Book Review Swaps

So, you’ve heard that getting massive reviews on your book helps it sell.  Okay, sounds good.  But how do you get those massive reviews?  Your mom, Aunt Becky, and your best friend since 3rd grade only make three.  Hardly massive.

Being a highly motivated individual, you search the internet for ideas.  People offer to review your book for a (small) fee.  People tell you to search out reviewers of your genre by sending requests, crossing your fingers and hoping that they’ll say yes.

People tell you to go on a virtual book tour, setting up a string of bloggers to promote your book on certain days.  Some might review the book, some might not.  But do you know bloggers interested in your particular genre?  Enough bloggers to make an effective ‘tour’?  If not, you need to hire a tour host who has all those magical contacts in their address list.  It costs a few shekels, though, and you’ve only got $14.37 in the bank after buying your own paperback copies.

And then you stumble across a review exchange group.  You don’t have to buy each other’s books.  You can send PDF or Word files.  (If you’ve joined KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), you can’t sell on any other venue for a period of time, but that doesn’t prevent you from setting up your book on Smashwords and offering a free coupon to reviewers.)

a-HA!  The answer.  No money required, no hoping a busy reviewer will agree.  No need for a tour host.  So you find a book in the group that looks interesting to you and set up a swap.

Hold up there, buckaroo.  There are a few things you need to know.

1) Not everyone is as trustworthy as you.

2) Not everyone is as timely as you.

3) Not  everyone is good at reviewing.

There are solutions to these problems—easy solutions.  You just need to stick to your guns.

For the first two of these situations, insist that you won’t post your review of their work until you see their review of yours.  (I’m not suggesting that you try to get them to change their review, but to simply see it to know it’s been written.) That way, you’re not left dangling in the wind, waiting for a reciprocal review that eventually (if ever) shows up.  Then post at the same time.

For the third, exchange reviews before they’re posted, as before.  If you write a 500 word, in-depth review and they write a short, uninformative review based on the book blurb, you can refuse to swap.

What about tit-for-tat reviews?  What if you give this a 3-star review and they get mad?  What if they change their review to a 2-star rating?  It’s happened to me.

One solution might be to have three people involved.  Ms. A reviews Mr. B who reviews Ms. C, who reviews Ms. A.  It allows everyone to give an honest review without fear of reprisal, and to keep their reviewer reputation intact.  A little more coordination is required to get everyone at the same  place at the same time, but it’s do-able.

Now, finally, everything is in place.  You’ve found a book you’d like to review.   You’ve got everyone agreeing to the same system.  You’ve carved out a quiet Sunday afternoon to read it and…and…it stinks on ice.  Cardboard characters, cliché plot, stilted dialogue, and grammar that creates a whole new level of awful are just the first things you notice.  By the third chapter, you’re white-knuckling it every time you have to turn the page.  By the fifth, you’re eyeballing the whiskey bottle on the shelf across the room.  By the eighth, you slam the book shut and make an appointment for a root-canal.  It’s less painful.

How on earth do you review that kind of mess?

The terrible truth is that the literary world is full of authors who are simply not ready to publish.  They have no clue about structure or voice or POV.  Their mom said it was good, and that was good enough for them.  And now you’re committed to reading/reviewing it.  My advice…


Email the author and explain you can’t review it because it has too many errors for you to write a review that would help push sales.  Be tactfully truthful.  In my opinion, it’s best not to leave a one or two star review.  Those will show up from others.  Walk away and set up another swap.

What if YOU are the one the other can’t review?  You are the one who published too soon?  Get mad.  Be offended.  Throw a fit.  Hold your breath until you turn blue.  And then calm down.  Consider the possibility that they’re doing you a kindness by telling you the truth.  You would want someone to tell you your skirt was caught in your pantyhose, and you were exposing your backside to half of New York, wouldn’t you?

It’s the same thing.  Work on perfecting your craft.  Join writers groups for knowledge, critique and feedback.  Take a class online, or join a local writers group.  Whatever you choose to do, open yourself up to learning.  Chances are you’re a natural storyteller.  You just need to learn the tools.  Don’t give up.  But don’t be impatient to publish, either.

And now you have my 2¢ for the day. Take what makes sense and ignore the rest.  Hope it helps!

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