Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Review Process Part 1: How a Book Gets Reviewed

In 2007 I wrote three articles about the review process for the wonderful writer's resource site Writing World. Today I share the first of these three articles, and will add the other two in the future. Enjoy!

The Review Process: How a Book Gets Reviewed
by Sally Murphy

So you've had a book published? Congratulations. Now to get the word out to the rest of the world so that they can race outand buy it. Just one way of spreading the word about a new book is through a book review. But how do you get a review and who does the reviewing?

Firstly, where do book reviews appear? Traditionally, books were reviewed in print magazines and newspapers. Print publications still account for a large proportion of published reviews. Some publications focus primarily on reviewing books. Reading Time magazine, for example, aims to review every children's book released in Australia while many others devote just a page or a column to book reviews.

More recently, books have been reviewed online. There are thousands of websites and blogs devoted to reviewing books. Some websites review books of specific genres, others focus only on ebooks, whilst others still have a book review page alongside other information and articles. An advantage of electronic reviews is that they can stay online and thus accessible more or less indefinitely, and can thus outlast print reviews.

Both print and electronic reviews can be useful in spreading the word about a book and ideally you want your book to be reviewed in both mediums. However, be aware that getting your book reviewed can be difficult. Most book reviewers and book review publications receive more books than they could possibly review and your book must compete with others for time and editorial space.

So, how do you get your book reviewed? The short answer is that if you are traditionally published, you don't. If you are published by a royalty-paying print publisher, it is not your job to send out review copies or to solicit reviews from reviewers. In fact, most reviewers and review publications would prefer that you don't approach them directly.

Your publisher will allow for a certain number of copies of the book to be sent out as review copies (and in fact there is probably mention of this in your contract). The publicist or marketing department will have a list of publications and/or reviewers and will send them copies, along with press releases and other information.

Some publishers will send copies to every reviewer on their list. Others will send a press release for each new book, inviting reviewers to request a complimentary review copy. Others still will send a regular mailing often once a month advising of forthcoming releases and inviting reviewers to request the books they are interested in.

If you are traditionally published, you can ask your publisher how many review copies they are sending out and may even be provided with a list of publications which have been supplied with review copies. You can also suggest publications, which is especially useful if your book targets a niche market.If, for example, you've written a children's book about a horse, you might recommend a horse-lovers magazine which your publisher may not know about.

Leaving the sending of review copies up to your publisher is good for you because you do not directly bear the expense of postage and book copies. It is good for the reviewer because it depersonalises the review process. Direct emails from authors to reviewers can put the reviewer in an awkward position of trying to maintain impartiality, and make them uncomfortable about reviewing your book.

If you are self-published, you'll need to submit review copies yourself. Because you are bearing the cost, you'll need to research very carefully so that you can target your review copies at publications which review in your genre or area of interest. If possible, send a press release (written in third person), inviting reviewers to request a copy. This reduces the likelihood of sending copies which receive no review. Once you have sent the copy, avoid making repeated contact to find out if the book has arrived and when a review will be published. This marks you as over-eager and, again, can leave the reviewer feeling uncomfortable.

Once the book is in the reviewer's hands, the process that follows can vary from person to person, but in general it will go something like this.

Firstly, the book will be put in a pile with all the other books the reviewer has received. The reviewer may choose to review the books in the order s/he received them and so your book will go to the bottom of the pile. Or s/he might review them in the order they appeal to them, randomly selecting the next book to be read. In my case, I organise the books on a shelf in the order I received them. At any one time there could be over seventy books shelved like this.

Next, the reviewer will read the book. A good reviewer will read the whole book before forming an opinion, but the pressure of time might mean that the reviewer does not finish a book that s/he doesn't like. My policy is to finish every book, because often a book will grow on me or redeem itself further in.

When s/he finishes the book, the reviewer will review the book. The length and structure of the review will depend on the publication the reviewer is writing for, but most reviews include a summary of the plot which does not reveal the ending, some comments on elements such as point of view, story structure, style and a recommendation (or otherwise). If the book is illustrated the reviewer could (and should) comment on the illustration techniques, and the review might also make a suggestion about age groups (for a children's books) and the type or reader who might be attracted to the book.

Whether s/he likes your book or not the reviewer will (hopefully) provide a balanced assessment of the book, focussing on the strengths as well as the weaknesses. S/he'll also avoid allowing personal preferences or bias to influence the review. For example, if s/he doesn't like the romance genre, s/he'll not give a negative review on the basis that your book is a romance. S/he is more likely to choose not to review books in the genre most reviewers do specialise in some way.

Once the review is written, revised and proofread, the reviewer will submit it to their editor, or in the case of a website or blog, post it online. If the editor accepts the review, it will appear in print. The time between submitting the book for review and the review being published varies greatly, but it is not uncommon to wait six months, because of the lead times for print publications, and the sheer numbers of books submitted for review. For this reason, most publishers send out review copies ahead of the actual release date for a book.

Once the review is published you or your publisher may receive a copy of the review or a link to it online, but this doesn't always happen, so keep your eye out for reviews, and use search engines to keep abreast with what's being said about your book online.

Once you have a review of your book, you can use it to promote your book further, but that's the subject for another article.

Watch out for parts two and three of this series to learn what you can do with a review and who reads reviews.

1 comment:

  1. That is a comprehensive description of the review process. I think you summed it up well.

    Your mention of search engines towards the end reminded me that I need to put in a Google Alert for my alter ego, BookChook. Sometimes I curse the alerts I already have, but occasionally I find a hidden gem that makes it all worth while.