Should I get an early review?

Whenever I speak with authors, I always encourage them to not to wait until their books are published to begin getting the word out.

Here to address this issue is Abby Plesser, fiction editor at Bookpage. I started out by asking what a book review is and why it’s important.

Here’s Abby:

Book reviews vary widely—both in scope and content—so I’ll speak to the reviews we run at BookPage. We aim to be a selection guide for readers, so we read and review books that have received our stamp of approval. That means we only run positive reviews—something that sets us apart from other review publications. Of course not every review is a rave, but if we cover a book in BookPage, we feel it deserves our readers’ attention.

In the simplest sense, book reviews are necessary because there are millions of books out there, and readers need guidance in deciding what they want to read. Advertising, recommendations from friends and word-of-mouth buzz can all inform readers about what they might like to try, but a good review—or an informative negative review—can really help a reader make his or her decision on whether to pick up a book.

How critical are early reviews? Why does Bookpage only do early reviews?

It varies from book to book. Personally, I find early reviews helpful because they get the dialogue going. Before a book goes on sale, you really don’t know whether it’s going to be something that might interest you. Maybe it’s a first time author, so you have no idea what to expect, but the topic sounds interesting. Or it’s a new book from an author you love, but you aren’t sure if you’re going to love the new book as much as the last book. Having a review come out before the book does—or very close to publication—can be very helpful as you make your book-buying decisions. Of course there are always books that either don’t get a ton of early review coverage—or get mixed early reviews—and go on to be big hits. And vice versa.

BookPage is a monthly publication, so we aim to review the best books in each genre each month. From a production standpoint, we work two to three months ahead of publication dates, but when our issues hit the stands, books that are included are either on sale or going on sale very shortly.

Do some reviews carry more weight than others?

At a basic level, reviews are all about exposure. And in the sense of exposure—getting the word out about a certain book to the largest number of people—reviews in the national publications carry a lot of weight. So obviously authors (and their publishers) are hoping to get positive reviews in the big national papers—the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, USA Today—and magazines—Time, People, The New Yorker, Newsweek, etc. But it also depends on the individual reader. When you read a review, you are trusting the reviewer—and the newspaper or magazine—and their opinion. So it’s a personal thing. I have certain papers and magazines that I like more than others, so I would probably buy a book based on their recommendation more than I would a recommendation from a source I don’t read or love. The same thing goes with book reviews online—as an author, you want to be reviewed positively on a site that gets a lot of traffic, but you probably also want to be reviewed on a site that you read and respect—or hope your target audience reads and respects.

Tell us about the Bookpage process, e.g., What kinds of books do you review? Do you charge? Do you accept review requests directly from authors?

We cover almost every category of books, from serious nonfiction and literary novels to suspense and romance. So we do our best each month to select the best books in every genre.

I handle fiction, so I sort through the hundreds of novels we get every month and evaluate them based on quality, likely appeal to a wide reading audience and availability through national distributors (BookPage is distributed to approximately 400,000 readers each month, and the majority of readers pick it up for free at their local library or bookstore, so we want to make sure the books we review will be readily available to them).

Our nonfiction editor goes through the same process with all of the nonfiction, and we have a children’s editor and a web editor, as well. We have a monthly editorial meeting where we sit and discuss all of the books we are considering, and then we make our decisions individually. We assign most books to freelancers for review, though we all do some writing, too. We pay our freelancers, but we don’t charge for reviews—or accept payment. And while we are happy to hear from authors directly, we have to make sure their book can pass our guidelines on its own.

What advice would you give to authors, publicists and publishers about getting their books reviewed?

I think the most important thing is to do your homework. Every review has different guidelines, and while it can be daunting, a publicist (or publisher/author) who follows review guidelines is already one step ahead of the game.

At BookPage, we ask for advance review copies (ARCs) 2-3 months ahead of publication. We like a letter from the publicist telling us what we need to know about the book: genre, on sale date, print run (if known), brief summary, etc. And we don’t review self-published titles or titles with very low distribution numbers, even though we are always flooded with requests. If you submit your materials in a timely manner, and maybe send a thoughtful email or two to follow up as publication nears, that’s perfect for us.

It’s also worth noting that no book can be reviewed everywhere, so it’s important to focus on the best places for your book to be reviewed. If you think your target audience is library patrons, then BookPage is a great place for you to be reviewed. If you are pitching a super literary novel, you probably don’t want to start with People magazine. Just use common sense. And it never hurts to get familiar with the book review sections of the big newspapers and magazines, along with the big pre-publication review sources (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc.) and popular book blogs.

Good luck!

Abby Plesser, Fiction Editor, BookPage



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