Yua: Treasures of the Arctic Peoples

YUA Spirit of the Arctic von

[Image: Cup’ig artist, Mask (c. 1915), wood, cormorant feathers, sinew and paint, The Thomas G. Fowler Collection at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Photograph copyright 2020 the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco]

The Thomas G. Fowler Collection at the Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco consists of a wide range of art and artefacts from the peoples of the Arctic. The quality of the objects and variety of types makes the group especially valuable for anyone wishes to get an overview of Arctic cultures. Thomas G. Fowler (1943-2006) was an esteemed graphic designer and keen traveller of the Arctic north. He started collecting in the 1970s and built a collection of nearly 400 items. Upon his death, he bequeathed his collection to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it joined the long-established Native American collection.

Yua: Spirit of the Arctic documents highlights of the collection and provides a comprehensive overview of the material culture of the people of the north. (Yua means spirit of a being in Yup’ik.) The excellent-quality large illustrations with technical data and brief notes bring objects to life. Experts provide essays covering different aspects of the many cultures in the huge area of northern North America and Greenland. The peoples represented in the collection include the Inuit, Aleut, Yup’ik, Iñupiaq, Unangax̂, Inuktitut and Kalaallit (the definitions of which sometimes overlap) and the historical groups Okvik, Punuk, Birnik and Thule. An extensive essay details the history of Western collecting of artefacts made by northern peoples.

The majority of the material dates from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries but some are much older. Pieces dating from the Okvik and Purnuk eras (100-400 AD) are small tusk carvings of figurines. Some seem to represent children in swaddling clothes. In one figurine (no. 18) the minimally decorated striations on the face and oval eyes have the countenance of West African mask carvings. The dark coloration of some pieces is due to artists using partially fossilised walrus ivory rather than fresh material. Some figures may have been dolls or for girls to dress, thereby practising skills they would use for making clothing. There is a figurine from the Thule culture, which vanished and superseded by the Inuit from 1400 onwards. The Thule did not prize art and what they left has little decoration and is unambitious – in contrast to the forceful art that previous and later eras produced.

Most of the materials used are traditional and locally sourced, including walrus skin/ivory, whale bone, driftwood, stone, reindeer hide/sinew, teeth, grass and birch bark. Metal was used sparingly – particularly in areas without trees, which provided the fuel for smelting. Sources included meteorites and other readily accessible sources. (The Copper Inuit is a small tribe who got its name from the ore deposits on Coppermine River, Nunavut. The Cape York (Innaanganeq) meteorite was an important source of iron for the local Inuit tribe before it was taken by Captain Robert Peary took it to the USA in 1897.) Colour is minimal – limited to soot/charcoal, red ochre, white clay and blue clay – often impermanent.

The decorated knife and hook handles show how the Inuit altered manufactured items from the south and embellished them with meaningful symbolism. Designs include animal forms and designs indicating geographical regions or cosmological zones. Some harpoon heads are decorated – relating to common beliefs about the interrelated nature of men and animals and their spirits. “Such decorations not only beautified utilitarian objects but also imbued them with spiritual meaning and honoured the life-giving power of animals and the ancestors.” The value of punctilious and diligent appeasement and mindfulness is stressed in a number of folk tales which instil the most effective ways of hunting and living. There is a belief that the spirit of a prey animal will be appeased if it is caught by a hunter who takes pride in his craft. The devotion of attention to a weapon head that had high likelihood of being lost in the hunt shows how seriously those ideas were taken.

Snow goggles carved from driftwood show us the ingenuity of technology of the Inuit. The ergonomically efficient goggles have narrow horizontal slits which reduce the glare of sunlight reflected from snow – which is so strong it can blind people – and (in this case) has a visor to shield from direct sunlight. Western travellers used tinted (or smoked) glass but the locals (who did not have access to glass, except through trade in later periods) got there earlier. This pair of goggles is dated c. 1850.

Simply from studying the form and function of these artefacts – ranging from art to tools – we can an insight into the priorities. Many objects functioned on multiple levels: utilitarian, symbolic, artistic, instructional, status demonstration, ritual, spiritual, entertainment and others. It is often hard to determine exactly what the relevance of each aspect of an object is and how it was seen by its makers and users. (See also my review of a book about Incan objects, Sculpture Journal.)

Objects indicating regular trade with the south include pipes, tobacco boxes and gunpowder horns. Clothing includes full outfits for a man and women, Greenland style, c. 1910 and 1949.

A number of later items seem to have been made specifically for the tourist trade. (One example is a (presumably) non-functional pipe carved from ivory.)

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[Image: Inupiaq artist, Pipe (c. 1890), walrus tusk and pigment, The Thomas G. Fowler Collection at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Photograph: Randy Dodson, copyright 2020 the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco]

Fowler was not deceived but was a collector who wanted attractive pieces, be they functional or handicrafts. Fowler recognised that whatever the intended use for the objects, they displayed genuine invention and care in their creation.

Combs, ornaments, masks and game pieces show the Inuit at leisure, giving us a glimpse of people at play and relaxing. It is a testament to the hardiness and resourcefulness of the northern peoples that they had time to create and use such items in the most inhospitable terrain on Earth. We get an understanding of the mobile, nomadic lifestyle of the creators from the features that indicate travel: clasps on baskets, carrying cases for needles and holes drilling for threading objects so that they would not be lost during travel.

From recent decades one finds fine-art sculpture which develops traditional materials and forms in ways that enter the purely aesthetic territory. There constructions are highly complex and delicate, made the museum or private art collection. The named artists are David Ruben Piqtoukun (b. 1950), Abraham Anghik Ruben (b. 1951) and Susie Silook (b. 1960), each of whom contribute statements. Others are Judas Ullulaq (1937-1999), Kay Hendrickson (1909-2002), Levi Tetpon (b. 1952) and Naulaq.

Yua: Spirit of the Arctic is an informative and enjoyable book which provides a chance to encounter civilisations of surpassing inventiveness and enduring aesthetic traditions.

 

Hillary C. Olcott, et al, Yua: Spirit of the Arctic. Highlights from the Thomas G. Fowler Collection, de Young/Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco/Delmonico/Prestel (distr. Prestel), 2020, hardback, $40/£29.99, ISBN 978 3 7913 5945 8

© 2020 Alexander Adams

To see my art and books visit www.alexanderadams.art

“Property is Speech”

“For many of us, the wake-up call about the untrustworthiness of the soft centrism espoused by the managerial elite which dominates public discourse was its response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. No sooner had leading politicians locked arms in Paris and proclaimed “Nous sommes Charlie”, than they were adding a caveat. “We unequivocally support free speech unless it undermines community cohesion.” In other words, they did not understand that the principle of free speech means supporting not just the speech with which you agree but also – in fact, especially – speech you consider erroneous or distasteful.

“I was reminded by this when a mob in my home city toppled a statue of Edward Colston MP, merchant, city benefactor and slave trader. What struck me was not the righteous fury of the mob in Bristol or the shallow posturing. What struck me was the response of putative moderates. Rather than rejecting the mob violence, they proclaimed that maybe after all it was time to show society had moved on. By granting that, society also seems to have “moved on” from the principles of violent protest being wrong, destruction of art being undesirable and wrecking of public property being a net negative.

“There is something childish or primitive about destroying symbols of ideologies that are now impotent…”

Read the rest of the article on The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/property-is-speech/

Racknitz, Architectural Taste and Orientalism

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[Image: “Modern Persian Taste” from Racknitz’s Presentation and History (1796-9), hand-coloured engraving. Photo courtesy Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.]

Part of the German Enlightenment that produced Alexander von Humboldt, was author and arts administrator Joseph Friedrich zu Racknitz (1744-1818). His a treatise Darstellung und Geschichte des Geschmacks der vorzüglichsten Völker in Beziehung auf die innere Auszierung der Zimmer und auf die Baukunst (Presentation and History of the Taste of the Leading Nations) (4 vols., 1796-9) comprises an attempt to survey decorative styles of the great civilisations of the world, past and present. Racknitz’s book is an encyclopaedic study of the decorative arts. It is a rarely cited and little known work that sheds light on the German Enlightenment and the reception of historical and non-European decoration in this era. Simon Swynfen Jervis has translated, annotated and introduced the first complete English-language edition of this obscure publication.

The aristocratic family of Racknitz was a Protestant family which fled Bavaria for Saxony. They were resident in Dresden during Joseph’s lifetime, connected to the court. Racknitz spent early years studying music, geology, mineralogy and natural history. Saxony at this time was a centre of learning, publishing and industry, at the forefront of European ceramics. His first book was Briefe über die Kunst an eine Freundinn (Letters on Art to a Female Friend) (1792). “The summary index describes Racknitz’s exceedingly conventional hierarchy of painting. But this absence of originality renders the book an invaluable compilation of ideés reçues.” In that book he ranked the qualities of French and English landscape gardening, preferring the latter but conceding the former as “more appropriate and practical”.

In the mid-1790s Racknitz advocated the founding of a design school in Dresden and an exposition of art and design in the city to encourage advancement of the arts. He was involved in the planning of decorative and architectural schemes for the court and related bodies throughout the latter half of his life. Design of his own house was a project informed by his extensive knowledge of the arts. Much of his work was obliterated by the bombing of February 1945.

For the most part, Presentation and History of the Taste of the Leading Nations was respectfully received upon publication. The illustrations were highly praised; a few reviewers took exception to aspects of Racknitz’s project. Goethe and Schiller did not think highly of it, but aside from a few mocking epigrams they did not overtly criticise Racknitz. The lack of French or English translations limited international impact of the treatise and it subsequently fell into obscurity. When it was noticed during the subsequent centuries, it was principally for the illustrations.

This book text prints an unexpurgated translation of the full text of the four volumes, including line engraving illustrations, with a section at the end reproducing large hand-coloured engravings from the deluxe volumes held by the Getty Museum. Extensive introductory essays and notes cover Racknitz, his book and the reception of his work.

Peoples or regions Racknitz selected for inclusion are Moors, Jews, Turks, Ancient Egypt, France, Etruscans, Romans, Tahiti, China, Greece, India, Germanic, English, Persia, Mexico (Aztec) and Siberia (which Racknitz conflates with Western European Russia). The quixotic inclusion of primitive interiors of Kamchatka was for the sake of breadth and novelty rather than guidance they could provide designers and architects. Descriptions of unfamiliar cultures are short and are more ethnographic or anthropological in character. Racknitz spends more time on the daily routine of an average Tahitian than on island architecture.

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[Image: “Egyptian Taste” from Racknitz’s Presentation and History (1796-9), hand-coloured engraving. Photo courtesy Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.]

Architect Christian Traugott Weinlig (1739-1799) wrote sections that required detailed architectural knowledge and terminology. The engravers were various. Jervis lists 13 different engravers, with the largest contribution to the illustrations being that by Johann Gottfried Schmidt (1764-1803). The vignette illustrations are competent line engravings which generally would generate little comment separated from the book. An exception is the beautifully modulated cave engraving by Christian Friedrich Stoelzel. The full-page end illustrations are engravings with hand colouring are much more striking. Interiors of grand courtly residences are paired with separate illustrations of furniture, tiles, patches of decoration or images of different woods. The bright colours, schematic frontal designs and inclusion of picturesque views outside the interiors remind one of video-game backgrounds from 10 or 15 years ago. Figures are rarely included in the grand views but do appear in the vignettes. One does wonder about the accuracy the scales of the scenes are. There seem more than a few cases of Piranesi-style inflation.

The description of the discovery and recovery of objects from Herculaneum is particularly good, as it draws from recent sources explaining the methods and restrictions of excavation. There is an extensive summary of the Palais du Louvre, which Racknitz considered a paradigm of good design and taste.

The amount of space given to each subject depended upon a) the amount of material available to the author and b) the author’s relative enthusiasm for the subject. The book’s organisation was not logical or clear and the relative length of the volumes was inconsistent; Jervis suggests that this was in part due to the author adapting to the delivery of completed illustrations.

Racknitz is short on citing specific buildings and presenting figures regarding numbers of buildings, the economic imperatives at work and exact measurements of ideal proportions and layouts. He quotes and names sources but his arguments are replete with vague generalities and unsourced assumptions. Today Presentation and Treatise is of interest for its historical significance rather than as a source for anyone researching decoration and taste of the subjects discussed. As such, it functions as an example of the totalising quasi-analytical aspect of the German Enlightenment as it related to the applied arts.

We find typical examples of Enlightenment Orientalism, as Racknitz assesses Oriental modes of architecture and furnishing in a manner that seeks to be discriminating and dispassionate but which also reveal Racknitz to be a man of his era. The common view was applied art and architecture exemplified the outlook of a nation’s character. Here is Racknitz on the modern Persian:

Like other Orientals, the Persians may be compared to a man born in the lap of luxury who has been told from his childhood that he has more than enough, and that it requires no effort but only the exercise of his will and a small part of his treasure to set in motion the activity of other men, to satisfy his needs and fulfil his wishes; flattered and lulled by those notions he shies from any mental exertion, and has no other desire but to dream away his life in idle luxury and sensuality, and rather vegetates than lives in a dependence, unnoticed by him, on those whose knowledge and ability are indispensable to him.

Orientals are for the most part idle and are only inspired to action by the necessity to secure their most essential needs.

In contrast the Moors are a “bold and courageous people combined in an unusual manner a lively, cheerful temperament and manly gravity.” Arabs are “courageous, frugal, tireless, and inured to bear all hardships, fearing neither hunger and thirst nor death”. Turks are a “warlike, cruel, and proud people” restrained by their religion from taking up the advanced culture that they had conquered in Byzantium. Jervis notes that the sensitive and detailed chapter on Aztec design forms an early example of European Meso-American anthropology that would flourish in later decades.

This attractive and thorough scholarly presentation makes a contribution towards our understanding of Racknitz, the German Enlightenment and the origins of academic Orientalism in the German-speaking world.

Joseph Friedrich zu Racknitz, Simon Swynfen Jervis (ed./trans.), A Rare Treatise on Interior Decoration and Architecture. Joseph Friedrich zu Racknitz’s Presentation and History of the Taste of the Leading Nations, Getty Publications, 2020, hardback, 368pp, 59 col./58 mono illus., $85, ISBN 978 1 60606624 9

© 2020 Alexander Adams

To see my books and art visit: www.alexanderadams.art

Quote on “Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism”

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“Look at the groups removing “politically objectionable” statues. Look at university-student mobs which shout down or assault public speakers. Look at student bodies which demand “safe spaces” and ban discussion as “hate speech”. This is Identarianism [identity politics] in its purest form, where it expresses the mentality and emotional tenor of even those who consider themselves moderates. Most activists do not fully understand the origins, tenets and implications of their ideology. No matter. Consider the Cultural Revolution, when commissars harnessed the anger of young idealists to instigate an orgy of righteous cultural destruction. Identarianism is not simply another way of viewing society, which can co-exist with other outlooks; it is an entity which has evolved to suppress opposition and destroy cultural expression.”

Published in The Jackdaw, 2017, reprinted in Alexander Adams Culture War: Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism (Imprint Academic, 2019)

“Towards Britain’s Year Zero”

When a mob toppled a statue of merchant and slave trader Edward Colston in central Bristol on Sunday, the scenes were reminiscent of the collapse of a tyrannical regime. The mob stamped the fallen statue with rage and delight. Yet the mob was composed of individuals who had experienced no struggle or strife, and live in one of the safest, most prosperous nations in history.

“Most of the crowd were white, middle-class university students who have never done anything to oppose actual slavery. Not one of those warriors against slavery will offer a word of criticism regarding the (internally disputed) Islamic practice of slavery, which persists in some parts of Africa to this day. Toppling a statue is a summer carnival; researching and criticising a world religion is a little less of a rush. For most people today, virtue is not embodied through persistent and difficult private acts. Rather, it is demonstrated through momentary public performance and posted on Instagram.

“Far from fighting the power, the mob was acting in accordance with guidance it has received from schools, universities and mainstream media. Bristol council and the mayor did not decry destruction of public property, but applauded it….

 

To read the full article visit Spiked: https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/06/11/towards-britains-year-zero/

“How artivism captured the ICA – and why the Arts Council is to blame”

“Journalists get a slew of press releases every day, with press departments of arts venues seeking coverage to compensate for public lockdown. One must-read staple are the ICA’s daily list of recommendations, including music, cinema, books, talks and less orthodox material. One email links to a discussion on “what autonomous, feminist healthcare could be now” (ICA Press Release 25 March 2020); another link “explores the imaginaries created by [homosexual] public sex” (ICA Press Release 11 April 2020). Other recommendations promote queer visibility, transactivism, eco-activism, anarchism, anti-capitalism, anti-racist action, migration advocacy, anti-colonialism, radical feminism and other progressive causes. Not a single item among the hundreds sent is even mildly conservative.

“Staff of a publicly-funded arts venue see nothing improper about using emails to advance political causes. Promoting anal sex and polyamory to fight Nazism is just another day’s work for the ICA’s press department. Enter the sphere of publicly-funded fine art, where directors declare themselves activists, deem the public in need of moral tutelage and are intent on transforming museums and galleries into engines of social change. It is a field populated by firebrand curators, timid administrators, ignorant ministers and millionaires with saviour complexes…”

Read the full article in The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/how-artivism-captured-the-ica-and-why-the-arts-council-is-to-blame/

(c) 2020 Alexander Adams

To see my books and art visit http://www.alexanderadams.art

“Rage against the dying of language”

“‘Dahwdezeldiin’ koht’aene kenaege’,
ukesdezt’aet.
Yaane’ koht’aene yaen’,
nekenaege’ nadahdelna.
Koht’aene kenaege’ k’os nadestaan.’

“(I am beginning to write in our language,
but it is difficult.
Only the elders speak our words,
and they are forgetting.
There are not many words anyhow.
They are scattered like clouds.)

“John Elvis Smelcer, writing in Ahtna language, Alaska.

“Today 7,000 languages are spoken. Fully half are expected to die out before the year 2100, continuing a centuries-long trend. Half of all people in the world speak 25 main languages. Every year these large linguistic groups expand at the expense of the smaller languages.

Natural disaster, legal suppression and forced migration all play their part in this process of linguistic extinction. But sometimes native speakers have advocated abandoning their language. In the late 18th century, some educated Scots suggested that speaking primarily Scots dialect deprived intelligent ambitious people from communicating with English-speaking audiences. Speaking English would allow Scots greater opportunities. Indeed, it was after English became favoured over Scots that Scottish individuals came to be disproportionately represented among Britain’s leading thinkers, scientists, engineers, writers and entrepreneurs.

“The fact that over 800 languages are still spoken in Papua New Guinea – the least colonised, least explored and most ethnically diverse region in the world today – is hardly a coincidence. There is a sadly inexorable process of absorption when an indigenous tribal culture comes into contact with a larger, more technologically advanced and more militarily powerful group. It seems that improved medical care, better literacy, efficient sanitation and centrally codified laws necessarily entail the lessening of ties to a population’s traditional heritage….”

Read the full review on Spiked website here: https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/06/01/rage-against-the-dying-of-language/

To see my art and books visit: www.alexanderadams.art

Publication: On Art II

This new collection gathers 10 poems and 1 essay by Alexander Adams related to art. On Art II covers subjects such as memory, history, imagination, travel and art including that by Bruegel, Magritte, Dutch painters and others. A short essay discusses the author’s life drawings, with images. On Art II is illustrated with 10 drawings, none previously published, and it follows the format of On Art (2018). Printed on cream paper, paperback, double-stapled spine, A5 size, 41pp, 128 copies in cream covers.

Alexander Adams, On Art II, Golconda Fine Art Books, 15 May 2020, paperback, 41pp, 10 mono illus., £8, ISBN 978-1-9999614-1-1

How to purchase: For some regions, the book is available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-II-2020-Alexander-Adams/dp/1999961412/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=on+art+alexander+adams+golconda&qid=1590960789&s=books&sr=1-4

There are plans to make it available worldwide via a distributor. This information will be posted here. Copies of On Art are also available via Amazon.

Publishers, How to Get More Book Reviews

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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.

* * *

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