I’ve been checking the canary review request inbox periodically, browsing around for jewels to catch the eye, but last week, I decided to get serious about it.
The Unread pile had grown to a little over 600 emails since February, and I wanted to do something about it. Over the next hour or so, I cut the pile down to a more manageable 100 review requests that had piqued my interest, then down again to some 50 books to check out and try.
I thought I’d share some general observations about my process and what worked and didn’t work to intrigue me as I powered through the requests. Here are some things that immediately struck emails from consideration:
1. Not the right genre. Poetry anthologies, political thrillers, historical literature. Gone.
2. Couldn’t find the blurb. If I couldn’t immediately see what the book was about, or if it asked me to open an attachment to read the blurb, or if I had to click a link, I moved on.
3. Writing, or writing style. If there are issues with the writing in the email that makes me question the author’s writing skills, I’m going to say no.
4. Request was sent by wife/brother/mother of author. Dude. Do your own copy-paste pitching. Seriously.
These cut the number down to about 300, with me spending less than 10 seconds per book. Next:
5. Unpredictable idiosyncratic preferences. For example, I haven’t been in the mood for high fantasy for a while now, and I nixed anything that had its character in high school. (Magic school, space school, whatever.)
6. Blurbs that only talked about themes. This book is a hilarious space story with action, mild violence and a happy conclusion. It’s about the hero coming of age and discovering the importance of friendship and family. …But what’s the story about? Pass.
7. Boring, vague, or pompous blurbs. Again, personal preferences, and you’ve heard all about them. Delete. Delete. Delete.
8. Telling me what the book is not. That just feels insecure.
At that point, I was getting close to 100. Looking through the final top picks, here are a few things that caught my eye and made me more likely to slow down and spend a bit more time reading the email.
9. Clever, intriguing blurbs. Especially those that speak to my own personal preferences.
10. Friendly. I’m drawn to the friendly email, the upbeat pitch, the confident highfive.
11. Personal. I know that the emails that start with “I love your blog” are pasted and mass sent to dozens of bloggers at a time, but it still totally works.
Things that actually didn’t make a real difference:
- Author bios. Many emails include a short author bio. I don’t mind them, and many are super interesting and clever, but they weren’t make or break. I only paid attention to them after I’ve decided I was interested in the book.
- Covers and other pictures. Of course, if the cover obscures the blurb or makes it hard to find the info I want, that’s a whole ‘nother story. I’d prefer no covers in an email, but not strongly enough to care when they pop up.
- Awards or publisher name. Unless you’re published by Tor or Ace books, or I already have a relationship with your publisher, the publisher doesn’t much matter to me. Plus, if I don’t recognize your publisher (90% of all requests), I’m going to assume it’s an invention of the author anyway.
- “My book was professionally edited.” If you’ve written a book, I’m going to assume it’s readable. I don’t really care how you got there. Plus, it’s not like I’m going to read a story I don’t like just because it says it’s been professionally edited.
And that’s the story of how I went from 600 to 63 book review requests in my inbox.
Canaries, do you accept review requests? How do you decide what to read and review?