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Getting Reviews For Self-Published Books

Many (probably most... but I know for a fact it is many) major metropolitan newspaper book editors, and book reviewers (but not necessarily columnists or feature editors--take note) have a firm policy of not reviewing a self-published book. Period. End of story. Exceptions are very, very few.

Book editors have less inches than ever before for reviewing books. They know the reading public wants to read reviews from the big authors and then most of them try very hard to be nice to local small presses and local authors who are published by big, medium and small presses. Usually book editors will not review a book that is not published in hardback. If it comes out as a trade paperback and not a hardback it is a huge strike against the chances of the book getting reviewed (but not absolutely impossible).

Now Book Editors like discovering new authors of literary merit in particular. They care much less about genre fiction whether it be mystery, science-fiction, etc. Often papers will have columnists that will capsule review genre fiction (like mysteries for instance) and the limited inches they get to do capsule reviews in, means they have also for the most part followed the lead of the book editor and will not review self-published books, or even first-time author genre books unless they are local.

Non-fiction books seem a little easier to get reviews from... but that's not really the case and the self-published rule applies to all books.

However, you don't have to come right out at tell them it is a self-published book and if you have been reviewed in Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal etc.. and the book looks as if it was published by a quality small press, then omitting that detail will give you a chance of getting a review.

If a book editor contacts you and asks you point blank if it is a self-published book, then you must decide if you want to lie and risk pissing off the book editor or worse... they might actually get in a little bit of hot water if they have a policy on publishing reviews of self-published books and it's a policy that the legal department has looked at and determined is an acceptable policy and practice.

How important is the review in that case? It is still much better to try and get a feature editor, or columnist or reporter to do a story on either you, or your subject matter and plug the book. It will reach a much wider number of people who rarely read book reviews but will read feature articles.

It is very unrealistic and naive to suggest that a self-published book of merit will miraculously get reviewed by a book editor who has a policy of not reviewing self-published books. Sure it could happen... it could also happen I win the lottery even though I buy two or three tickets per year.

By the way under the stringent moralistic view posted earlier... an author who writes using anything but his or her own name, an artist, actor, musician etc that uses anything but their own names are lying and 'cheating'.

If an author decides to write under their own name, but decides to sell using a fictitious one (contact editors or bookstore people) there is no difference between that and a person who writes with a fictitious name and sells with his or her real name.

My own book was originally bought by a small press who paid a tiny advance, but when we learned they were going under, we quickly created our own company and the idea was to publish it under the umbrella of the existing company. If they didn't go under, they paid 2 percent more royalties to us then they otherwise would have, but we had to incur several thousands of dollars worth of expenses.

The company did go bankrupt and we own our little publishing company and our book title. We would have lost our book at least for a while and perhaps some copies of the book would have been remaindered before they were even sold and marketed and as authors we would not have seen a dime from it.

Our book then is self-published... but it was originally accepted by a small press.

I don't tell book editors or book store people the book is self-published. If I am asked directly, I tell them it's a little more complicated than that and the short version of the story is that we own most of the company that publishes the book (We do not own 100 percent of the company ourselves and so that would make us less than 100 self-published---a great justification).

Bookstore folks aren't that concerned as long as they can return it and there's plenty of money on the table for them to make a buck or two. Since it is distributed through people like Ingram and Partners and Brodart and others that's not an issue.

Without a doubt, 100 percent honest is NOT always the best business policy. Honesty remains the best moral and ethical policy though. A compromise regarding being 100 percent honest may be justified and the right thing to do from a business stand-point but don't kid yourself into believing that absolutely everyone makes these compromises to be successful-- there are a few who don't.

Do make sure you are 100 percent legal though.

Christopher J. Jarmick
Co-author of THE GLASS COCOON (with Serena F. Holder)

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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