Citizen Reviewer

At the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, the buzzword of the event was community. In the hearts and minds of today’s reader, the opinions of fellow readers far outweigh those of professional critics, whose views can be seen as too ‘ivory tower’ or worse, too heavily influenced by the stature of the author or publisher. Increasingly, before buying, readers are turning to blogs and sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing to get a bead on what the community of readers thinks about a given book. This is a trend that works in favor of indie authors and small imprints by giving us an avenue to get on an even footing with our mainstream competition where reviews are concerned.

On his blog today, Seth Godin not only talks about the reach of influential bloggers but becomes one of those book-promoting bloggers himself on behalf of an author friend (and a tip of the cap is owed to Mr. Godin for the title of this article). You may not be a friend of any blogger quite so influential as Mr. Godin, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the trend. There are two approaches to consider.

The first is to bring the bloggers to you, the second is for you to go to them. Either way, you must provide free review copies and you must be willing to graciously accept the reviews, whether positive or negative. You must also agree with each reviewer on a likely timeframe for the review to appear, so you don’t end up having to repeatedly pester them for status updates.

To bring the bloggers to you, on your site or blog, simply offer to give away free copies of your book to book bloggers in exchange for reviews posted at those book-centric blogs. You can set a limit on the number of free copies available, or you can have a standing offer to all takers.

As bloggers write in to take you up on your offer, you will want to take a look at each blog to learn four things:

One, is the blog really primarily about books?

Two, are there numerous reviews already posted there about books similar to yours (i.e., fiction vs. nonfiction)?

Three, what is the quality of those reviews; does the reviewer give thoughtful and insightful remarks, or just seem to delight in the sport of shredding books and authors?

And four, how much traffic does the blog get?

The main advantage of this tack is that it’s easy to do. However, there are pitfalls. First, there’s the uncomfortable task of turning down bloggers whose blogs don’t meet the four criteria above, and potentially alienating those bloggers. There’s also the limitation imposed by your own site traffic: does your site get enough visitors to give your offer high visibility, and are many of those visitors likely to be reader-bloggers? If most of your site visitors are fellow writers, this approach isn’t likely to work.

To go with the second strategy, of reaching out to reader-bloggers yourself, begin by doing a Google search on "blog + reader" or "blog + books" You can also use the "more" drop-down menu on the main Google search page to limit your search results to blogs only, as shown below. Google Blog Search In that case, your searches can be limited to terms relevant to your type of book, such as "fiction", "historical fiction", "supernatural romance", etc. Go through your search results and check out any blogs that seem like a good match.

Use the four criteria listed previously to winnow the field, then contact the most promising bloggers via email with a review request.

The second approach is much more time- and labor-intensive than the first, since you have to do all your own legwork. On the plus side however, since you’re choosing the bloggers yourself, you can exercise quality control without any risk of angering potential reviewer-readers. Either way, once a review goes up you’ll want to read it and personally thank the reviewer (in a comment form under the review, if possible) for taking the time to post it – again, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. You’re far more likely to win over readers by responding graciously to a negative review than you are by savaging the reviewer.

If the review is positive, promote it with an excerpt and a link on your own site(s) and blog(s). If it’s negative, while you can’t avoid all the views on the reviewer’s site or blog, it’s probably best not to add fuel to that fire with promotion on your own site(s) or blog(s).

April L. Hamilton is an indie author, blogger, Technorati blog critic and the founder of Publetariat.com. She is also the author of The IndieAuthor Guide.

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