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When Reviewed in Trade Magazines & Shopper Guides

When getting a review by any source, from a weekly shopper to the New York Times, from a local library newsletter to the Midwest Book Review, you as a publisher need to ask yourself some clarifying questions before you can determine whether or not the review has "gone beyond the pale" of accepted standards to such an extent that you should take punitive or reprimanding action:

  1. What is the purpose of a review
  2. What is the utility for me with respect to this particular review
  3. What is the harm or damage to me with respect to this particular review
  4. What is my best course of action in response to this review

I submit that the basic purpose of a review is to sell your books. That's your purpose, by the way, not the reviewer's. So the question becomes: "Will what this reviewer did help or hinder the sale of my book?"

If the answer is that it will encourage, facilitate or enhance the sales of my book, I would let the matter slide and take maximum advantage of the opportunity offered by the review, regardless of whether or not the review used too much of direct text quotation in the manufacture of the review.

If, on the other hand, the review would discourage or disincline the reader of the review from wanting to secure a copy of my book, I would complain appropriately to the reviewer and the reviewer's boss/supervisor. Appropriateness being anything from a letter of reprimand to a letter from my attorney (depending on the degree of damage the review did me).

"Industry Standards" regarding the creation of a review permit the quotation of text as a part of the review. Usually for the purpose of acquainting the reader of the review with the author's style of writing, coherence of writing, or the ineptitude of the writer with the respect to his or her handling of the material being written about.

Usually this only requires the citation of a paragraph or two. The idea of several consecutive paragraphs, or a page, or a couple of pages is not industry standard.

What we do here at the Midwest Book Review is to quote a poem when reviewing a book of poetry; a recipe when reviewing a cookbook; a paragraph of dialogue when reviewing a novel; or the table of contents for a non-fiction work specific to some professional discipline (medicine, law, home remodeling) in order to give the reader some sense of "feeling" for the book.

And quite often, I cite passages from the accompanying publicity release for the purpose of describing the book's content (why reinvent the wheel when the need is to simply describe the content), and then add a line or two or three of my personal assessment, giving the reader the benefit of my opinion as a reviewer about how well the author treated the described content -- and whether or not the book is worthwhile for its intended or targeted readership.

Every reviewer has their own style and flavor of writing reviews. Remember that it is important to keep a record of which reviewers you as a publisher like, and which reviewers simply didn't measure up. And then pay attention to your list when laying out your publicity campaign for future titles.

With respect to the shopper guide reviewer that triggered this recent discussion, if the review were favorable (and the book was recommended) I would focus my energies on taking advantage of the reviewer to develop whatever sales I could from that shopper guide's readership; and incorporating the "praise" portion into my media kit based promotional activities in behalf of the book.

One thing I'd consider doing is writing a letter to the editor of the shopper guide thanking the reviewer for a positive review, pointing out some applicability of the book that was overlooked or not mentioned in the review -- and then never send a review copy to that particular reviewer again.

Unless I suddenly found that those shopper guide readers were going out and buying a my book left, right and center -- in which case I'd be rather forgiving of what is apparently a rather amateur reviewer who didn't know (or ignored) what "fair use" traditionally means with respect to the publishing industry standard for quoting text as part of the review process.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

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

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