As the publishing industry changes, and as technology allows for anyone to publish inexpensively, the number of books issued each year continues to grow. The self-published and vanity-published ones are mostly destined to sell fewer than 100 copies each because no one knows about them, but even authors from the major houses feel the pressure to get to get and keep their sales up or risk not having future books accepted. That means publicity.
Publicity can encompass all kinds of things: book signings; book tours (virtual or, less commonly, real); postings on their own blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, or on forums; links, articles in magazines, newspapers, and online publications; and book reviews.
Places that publish book reviews also span a wide variety of types and styles. There are trade publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus. These get the attention of those who can make a book such as librarians and booksellers. For general readership, the big venues are the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and similar. Sadly, most of these have cut back on their coverage because of insufficient advertising, but they still are the dream of most authors. With the exception of the NYT, several online sites that incorporate reviews are nearly as powerful: Slate, Bookslut, the Huffington Post. There are the lesser known but also high-quality sites and blogs—BiblioBuffet among them—that are exclusively book review sites or that review books as part of their offerings. What they all have in common is a well-designed product, fine writing, a passion for good books, and writing designed for readers seeking opinions on good books. In other words, they are the Parmigiano-Reggiano of the book world.
Over in the other corner are the Cheez Whiz of book review websites and blogs. Like vanity publishers, these are easily discernible by their pandering to authors, the inevitable bells and twinkles of amateur web design, and often poor writing. Not all of them do this, but it is not unusual for them to charge authors, not to get a book reviewed but to get it reviewed expeditiously. It’s still money, though, and it’s coming out of the author’s pocket.
Fact: Legitimate book review sites cater to readers. Excellent, legitimate book review sites cater to readers with high-quality writing, factual statements, honest opinions, insightful commentary. In other words, they know who their audience is and they care about that audience.
I dislike these “vanity review sites” as much as I do vanity publishers. The fuels upon which both feed are, in too many cases, naïveté and desperation. So next week I plan to do a compare-and-contrast analysis of two very different online review sites to highlight what one should look for and avoid regardless of whether one is an author or a reader.