Guest Post: Mike Reeves-McMillan on Getting Honest Reviews

As writers, we all know how critical it is to get word of our books out to readers. One of the best ways to do it is through review bloggers. I'm really excited to have Mike Reeves-McMillan on the blog today to share his tips and tricks for getting reviewers in your corner.

Take it away, Mike!

I've recently released my fourth self-published book (counting one non-fiction work), and for this most recent one I wanted to do a better job of promotion than I've managed previously. I've workshopped the book with knowledgeable beta readers, and worked with a professional development editor, so I'm confident in its quality.

Thinking through my options, I decided that getting honest reviews was going to be my main promotional strategy for getting it in front of people who would enjoy it. There are people who will do paid reviews for you, ranging from the famous Kirkus Reviews down to dodgy operators on Fivr, but I have no interest in that. (There's a name for people who pay other people to pretend to have a relationship with them.) There are also hundreds of people who will review your book honestly in exchange for a free copy, and these were my target audience.

I was fortunate enough, early in the process, to find an enormous list of reviewers who specifically review indie books. (Many reviewers won't.) I also found a few potential reviewers by checking the Goodreads profiles of people who had reviewed a similar book to mine and approaching those who had review blogs. That list I found is not only large - over 200 - but fairly current. Few of the links are to websites that no longer exist, and most of the reviewers do not have notices up saying that they're not currently taking submissions, though some of them do. The curator of the list also specifies the genres the reviewers are interested in, and usually gives direct links to their review guidelines (which can be hard to find on some websites).

I'm now going to say something I shouldn't have to say. I know I do have to say it, though, because I'm a reviewer myself (through the Kindle Book Review). Follow the guidelines when you submit to a reviewer. My profile on the KBR site reads, in part: "I enjoy reading fantasy (excluding epic fantasy), steampunk, and space opera. I will be tough on editing issues, passive characters, and stories constructed completely out of tropes. No post-apocalyptic or dystopian please." So what have people been pitching to me? Epic fantasy, poorly edited books, books with passive characters, stories constructed completely out of tropes, non-fiction, post-apocalyptic, and dark and gritty conspiracy stories (which are a bit dystopian, aren't they?). I turn these people down, with varying degrees of politeness. I shouldn't have to do this.

I will continue the flogging of our late friend, the horse. If you write erotica, do not submit it to a reviewer who only reviews children's books. If you write fantasy, do not submit it to someone who states "no fantasy". If you're indie, don't submit to someone who says "I do not review self-published books". If you only have an ebook, don't submit to someone who only reads print books. Do not. It wastes their time and yours. I know, by the way, that at least one person who mentions in their email that they have read this article is going to pitch me an epic fantasy to review, and that it will be poorly edited, have passive characters and be one of the same old (please kill me now) three epic fantasy plots. I know this, even though I have put this paragraph in.  

Anyway. My book is a steampunkish fantasy, so I had a large number of reviewers to choose from, even when I left out the people who don't review fantasy. (By the way, if your book is a fantasy book, you shouldn't pitch those people.) There's a wide range of requirements from reviewers. Some reviewers provide a form for you to fill in on their website. Others give you a series of points that they want you to cover in your pitch, and an email address. Copy and paste this into your email and make sure you have done everything they ask you to do, and nothing that they have asked you not to do, before deleting it and sending the email. Some, for example, ask you to send the ebook file at the time you first approach them, others ask you specifically not to do so. Read the instructions and follow them.

Many reviewers will just give you a general invitation to contact them, occasionally without providing their email address (not all reviewers are well-organized). Incidentally, some of the ones that provide mail to: links to allow you to email them include punctuation which messes up the email address, usually a full stop at the end, and you will need to tidy this up or your email will not get through. For the reviewers who didn't specify what they wanted in the pitch, I developed a standard email which I'll share with you shortly. Here's what you should prepare before you start the process of pitching for reviews. This will cover you for 99% of what reviewers ever ask for.
  1. A good brief blurb that piques interest in your book and demonstrates that it isn't just the same dull old thing they've read a thousand times. (If it is the same dull old thing they've read a thousand times, you have more serious problems. I suggest you go back and rewrite your book, in this case.)
  2. A synopsis. Some reviewers ask for this (though I suspect that at least a few of them actually mean "blurb" when they say "synopsis"). A synopsis is a bare-bones retelling of your book's story.
  3. An author bio. Try to find something interesting to say about yourself. If you haven't been a professional grizzly bear wrestler and patent-medicine salesman, and most of us haven't, there must still be something about you that's interesting. Ask your friends and family. (If there's an awkward silence, make something up. You're a writer, after all. Try to make it absurd enough that it's obviously made up, though, so that someone doesn't come along and out you as a liar.)
  4. Links to where your book is for sale, if it is. (Some reviewers take "ARCs", which are Advance Reader Copies - pre-publication versions of the book. You should make sure that these are reasonably well-edited and not just a rough early draft if you're sending them out, and only send them to people who specifically say they take them.)
  5. More links to you and your book on Goodreads (or Shelfari or LibraryThing if you use them; some reviewers will post there), to your blog, and to your social media. Some reviewers want these.
  6. Your cover art. Some reviewers will want to post this with their review. Others will want to vet it to make sure it doesn't look like it's drawn in crayon by a six-year-old (that can work if it's done for deliberate effect for some reason that's clear to the reviewer, but mostly they'll expect a professional-looking cover).
  7. An author photo. Again, a few reviewers will want to post this.
  8. An extract from the book. The occasional reviewer will ask for this, though most of them these days will just download the sample from Amazon or Smashwords. Some will ask for a certain number of chapters, others a number of words, still others a number of pages. Make sure you send the amount they ask for.
I compiled most of the above into a press kit, which I linked to in the standard email that I wrote for reviewers who didn't specify what they wanted from me. That way, if they wanted some of the material they could access it without having to come back to me and ask. I also created a simple Google Docs spreadsheet to track who I had approached and when, when they responded, what the response was, and, if they posted a review, where it was and how many stars they gave. This will be invaluable when I come to promote the next book, and it also prevents me from approaching the same person twice inadvertently. Then I sat down for three days and pitched 80 reviewers. Here's the standard email I sent them if they didn't specify what they were looking for:
Hi, [firstname]. I'd like to request a review for my steampunkish-fantasy novel Realmgolds (60,000 words).

The Human Purity movement is growing in power and influence in Denning, attacking dwarf businesses and caravans and inciting popular rebellion against the central government, with the passive or active support of many of the ruling Golds.

Opposing them almost alone is the Realmgold, a young man named Determined. His problem is that, even though the Realmgold is meant to be in charge, nobody is paying much attention to him. Victory, who rules neighbouring Koskant, would love to support Determined, but an ancient magical treaty between their realms means she can’t send in her troops, her skyboats or her pressure guns. What she can do, though, is share a new magical communications technology – and her elite corps of Gryphon Clerks…

The Amazon page is here:

If you'd like to review the book, let me know and I will send you the Kindle file in exchange for an honest review.
Here are the key points:
  • I addressed them by name if I could find their name on the site, taking extra care to spell it correctly. (That's the spelling mistake anyone finds hardest to overlook.)
  • I mentioned the genre upfront, in case that would put them off immediately (in which case they needn't read further).
  • I mentioned the length, which might also make a difference to their decision.
  • I gave a brief teaser blurb that made it clear how my book was distinctive.
  • I linked to where they could get more information and a sample (and see the cover image, which I'm very proud of).
  • I specified that I was after an honest review.
  • I was friendly but professional.
In the responses I've had so far, yeses have outnumbered noes 2:1. Many reviewers won't come back to you at all, and some even state in their guidelines that they won't send a response but will either review the book or not. Reviewers often have a backlog of a couple of months, too, which you need to consider when planning.
My experience is that more people usually say they'll review a book than actually do so, but even so, I should get enough reviews out of this to reassure people who come across my book that it's worth reading, and to point a few people to it who otherwise wouldn't have known about it. That was my goal.
Of course, I'm going to keep asking more people for reviews, too. You can never have too many honest reviews. (If you're a reviewer... let's talk.)

Mike Reeves-McMillan lives in Auckland, New Zealand, surrounded by trees. He’s almost certainly the world’s only steampunk-fantasy author who holds a master’s degree in English, a certificate in health science, an Advanced Diploma of Hypnotherapy and a certificate in celebrant studies (rituals for transition through crisis). He's worked as an editor for a major publishing house, which is just one of the reasons he has no interest in being published by a major publishing house. His new book, Realmgolds, is available from Amazon, and you can talk to him on Google+ or read his blog, The Gryphon Clerks.


  1. Thanks for posting this neat interview! It really breaks down the pitch for reviewers in easy steps. I also like having a good example of a press kit to review. Thanks to you both, Sarah and Mike!

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing all this information with us, Sarah and MIke!


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