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Get Your Book Reviewed

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By Kelly Milner Halls
Congratulations! You wrote and published a book. Now you can outline the sequel, right? 
Now it's time to get your book some ink.
iUniverse author Robin Westmiller has found it difficult to collect traditional print reviews for her book, Red Wine for Breakfast, which has sold hundreds of copies. "Mainstream editors are not reviewing iUniverse books," she says. 
What, then, has propelled Westmiller's book toward successful sales? Smart use of other publicity arenas. "It's received seven excellent reviews, including two five-star reviews, and is getting excellent coverage in cyberspace," she says. "Almost all of the reviews were from romance reviewers." 
Westmiller has also been quick to take advantage of book festival and conference speaking engagements and talk radio interviews. "Print on demand (POD) is big news," she says. "And I'm willing to talk about it." CEO and author of Trash Proof News Releases, Paul J. Krupin agrees the Internet holds great promise. But he's not willing to concede when it comes to traditional publishing. "Ninety-five percent of my clients are self-published authors or small-press publishers who POD," he says. "[Getting ink] really depends on the release you send. Editors are content-based decision-makers. All they care about is news and whether it sells subscriptions or keeps people listening or watching." 
Krupin's philosophy: give the editors a reason to write about your book, and they will give you the publicity you desire. But reviews, according to Krupin, are not a writer's best print option.
"Reviews don't sell books," Krupin says. "Feature articles do. So you don't aim for book reviews, you aim for features—full-blown, in-depth, revealing, highly personal feature articles, with color pictures. These types of articles capture people's attention and make them remember you. These articles sell books."
To get a feature article, Krupin offers these four directives:
  • Write a great book that is a really great book. Don't expect anything less than professional to generate any professional interest.
  • Know who your customers are and ask yourself what they read, what they watch, and what they listen to so you can identify the categories of media and create the right custom-targeted media lists.
  • Write a news release that's designed to catch your audience's attention, teach them something, and make sure they understand what it is and why it's more important than anything else they have before them.
  • Tell me a story, give me a local news angle, touch my heart (make me laugh or cry), hit me in my pocketbook, or make my stomach turn over. Do this as many times as possible in a one-page news release in 30 seconds or less, and you will succeed in getting publicity.
  • Finally, follow up, follow up, follow up, and follow up some more. Start calling. Keep calling. Calling five to ten people a day is a must, or do what you can. Learn what media want by asking them to tell you what they want, and get that information to them. If you learn what the media want and give the media what they want, they'll give you what you want—free publicity. Don't expect it to come to you; go out and make it happen. Act—Do it. Do it. Do it some more. And don't ever stop doing it.
Internet editor Dana Schwartz of backs up Krupin. "The first thing you need to do is write a press release," she says. "Next, think carefully about your book's audience—who do you intend to read your book? Do research at bookstores, newsstands, and on the Web to see where your book would be best placed." 
According to Schwartz, Bacon's Reference, an extensive guide to magazines and newspapers (available at larger libraries and directly from Bacon via 1-800-621-0561) can "help you decide what publications to send your books to since they are organized by type and location." 
For traditional book reviews, most magazines and newspapers require lengthy lead-time. "Meaning they usually need your book about three to four months in advance," Schwartz says. "Weekly magazines and newspapers have shorter lead times of three to four weeks. Online sites vary, but often have very short and flexible lead times. Online sites are usually the least rigid, since they can put up almost unlimited content and change it easily and quickly." 
Schwartz agrees with Westmiller on her assessment of online reviews. "Internet sites are a wonderful place for first-time or lesser-known authors because there is so much more room online. Web sites can review more books than the average magazine or newspaper. So browse the Web aggressively and send your press release to as many sites as possible via e-mail." 
Follow-up is important, Schwartz says, but walk softly. "Be gracious, polite, and persistent, but don't hound the reviewer. Call to make sure the reviewer received the book and ask how and when future contacts should be made." 
Horn Book Publications Editor-in-Chief Roger Sutton agrees. "In the happy rush of completing a book and having it published, writers can forget that theirs is just one of thousands of books delivered [to reviewers] each year." 
Be patient, Sutton says. And remember, "Reviewers don't write negative reviews to make authors feel bad. At the same time, we don't write starred reviews to make authors happy. Ideally, the author doesn't come into it at all, and each book is allowed to stand or fall on its own merit." 
A reviewer's obligation is to the book reader. A feature editor's first priority is timely, distinctive news. Your goal—give both everything they need to heartily welcome your book into the newsprint fold. Because once your book is seen, sales will soon follow. 
Kelly Milner Halls is a full-time freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her articles and book reviews regularly appear in Booklist, Book Links, BookPage, Book Magazine,, the Denver Post, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Chicago Tribune, Writer's Digest, and dozens of other publications.