Publisher press departments, press officers and agents, do you want to get more book reviews published? Have you ever wondered why some books seem to be all over the newspaper and specialist-press review pages and yet equally good books fail to make any impact? Have you wondered how to get more reviews without expending a great deal more time, effort or money? Here is some advice from a seasoned reviewer…
I have been a book reviewer, art critic, essayist and journalist for 20 years. During that time, I must have received between 1,500 and 2,500 books and journals for direct review or as part of broader articles. Generally, I have had good relations with publishers, galleries, museums and their press agents. Any long-time reviewer receives a fair quantity of books he/she would not otherwise have owned or perhaps even read and I am grateful for all the copies I have received.
Here are some tips from the perspective of a reviewer, intended to be practical and enlightening. Some of the points may seem obvious but even very respected houses have fallen short on basic points. Please feel free to share a link to this article with colleagues.
- No printed copy, no review
Although it is good practice to offer reviewers both printed and e-versions (e-books, PDFs, Word docs), my personal rule is “no printed copy, no review”. I cannot commit to reading an entire book on screen for the sake of practicality and health. I cannot tell my readers that what I see on screen is exactly what they will get as a book, as changes may be made. Also, reviews cover the quality and appropriateness of printing, paper, covers, binding and illustration quality, which cannot be judged digitally. This is especially true for my main field, which is the art book. (I have previously outright criticised otherwise good art books because of poor colour printing – something that would not have been obvious in a PDF.) I cannot recommend a virtual copy of a book to readers who may end up paying for a shoddy or unsuitable printed book bought on my recommendation. I have used e-versions as references but virtually never for full book reviews.
- Maintain a single point of contact
Difficult as it may be, try to have one or two staff members deal with a single book or reviewer. This prevents confusion and lapses of contact. A reviewer is much more inclined to turn to a company where s/he knows the press officer. Building a relationship will likely increase the number of books reviewed.
- Big publishers, do better
If a potential review title is published by a big house or an imprint part of a conglomerate, my heart sinks. I often avoid even contacting big presses about review copies. Websites are cumbersome; imprint delineations unclear and hard to contact directly. There is rarely a named press contact and international houses often lose requests in extended email chains. No one takes responsibility. Response times are frequently long. Big houses, you regularly lose reviews through your indifferent service and cumbersome websites. Advice: A) Make your websites clearer to use, easier to search and more logical. B) If you have different imprints, make sure there is a clear press contact for each or a general contact that will respond consistently.
- Have images ready
Have a cover image and author photographs ready. If your book features art, have a selection of cleared illustration images and full captions (and T&Cs) available before you launch. Have the images available in different file sizes. If you have a website with press images that require security-code access, be prepared to email images directly upon request if reviewers have trouble accessing these files.
- Museums and galleries, have a dedicated page
Museums and galleries, always have a page for your publications. This should be searchable if it isn’t a small selection. Don’t leave reviewers scrolling through fridge magnets and mugs on the “Shop” page in search of exhibition catalogues. In this case, it is sometimes hard to tell what books you publish and what you just sell. Treat your publication department seriously and you’ll earn the respect of reviewers. If a reviewer is left unclear about how to contact a publisher/museum then s/he will have doubts about how readers can access the book and that may lead to the idea of a review getting dropped. Remember, this is especially important if you are a smaller venue. A book review in a foreign journal may alert the readership to your existence. Every book review is publicity for your institution.
- Provide email addresses
If possible, provide email addresses for your press office not just contact forms on websites. A reviewer may have a set email to send and also want to cc editors. Reviewers often use emails to organise their schedules and check the progress of requests/pitches.
- Know your distribution
If you don’t distribute outside your country (or set of defined regions), make that clear on your website and link to your foreign offices and distributors. If you send email replies to the effect that you cannot send a review copy, cc the appropriate distributor/foreign colleague. If you reply without that information you have almost certainly lost a review and potentially ever hearing from that reviewer again.
- Email about new books
If you have a list of forthcoming titles or a catalogue (or link to a page or PDF), email reviewers. This makes their job easier and allows them to pitch suggestions to editors ahead of time. Do this every 2-3 months (or less frequently, if your list is shorter). Do not do it more frequently.
- No misleading publicity
One of the banes of reviewers and editors is misleading promo material. Promotion for a book can be enthusiastic but it must be honest. Do not oversell a book. Reviewers are sometimes specialists who know more about the subject than the author. Get a book peer-reviewed before taking the author’s word that their title is what s/he claims. If your title is unsuitable then you have wasted the time of everyone involved and the cost of sending the book. The review will not get published – leaving reviewer, editor and publisher dissatisfied.
Edit: Remember that reviewers pitch ideas to editors sometimes months in advance. They rely on the promo material being accurate. Review commissions depend on what the publishers claim about their books. If a book turns out to be different from the what advance publicity had led reviewers and editors to expect then this leaves everyone in an awkward position.
- Include a printed press release
Enclose with the book a printed press release. This should have data such as a book summary, author data, selected pre-publication quotes, press contact info and book data, including page no., ISBN, size, no. and type of illus., price(s), format(s), etc. Make sure this is accurate. Regularly, I have had sheets which describe a previous specification that has been changed. Books described as clothbound often turn out to be paper-covered boards. Getting this right and giving the data to the reviewer will mean you won’t have queries to handle.
- Condition matters
While it is true that reviewers do not pay for books, a book in damaged condition creates a poor impression. It may cost you a superlative or complimentary adjective or two. It isn’t churlishness but a greater degree of reservation. Also, if buyers receive comparable mail-order service, a reviewer will be more cautious about recommending a title from that publisher. Make sure you send a good quality copy and package it adequately
- Please don’t ask for returns
Reviewers are often poorly paid or even unpaid. All they may get from a review is a press clipping and review copy, so don’t ask for the book back. It is an unwritten agreement that the reviewer gets to keep the review copy as part payment. On one occasion I was asked to return the copy of a heavy book at my own expense for an unpaid review – which drew the combined protests of my editors and me. In cases where a book is very rare or expensive, make sure you have the express agreement in advance with reviewer and editor that the review copy will be returned at the expense of the publisher/agent before you send the book
13. Inform about delays
Delays are common in publishing. If a review has been agreed, then contact the reviewer/editor when you know there is a delay. This will assist with scheduling. It may mean a deadline or tie-in article cannot be achieved, so this information could be important to the editor. It may even lead to the review being cancelled – which will save you sending a copy that will not receive a review.
14. Reviews get spiked
As everyone knows, reviews get spiked occasionally. This may be due to a scheduling issue, a negative review, internal politics, misleading publicity, a change of editor or editorial policy, closure of a publication or other causes. This is disappointing for all involved but it is sometimes out of the hands of reviewers. Reviewers should let publishers know if no review will appear. In my case, I find an alternate outlet to publish the review (with the consent of the original commissioning editor).
15. Reviewers are not editors
Occasionally, press departments/agents contact reviewers about scheduled publication of reviews. This is a reasonable contact point but often – more often than publishers realise – the appearance of the review is out of the hands of reviewer. Editors generally change publication dates, write headlines, choose illustrations and insert by-lines without consulting (or even informing) the reviewer. Sometimes the reviewers do not receive copies of their reviews. Long delays are as frustrating for reviewers as for publishers. If you have the editor’s email address, it is best to consult him/her (rather than the reviewer) about publication details. Reviewers should provide the editor’s work email address to you.
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I am sure you could write such a list to help reviewers, as we undoubtedly have failings. I hope that the above list helps you to better understand the position of reviewers and will allow you to increase the number of reviews your titles get. Once again, thank you to publishers and agents for your assistance and patience.
[Edit: minor grammatical corrections, 28 May 2020]
© 2020 Alexander Adams
To see my art and books, visit www.alexanderadams.art