/ ) so I have to thank you both once more.

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  40. That really was a thorough and encouraging post. Also enlightening - I can imagine authors having an outsized view of their work, but Danielle actually tells authors not to fear loving and extolling their books. Very enlightening to hear what she encounters.

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