What to do about your book reviews

Reviews are the way that books get noticed. They’re hard to come by. That’s why I’m thrilled that More Than You Think You Know is reviewed in the May issue of Marquette Monthly. Tyler Tichelaar writes: 

I don’t want to be dismissive of this book by calling it “chick lit.” It’s more than that. I think female readers will like it more than men—unless you’re into boating—but I think male readers will benefit also from seeing how women often view them. In many ways, it reminds me of now classic feminist novels from the 1970s like Small Changes by Marge Piercy and The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. Sadly, as this book reveals, situations haven’t changed all that much for women since those books were written.

These pages have pathos and humor, often at the expense of men. There’s also violence, sadness, and a sense of loss and yearning. In the end, Hailey and her friends realize they do know more than they think they know, and they are far stronger than they expected. They don’t always agree with each other’s decisions, but each woman learns how to handle the world in her own way.

Marquette Monthly magazine cover with red cliffs and water and the letters MM
Marquette Monthly May 2018 includes a review of More Than You Think You Know.
book review on newsprint of More Than You Think You Know titles On An Odyssey.
We all want to be understood, and in this case, the reviewer sees that I aimed for—and mentions one of my favorite authors, Marge Piercy and one of my favorite books: The Women’s Room.

Send out advance copies and make the big asks

If your reviews are trickling in slowly, even months after your book was released, try not to worry too much. Your novel isn’t a loaf of bread with an expiration date. It won’t go stale and eventually mold. Wishing for reviews won’t make them come any faster.

The important thing is, you were brave enough to ask. It’s also perfectly OK to nudge (politely) if you haven’t heard anything after a few weeks. After that, move on, remaining open to opportunities to tell people about your book. I’m proud that I asked fellow Michigan Tech writer Roxane Gay to review the novel. She turned me down beautifully and no wonder, it was right before Hunger exploded on the scene, not to mention Black Panther and the new release Not That Bad. I’m also proud that I asked sailing legend Lin Pardey, another writer I deeply admire, to review the book. The prolific author, who’s currently out on another epic voyage, didn’t blurb the book. She did something powerful, though: she sent my publisher on-point galley corrections.

People will say no, or say nothing at all, and that’s OK. Like awkward networking and um-filled elevator pitches, asking is good practice. Grow yourself a pair and start asking people to review your book.

Sometimes, you just have to scratch your head in wonderment. I’ve been writing for boating magazines for decades. But Cruising World won’t do a review because the novel’s not strictly about sailing. Most magazines I simply haven’t heard from. Porcupine press took my press release and bio photo and made it the cover story of their Copper UP supplement. I came upon myself, in pulpy living color, in a stack on the shelf in the party store next to the Slim Jims and fishing lures in the hamlet of Paulding, Michigan.

Publishing has changed. It’s easier than ever to respond, but it’s also easier than ever to be inundated with requests. Sometimes digital and print publications forego the courtesies. Good Old Boat is an exception, but then, it has always maintained a stellar reputation when it comes to treating writers well, including timely responses (and paychecks). Magazine co-founder Karen Larson’s review of More Than You Think You Know, the first to come in, blew me away.

“They are a hilarious group of honest women hurtling toward independence, warts and all. Thelma and Louise, perhaps?”  

Send out review copies to outlets you’ve written for

Be thoughtful about where you send review copies. My publisher Beating Windward compiled a list of major outlets, and asked me for the contacts in the publishing world that I value. You can also buy reviews. I didn’t.

Lake Superior Magazine got a copy of the book. I know this magazine—I write for it whenever I’m lucky enough to get the chance. Because the publication is so focused on Lake Superior, I wasn’t sure the editors could find a place for a novel like mine. It’s a prime example of how building writing relationships can help get your book in the door—I had no expectations that LSM would review the book and had one of the nicest surprises of my writing life when I was reading the mag and ran across the novel review.

Avoid rookie author mistakes

I sent Marquette Monthly a press release as I did all other regionall media. Rookie move. Duh. The Upper Peninsula’s best and biggest arts and culture publication regularly reviews books and should have been on the review copy list to begin with. Luckily I recognized my error and sent a letter of apology with a review copy. Tyler got back to me to let me know MM would run a review the book, but not until May.

I don’t know if Reese Witherspoon will forgive me for my next rookie move, but then I’m not even sure I’ve fallen from her good graces. I sent her an advance copy of More Than You Think You Know via her Hello Sunshine production company. As you may know, this dynamo is making reading cool again, as well as making kickass movies and series. Of course the company doesn’t take unagented books or scripts. Duh! While I’m not afraid my novel will be stolen, clearly the company has to protect against those kinds of claims. And it’s swamped with unsolicited material (I could tell by the form letter, when the book was Express-mailed back to me).

I’m so darn positive that three renegade women piloting a yacht down the Mississippi is just the vehicle for Reese that I have to figure out how to get a book to her—this wasn’t it.

How to Make the Most of Book Reviews

I’ll scale down the cover photo on my sell sheet to include quotes from the quality reviews that the novel’s received. I’ll continue to share review excerpts on social media, and with the readers I interact with at book fairs and other events.

But I think I’ll keep the reader reviews on my sell sheet, too. Because I love what they have to say about More Than You Think You Know (get a copy and join the convo!).Laura Ludwig reading my book

Thanks Laura, for posting a pic of your Saturday time with my novel.”Compelling read”: I like that!

More than a million books are published each year in the US—billions worldwide, between now and 2020. Don’t let that scare you. Let it motivate you to find your reader, an audience you can take along on the journey. Give thanks for every review, whether it’s a starred rating on Amazon, the New York Times, or anything in between. Someone took the time to read your book and comment on it. How cool is that?