Editor’s note: Just about every author wants to create a “page-turner that you can’t put down.” But how do you get a book reviewer to pick up your book in the first place? And what’s the secret to a rave review? Former ASJA president Randy Dotinga, who’s been reviewing books for the Christian Science Monitor since 2005 and interviews dozens of authors each year, offers up his top five pearls of wisdom:
- Target, Target, Target! (No, Not the Store)
I haven’t read a young adult book since the early Reagan administration, so I’d need a pair of name tags to tell Albus Dumbledore from Severus Snapweek. But every month, publishers send me copies of upcoming novels for kids.
Why? Because they’re not paying attention. I mainly review nonfiction books for adults, which means these careless publishers are wasting their money.
Review copies (advance copies of books sent to reviewers) and press releases need to go to the right person—someone who might review your book or assign someone to do it. They shouldn’t go to everybody. If you’re handling your own publicity, you’ll need to figure out who makes the cut.
The interests of some outlets are obvious: Your biography of Stalin isn’t landing on the book page of Outside magazine unless it reveals that he took a month off to climb Mt. Everest. And the Washington Post won’t be intrigued by your guide to migratory birds in Missouri.
But how do you find out which outlets might like, say, a cookbook or a fitness guide or a collection of essays? The best strategy is to find high-profile books that are similar to yours and use the internet to figure out who reviewed them. Then send review copies and press releases to those outlets and reviewers.
- Don’t Limit Yourself to the Major Players
To use a Yiddish expression, some authors are positively verklempt—so devastated that they can’t speak or function—if their book isn’t reviewed by The New York Times, Washington Post or L.A. Times. Don’t be that person. Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year and the odds that your book will get reviewed by a major review outlet are tiny. The chances are even smaller if you self-publish your book.
Plenty of magazines, blogs, trade journals and smaller newspapers still publish book reviews. Again, use the trick of searching for reviews of books similar to yours. Then target those outlets and reviewers. Just keep trying until you find that bashert (Yiddish for “perfect match”)—unlike marriages, multiple bashert book reviews are legal and even welcome!
- Be a Calendar Girl (or Boy) and Focus on Timing
Horse, meet barn door: Your new book is coming out this week, so you send review copies to Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal and Booklist. They’re the major trade journals for the publishing industry and run hundreds of brief reviews each month.
Makes sense, right? Nope. As writers, we already know that publications work months ahead of time and may even plan their editorial calendars a year in advance. More importantly, however, these trade outlets publish reviews several months before books are released! Bookstores and libraries use the journals to get a heads-up about upcoming books they may want to stock or purchase.
Newspaper book reviewers should also get review copies several months before the publication date. This gives them enough time to read the books and write reviews that can be published right when the book becomes available. Newspapers don’t want to publish reviews about books that have been on the shelves for a while.
So, you’ll need to get review copies to these outlets long before your book’s publication date—months in advance. Each outlet may have its own timing scheme, so it’s best to get in touch with the book editor and find out how much lead time they prefer. You don’t want to get your book there so early that they forget about it (or lose it) before the publication date comes or so late that they won’t be interested. Which brings me to my next point:
- Get to Know NetGalley
This is where galleys, early versions of a book that are still going through the printing process, come in. The galley may not have been fully copyedited and might lack photos, an index and a cover. Typically, an e-galley can be read for free via Kindle through a Kindle device, a smartphone, a tablet like an iPad or even a desktop computer.
Galleys are often used in lieu of review copies, which cost money, especially if you’re on your own and don’t have a publicist. To save dough, consider using NetGalley, an online site that allows authors and publishers to send e-galleys of their books to reviewers. I’ve read and reviewed dozens of books with the assistance of NetGalley.
NetGalley doesn’t list how much it charges publishers and individual authors. But it’s likely to be cheaper than paying postage to send out a bunch of print galleys.
- “Exhaustive” Books Are Exhausting
Here’s a quick way to not get a book review:
Include every detail you discovered in your research, no matter how small or minor. Let your book go on and on. Empty every one of your notebooks! Facts want to be set free, right?
Wrong. Too many nonfiction books wear out their welcome because they go on too long. Keep it short and keep your readers wanting more. And if you can figure out how to do this, drop me a line. I’m working on a couple of book proposals myself and could use some tips!
Freelance journalist Randy Dotinga, a former president of ASJA, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @rdotinga.