Book Blogs

Did you know that there are more than 50 book bloggers in Utah alone? No lie. Not to mention who-knows-how-many-more in the English speaking world in general. Which, it turns out, is the answer to the question I posed not so long ago about new things I might to do help promote No Going Back.

Recruiting reviews from book bloggers is not a new idea for me. Even before No Going Back was published, I was contacting various LDS book blogs, seeing who I could interest in an electronic review copy. What’s different now is that I’m casting the net a little more broadly: looking at non-Mormon as well as Mormon blogs, following links to other bloggers, and the like. I’m looking at YA blogs as a potentially useful category. And I’m now willing to send out print review copies, particularly in cases of a high blog readership. That’s not something we did last year.

The new kick began with someone posting to an email group I belong to about a website that was interested in promoting LDS authors. I went to the site, sent a contact email (which still hasn’t been answered). And then I saw a tab labeled “Book Blogs.” I clicked on it and found a list of Utah bloggers, most of which I hadn’t seen before. Since then I’ve been exploring titles on that list, and other titles found in others ways. Let me tell you all about it.

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The process starts with a link to a new blog. The best place to find these are other book blogs, which often include lists of blogs in the right-hand margin or in the “Blogs I Follow” section on the blogger’s profile page.

Some blogs can be eliminated simply be looking at the name. “Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile,” for example, seems like an unlikely match for someone who might want to look at a book about a gay teenager. (Though I’ve been surprised at times…) For high-interest lists like the Utah bloggers, I start at the top and work down (or try to). Other times, I glance over the list and follow something that looks interesting.

Then comes the review of the blog itself. The first thing I look for is some kind of “About” description telling me about the purpose of the blog. If there’s a link titled something like “Review Guidelines” I open that up too. Items I look for include the following:

  • Description of genres reviewed. Social issues, gay, YA, and Mormon lit are items I look for in particular.
  • Clues as to whether or not the reviewer might be LDS.
  • Background of the reviewer and general language used to describe why the writer likes books and what kinds of books she (almost always) likes. This helps give me a sense of whether I think there’s a good chance the blogger will like the book.
  • Hints about the reviewer’s policies with respect to language, etc. If there’s a comment about not wanting to see profanity, sexual content, etc., I look very carefully to try and figure out if it’s a blanket prohibition (in which case I don’t bother sending a query) or if there might be an openness to some material of this kind if it’s intrinsic to the story and doesn’t go too far.
  • Number of blog followers (to give a sense of circulation). FYI, anything over 50 is doing pretty well in the LDS books world, though numbers are considerably higher in the general (non-LDS) world.
  • Policy on accepting electronic review copies. Sadly, most reviewers still want print….
  • Frequency of posting and proportion of actual book reviews (versus contests, giveaways, etc.). If there have been only 2-3 posts a month for the last several months, it’s probably not worth my time or theirs for me to email them, unless something about the blog leads me to believe they’d have a particular interest in No Going Back.
  • Contact information. Believe it or not, some bloggers don’t actually include a way to contact them on the blog site. If worse comes to worst, one can always try leaving a comment on a blog page, but usually this isn’t something I bother to do.
  • A sample review or two. This is usually one of the last things I look at, and gives me a sense of (a) how much care and detail goes into the reviews; (b) what the reviewer likes to see in a book; and (c) whether I feel a general sense of connection to the reviewer.

All of these factors generally play into my decision whether or not to send a query to a reviewer. They also inform what I plan to say in my query email. For example, if I know that the blogger is sensitive to language issues, but have decided to send a query anyway, I’ll generally try to address this issue head-on.

Writing the query email takes a while as well. Each query is crafted individually, though I tend to recycle standard text (with edits) for specific sections, such as the description of what No Going Back is about.

Generally speaking, I think the queries work best if I can connect with something specific about the site I’m sending the query to. For example, with non-LDS sites, I talk about the ability to appeal to non-Mormons. In several cases, I’ve specifically stated that the book has mostly been read by Mormons so far, but that I’d appreciate their opinion on whether it could appeal to non-Mormons as well (and I honestly mean that, since this is something I’ve become curious about since getting mostly positive comments from my few non-Mormon readers). I’ve also taken to including a few positive reader quotes at the bottom of some of my emails, addressing what I think might be the bloggers’ main points of interest and/or concern.

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Recordkeeping is a big part of the enterprise. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of each blog to which I’ve sent a query — and other blogs I’ve investigated and am likely to run across again, but that I’ve decided not to query. I record the blog name and URL, contact information, and a record of when and how the query was sent (e.g., via email — which I prefer — or via a form at the website). I also record here any reply I receive and when (so I can find it later), and ultimately whether or not a print or PDF review copy is sent. And I record other miscellaneous notes, including reasons why I decided not to send a query if that was the decision I made.

All told, I figure it takes at least a half-hour per blog to investigate, make a record, and send a query. Probably more like an hour per blog, if you count only the ones I wind up querying.

During the last month, according to my spreadsheet, I’ve researched 50 blogs (plus another 10-20 that never made it onto the spreadsheet). I’ve sent queries to 29 (including some sent just today) — plus follow-up queries to people from whom I hadn’t heard after two weeks. (In at least one case, this turned out to be a good thing, since my initial email had been identified as spam by the system.) I’ve received 9 responses so far and sent out 6 print or PDF copies. Based on past experience, I’d guess that half or those who request a review copy will actually post a review.

It’s a lot of work for a fairly small return. The thing is, it’s something I can actually do — something that might conceivably yield a result. It also has the advantage of involving direct contact with people, which I think works more effectively anyway than any kind of blanket marketing campaign (even if we had the money for it). I can only be glad there are so many people out there willing to read and talk about what they’ve read.

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3 Responses to “Book Blogs”

  1. Lynn says:

    Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile here! I thought your book sounded great when I was told about it actually. But I couldn’t commit to reviewing it right now. Wishing you lots of success!

  2. LauraN says:

    It’s about time for my annual perusal of the Fairfax County Public School websites listing of all elementary schools (over a hundred) to get the email address of the principal, and if possible, the librarian and PTA president to see if they want me to come speak at their school. And I assure you that is even more boring than checking out blogs (although there is less chance that I will get sucked in and start reading the school websites.)

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