“Put Your Best Foot Forward”
A BookLife community veteran shares common submission mistakes.
I’ve worked in various capacities for BookLife since its launch in 2014, and in that time I’ve seen authors make smart decisions about how they present and market their work. But I’ve also seen the same mistakes pop up repeatedly, which negatively impact a book’s performance and make it less likely that the book will be selected for coverage, whether it’s via review or other editorial focus. The good news is that, for the most part, these common mistakes are easy to fix. Here are some of the more frequent mistakes I’ve seen and how authors can remedy them.
Have your book in multiple formats.
When I worked in the PW bookroom, I often had to reach out to authors for cover art or for the digital files of their book. Astonishingly, I frequently got the response that they didn’t have them, which led me to personally question how they published the book in the first place, but I digress.
Even if you don’t plan to have your book available to purchase in a specific format, like a Word doc or PDF, an author should still have their book in that format for personal use. Contests and review services will ask for different formats and may not accommodate you if you can’t produce what they request. Likewise, your cover art should be available in multiple formats and in high- and low-res versions.
Now, I know some authors format their books and create the covers themselves. It may be frustrating that, on top of everything else, I’m telling you to do more work. That said, it’s worth it. It will save you time and headaches down the road.
And if you’ve hired a freelancer or service to format your book or design your cover, there’s no excuse. They shouldn’t have a problem providing you with these extra formats. Make sure you discuss it with them before they start working on your project, though. Same thing goes if you’re publishing with a hybrid publisher or other paid, full-service publishing company. Make sure your contract or agreement includes your being provided with these files.
Marketing blurbs and reviews are not synopses.
When PW and BookLife decide whether or not to proceed with coverage for a book, the synopsis is one of the biggest determining factors. A synopsis should be clear and concise, and let potential reviewers gain a sense of your book’s genre and intended audience. Sometimes, in lieu of submitting a synopsis, authors submit other reviews and marketing blurbs.
Including short excerpts from industry reviews (like Library Journal or Kirkus Reviews) is okay in certain contexts, but including the entirety of a five-star Amazon review doesn’t help. Even if it provides plot information, a review is a secondary description rather than one provided by the author, and it might focus too much on peripheral aspects of the text.
Including a blurb from a well-known person in the field helps, but one written expressly for marketing purposes—e.g., “A propulsive thrill ride that will keep readers on the edge of their seats”—does not. When it comes to determining whether you should include review excerpts or blurbs, you might ask yourself, “Who is going to see this?” Are you adding your book to an e-commerce site? If so, including marketing material with your synopsis may be the best bet. But if you’re entering a writing contest or asking a person to cover your book, stick with a synopsis.
Publicists are great—if they know what they’re doing.
The amount of work an indie author must do to publish their book is nothing to joke about. That’s why many authors hire a publicist to help with marketing. One less thing on their plate means more time to spend writing the next book. And let’s face it, if you’re new to the publishing industry, it can be hard to know where to focus your publicity efforts, especially if you don’t have a big budget. Having someone you can communicate your goals to and who can explain the options available to you can be worth every penny. But in my time with BookLife, I’ve seen many publicists who—well, let’s just say I hope they were only charging their authors pennies.
Every review service has specific submission guidelines, and if you don’t follow them, your book isn’t reviewed. BookLife is no different. The job of the submission portal is not only to help BookLife keep track of the review request, but also to inform the author of where it is in the review process. If the guidelines aren’t followed, it doesn’t get entered into the system.
While working in the bookroom, I frequently had publicists mailing in books for review (even when we weren’t accepting physical copies) or merely sending an email asking if we’d like to review the book without submitting it properly. In both cases, I’d reach out to them with a link to our guidelines, but I didn’t often get a response back. When that happened, those emails were deleted and the physical copies were donated to charity. I always felt terrible for the author. As a quick aside, I highly recommend that the author’s contact information be included with the publicist’s on any press release sent out for the book.
So how do you make sure everything is being done properly? First, I would suggest, when hiring a publicist, looking for testimonials from authors they’ve worked with. Bonus points if those testimonials go into detail about what the publicist did. Once you find a publicist, have them be clear on what they’re doing for you and explain what the process is for everything. Regardless, I do still recommend you look into each promotion yourself so you’re better equipped. For example, to submit for a review or promotion on BookLife, you need an account. Knowing that, you can ask the publicist to set up the account under your email so that you still have access to it (including access to your BookLife or Publishers Weekly review if you have one) once you and the publicist have parted ways.
I could list more examples, but I’ll leave you with these. I know it can seem overwhelming, but as an author, you’ve already done the hard part: You’ve written the book! Now you just need to make sure that you put your best foot forward, whether that means presenting your book to readers or to pro-fessional services for contests or reviews. Doing it right can mean myriad opportunities for you and your work.
Drucilla Shultz is a bookseller and freelance editor with over a decade of publishing industry experience.