Sending out ARCs (advanced review copies) of your new novel to reviewers takes an investment in research, promotional writing, time, and money. Promoting my book is important, as it should be with any author, well-known or starting out. And while social-media promotions — Twitter, FB, GoodReads, blogging and the like — are the new flavor in book ad/marketing, these venues reach thousands whereas mainstream newspapers and magazines reach millions.
At least, that’s what they do for the selected books/authors. But a funny thing happened to me on the way to the forum …
While awaiting notice from my publisher, Siren & Muse, of incoming tear sheets sent by journalists to publishers of a forthcoming review publication, I noticed something on the websites and in the print editions of these review outlets: there is a pattern of who and what gets reviewed.
I compiled a list of the publishers and the authors who were reviewed in the two months leading up to the release of my own novel, “What Beauty” and the three weeks since its release. What I found was that 95% of the reviewed authors were published by the big NY houses, including W.W. Norton, Knopf, Random House, FSG, Penguin, Picador, and Doubleday, to name a few. And the authors’ names were on that same percentage of high-profile, or powerhouse, or at least higher-than-mid-list names who have several books behind them and lots of publishing clout. The other names, and the 5% of non-major publishers, were featured as local authors who’d published a novel with a local angle/tie-in (Seattle, Houston, Cleveland).
And me? This is my second novel, and I publish with a small-press out of Chicago whom I actively assist in promotional writing, ad work, and industry research. My work with them is as much about being my own best marketing manager as much as helping Siren & Muse Publishing get their name out to readers and establish a reputation for publishing quality books. You see, I’m not the only writer in their “stable.” I wish they had the budget to do more for their writers, but I’m doing lots for myself, too.
As I mentioned, 45 copies went out to newspapers and magazines from East coast to West coast, Minneapolis to Miami, and numerous points in between. We did the right things: an advanced press release, a well-written galley letter, good and timely follow-up work. I never expected all 45 reviewers to read and review my book, much less embrace it as “a modern classic.” But I hoped for something auspicious and perhaps 5 reviews. “That would be a good number!” I told myself. My excitement, as you might imagine, was like something worked into my skin, a heat, a tan, a hot-tub soak in melted chocolate.
This excitement turned to confusion, and then disappointment. No one reviewed my novel. Not one of the 45 newspapers and magazines gave it the time it deserved. What’s more, Siren & Muse promotional manager, Bert Wells, told me he hadn’t received any responses from the three separate letters sent to each of the reviewers (the first press release, the galley letter insert to the ARC, and the follow-up press release during “release week”). Hmm.
Was my book that bad?
Of course not. My book isn’t “bad” at all. It’s a good novel, a story told with flair, wit, passion, and compassion for its characters. A story about love, about art, about urban life and the struggle for acceptance and recognition in the modern world. Essentially, a book that is familiar to us all but unique, timely, and relative — something readers would want to read.
All good promotional copy, right? I think so; and if the reviewers had opened the book — which I’m not sure they did — I would have got one or two reviews. Right? Well, maybe WRONG is the answer. Of course, if I had sent out 10 copies to the best, most highly rated and, thus, highly competitive review outlets (NYT, NYRB, USA Today, and Washington Post Book World) then I would not, and could not, be surprised that my novel was passed up for the likes of reviewing Richard Ford’s new novel, or Toni Morrison’s, or even “Fifty Shades of Grey.” [Oi!]
Getting no reviews from 45 ARCs leads me to believe something far different. Not something nefarious, but systematic — and symptomatic — nonetheless: small presses are pushed aside by the big-money advertisers in the body of NY Houses; and if you don’t have a name (or the houses haven’t given you your name), reviewers are shy to touch you.
The result is this: Life Goes On. I’m disappointed, but not defeated. And I’m about to start writing my next novel, for which I’ve been writing scenes and “Notes & Dialogue & Characters” for nearly six months. This is what we writers do. Likewise, I can take comfort in this: Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow sold just 1,506 copies of his first novel, “Dangling Man” and 2,257 copies of his second novel, “The Victim.”
We all start somewhere, and must rise by our own merits. It’s time to write another book … and do more promo work for “What Beauty.”
Keep on writing!
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.