Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Open Letter to Book Review Editors

Dear Book Review Editor:

As an author myself, and now as a publisher, I'm a big fan of book blogs that review books and allow authors to interact with readers.

However, authors and publishers alike know that print reviews are crucial, as well. If you work for one of the big print reviewers--at Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, national magazines or city newspapers --you already know you have a great deal of influence on what books will sell well.

In fact, a small print publisher I know, who--like all small presses--struggles to get attention for his quality offerings, told me he can count on a several-thousand-copies sales jump if one of his books manages to snag a review in one of your publications. Several thousand is often a small press's full print run for an offering.

Through tradition and quality reviewing, your publications have built reputations that readers rely on.

Time marches on, though, and now you have to confront the reality of e-books. While many book blogs have embraced digital books and review them on an equal footing with print books, many of you print reviewers are still wrestling with your e-book review policy. A quick email survey of print pubication reviewers revealed to me that most of you aren't reviewing e-books yet and many of you haven't thought about how you'll handle them if you do decide to review them.

The questions you probably face are:

  • Should we only review e-book editions of print books we previously failed to review?
  • Should we only review e-books by print-published authors, especially well-known authors?
  • Should we only review e-books offered by the e-book arms of the big print publishing companies?
  • Should we review e-books by independent, unknown authors and from e-publishers not affiliated with big print publishing houses?

I would suggest that if you answer yes to the first three questions, thus restricting your e-book reviews to well-knowns, your reviews will have limited value. Readers of e-books don't need guidance on authors they already know or have heard of, so much as they need counsel on and exposure to digital authors they don't know or haven't heard of.

Because e-publishing allows authors to go directly to reading consumers -- bypassing print publishing and bookstore "gatekeepers" -- readers confront a vast array of offerings, many of them only available digitally. Some of these books are definitely worthy of attention.

And yes, some of them are not good at all--poorly written, marginally edited, and maybe even incorrectly formatted for digital platforms.

Right now, readers of e-books rely on book blogs, recommendations from friends, email groups devoted to e-book news, and the sampling feature of e-book publishing (where readers can download free samples of books before purchasing) in order to make purchase decisions.

Your reviewers could be providing a tremendous service to these readers by joining the growing conversation.

But here's a change you'll face as you approach this new field. Currently, your reviewers can afford to be reactive. They can sit and wait for publishers to send them ARCs and press releases months before a publishing date. They choose--or you direct them to choose-- from these offerings, delivered to their very cubicle, and decide what to review, with a fairly long lead time to read the book and write the review.

However, many, many e-book authors won't know how to reach you or won't be able to grab your attention (even small publishers such as ours might find this a challenge, as well!).

And, because e-publishing is faster than print publishing, with only a few months between signing of a contract and "publication," long lead times between receipt of an e-ARC and the release of the actual e-book disappear.

Therefore, your e-book reviewers will have to be more proactive if they're going to identify worthy offerings for their readers.

And they're either going to have to be faster or rethink the "rules" about posting reviews immediately before publication of a book.

In the e-book world, after all, books won't vanish from shelves before you have a chance to review them. In other words, if an e-book comes out in March, and you don't write your review until April or May or even later, the review still matters.

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest you expand your book review coverage to include e-books when many of you are facing shrinking column inches for book reviews at all. But the e-book market is rapidly expanding. You've read the stories yourself, I'm sure. A larger and larger percentage of publishers' revenues are coming from e-book sales.

You ignore that growing market at your peril. Start the conversation now about how you'll handle e-book reviews, keeping in mind that this is a whole new world. The e-book market is different--it's faster, it's more varied, it contains fewer guideposts, and it requires nimble and proactive review policies.

Thanks for listening.

Libby Sternberg
Istoria Books
eBooks You Want to Read at Prices You Want to Pay

No comments:

Post a Comment