Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why can't I get book reviews?

An author emailed me yesterday to complain that his self-published book has been discriminated against by reviewers. "Ive been trying for months to get my latest novel reviewed," was the gist of his message, "and, so far, I've had no luck. Can you help me?"

As a book promotion specialist, I'd love to be able to say, "Sure, I can. Sign this contract, and you'll have the book reviews you're seeking in no time." But, as you probably know, it doesn't work that way. Rather than take on a client who would surely be disappointed in the results of a book promotion campaign that focused on garnering book reviews, I sent the author an email that said:

...Unfortunately, only a few authors have ever had the good fortune to be able to count on reviews for their books. Now, with the ease of self-publishing (there are so many more authors than ever before) and the rising editorial costs (every newspaper and magazine you might mention is focusing on survival, and book reviews are often the first place they can make cuts), that number has decreased exponentially. Stephen King may be able to count on a review in Publishers Weekly. The rest of the world? Not at all, and authors shouldn't take it personally, because book reviews aren't garnered by books that "deserve" them. They're garnered just a few "regulars," and an occasional truly lucky soul, and that's the way that it works now.

I've been a book publicist for nearly 20 years, and I've never focused on reviews as a way of promoting books. I'm glad of that, because those book publicists who do focus on garnering book reviews are figuratively up a creek without a paddle right now. I focus on getting media interviews for authors who have some expertise in the areas about which they write. For example, if you're a former pilot, then I might pitch you as an aviation expert to radio and television shows, and to newspapers and magazines. It's a tricky approach for fiction, but it's a way to get press and airtime.

If you must seek book reviews, then the thing to try would be to approach the top Amazon reviewers. They're lay people, not literary gurus, but you can approach them. It can be a frustrating process, even though Amazon provides contact information for many of them. Because they're so influential, and they're the "only game in town," everyone approaches them ... and getting them to review a book is getting to be as challenging as getting Booklist to look at a book. Still, it's another avenue to pursue. A final possibility is to pay for reviews. Although that approach violates most of what they taught us in media classes, way back when, paid book reviews have become mainstream, if not exactly something about which authors (the one in the know, anyway) would boast.

I wish the news were better on the book review front, and I wish I had a magic cure for the challenge you face. But I would suggest you find avenues for promoting your work (having a web site is an excellent start, and disseminating press releases would be another) that would be far more fruitful than focusing on book reviews. Don't take a lack of reviews to be a statement of your book's worth. Probably less than one percent of all books published, in any way, will enjoy reviews. As the Los Angeles Times folds its stand-alone book section, the Christian Science Monitor decreases its daily publication to weekly publication (and continues to publish daily only online), you can see that the problem doesn't lie with your book or with you. It's just the reality of book publishing, and while no one enjoys it, it can provide an opportunity to try other, exciting media straegies.

Good luck, and who knows? Maybe I'll be hearing or seeing you in the media one of these days....

By way of reply, I received an email from author from the email that made it clear he was grateful for my thoughts but would continue to pursue book reviews. I told him to bear in mind that most monthly publications required ARCs several months before books' publication dates. I haven't heard back from that author but, I have a feeling, he's not taking "no" for an answer....