Friday, February 24, 2012

Why Will Your Book Get Reviewed?

There can be a bit of mystery behind the book review process but the truth is it’s really fairly straight forward.  When it comes to getting your book reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, you need to observe basic rules, including:

Sending an advance review copy (not a finished book) 14-16 weeks prior to publication data. If you don’t observe that time frame you might as well throw your galley in the garbage.

Send it to the right person at the publication, namely the book reviewer.  If there’s more than one reviewer at the publication, find the one who reviews books in the genre you write in.

Send the galley (not loose manuscript pages) with a short cover letter and any relevant background material so they can quickly assess interest in reviewing your book.

Send the galley to the right publications, including major daily newspapers, trade magazines that do reviews, such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, consumer magazines whose readership could match that of your book (i.e. diet or beauty books goes to women’s and health magazines but a business book should go to business magazines), and special journals or niche publications. Don’t just take a general list of publications or reviewers and send to all of them without using discretion.

As an added touch you can include a catchy giveaway if it’s relevant to your book. For instance, how about sending a candy bar or cookies with a dessert cookbook or toy car for a book about car buying.

Don’t expect a publication to review your book just because you’re paying to advertise with them.  On the other hand, it can’t hurt to use some leverage when talking to the advertising department.

Just because a book gets reviewed, doesn’t mean it’ll be a favorable review.

Understand that review-page space has declined in recent years so a publication may only review books based on newsworthiness, celebrity of the author, best-seller anticipation, localness or genre specifity or something unique about your book. Otherwise realize the reviewers literally get hundreds if not thousands of galleys every single day and the competition is fierce.

Just because a book is well-written, timely, interesting, and written by a respected author means nothing. Other factors include:  who published it, competitive titles on the subject, and the preferences and proclivities of the reviewer.

Sometimes things get lost in the shuffle and overwhelmed reviewers may simply ignore the pile of submissions and just rely on an intern or assistant to recommend a book for them to review.

Most books get few or no reviews in major print publications. More review opportunities have moved online where space is unlimited and there are many more outlets.  Having a pretty good book is a starting point to pursue reviews but no guarantee.  But the really good or interesting or newsy books eventually find their readership even if it means taking a slower, grassroots approach to build up buzz.

Interview With Award-winning Novelist Darlene Hartman

1. Darlene, what is life like as an award-winning novelist and screenwriter? Actually, Brian, my work is what has won the awards.  My life is very ordinary.  I'm a mother, grandmother and great-grand.  Married to the world's best kisser for going on 57 years, come April.  Not the sort of thing people want to hear, but factual, nevertheless.  I spend much of my time, if not most of it, at my computer.  I’ve got two novels, a synopsis for a third, a non-fiction book, two films and three blogs I’m working on.  I have a morbid fear of being bored to death. 

2. How did you get started as a writer? I was always a voracious reader.  My parents read to me even as a baby.  I learned all the nursery rhymes my mother could find—well, all the American and British ones—and loved committing them to memory.  I even committed whole conversations to memory, to my parent's consternation.

By the age of six, I was reading and writing well and memorizing long poems (my favorite two were “The Day is Done” and “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” both by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)

I wanted to call him Henry W. Longfellow, but my mother insisted on the whole name.  When I protested that Daddy wasn’t called “Joseph PAUL Artell,” she retorted calmly that Daddy wasn’t a poet, and how about that next line, honey?  So there you are.

I think when your parents are avid readers of everything that comes down the pike, and your childhood is one of much travel, lots of sickbeds, and almost solely adult company—I was an only child until the age of eight—you turn to books and films for entertainment. 

My mother was a film buff, and we went to the movies five nights a week.  The programs were changed twice a week, so we saw the same films over and over, and then came home and “dissected” them to see how the story came together.  Nice basis for my screenwriting, believe me!

My parents gave me a set of Children’s Classics for my sixth birthday, which was straight-from-the-shoulder, not the watered-down stuff kids often get today, and I gobbled them up. One particular story, "My Fight with a Catamount," was one of my favorite stories.  I used always to beg my Mother to read it when I was ill, which was pretty often.

In it, the hunter tracks the big cat through the bitter winter of a Canadian forest, and it attacks just as the snow bank beneath hunter and cat collapses and they plunge into a rocky ravine.  The hunter’s gun hand lies frozen against the rock that shattered it, and the cat’s back is broken.  They stare at each other for a while; then the cat—savage and pain-crazed--starts pulling itself toward the helpless hunter with its forefeet.  Great, great story.

3. What is your latest or newest book about? It’s the story of three people: a dirt-poor migrant farm worker married to a swine who thinks he’s Elvis; her handicapped and unwanted unborn son, a baby who’s the last thing she needs, just now; and the doctor who saves the baby from a hysterotomy abortion and thereby blows everything he thought his life was about—his marriage, his job on staff at a major hospital, everything.  He comes up empty.  It’s his low moment.

Of course, there’s lots more.

It’s really the story of the choices people make, why they make them, and how they have to live with it all.

As I tell my children and grandchildren: do the action and the result is inevitable.

4. Why did you write it? I think writing is like any other art.  It’s organic, if it’s any good at all.  It grows out of what’s inside the writer. 

Writing has to “follow the golden thread” like Theseu's escaping the labyrinth by following Ariadne’s golden thread.  We are surrounded, these days, by labyrinths.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the way out.  Writers can offer solutions, and not everyone is going to like the solutions any particular writer offers.  Some will, some won’t, so what?

I am frankly and unabashedly pro-Life.  I put my own life on the line for my eight pregnancies, got six beautiful, mentally-gifted great children out of it all, and then we adopted fourteen more children from various places in the world (Mother Teresa gave us four of them!)  Most of them wouldn’t have lived to be born in the US.  But they have all grown up to be fine people, productive and interesting, living their own lives and contributing to their communities.  Our son who was born without arms supported himself for years doing data entry—with his feet.  Our double-amputee son set a long-jump record at his high school, and on and on.  The human spirit is unconquerable, if we don’t stomp it flat before the poor child gets out of the crib! 

So my stuff, my
 golden thread is about the unconquerability of the human spirit--and about honor.  It’s always what I'm writing about, even if it’s inside a green-skinned alien medical officer.  After all, what does “human” truly mean?  Earthling?---or ensouled?

Fun stuff to ponder!!
5. Where is the book publishing industry heading? Gosh,  I haven’t got the faintest idea.  I’m happy about POD and Kindle, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to answer intelligently about that.  I’m not a book publisher, after all.  I’m a storyteller.   I tell stories. I once spoke at the Orange County (California) Science-Fiction Club, and there were all these brilliant young people, throwing quick, PhD-level questions at me, who am only a storyteller.  I wanted to say, “I tell stories, guys.  Don’t you understand?  I’ve never been an alien, never piloted a spacecraft, never done surgery on anyoneI tell stories.”  But instead, I just kept saying, “I don’t know.  I don’t know.”  They were very disappointed, and so was I.  It was the one and only time I’ve shot an appearance like that, and I never want to mess up so badly again.  Next time, I’ll explain first who I really am.

6. You’re a member of the Fiction writers Guild. Why is it important to be a part of such a group? Well, we you know, Brian, writing is a lonely business.  You aren’t effectually here, you’re in your own inScape, drawing from all your bits of memories and shreds of dialogue, idioms from various eras of Time Past and imaginations from Time to Come, and it can be a bit singular, to say the least.

Belonging to a writing group, or groups, is important to me because I can understand other writers’ frustrations and problems, and they can understand where I’m coming from.  It’s in the nature of a fraternity of sorts (and oh, please, let us not have a hassle about “sorority as well”; the name of our race is “Man,” like it or not, and so, “fraternity.”)

I try to help new young writers as much as I can, online in the groups I belong to, through my telephone seminars, and with my Simon Lang Basic Writers’ Course, “Think Like a Writer.”  And they help me.  I have a friend in Australia who provides me no end of support in getting my information out there in proper order.  It’s the kind give-and-take that most of us need.

I am against personally-present writing groups (for me); I belonged to a screenwriting group within the last few years, and the offering from one of the members were so horrific it was unbearable.  Subject matter, not talent, or lack thereof.  Lack of craft can be fixed; a sick mind takes expertise I lack.  So I stick to online groups.  They’ve worked very well for me.  I’ve only had two nasty retorts from one person in all the time I’ve belonged to any group.  Pretty good average, I’d say.

1.     Any advice for a struggling writer? Funny you should ask, as they say:

1.)        Ideas don’t belong to anyone.
It’s true.  No one can copyright an idea, they belong to everyone.  But because they do, you can take one and make your own story of it, and believe me, that you can copyright!  But ideas are a dime a dozen.

2.)        Get yourself a good dictionary and a Roget’s Thesaurus. 
Use them.  Compare the synonyms and write them down.  Actually write them.  Define each and see the slight differences in the definitions.  Make your writing more precise, more lucid by using them properly.  Look smart.

3.)        Read poetry.
Not the new stuff, which is fine, but the older poets, the classics.  You’ll learn more, faster.  Yeats and Keats and, yes, lighter stuff like Frost and Longfellow and Lord Thomas B. Macaulay and any other good, at-least-a-century-old poet.  Because they have lasted, they endured.  They will teach you something you cannot get elsewhere.  Apply the use of motifs, themes, and recurring lines in your stories.  It works.

4.)        Read novels. 
Orson Scott Card’s Ender Wiggin Series; the “Mossflower” books by Brian Jacques; Agatha Christie; C.S. Lewis, everything you can get your hands on; G. K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien if you can wade through his convolutions (it’s worth it), Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, even the novels of Lloyd C. Douglas, which get laughed at because of their dated and overtly-religious bent, but his use of the language is masterful, graceful and instructive; Edna Ferber, Dorothy Canfield, Shirley Jackson, Zenna Henderson.  Read children’s books, selected Young Adult novels.  They’re enormously informative, and they teach simplicity.  The list is endless.  You cannot write well unless you read well, and much!

5.)        Choose a Character
It doesn’t matter who it is, just as long as it’s not a living person, or someone who has lived.  It’s best to start with your protagonist, or hero. 

Write a backstory about him.  That’s everything that ever happened to him before the story starts.  It’s the “set-up,” even though only you know about it all.  It will make your character rounded and realistic, much more believable.  Don’t—and I mean DON’T—use everything you’ve written.  The back-story is the nine-tenths of the iceberg that holds up the visible one-tenth in your story.  But without that support, your story will sink majestically beneath the cold and unforgiving sea.  Trust me on that one.

Write, in his back-story, everything you can think of: who were his ancestors, his parents, what is his ethnicity, his planet of origin, his appearance; whom does he look like?  From which ancestor comes his build, his skin and eye color, his stance?  Where did he go to school, who were his teachers and how well or badly did he do, and why?  What is his profession?  Is he good at it?  How good?  What does he think of women?  Meat, objects, minions, respected equals, “goddesses?”  Why?  Always, always ask “why?”  Then answer the question. 

Build your character on those questions and any/all others you can come up with.

Give him quirks or little unconscious habits, like the way she swings a foot when she’s bored, or tosses her head; or the way he keeps glancing out of the window into the alley, or wiping his chin with a handkerchief when he’s stressed.  Study body language.  Learn.  Apply it to your writing.  Everything decent is fair game.

6.)  Be Willing to Do the Work.
So many young writers seem to want to just slap it down, punctuation and grammar mistakes and all, boring conversations between talking heads, stories that never end…

Don’t do that.

It looks really bad, and no one will take you seriously, especially the people who pay writers to write.  Even your readers will be tossing your stuff overboard.

Do the work.  Read magazines you’re not interested in and absorb the way the sentences are structured.  The way longer and shorter sentences are used.  Take a really good look at a good film in the genre you want to write for.  Watch how the scenes are longer in the laid-back parts of the film and grow shorter with tighter and tighter “cuts” as the action builds.  Use that in your short story or novel.  Try writing a couple of pages, building toward an imaginary crisis.  Ramp it up with the adjectives you use.  Be careful that you do not change the basic meaning of the piece.  Now rewrite

Remember, everything is related.  Everything counts.  Write it all. 

As the old saw goes, “Put the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair!” and start writing, and don’t stop until you’ve created a living, breathing human being.  It’s that simple, and that difficult.

And there’s no joy like it! 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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