In an effort to find out why books get reviewed (and why they don't), I convened a meeting of the Critics Cabal, that super-secret organization of book reviewers that actually controls the publishing world. Cabal members in attendance included myself, Carol Memmott, Oline Cogdill, Sarah Weinman, Tod Goldberg, Hallie Ephron, Dick Lochte and Clea Simon.
I posed to them a two-part question: Why do books get reviewed? Why don't books get reviewed? Here are some of the responses to the first question. (The second question will be dealt with in a separate post.)
- It's a great book. Critics are always looking for interesting, exciting, original, excellent books to write about.
- The author is notable, well-regarded, an award-winner, trying something new (see Benjamin Black), doesn't publish very often (see Richard Price), has interesting credits, etc. Basically, there's something about the author that calls out, "We need to review this book."
- Something about the book is new/different/unusual. Could be the characters, the setting, the basic outline of the plot, the topic (especially true for non-fiction).
- It's the "buzz book" du jour. Some books get reviewed because everyone is talking about them, reviewing them, etc.
- It's by a debut author. (Nearly everyone responded that they're always on the lookout for great books by new authors.)
- It's by a local author. Chicago authors are more likely to get reviewed in the Chicago papers, New England authors in the Boston papers, etc. This also applies somewhat to authors who will be appearing in the area.
- It received really favorable pre-publication reviews (PW, Kirkus or Booklist).
- It was recommended by a trusted publicist, editor, author or critic. Critics are influenced by word-of-mouth just like everyone else. (One person specifically mentioned the books that Stephen King recommends.)
- It has significant publisher support, advertising, etc.
- And finally..."Sometimes, I just like the cover." (Yes, this really does matter. Unfortunately, many galleys don't actually have covers on them, just plain paper wraps.)
To sum up, the reasons why books get reviewed fall mostly into three broad categories:
- The quality of the book
- Who the author is
- Pre-publication buzz
Only one of those is something that authors really have control over. So what's the best advice I can give you on how to get reviewed? Write a great book. Next up: Why books don't get reviewed.