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 

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:

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!

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)

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! 

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.

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