Get Pre-Publication Book Reviews

book-reviewsI hear it all the time: “Self-publishers and small press never, ever get reviewed in the big review publications! They only review the big New York City publishers.”

I’m here to tell you, that’s simply untrue. Almost every one of the books we’ve published and represented over the last 6 years have received at least one review from “the Big 5″ (Publisher’s Weekly, School/Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, ForeWord) pre-publication reviewers. There’s a simple answer on how this can be accomplished:

Be excellent.

The longer answer:

1. Write (or contract with an author who has written) a good book. For non-fiction, you need to cover a new, unexploited niche (be the first to cover a topic) or add something really new to an already well-defined area. You need to be an expert (that does not preclude making yourself an expert (self-taught)).

If it’s fiction, write a damn good story.

2. Have the book professionally edited (Few people are inclined to learn the skills to self-edit).

3. The book must have a professional-looking interior. That means that it is NOT formatted in Word (Few people acquire the level of expertise to typeset in a program that was never designed to do this function in the first place). Also, it should not have a business letter format (block paragraphs with spaces in between (unless it is a computer manual or instructional book) – or worse, block paragraphs with first word indented). Buy the software and learn the skills, or hire a professional to typeset the book.

4. Get a great cover design. You might be able to do this yourself if you have a professional graphics background (but you’d better study BOOK graphics before you let fly), or hire a professional. Few ARCs are going to the pre-pub reviewers with a blank cover these days (yes, you CAN do this. The cover needs to have the info below, and you must send a printed cover image (why you might as well do a full color cover)). The difference between a finished book and an ARC is that the front cover has in large letters: “Advance Review Copy” and sometimes “Not for Sale.” On the back cover is:

  • A great summary
  • A brief bio of the author if it is a non-fiction & the author is an expert. Otherwise, skip this.
  • Endorsements (blurbs) from someone relevant in the field (not your high school teacher)
  • ISBN
  • Price
  • Subject/BISAC (ie: “History: U.S. Military/Space Race”; “Paranormal Romance”)
  • Publisher Distributor (or wholesaler) information
  • Publication date
  • Book website
  • A quick summary of marketing

It should not have a bar code.

(It is not the end of the world if you omit some of this info. Our first PW review, I forgot to put “Advance Review Copy” on the cover. But we got a great review anyhoo.)

5. The book must be available nationwide (have national distribution via a distributor or wholesalers (Baker & Taylor and/or Ingram)). These are national publications. They aren’t interested in a book that is only available from your website or Amazon (they are a bit behind in the times). For those who do the LSI/Ingram distribution plan, you qualify.

6. Write a cover letter telling the person sorting through the submissions (each of the Big 5 get about 1500 submissions a DAY) why the book should be reviewed (if it is the only book on a topic, or area of a subject, say so). I always include a one-sheet with cover image, the info on the back of the ARC, author bio & picture. I am aware this will probably not reach the ultimate reviewer, but old habits die hard.

7. Send the ARC, cover letter and one-sheet *4-5 months* before publication (long-lead magazines need this amount of time. This is so of PW to Cosmo to GQ). The book cannot be for sale on your website, Amazon or anywhere the reviewer can check (this does NOT mean you can’t have it on Amazon or your website as a pre-order item).

This whole kabuki dance can be skipped if bookstores and libraries are not your market.

When a self-pubbed or small press book gets reviewed in PW or any of the others, it’s not just a coup for that person/company – all self-publishers and small press win. We’ve been looked down on for a lot of years. A review by these folks is validation that self-/small publishers produce books as good or better than the big publishers. Conversely, every time a clip-art covered, badly written & edited piece of dreck goes to the big reviewers, our stock goes down.

Go forth, succeed and be excellent!

Jacqueline Church Simonds
Beagle Bay, Inc., Books That Enlighten and Inform
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