I review as well as write, and so I am occasionally queried by authors who are desperate for coverage. I’ve been in the same boat myself, way too often. But most of my reviews, as I tell these authors, are assigned by my editors. Therefore, I turned to reviewer and Crime Fiction Dossier blogger David Montgomery to answer the question: How do I get reviewed?

The perennial question, the thing critics always hear, but never have a very good answer for: “How do I get my book reviewed?”

When I’m being flippant, I say, “You don’t.” With review space drying up like the Gobi Desert, the number of books being reviewed in the major newspapers is probably smaller than it’s every been before. So realistically, your chance of getting reviewed in those outlets is pretty damn small.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up. But it does mean that you might need to change your expectations and start looking in different places. You shouldn’t discount the big papers, but you shouldn’t count on them too much either.

On the other hand, local newspapers often have potential for review coverage. (Most newspapers like to write about local authors.) Even if the paper doesn’t ordinarily review books, that doesn’t mean they won’t do it. Contact the Features Editor and make your pitch to him/her. Even there, though, the amount of space is small and the number of books is large.

You should consider popular websites and blogs. Online reviews don’t have the readership of the major newspapers, nor do they carry the same cachet. There are, however, a lot of them and they review many more books. The important thing is to target the right sites — you want those that have a lot of traffic, that review books (or will consider reviewing them), that appeal to the kind of people who would buy your book, etc.

The various niche magazines (like mystery magazines or whatever is applicable to your type of book and its subject; for example, if you’ve written a thriller about a fisherman, considering pitching fishing magazines) are also worth pursuing. Just keep in mind that they require a significant amount of lead time, so you’ll need to make sure they get the book early.

Your publicist should be doing this stuff for you… But we all know that often doesn’t happen. So what do you do? I advise authors to (cautiously) contact reviewers themselves. If it’s done in the right way, I don’t think anyone would be offended. It might be a waste of time, but on the other hand it doesn’t require much of an investment. You don’t need to sell yourself or the book. Just a simple email with the pertinent details is sufficient:

“Dear So-and-So:
My new mystery novel is being published June 15 in hardcover by Poisoned Pen Press. It’s about a one-eyed private detective from Mars who’s trying to solve a nasty ring of catnappings taking place at bed and breakfasts in the wine country.
May I have my publicist send you a copy for review consideration?”

Once you do that, leave it alone. If you don’t hear back, move on. If you do hear back, make sure your publicist (or you) sends a copy of the book. After that, leave it alone. Don’t follow up. I would recommend you not attempt any further contact with the reviewer. It’s unlikely to help your cause.

If the reviewers are aware of your book, you’ve done all you can. You need to be realistic about your chances for much review coverage. There are hundreds of mysteries published each month, but only space to review a handful of them. Even if you’ve written a good book, the math is against you. But if you persist — and if you write a great book — people will eventually notice. Good luck!

David J. Montgomery writes about authors and books for several of the country’s largest newspapers. He blogs at the Crime Fiction Dossier.