Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The New Zoo Review

Let's talk about reviews.

The four main reviewing publications are Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. There are also hundreds of newspapers and magazines, and thousands of websites, that review books. Some reviewers are professional (paid.) Some are semi-professional (not paid but they appear in respectable publications.) Some are simply readers without any writing experience who share their thoughts on Amazon.com or elsewhere.

If you're a writer, you want to be reviewed in as many places as possible. A good review in a respectable publication will lead to three important things: in-house enthusiasm, bookseller and library orders, and sales to fans.

Consider Marcus Sakey, whose novel The Blade Itself recently received a starred review in PW which said, "A brilliant debut and a must-read, filled with unbearable tension." Will that help him sell some books? Of course it will. Do you think that made his publisher happy? Of course it did. It also made Marcus happy, and for three days afterward he was forced to tether himself to a chair to keep from floating away.

Any review is better than no review at all. Whiskey Sour received some good reviews: "The best debut of the year so far." - Chicago Sun Times, and "A fine debut thriller." - Kirkus.

But it also received some less than glowing reviews: "This ill-conceived cross between Carl Hiaasen and Thomas Harris should appeal to less-descriminating suspense fans." - PW.

Bloody Mary also got reamed by PW: "Konrath's predictable sequel is no more original than its predecessor."

Oddly enough, PW's review of Rusty Nail began: "Konrath's third outing to feature Chicago police lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, like its predecessors, Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary, offers violent thrills peppered with hilarious one-liners."

Even bad reviews can sell books. It's better to be talked about in negative terms than not talked about at all. A review has your name and book title on it. If a person sees your name and title enough, it will stick in their head. You want to stick in their head.

Some writers claim they don't read their reviews, and perhaps they are telling the truth. I read all of my reviews. But I don't listen to any of my reviews. I don't take them to heart. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and all opinions are valid. I'd much rather have someone read me and hate me than never try me at all.

How does one get reviewed? It isn't easy. Reveiwers are bombarded with books. If your book is a lead title, you're a brand author, or there's a lot of buzz about it, you're likelier to be reviewed. Your publisher (or you) sends advanced reading copies to reviewers at least three months ahead of your street date, and you cross your fingers.

I didn't get as many reviews for Rusty Nail than I did for my previous books. This is something I'm going to work on changing for Dirty Martini. My plan is to send out the books myself, signed copies with personalized letters. David Ellis did this with In the Company of Liars, and tripled the number of reviews he normally received.

The hitman anthology I edited, These Guns for Hire, hits the streets today. It just received a glowing review in Booklist, which said: "Readers who aren’t keen on stories about paid assassins probably will pass on this collection, but that’s their loss. For everyone else, it’s a guaranteed hit." Library Journal also commented: "The many pleasures of pulp are here in abundance, befitting on several levels the anthology's subject."

I was happy. My publisher was happy. Hopefully it will help us sell a few.

Amazon.com has allowed reader comments for many years now. But just recently, they have allowed people to comment on comments. If you don't agree with a user review, you can post a rebuttle connected to their review.

I've gotten my share of negative reviews on Amazon, and when I saw that I was now able to reply to some of my critics, I considered it. But what would be the point? Would starting a flame war with some reader on Amazon help me sell books, or make me look like a petty egotist?

So I haven't replied to any comments. I do, however, encourage everyone who has read my books to leave comments on Amazon. We should all do that. I've reviewed several dozen books on Amazon, because it's a simple and effective way to support my peers.

And speaking of supporting your peers, while you're on Amazon pick up my latest Amazon Short collection, A Six Pack of Crime. It's six mystery thriller stories (over 15k words) for only 49 cents. There's a Jack Daniels story, and a Phineas Troutt story (which I consider the best thing I've ever written) and four more crime tales, some funny, some nail-biting.

All the cool kids are doing it. Get yours today.

And after you've read it, feel free to review it. Who knows? You may be hitting me up for a blurb one day...


Anonymous said...

I think a good review in the right place will move a hell of a lot more than 50 copies.

Joe, has a review ever taught you anything about your own work?

I occasionally will read a review that makes a point that I think the author would benefit from paying attention to. But I suspect that they seldom do.

Stacey Cochran said...

The idea of sending out your own copies for review is very interesting. At one point a couple years ago, I put together a mailing list of college newspapers. I maybe had like a couple hundred. I didn't know what I was doing then.

Hearing you say this about sending out a personalized letter with an ARC, though, makes me reconsider the idea. Maybe instead of a mailing list of college newspapers, a list of pro papers from all around the country might be a better way to go. Particularly mid-sized papers with circulations in the 100,000-500,000 range. You're much more likely to get reviewed, I'd think, in the Raleigh News & Observer, say, than the LA Times or NYT.

Anybody have thoughts on that strategery?

Marcus Sakey said...

Three days? Are you kidding? I'm still wearing ankle irons to keep me off the ceiling.

Thanks for the shout-out, Joe! Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

My publisher sent ARCs for reviews for my first book out only two months before publication: Can you say "Kiss of Death?" It's only me beating the bushes, following your lead with a library campaign (albeit on a much smaller scale) and standing for hours at any bookstore that will have me that has sold books. At my own expence, I paid for 30 ARCs (all I could afford) and offered them as contest prizes and sent them to online review sites, librarians and bookstore owners. I'm still fearful that my publisher won't buy my sequel...and all because they didn't send the ARCs out in a timely fashion.

Next time I'm not leaving it to chance. I'm hiring a publicist to mail ARCs to the major reviewers.

Jana Oliver said...

I've always sent out my own review copies with personalized letters since I'm small press. I've had better success writing a pitch email to the person in charge of reviews. If I got a positive response, they got a book. It cut down on dumped books and wasted postage and the reviewer was looking forward to the ARC.

My review rate when through the roof this time. I didn't bother with major papers as my review rate with them was zip. I went after magazines and websites, specifically targeting across the genres (SF&F, mystery, romance and historical) as my book is a 'mutt'.

The result was 15 reviews, all very complimentary, some of which took pdf ARCs instead of printed ARCs. 5 reviews are still in the works.

I kept a detailed list of those reviewers who specifically asked to see the next book in the series so I can write them a personalized note the next time.

Jude Hardin said...

Hey Joe. Just bought your new collection on Amazon, read the first story "On The Rocks." Very nice! Looking forward to reading the other five.

Spy Scribbler said...

Ohmigod! How did I miss that? I've been looking forward to that. How is it already October, anyway? And I was just at Borders today!

Be still my heart, but where are all these short stories coming from? They're everywhere! I think I've died and gone to heaven.

Stacey Cochran said...

Thanks, Jana. Yeah, I guess the thing I need to learn is where to "prospect"; that is, identifying who is likely to write an effective review.

Your idea of emailing reviewers first to see who nibbles seems smart. Where did you get your list of reviewers from?

Anonymous said...

That's why I've had a hard time finding reviews to add to the Squidoo Lens - LOL

It is up and running though,and has a nice selection of information: links to Amazon and other online retailers, pictures, a Google map for future appearances, reviews and a bio. I even made a coffee mug with Rusty Nail cover on it! It is at:

Hope you like it! Thanks for giving me permission to use you as the example! I'll keep updating and adding information.

Anonymous said...

For self-published authors, I would generally say it's not worth the expense to mail out copies to reviewers or newspapers. Nearly all of them will not review the books or even read them. They'll probably just go in the garbage.

(The only possible exception to this is local media.)

I also think it's a mistake to target small to medium-sized newspapers. Most of them don't cover books. (Again, there is a slight exception for local media.)

The only outlets that review a significant number of books are the larger newspapers. But the problem with sending books to the book editors at major papers is that they get probably a thousand books for every one they review.

I think the best shot at success is to target the reviewers who specialize in your type of book. Every author should know who those people are -- if not, they need to educate themselves.

It's still a crap shoot, but at least the odds are a little better.

PJ Parrish said...

A couple points to add to what Joe said:

There's no real way to calculate how effective reviews can be. Except in a couple strategic places: Starred reviews in PW or Library Journal can have impact because librarians and indies use them as gauges when they buy. Also, a starred review puts you in the running for PW's coveted Best Books of the Year list.

As for sending out your own review copies, as a former newspaper editor, can I make a few suggestions?:

1. Do your homework and make sure you send it to the right person. Each newspaper (depending on size of staff) is different and an ARC sent to a "book editor" who only reviews literary stuff might be wasted while one sent to the "feature editor" of a small paper might find its mark.

How do you find out who to send it to? At your public library, ask for a copy of Editor and Publishers Yearbook. It lists every newspaper in the U.S., the editors of each section, inc. book editors if they have one. With addresses and phone numbers. It is updated every year. (I buy a copy every couple years. www.editorandpublisher.com/yearbook.) I sometimes even call the paper to ask if they take ARCS before I bother, because they might have a free-lancer who specializes in mysteries. (as does the Tampa Tribune, Lansing MI State Journal, Orlando Sentinel and others.) Newspapers are increasingly using freelancers as budgets are slashed.

2. Start local and fan out from there. You have a better chance hitting on your hometown paper because you are a local author. Once you get a few reviews, it starts getting easier because you can include snippets in future pleas for coverage.

3. Don't stop with the book editor. With my first romance novel, which was set in the NY ballet world, I knew I wasn't going to get reviewed. So I sent a book and personal letter to every dance critic listed in the E&P Yearbook. I got reviewed in Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News and many others -- by the dance critics.

4. Try to get a feature story. Book editors are facing shrinking space or being eliminated in most papers today. Try to sell yourself as a feature story to the "Lifestyle" editor, or go even more specialized if your book merits it, ie baseball columnist, food editor. But package your inquiry with a great angle, maybe even with a good photo ready (for smaller papers).

5. Remember that newspapers have big lead times. As someone here wrote, if you get it out too late, you are wasting your money. With magazines, the lead time is huge. So if you're trying to get into Mystery Scene, Crimespree or one of the crime fan mags, find out their lead times.

5. Keep good records. Set up a spreadsheet and keep notes so you don't reinvent the wheel each book. Don't forget to add internet reviewers. I also keep notes on bookstores on mine so I remember who was helpful to me on signings and tours. I know it's work. Who said it wasn't going to be?

Going back to lurking now....

Jim said...

Joe: Good post, as usual. Speaking of reviews, here's a frustrating situation. Library Journal just reviewed Shadow Laws but I'm not a member and hence can't login to get it. If you're a member, maybe you can e-mail it to me at hansenlawfirm@aol.com so I can find out if they trashed it or what. Best, Jim.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I had to laugh at the latest review from PW. They did something similar with me, after apparently giving me the review from hell on my first hardcover, with the second hardcover review, they referenced the first book in somewhat glowing terms as they compared the two. Left me shaking my head. I've heard that bad reviews will get more people to pick up the book, as readers don't always trust reviewers. Who knows? In this biz, we all need thick skin.

Jim said...

For self-published authors, I would generally say it's not worth the expense to mail out copies to reviewers or newspapers. Nearly all of them will not review the books or even read them. They'll probably just go in the garbage.

David: I have to disagree with this. There are lots of highly qualified reviewers associated with fine review organizations who are more than willing to review books on their merits. Shadow Laws, for example, was recently reviewed (very positively) by Library Journal, one of the big four according to Joe. While I was happy to receive that review, I was just as happy to get reviews from the fine folks at Crimespree, Midwest Book Review, Crime Scene Scotland and many others. The moral is that authors should always submit their books for review, because you never know who might decide to give it a look. It is amazing how many booksellers and book reviewers are willing to review titles by small presses and undiscovered authors.

Unknown said...


Good stuff - as usual...

PJ : excellent!

Tess: just finished BODY DOUBLE ... Does WOW, WOW, WOW constitute an erudite review?

David: I have to agree with Jim. I self-published my first novel, The CIRCLE of SODOM (I'd never do it again - read 'My Story' : http://pmullan.com/MyStory.htm and you'll get the backstory on it) and I managed to get superb reviews ( see Amazon : http://www.amazon.com/Circle-Sodom-Gripping-New-Thriller/dp/1403302154/ref=ed_oe_h/102-7698245-8636906?ie=UTF8 ) It continues to sell...

So, I started by self-publishing as a last resort with the simple intent of getting my work out there and subjecting it to the opinions of some critical reviewers ( and Susan : you can see that I went directly to some great - but unforgiving - Amazon reviewers like Tucker Anderson)

So - now I'm published by a number of small presses here in Ireland and the UK and in the US too.

And - I have an agent beating me over the head to finish TRIBUNAL which she wants to submit to the majors ..

So - up the ladder, one step at a time - and good reviews (and some bad ones too - but hardly any) keep my name out there ..

Again - great stuff on this tutorial of yours Joe!



Anonymous said...

Hey Pat, good to see you on here! I had a grand time chatting with you at TFest.

I'm not saying that self-published books can't get reviews. But I am saying that they will very rarely get any newspaper reviews. Occasionally, a smaller paper will make an exception for a local author. Generally speaking, however, many newspapers have policies against even considering them.

I think self-published authors would be better off focusing on online reviews, speciality magazines, non-traditional outlets, etc. They have a much better shot there.

Christine said...

Heh, Uncle Jim (MacDonald) says that any author who comments on their Amazon reviews will get a personal visit from him so he can mock you in the flesh.

LOL, so if you really just wanted to meet him... but make sure you have dinner ready when he gets there.

Allison Brennan said...

It's very difficult to get reviewed when you come out in PBO. PJ has great advice about getting a feature story. When Sacramento Magazine ran a feature story about me (mom of five writes crime fiction), I called over to my bookselling pals and found out that at BN they had sold 7 copies of my books in three days--huge, considering the books had been out for over six months. If you sell 7 copies a week during your release month, that's good.

I read all my reviews, but other than one so-so review in PW which didn't give me any practical advice, most of the reviews were on amazon and don't give constructive criticism. One or two points were well taken, but some people don't like the tone (dark) or the romance (I write romantic suspense) or the violence (I write dark romantic suspense) and those are things that are part of my voice. Can't please all the people all the time.

Anonymous said...

What I recommend to PBO authors -- since, as Allison points out, it can be tough to get reviews -- is that you consider printing up your own ARCs if the publisher isn't doing any for you. Then contact the reviewers directly and see if they'd be willing to consider the book in that format. I've reviewed a couple of books that way.

Of course, if you're lucky, your publisher will do ARCs, even for a PBO. (I know they did for Allison's books. The first couple, at least.) It's still a long shot to get reviews, but at least you've got a chance that way.

Allison Brennan said...

Ballantine did ARCs for THE PREY and sent galleys for the other two books in the triloy. They're doing ARCS for SPEAK NO EVIL and galleys for the next two--their inhouse policy is for the consecutive releases, they do the nice printed ARCS (these are the ones with covers and bound like a book) for the first book in the trilogy.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm getting the impression that when you get into this publishing game you're basically painting a target on your chest.

Can't wait for people to start shooting.

Anonymous said...

Rob -- The target with your name on it just landed on my doorstep this past week.

Looking forward to it! :)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Happy reading, David. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't even read reviews any more. Too many books which seemed to come from the stagnant mind of a comatose author have had glowing reviews describing them as "electrifying" or "thrilling."

Jana Oliver said...

RE: reviewer list. A buddy of mine shared his. But since he writes mostly fantasies, I had to tailor it to meet my multi-genre tomes. I read other folks' reviews, making note of their sources and prowl the Internet for websites that have decent traffic and reviewers who can actually write a readable review.

And Tess is so right re: bad reviews. I rec'd a disaster of a review 5 yrs ago on my first book. Being a newbie, it devastated me. Booksales quadrupled. Now I chuckle about that review because the book they savaged went on to win an award. It's all very relative.

Amy said...

Librarians purchase titles mainly from the 4 journals Joe mentioned for adult materials, but folks writing for children and teens have entirely different publications. He also mentioned websites: www.bookreporter.com gets over 150,000 hits monthly - I tell everyone writing to send them a copy of their adult title.
While I get a ton of books sent to me all the time - I review for 3-4 places right now, I do end up reviewing some of them. For example, someone wrote a book about growing up Italian in Chicago and figured (correctly) with my name that it might interest me. I loved that book.
I also like getting teen mysteries to review, as they are so rare.

AddledWriter said...

Great blog! I'm glad I found it to read at 4 a.m. while taking a break from working on my latest novel...

I agree that generally with reviews, there is no such thing as bad publicity (unless you're Kaavya Viswanathan maybe).

AddledWriter said...

Oh, I used to watch the New Zoo Review too. Nice reference. ;)

Anonymous said...

Starred reviews in PW are gold! Most librarians I know automatically order the starred reviews.