Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post for another site where I set out some strategies for indie authors to improve their odds of securing reviews for their books. (You can read the post here.) One of suggestions I made was to develop relationships with reviewers. This suggestion was met with a comment that suggested authors should essentially buy space on review sites by providing books to give away, doing guest posts and so on. I should say that I am confident that this approach works, at least some of the time, but it sits wrong in my gut. I just wasn’t entirely sure why until I read Michael Port’s book, Book Yourself Solid.
While the book is aimed at service providers, Port’s entire strategy for getting booked solid is built on the foundation of developing relationships with potential clients, with other service providers, and even with your existing clients. He essentially argues that much of business relies too heavily on the idea of transactions, which are fundamentally one-time events. Relationships, on the other hand, are more likely to result in an ongoing exchange that both parties find valuable. Buying exposure on a book review site seems to me to focus too much on the transaction between reviewer and author, while dismissing the value of a relationship between reviewer and author.
I would be a little put off by someone who wanted me to write a guest post who hadn’t at least read one of my books or spent some time reading my blog first. To make a guest post a cost of entry to even consider reviewing your book strikes me as deeply counterintuitive. In the first place, if I’m effectively paying for exposure with giveaway copies or a guest post, then it only follows that the reviewer has a vested interest in giving me at least a middling, if not great, review, regardless of my skill as a writer. While this may serve me as an exposure seeker and, in the short term, the reviewer/blogger who gets a week off from content generation, it dilutes the credibility of the reviewer.
What if I wrote a bad book? What if I wrote a horrifyingly bad book? If the reviewer scores it well, people will be disappointed or angry or disgusted with the deception. If the reviewer gives it a legitimate review and says it’s awful, then I have no incentive to ever provide this person with a review copy or guest blog again. After all, why would I pay for bad exposure?
Then there are the logistical problems with the transactional model. Let’s say I submit my book to 50 reviewers and 25 accept, on the condition that I provide a guest post. Let’s say that I excel at writing quality blog posts and can write one in an hour. That still means I need to spend 25 hours writing guest posts. That may be a manageable number, but what if 50 or 100 or 150 reviewers accept on that same basis. I’ve basically gone from being a novelist to a full time guest blogger for the foreseeable future, without considering any other marketing actions at all.
The transactional approach is limited by basic time constraints and self-corrupting in its expectation setting. While it may serve a function in getting the marketing ball rolling, I don’t see how it can work as a sustained marketing effort for an indie author.