Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Importance of Flesh and Blood Reviewers

If you think the hard work is over once you send your thoroughly edited and corrected manuscript to your publisher, brace yourself. Finding reviewers who will respond affirmatively, meaning they want a copy of your advance release book, requires intensive sleuthing and luck. It also helps to contact people you know in the field who might be able to refer you.

In the best possible scenario, your book will go to an interested reviewer at one of the Big Guns review publications such as Booklist, Library Journal, Choice, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. If an author is lucky, his or her publisher already has working relationships with reviewers concerned with the appropriate subject area and employed by these review publications.

Possibly this was the scenario with C.M. Mayo’s book Miraculous Air: Journey Of A Thousand Miles Through Baja California, The Other Mexico. Here’s what Library Journal said about Miraculous Air, "With elegant prose and an artist's eye for detail, Mayo may just have written one of the best books ever about Baja California. Highly recommended." Because libraries depend on the reviews of Library Journal and the other library-oriented review publications to decide what they will purchase, this particular comment is about the best an author can hope for. In fact for Madam Mayo (as she calls herself on her book blog), she has had both hardback and paperback releases of this book.

The publisher of The Steiny Road to Operadom said he has been in the New York mailroom of Publisher’s Weekly and it’s an experience that has made an indelible impression on him. The room is cavernous with mountains of packages containing review copies, most of which are never removed from their shipping package and which are sent directly to recycling. Trashed before anyone looks at your much labored over book!

Therefore Unlimited Publishing president Dan Snow asks the author to create a list of reviewers who potentially would be interested in the author’s book. He suggests going to the library and spending the day browsing through Literary Market Place. There is also a shorter version of the book online at The list you make must include the reviewer’s email address, phone and fax numbers as well as the address annotated with proper mail stop identification if applicable. What Unlimited expects are publications with a circulation between 10,000 and 50,000 readers. After you make your list, you need to call these reviewers and make sure they are alive and still in place at that publication. Better is to talk with each one to find out if he or she is the right person and if not, who and, moreover, does anyone have interest in your subject area? What a new book needs is for someone within the review organization to hand carry the book to the person most likely to open its pages. It is music to the publisher’s ear when someone at the other end of the phone tells him to address the package to so and so’s attention and mark it “Requested Material.”

Once Snow and his staff get the author’s list of flesh and blood reviewers, Unlimited creates a news release that contains the pertinent facts. If the reviewer has time and interest, he or she contacts Unlimited and says send me the book. This is the stage The Steiny Road to Operadom is in now. So far none of the Big Guns reviewers have requested the book, but two prominent magazines that deal with the subject of music and opera have. So things are progressing apace and hearteningly.

Behind the scenes, The Steiny Road author pinged a reviewer she knows to ask him what the correspondence from her publisher contained. He said that Unlimited made it clear that they wanted to send copies only when a review was certain. Since this reviewer was working on a scholarly paper and then would be leaving the country for a six-week seminar, he would have to wait to read the book until after the review period. Of course, as Dan Snow pointed out to The Steiny Road author, sometimes reviews come well after the review period.

Madam Mayo said that she asked her publisher how many reviewers he/she wanted and then “politely” negotiated the number up to 100 including “mostly academics specializing in Mexico and some Mexico-specific English language publications (such as Inside Mexico, Mexico Connect,, and El Calendario)." Many of the names on her list of 100 were people she knew, the rest came from the Internet. Mayo also sent out some review copies at her own expense.

So potential book authors start squirreling away the names and contact information of potential reviewers who can reach large audiences. Reviews are rare nuts to come by and even a bad review is better than the one that went down the recycle chute with the unlooked-at book.

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