Dear Bloggers: Advice For Would-Be Reviewers

 

Having had and been involved with several successful online businesses, I’m very familiar with the blogosphere’s role in promoting and reviewing such things. We get a lot of requests around all these businesses for reviews, features, requests for donations to things, offers to sample our products, any which way you can think of phrasing the getting of something without paying for it, we get them. Thing is, whilst, as I say, we know and love a good reviewer, we very rarely end up responding to anyone, because the requests are just so unhelpfully written, or missing vital information. And when you’re trying to get something for free on the basis that you’re going to review it on your excellent blog, if you can’t ask for it properly, it doesn’t give great hope for your blog being, well, worth our getting involved with.

But we get SO many poorly-phrased/organised requests, that I’m thinking, perhaps people just don’t know how to ask. Maybe we’re overly fussy and no-one else is bothered by these things…but I have a hunch that’s not the case. It’s not wizardry, it’s just that there are a few things you can do to up your chances of successfully receiving either goods or content. It’s not a hidden test – many a business is open to communication with bloggers (indeed, if they aren’t, their likely very considerable loss!), and the better the request, the better the response, the better the content you get, the better your blog is, the better the promotion for the business…everyone’s a winner and the internet just levelled up! Yay!

On with the list!

0. Before you begin.

Is your blog any good? If I click on a link to it, am I going to see something I would like my brand to be featured on? If it’s brand new, here’s a tip: start by reviewing things you already own/have bought. If your blog is less than a month old, or has less than twenty posts on it, or (like mine!) is riddled with lengthy gaps and downtimes, it’s not necessarily a good proposition for anyone. Build up your content first, then approach. Find your writing style, your review style, all that, before you begin sending out requests to people you don’t know.

Then the technical stuff. Does it look good? Is the layout functioning? Are you tagging posts appropriately, is your language appropriate to your audience, is your spelling/grammar/presentation of a quality you’re happy to represent yourself with? When you send the emails, what’s the latest post on your blog? Is it relevant and appealing to the people you’re asking to contribute?

Assuming all’s well here, and you’re moving forward to contacting, one more thing – could you introduce yourself elsewhere first? If your preferred store/brand/service has a Twitter and you’re genuinely interested to feature them, add them there first. Interact with them a bit, to show you’re a human, that you’re interested, and to make your name perhaps that bit more memorable. Twitter networking is quite undervalued in the blogosphere, I fear.

But sometimes a formal email/message is best, and gives you the space to put everything in that you need. So, here you go!

1. Decent subject line.

If you’re emailing directly, rather than filling out a contact form, always use a sensible subject line. “Review request from xyz blog”, “Interview request from Canadian magazine”, “Prize donation request from Galaxy Cat Unit”, that sort of thing – simple and to the point. Yes, that’s object first, but that’s the point. Say what you want, and yes, it might mean that the recipient trashes it without reading it because they’ve not got time, not interested, etc, etc, but that’s what they’re going to do anyway if they get a random email with a header like “Introducing Sparkleblog! The latest in incredible reviewing!” or “Want to reach 500,000 people tomorrow?” because that suggests you’re either spamming, or about to ask for not only free things, but money on top of it.

2. Address it properly.

Find the name of the press contact. If there’s no press contact, or if it’s a small business, say an Etsy shop, find the owner’s name. Look on their ‘about me’ page. Never, ever, start with Dear Sir/Madam. You’re not looking for a job. (If you are, that’s a different post 😉 It’s a business. There’ll be a name somewhere. The reason for this is not only that it’s more polite, but also that it shows you’re not just randomly cutting and pasting your request into every single contact page you can find. And, further, it shows that you’re actually interested in this business, about which you’ve bothered to find something out.

3. Do bother to find something out.

Show that you know what you’re asking for. If you want something to review, check that there can be something to review. Seriously, you’re asking a vintage clothing shop for a product to review? Sure, you can receive something and write about…what? The experience of receiving it? The vintage clothing, which isn’t necessarily made by the owner? How does this help anyone? It’s like when people leave reviews on Amazon products that talk about the Amazon service. Super not useful. If you’re asking to try something, make sure it’s something that can actually be tried. If it’s a service, make sure it’s a service that can be tried. If you’re not in a country the shop ships to, don’t ask for something to be sent to you.

4. Think about what you actually want.

Do you just want a free thing? Really like jewellery from Sophia’s Secret Store of Surprises but can’t afford it right now and so you’re asking in the hope of getting something free? That’s okay. That is genuinely okay. I fully believe it’s okay to exchange goods for promotion or services and if you’ve constructed an environment where you can make it worth Sophia’s while to send you a necklace, because you’re going to give her plenty of value in promotion/review, then go for it. But please, please, read #5. And don’t dress requests like this up; don’t be aggressively self-promoting to try and pretend that they’re not such things. It’s always obvious.

Are you looking for content for your blog? If your thing is that you review jewellery, and you’re lining up more jewellery to review, then this is fine and makes good sense. But there are other options, too. In terms of interesting content, an interview can be just as appealing to readers as a review. Whether it’s a few questions or an in-depth chat, asking to host an interview with a business owner can be just as productive for your blog, and if the shop/business isn’t suited to or able to go giving out freebies, then an interview may be the best thing for everyone. If you’d like to feature a brand that you love, or are curious about, approaching them with a request for content, rather than a free trial or a free product can be the best way to get a healthy response.

Don’t write any of this stuff yet. Just think about it. First:

5. State your case.

This is simple, but virtually never in people’s requests. You need to say who you are, where you’re based, who your audience is, and, most importantly, what your statistics are. The last bit is most important because you can’t just link to it. And, incidentally, DO link to things. Don’t worry about introducing everything about yourself – your blog has an “About” page somewhere, right? Link to that. And make sure it’s actually informative. So, having correctly address your email, you’re now writing something like, “My name’s Lucy. I’m in the UK, and I write a blog called Shiny She-Ra Saturdays linktomainblogpagehere. I post reviews of old She-Ra episodes every Saturday morning at 10am*, but I write about all kinds of other stuff in between. Here’s my ‘About’ page if you’d like to know more: linktoAboutShinySheRaSaturdayshere.”

Then it’s onto the numbers. These are important. You want, how long your blog has been active, how many followers it has, how many hits you get on an average post, that sort of thing. If you’ve got a big Twitter or Facebook following, mention that too. “Shiny She-Ra Saturdays has been going since 2011. I post on average three times a week – my review posts get around 1,500 hits, and my other entries average around 1000 hits. I have 213 followers on WordPress, and over a thousand followers on my personal Twitter.”

Note: it doesn’t matter if the numbers aren’t big. If the content is good, if your blog is good, if your photos or videos or podcasts are good, and the blog isn’t that old, then it’s fine if you’ve only got five subscribers so far, or if your audience don’t comment much. Just be honest about the extent of your reach, and leave it up to the business to decide if it wants to engage further.

Then leave it at that! You don’t want this to be too long. A paragraph at most.

6. Ask.

If you can be flexible here, as suggested in #4, then do. “I’d love to feature your brand/shop/product in some way. I’m best known for my unboxing videos on my YouTube channel (have you mentioned how many views your average video gets? Do it now!), and would be happy to do one of those for your subscription box. If that’s not possible at this time, then I’d love to include your views in a post I’m writing on the upcoming subscription box market in the UK.” Or suggest interviewing them about their business, their craft or industry.  Be flexible, be pleasant, be plausible. If they’re a very new or small business they may not be able to afford to randomly send things out to you, even if your prospects might look very good, so anything you can offer that they don’t have to pay for, that can be mutually beneficial, is a good thing.

So there we have it! Just a few tips for not being immediately deleted. It’s not much – to recap, say who you are, why you’re contacting, why you’re worth contacting back, and sign off nicely, whether it’s a DFTBA or Kind Regards, or Thanks in advance, or whatever.

And remember – there are also a lot of very good blogs out there that do this kind of thing whilst actually buying the product and acting as an absolutely regular customer. If you’re asking for something for nothing, you’ve strong competition. But if you think about it, present yourself well, and have a decent blog (or video page, or podcast series, whatever), then that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to work with and perhaps receive things, or wisdoms, from brands or shops or people you love in return for doing something that you also hopefully love. Businesses need promotion, and a small, strong community of fifty people is sometimes a much, much better place to present your brand than a faceless, jumbly-written, spambot-filled page that regularly gets thousands of hits. This is a good time to blog, it’s a great time to have a small business – let’s work together here!

 

* I might need to start this blog if no-one else has

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A Pocketful of String: 11 Short & Shorter Stories by Me

A Pocketful of String - cover

So, I’ve concocted a small book of short and shorter stories. You can buy it for the cost of a mildly overpriced coffee on Amazon, see links at the end of this self-promotion!

It contains:

– The spectre of Death
– What happens when the Luck Child returns
– Fond memories and grim futures
– How not to turn 25
– A terrible warning about rabbits
– What happens to your heart
– An overtly sentimental dining room table
– A failed love spell
– A haunted photobooth
– A very surprising breakfast
– The apocalypse, from above and within

Not quite in that order.

I’ve thought a lot about doing this, over the last six months. I was going to do it before The Pulse, and then I thought that that’d be some kind of weird cop-out (I can’t explain why, but it’s how it felt…like I *had* a novel and wasn’t paying attention to it, perhaps…that it would be somehow easier to shove eleven little things out into the world than one great big thing that hadn’t had any seal of approval…either way, I didn’t).

Most of these stories have been around and about before, some appeared on this journal recently, one was my first paid piece of fiction, and one I just got the rights back to. A couple, though, are completely new to this collection.

Part of doing this is to clean my writing slate, I think. I don’t have any other finished things I plan to publish, I don’t have anything out with agents or magazines, for the first time in ages. I have a heap of drafts, in varying stages. I’ve a side project I’m really, really heart-and-soul excited about, but that’ll be under a different name, and I probably won’t discuss it here. I’ve that novel that I hope has a chance of going to agent properly, if only because it’s a lot more commercial than The Pulse, and it has the kind of plot and characters that make the most of taglines and summaries. I still utterly stand by my first novel, but as I continue the uphill battle to take it to an audience that might enjoy it (and I don’t think I’m being extensively deluded in believing it has one), I continue to be astonished by how unsellable it is. If you’ve any thoughts, do let me know 😉

So yes, A Pocketful of String. That’s what I’m meant to be selling here! It’s quick and easy to read, it’s got a few self-indulgent comments about the writing of all the things, and it’s a memento, really, to myself of the last few years. Heavy on whimsy, magical realism, wordplay and weird stuff, but nothing too dark or unpleasant.

Should you so wish, you can buy it Amazon US & World or from Amazon UK. You can also buy it from any national Amazon by searching, unsurprisingly, Pocketful of String! It’s so exciting to find you’ve a reasonably unique book title XD As ever, feedback and connection is wholeheartedly welcome. These tales might be small, daft, and occasionally plain weird, but they’re dear to me, and I’m pleased to share.

Also, if you’d like to add me on GoodReads, even just as a fellow reader (I’m aiming for 200 books RaR-d this year – if you fancy sending me anything for review then do message me!) I’m here.

The Pulse: Of Castles and Diamonds, Oh My*

I published my book today. If you’d like to preview/read it, you can do so here: UK edition or here US edition. Also on most international sites via the search thing, ‘The Pulse A E Shaw’ ought to do it XD

Also I have a Goodreads thing, I obsessively catalogue my reading and like to find books in all the places, so having an author account is crazy exciting. Come, add me.

The #1 thing people asked me when I said I’d a book was, ‘What’s it about?’ And even after infinite attempts to answer this question without ruining the general point of reading it, I still struggled. This should’ve been a sign that this wasn’t going to be an easily saleable thing, and it’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind for the next book. This is more of a ‘what’ book than a ‘how’, and I think that’s where the problem lies. Finding out what it’s actually about is, characters aside, the general purpose of reading this, as far as I can see at this point.

It’s also why I’m really looking forward to seeing if anyone does read it. Then they can tell me what they think it’s about. I also worry that it’s like some massive Rorschach thing – everyone will turn around and go, OMG, this is a massive metaphor for lmnop attribute about yourself that you clearly haven’t noticed (quite possibly being an only child, for example). This is perfectly possible, and I’m much more frightened of doing this than I’d thought I’d be.

I wasn’t anticipating a minor, but exceptionally irritating formatting screw-up when I first uploaded my book, so I’ve not been able to do the YAY HERE IT IS thing I wanted to do. I probably should’ve expected such a thing, because I did decide to go with inserting dividers in places, rather than just asterisking everything, but it all looked fine enough on the preview, so I went for it…and then it was annoyingly unfine. But I’m working on it. And I’ve done it now. So here’s this post. Eeeep. Hi. I’m going to try to be a real author.

*not the actual subtitle. possibly should’ve been.