I’ve been writing review solicitation letters in the last few days. Is there anything more intimidating than asking favours from strangers?
I think most writers probably aren’t good at writing letters, because when we write fiction we always have an inkling of how two people interacting are going to behave. In non-fictional existence, we sometimes don’t have a very good idea of how someone else is going to see our prose. And we worry we sound stupid, because as writers a fair chunk of our ego is tied up in the idea that we’re trying not to sound stupid when we write something.
There are two major hurdles to get over when asking people to read and review your book. The first is that there aren’t really model letters out there for this kind of thing. Not for self-publishers, anyway. When I’m applying for a job (or, once upon a time, sending manuscripts to agents), I have a model to work from. There’s a format that you know is generally accepted by your addressee, so you don’t have to sweat the structure. That’s not as present in this situation, so it takes a bit of assembly to get a normal letter together.
The second hurdle is that book reviewers can be scary people. I don’t even mean during the review. During the review, anything they can back up is fair game. But if you’ve ever gone to the “about” section of a book blogger’s website, it can be pretty stern.
I get why. They get a lot of books and can’t possibly read them all, and it’s difficult to say no when someone asks you to do something you do professionally or semi-professionally. I don’t blame them for…wording things strongly. That doesn’t make it any less terrifying to go toe-to-toe with a person who sounds like they’re waiting for a chance to reject you and tell them you think your work is worth their time.
But you know, the thing is, in original writing I build a world, I make up people, I give them problems to overcome, and I sew everything up into a coherent story. That’s a lot of work and a big accomplishment. I made a thing, and I like my thing, and why shouldn’t other people?
So yesterday I wrote to Cory Doctorow and Teresa Nielsen Hayden and asked them to read my book. Both of them have linked to my work before, and Teresa in particular was recommended to me as someone who might have interest in further reading. Today I’m emailing a bunch of strangers to ask the same. Nerve-wracking, definitely, all of it, but I have confidence in my work, so I write the letter and I wince a little as I send it off but I send it off anyway.
We’ll see what happens.