Promoting via book blogs: Q&A with Devourer of Books

October 20, 2010

For authors looking to promote their books, book blogs present some awesome opportunities. But how do you know which bloggers will review your book? And what’s the best way to approach them?

Jen, who reviews books at her blog, Devourer of Books, with her toddler son.

Here to enlighten us today is Jen Karsbaek, who reviews books at her blog, Devourer of Books. On Twitter, this Chicagoan is known as @DevourerofBooks.

Not only is she a book blogger, Jen recently opened a business called Booklicity. She helps authors navigate the world of book blogs — because the more book bloggers review your book, the more readers are likely to buy it.

Great to have you here, Jen! What kinds of books do you review on your blog? With all of the submissions you receive, how do you choose which ones to review?

I really review a very wide variety. Actually, I was just voted Best Eclectic Book Blog during Book Blogger Appreciation Week by other book bloggers. I read a lot of historical fiction, general fiction, literary fiction, young adult literature, some mystery, narrative nonfiction and memoir.

The first way I weed out books is in the pitch itself. A surprisingly number of authors and publishers waste their time by offering books which my review policy clearly states I won’t review. For those, or books which just don’t appeal to me, I politely say, “thank you, but no thank you.” The books I do accept are for review consideration only, no guarantees, although I do my best to review the vast majority of what I accept. I decide what to review and when partially by things like release date and tour dates, but also just by what really is capturing my imagination at any given time. I typically make up a list of all of the things I want to get to in a two-month period and prioritize them based on release date and how much I really want to read them as soon as possible. Of course, with the huge piles of review copies I have, “as soon as possible” might mean “in three months.”

Can you tell us about Booklicity? How'd you come up with the idea? Are there any types of authors in particular you're hoping to work with?

The idea for Booklicity basically came out of my frustration with really bad pitches, something that I am not alone in the book blogging community in receiving. Sometimes these come from authors who simply just don’t have the time to do their research to find the blogs that best fit their books (and who can blame them, with hundreds and hundreds of book blogs out there?), but the occurrences that really saddened me were the ones that came from the independent publicists. I would always think about the authors actually paying for someone to do this, thinking they’d get the publicist’s best efforts and instead getting a slapped-together and impersonal email that pretty much precludes most bloggers from accepting the pitch, because they don’t want to work with publicists who don’t treat them respectfully and as professionals – and those slapped together emails don’t tend to communicate that.

Often when I would get these emails I would think “wow, I have no interest in this book, but I bet X would like it!” A few times I actually pointed an author to whichever blogger ‘X’ happened to be and generally in those cases the book was successfully placed with that blog. It was at that point I realized that a good knowledge of the book blogging community: who it is comprised of and how to best work with them was a really valuable resource and I had a lot to offer authors in helping them find the blogs on which to have their books reviewed, as well as helping them get placed on those blogs by knowing how to approach the bloggers.

Why'd you start a book blog? What's your book background? Have you long been an avid reader, or do you have other experience working with books?

I have been obsessed with books and words since I was very, very young. For example, we have a video of me when I was about three reciting “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I actually learned about the existence of book blogs in a thread on LibraryThing and basically thought, “Hey, I like to write and I have opinions about books! My friends and family are sick of hearing those opinions, so maybe the Internet cares!” It is amazing how much I have learned about books and publishing since then.

Do you prefer to review books upon release, or will you review them anytime? If an author wants a blogger to review her book, how far in advance should she send it?

I generally need about 2-3 months lead time to get a new book into my schedule, which I think is true of many bloggers. If at all possible, I like to actually have the book in my possession at that time, but if I know for certain it is coming I can sometimes have it on my calendar even without it in my hand. Other bloggers may need a month or two to get to the book once it arrives but have their reviews already scheduled another 1-2 months out, so they may need additional time. It is advisable to check out bloggers’ review policies, but I would say never assume a blogger will be able to work in a review in less than 6-12 weeks.

I can really review books at any time, I don’t mind posting about books that have been out for sometime or, if it was originally in hardcover, for the paperback release. I think this is true of most bloggers, but I also think many of us tend to give precedence to the books we have in time to review them for their original release date.

What's the process when it comes to approaching book bloggers? Should authors send an e-mail first asking whether they're interested in the book? Or just mail the book?

Absolutely email first! You may get lucky if you just send the book (assuming you can find the address, since most bloggers do not list theirs publicly on their blogs, but require you to email for it) and it will spark the blogger’s imagination and they will read it immediately, but more often this will not be the case. If they have no interest at all, they may give it away or it might just sit on their shelves indefinitely unread. Even if they are interested, most bloggers consider unsolicited books to be of a lower priority than books they have accepted to review. Publishers may have the ability to take a chance that a blogger will be able to review unsolicited books, but if you are an author sending out books yourself, I would recommend at least getting acknowledgment from the blogger that they will consider your book for review, even if they aren’t guaranteeing a review. Much better value for your money.

How do authors catch your eye? Is it about the genre and title of the book, or also about their pitch? What tips do you have for authors when it comes to pitching?

It is really just as much about the pitch as anything else. A pitch should be clear, well-written, and concise and should include any pertinent information about your book such as title, genre, publisher (this is really a very important addition), possibly length. Above all else, make sure a blogger really is accepting books at that time and reviews your genre/format! Most bloggers have a review policy you can look at to check these things, and it makes us oh-so-happy when we can tell that you read it, or that you have read at least some of our blog to see if we are a good fit for your book before pitching us.

How do you have time to read so many books?!

I have no idea, really. A big part of my secret is audiobooks, because I do a lot of driving to get to and from work, so I can usually get through about 5 of those a month. Other than that, I just have at least one book on me at all times, so I can read in any available second.

What's the best way for an author to find book bloggers who review his genre? Do any websites keep lists of book blogs?

Honestly, it is tough if you haven’t already spent time in the community, which is part of the reason that it can be so helpful to hire someone who does have a good knowledge of what is out there as far as book blogs. The Book Blogger Appreciation Week awards could be a good place to start, though. Once you can find a couple of book blogs that review your genre, even if you don’t think they are best for your book, you can attempt to find others by visiting the blogs of the people who comment on those first blogs. This can take more time than many authors have if they are trying to promote their new book, finish the next one, and spend time with family to really do right, though, which is why there are some authors who just pitch the first blogs they find, good fit or not.

Getting involved in social media, particularly Twitter, well before your book comes out is also helpful, because then you can find some great bloggers ahead of the time you need to contact them and, if you read their blogs semi-regularly, can get an idea of the rest of the circle around them.

Why don't you accept self-published books? Do most book bloggers follow that rule?

Part of it is the fact that there is just way too much variety in self-published books. Some self-published books are self-published only because the author hasn’t found his or her audience yet, but as many or more as self-published because the author is unwilling or unable to make suggested improvements. Part of it is the love of agents and publishers as gatekeepers. Enough stuff gets published that I think shouldn’t necessarily have been, I have no desire to become essentially an unpaid reader of the slush pile.

There are a couple of other considerations as well. Distribution, for one. It does my readers no good at all if I find an absolutely fabulous self-published book but they are unable to purchase it because the author hasn’t worked out distribution channels. There is also the consideration of the artistic temperament. Many, many writers feel that their book is their baby and hate to hear any criticism of it. The reality is, most reviews are going to be critical about some aspect of the book, even if it is mostly quite good. People who have gone the traditional publishing route have already received (hopefully constructive) criticism from agents and editors in the revision process and are often better equipped to either read a negative review or know that they need to ignore all reviews of their book because they don’t do well with negative reviews. Obviously I’m sure that most self-published authors can behave perfectly civilly when faced with a poor review, but when an author blows up at a blogger or on Amazon because of negative feedback, a surprisingly large proportion of them are self-published, compared to the proportion of self-published books reviewed in the first place.

I don’t think I’ve had any authors behave badly on my blog since I stopped accepting self-published books. It seems that most bloggers do not start out with a statement that they will not accept self-published books, and initially really don’t think much about it, just accepting the book if it sounds interesting without paying attention to publisher information. Eventually, after seeing great variation in quality or possibly even witnessing bad author behavior (either rudeness or simply unending hectoring), most bloggers eventually make a point to stop accepting self-published books.

Got any questions for Jen? Leave them in the comments! She’ll stop by and answer them.

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