A session with Steven Manchester
Getting Reviews begins long before your book is ever released.
For years, I’ve been coaching aspiring writers to “place the cart before the horse” and go after pre-publication book reviews (or endorsements)—once their completed manuscript has been professionally edited. By recruiting online magazine editors, authors, and other industry professionals—people with recognizable titles—to review your book in galley or manuscript form, you’re automatically starting to build equity for your project. And even if you only land a couple of solid endorsements, it is well worth your time and effort.
After collecting your reviewers’ advanced praise—excerpting two or three of the catchiest sentences into a blurb (per endorsement)—you can use these brief critiques as a major part of your sales pitch to increase your chances of attracting the attention you want. From my experience, placing the cart before the horse can pay some pretty nice dividends. You will have a list of critiques from legitimate book reviewers that will not only impress the agent or editor you’re hoping to work with, but actually put them ahead of the game in selling or publishing your work. In reality, you’ll be helping to mitigate the risk that all prospective agents or publishers must consider when faced with signing on an unknown writer—while increasing your chances of receiving that coveted contract.
Historically, I’ve preferred to request pre-publication book reviews via email, on the telephone, or in person. This is a rare approach for our industry, but you’re not asking someone to publish your work; you’re asking that they read your book and offer an honest critique. Time permitting, you’d be surprised at how many will say “yes!” That being said, I always begin by drafting a formal letter of request; one that I can paraphrase from when delivering my pitch.
Success, of course, is found in taking the right approach.
PRE-PUBLICATION BOOK REVIEWS APPROACH:
Below, I’ve provided several pitches that I used when soliciting pre-publication book reviews; illustrations of what has actually worked for me. The first was sent to an author who was unfamiliar with me and my work (but still agreed to review my manuscript):
Dear Ms. Mehl,
I've recently completed a new novel, entitled, Goodnight Brian, and was hoping you might consider reviewing it for the purpose of providing a possible dust jacket blurb.
A healthy baby is poisoned with toxic soy formula, causing permanent brain damage. When the doctors say that he’ll never develop normally, his grandmother sets out to prove them wrong—and does. Faith and unconditional love are what make the difference. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that her grandson will return the favor.
The father of four, Steven Manchester is the published author of The Unexpected Storm: The Gulf War Legacy and Jacob Evans, as well as several books under the pseudonym, Steven Herberts. His work has been showcased in such national literary journals as Taproot Literary Review, American Poetry Review and Fresh! Literary Magazine. When not spending time with his children, writing, or promoting his published books, this Massachusetts author speaks publicly to troubled children through the “Straight Ahead” Program.
I am only looking for a brief critique (3-4 sentences) and would greatly appreciate your time and effort.
Sincere thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Upon her request, I sent Ms. Mehl a pdf file of the novel for her review. Once she reviewed the book, I added her endorsement to my pitch. With hers, and several other shining endorsements in hand, I used excerpts of these to recruit more—making each endorsement easier to obtain. Trust me, names and titles will coax others—whether they be reviewers, agents and publishers—to read your MS.
Before long, I had a solid list that would serve me well throughout the life of the book. In retrospect, before Goodnight Brian ever made it to print, I had gathered nearly three dozen reviews that were later posted to Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Then there’s networking, and nothing can ever substitute for name dropping. When you receive a favorable review from someone who enjoyed your work, your next question should be, “Would you know of any other editors, authors, etc. who might also like my book and consider endorsing it?” Being sent to a book reviewer/blogger by someone he/she personally knows nearly guarantees an endorsement.
The pitch below was the result of such effort:
James Cherry suggested that I contact you.
I have written a full-length novel, entitled, The Rockin' Chair. It is mainstream fiction; written from a male perspective to a female audience. A la Nicholas Sparks or Robert James Waller, the novel is based on three generations of men in Montana, and their very different roles within the family. The expectations of a father-vs-a grandfather; how attitude inevitably dictates life's memories; and the same truth has many perceptions. This tearjerker is complete at 235 pages.
I'd like to see The Rockin’ Chair’s back cover filled with book reviews and was hoping you would consider giving it a read (and a brief critique) for dust jacket consideration. If you have any interest, I'd love to send it along.
I look forward to hearing you.
In this case, I attached the complete synopsis to the email and received a favorable response to my request. Since that pitch, Noonie has reviewed each and every one of my books (so if someone agrees to endorse your work, they should be on the top of your list for your future works, as well).
Note that in both previous pitches, I used a one-paragraph synopsis—excerpted from the Query Letter I’d already written—to hook reviewers the same way I was able to hook my agent and publisher.
As a writer, there are few things that you can do that are more valuable than providing your agent or publisher with a list of positive book reviews from industry professionals. And all it takes is some leg work on your part.
Your final task is to excerpt the catchiest and most clever sentences from each endorsement, creating blurbs. Below, I’ve provided examples that illustrate the original review; the bolded sentences are the exact blurbs I later provided my agent and publisher:
"Pressed Pennies is priceless! Steve Manchester has an obvious love of words and an amazing ability to use those words to create lasting images in the reader’s mind. His detail-oriented, richly drawn characters and descriptions make this story leap off the pages.
This novel looks at the many faces of love. There is love lost and found again, love in the winter of life, and even love between parents and children. The large cast of characters helps to develop an engaging story that is rich in dialogue and drama. The subplots seamlessly weave together to form a perfect circle of life.
It all starts in the spring of 1978 with childhood friends, Abby and Rick. Readers will enter into this special time of their lives when they first feel the wonder of love. The descriptions and the minute details of this year will both amaze and thrill readers. It was almost like stepping into a time machine to relive that age of innocence.
Yet, change is an inevitable part of life, and the author gently takes us through the years. There is a tender beauty in these pages, which seems to sing to the reader. Poetry is scattered throughout, as the different characters seek to express themselves. It should be noted that the author is also an accomplished poet and these verses are an added bonus to an already remarkable novel!
At one point in the book, Rick speaks these words: “Good writers make people think, while great writers make their readers feel.” Steve Manchester is in the latter category. He has creatively captured a story in words, and invites everyone to experience it with all of their senses!" - Joyce Handzo, In the Library Reviews (IL)
“In the spring of 1978, young Richard falls in love with Abby. Unfortunately, the financial misfortunes of Richard's widower father force them to move away. The action fast forwards twenty years and Richard and Abby meet again. They both have been through failed relationships and are wary. Abby and Richard have to not only deal with emotional baggage of the past, but Abby's daughter, Paige, has not dealt well with her parent's divorce and shows extreme hostility toward all of Richard's overtures to establish a relationship.
The author compares his novel and style to Nicholas Sparks. This is a fair assessment as the storyline is one that is tender, sweet and more geared toward female readers. It takes a talented storyteller to appeal to the opposite gender and Mr. Manchester surely has that gift. He adds his own exceptional voice with gentle poetry that he weaves directly into the story and still maintains an excellent flow and pace.
The novel also addresses the theme of change in society for both good and evil and how we have often traded modern "must-haves" for the simple pleasures of the not so distant past. A bittersweet tone underlies much of the narrative. Most of all, Pressed Pennies is a tale of love and second chances and affirms that love can come at any stage of life if we are just open. This is a book that is sure to warm your heart.” - Roberta Austin, The Compulsive Reader (GA)
When gathering your reviews, maintain a list of both national and international, indicating the state or foreign country from which they were received. Through simple reviews (blurbs), your book can automatically be perceived as national or international, and perceptions are everything when it comes to selling your project.
POST-PUBLICATION BOOK REVIEWS APPROACH:
Your book has been released, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting more reviews. In fact, it’s more important than ever to get out there and pitch. Only now, you have experience on your side and a list of endorsements to entice new reviewers.
Below is the precise email I sent out to book bloggers and reviewers just prior to the release of my novel, Twelve Months. With this letter, I secured nearly 60 more reviews (after which, I also requested that each reviewer post to Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; the vast majority did):
Dear Mr. Hooper,
I'm excited to announce that the new novel, Twelve Months, will be released by The Story Plant on August 14th. I’ve enclosed a copy for your review.
Don DiMarco has a very good life – a family he loves, a comfortable lifestyle, passions and interests that keep him amused. He also thought he had time, but that turned out not to be the case. Faced with news that might have immediately felled most, Don now wonders if he has time enough. Time enough to show his wife the romance he didn’t always lavish on her. Time enough to live out his most ambitious fantasies. Time enough to close the circle on some of his most aching unresolved relationships. Summoning an inner strength he barely realized he possessed, Don sets off to prove that twelve months is time enough to live a life in full. A glorious celebration of each and every moment that we’re given here on Earth, as well as the eternal bonds that we all share, Twelve Months is a stirring testament to the power of the human spirit.
"Move over, Nicholas Sparks! Steven Manchester's Twelve Months is a book that will stay with you long after you've read the last page. Its story offers the reader a precious peek into heaven and will make you want to live better and love more. Steven Manchester is my new favorite author!" - Susan Farr-Fahncke, Author & Editor, 2theheart.com
“Steven Manchester doesn’t just write books; he authors life lesson plans. Twelve Months is a powerful work of fiction." - Heather Froeschl, Reviewer, Quilldipper.com
I’m the published author of Pressed Pennies, The Unexpected Storm: The Gulf War Legacy and Jacob Evans, as well as several books under the pseudonym, Steven Herberts. My work has appeared on NBC's Today Show, CBS's The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of my short stories were selected "101 Best" for Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
Sincere thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
My publisher supported my efforts by making Twelve Months available on Netgalley—a free download in both mobi and Epub formats—for a specific length of time. Each time I received a favorable response to my book review request, I simply sent the reviewer on to Netgalley for their free copy.
For my novel, The Rockin’ Chair, my publisher also set up a virtual book tour—through a reputable online PR company—which lasted two months and produced more than two dozen book reviews. In turn, I supported my publisher’s efforts by aggressively going after other book bloggers and gathering dozens more.
My point here is that there are no limitations; the research is easy, as there are countless book bloggers and reviewers online. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out. And when it comes to getting reviews, it’s always smarter to be a work horse rather than a show horse.
Here are just some of the results (already excerpted) below:
“The Rockin’ Chair is a tightly knit tearjerker–a work better than anything Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook; Message In A Bottle) has ever written.” -- Jon Land, NY Times Bestselling Author; Keepers of the Gate, The Walls of Jericho
“Author Steven Manchester’s newest work, The Rockin’ Chair, is a heartwarming tale about the enduring love of an elderly couple named John and Alice McCarthy. This exquisitely tender novel propels the reader into the soul of one old man who, while short on schooling, is long on heart. Each and every single character in this tale is lovingly crafted and drawn out. The prose, rich in sensory images and emotion, tweaks at the heartstrings and fills the eyes. And the wisdom of one simple old man who has lived his entire life on a farm, carries a powerful impact, one that prompts the reader to think hard on the important things in life. This is one extraordinary novel, one that reaches out, pulls the reader in, and doesn’t let go until the very last page is turned. Powerful, moving and ever so tender, The Rockin’ Chair packs a thoroughly unexpected yet delightful and tender punch.” – Denise M. Clark, Book Reviewer & Author, Cross The Line
“Steven Manchester has crafted a beautiful and honest look inside the hearts and minds of one family. This poignant tale crosses boundaries and time to touch the lives of everyone who has faced the trials, tribulations, and family triumphs. I highly recommend The Rockin’ Chair.” -- Nancy Mehl, Author, Graven Images; Reviewer, MyShelf.com
Regardless of where your book reviews come from, it’s most important to get as many of them posted on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com as you can. This is where all your time and effort will pay off. Although it may take some time to gain momentum, the number—and quality—of reviews on these sites is invaluable toward selling your book!
About the Author…
STEVEN MANCHESTER is the author of the #1 bestseller Twelve Months, Goodnight, Brian, The Rockin` Chair, and several other books. His work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and BET’s Nightly News. Three of Manchester’s short stories were selected “101 Best” for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.