Getting a book review in one of the trade journals—the periodicals published specifically for publishers, booksellers, and librarians—can make a huge difference in potential sales, especially for the library market. A good review in Library Journal, School Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, or Kirkus Reviews will almost instantly translate into sales. A good review in a handful of other publishing periodicals, like , ForeWord magazine and Independent Publisher, can also help sales. Yet each of these publications gets thousands of books each week, and each has space to review a few dozen, at most.
So how can a small independent publisher make a book stand out and garner review attention? Here are a few tips, many of them straight from the editors who make the key decisions every day on what gets reviewed and what gets passed over:
Create a good book and produce it well.
All the editors emphasized this, and Barbara Hoffert, book review editor at Library Journal, put it at the top of the list. The quality of the material, the quality of the writing, and the depth of the coverage are key factors in reviewers’ decisions. Galleys should properly represent the final product in page layout and design. Jim Barnes of Independent Publisher adds, “I look for books that present compelling new information and/or solve a problem.”
Know each publication.
Go to the library and read back issues to get a feel for the type of books each trade journal does or does not review. Each publication’s Web site can be a starting place, but it’s best to see and read the magazines.
Carefully read and follow submission guidelines.
All the editors said this point couldn’t be made too strongly. Guidelines are available on each publication’s Web site (see “Rules of the Trades” below) or by request via mail. Brad Hooper at ,Booklist is amazed at how many submissions arrive without the book’s ISBN clearly listed or the publication date noted.
Publishers Weekly’s guidelines state:
It is essential to submit galleys three to four months prior to the month of publication. . . . We allow some latitude in reviewing heavily illustrated books or books with late-breaking material, but we will not accept submissions less than two months before the date of publication, as that would preclude running our review before the book appears.
We never review books after publication. We do not review self-published books unless there is a first printing of 2,000 or greater, and an arrangement with a reputable distributor, in which case we will take the book under consideration.
Just as clearly, Library Journal guidelines say:
Please submit two copies of each galley, and do not resubmit at a later date. . . . Library Journal Book Review is an adult book selection tool for public and academic libraries. Each year it provides some 6000 timely, professional evaluations written by carefully screened outside reviewers—public, academic, and special librarians, academic faculty members, and other subject specialists.
Books chosen by the editors for review, from about 40,000 received annually, range from the most popular to the scholarly, encompass all subject areas, and include original paperbacks as well as hardcover books.
The information at each publication’s Web site indicates to whom the galleys should be sent (using individual names at most places may not help if galleys are piled in one place to be gone through, but do use names if you can tell which person handles which sorts of books); whether the periodical requires one or two galleys (if in doubt, send two); whether a finished copy is also required (some insist on this, others don’t want one); what information should accompany the galleys; and so forth.
Follow the guidelines to the letter, or your submission will be immediately discarded. “We don’t have time to try to contact a publisher to ask for the publication date or price,” Trevelyn Jones at School Library Journal says.
Most of these publications don’t review a new edition unless they know that the book has been significantly updated. Some won’t do books that appeal only or mostly to local audiences. Some say they won’t consider self-published books (and they believe it is usually “obvious” that a book is self-published). One editor talked about checkingLiterary Market Place to see if a book was self-published or not and, if the publisher wasn’t listed there, maybe checking its Web site.
Send a cover letter with the galley.
The letter should come from the publisher or the publisher’s representative (an outside publicist, for example) and not from the author. To keep the letter from getting separated from the galley (which can happen when the mailroom opens dozens of packages and dumps them into a crate), one editor recommended binding it in or gluing it on. Although the cover letter may not be read, most of the editors said the information might convince them to look at a book more closely.
The letter should include information about:
- The basic facts (offers 150 recipes for the novice cook)
- The significance (each recipes uses three or fewer ingredients)
- The intended audience (will appeal to the 3 million people who suffer from asthma)
- The author’s key credentials (a professor at ABC Medical School)
- The author’s previous books and any reviews in this publication (Dr. Jones’ book Eat to Be Well was reviewed in your June 2003 issue)
- Scheduled media coverage
- Dales to book clubs and/or other rights buyers (article scheduled for the June issue of Ladies Home Journal; alternate selection of Writer’s Digest Book Club for July; German rights sold)
- Your national distributor or your arrangements with major wholesalers if you are an independent publisher
- The size of the print run; some journals will screen a title out immediately if it has a first printing of less than 5,000
- Significant publicity and/or advertising plans (the author will be the keynote speaker at the XYZ Annual Convention; 10-city tour planned for July)
- The editor and, if there is one, the agent
- A contact person; always provide a name, phone number, and email address. Karen Breen, the children’s book reviewer forKirkus, reports that she is “often stunned by how many people simply don’t give me any information about whom to contact or how.”
A few other things you can do to tilt the odds in your favor:
Publish your book off-season.
Since the major publishers release lots of books in September, October, April, and May, choose January or August as your publication date; or, following a hint from Louisa Ermelino at Publishers Weekly, pick December, January, and February, which she says “are generally slower months.”
Make sure your galley looks professional.
It can be printed off your computer and bound at a copy center, but it should consist of designed pages; photographs or illustrations should be included and look good if artwork is a key element. For coffee-table books and most children’s books, reviewers want to see the quality of the printing and color and will usually wait for F&Gs (folded and gathered sheets) or even a finished book, as long as they get material well before publication date. Remember, since you set this date, set it for three or four months after you have galleys to submit to these media if trade reviews are key to your success.
Sending color copies of pages for a children’s picture book is not acceptable, says Trevelyn Jones at School Library Journal. Stephanie Zvirin at Booklist agrees. “Don’t waste your money sending us something that we can’t consider,” she advises.
Include any advance comments or blurbs you have received.A new cookbook with an endorsement by Rachel Ray or a mystery with a blurb from Patricia Cornwall will stand out, although Barbara Hoffert says she is more impressed by comments from librarians since they are LJ’s target market, and is somewhat skeptical of blurbs from other authors.
Send the galleys via USPS Priority Mail or use a delivery service so you can track receipt.Galleys sent via Media Mail may or may not make it safely to the destination, and when time is an issue you don’t want to chance missing your window of opportunity just to save a little money.
Follow up according to each publication’s submission guidelines.Some say you can send one email; others ask for a single faxed query (and some say no follow-up is possible). Jim Barnes at Independent Publisher wants “email, email, email. Most review editors would rather receive three emails than one phone call,” he says.
Targets Beyond the Trade
Of course, the trade publications are not the only places you’ll want to generate reviews. Galleys should also be submitted to other book-specific publications, including magazines such as BookPage, Bloomsbury Review, New York Review of Books, and ,Pages. And don’t forget major newspapers’ book-review sections, such as The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book Review, and the Chicago Tribune Book Review, each of which has its own specific guidelines that you must follow.
You will also want to approach publications that serve your target markets. These can be more important for your niche than the review journals, and they too have clear guidelines, so do your research on them as well.
It’s foolish to waste precious galleys or dollars sending material to publications that will just discard your book because you don’t have a distributor, or you don’t have a large enough print run, or yours is a business book and they don’t review business books. But with good research, careful packaging, a well-crafted cover letter, and a little bit of luck, you may be able to get a book reviewed in one or more of the key trade publications, and you can build from there.