Monday, July 7, 2008

Is It All Bad News?

By Nancy Martin

Recent bulletins indicate that many newspapers are giving up printing book reviews. For the mystery author who desperately needs media attention to stay alive in the era of the long tail, are we supposed to give up, too?

No way. Turns out, there are a lot of publications—online and in print—that are still open to reviewing mystery novels. And they’re much better targeted to readers who are truly interested in buying or reading mysteries.

First up: The genre-specific magazines like Mystery Scene magazine. If your publisher doesn’t submit ARCs of your book to these magazines, why not? And if they don’t, what’s stopping you from sending preview copies? Such magazines are read by exactly the readers you want to reach, so mailing your book to them with an appropriately tantalizing cover letter is a no-brainer.

Last year’s Sisters in Crime review monitoring project revealed that the publication most friendly to women mystery writers is Romantic Times. This magazine devotes several pages to our genre. And after the reviews appear in the print magazine, they are soon available online for an even larger audience to access. Yes, RT a romance-oriented magazine, but they’re making a solid effort to encourage romance readers to cross the aisle to the mystery section. The only way they’re going to build their mystery fan base is through cooperation with writers, publishers, and readers. It’s in the best interest of all of us to continue supporting this growing entity. Check out the online magazine to study their community-building:

The mystery bookstores who publish their own reviews in newsletter format are your greatest friends in the biz. Stores like Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, publishes a review-laden print newsletter (sent to a mailing list in the thousands!) and their online bookstore is chock full of information to help both local and distant readers choose the books they might most want to read. If you write mystery novels, independent stores that do great word-of-mouth selling are your best champions—especially when it comes to selling your backlist. Foster working relationships with as many of these stores as you can manage.

Your own publisher probably has a website that promotes your work in ways that readers may perceive as reviews. Check out St. Martin’s Press Read It First, for one example. And if your tech-phobic publisher doesn’t have a similar site, authors should be rattling someone’s chain to get one in place ASAP.

In most cases where book reviews appear in big-name publications with hundreds of thousands of copies sold every month, it’s generally the in-house publicist who successfully manages to land such valuable placement. Sarah Strohmeyer, for example, credits her Dutton publicist for getting her summer novel SWEET LOVE into People magazine. How can you help your publicist work such magic? A solid, friendly working relationship is no doubt the first step. Your publicist is your ally, not your enemy, so treat him with the respect of a teammate. Work together to create a list of the best places to send your ARCs. Help the publicist write the cover letter by giving him enough ammunition—fun facts about the book or some kind of marketing hook. (Before my Blackbird Sisters mystery CROSS YOUR HEART AND HOPE TO DIE was published, we sent promotional packets to newspaper feature writers that included information about the history of brassieres---trust me, the tie-in was legit—which resulted in a number of feature articles in small, regional newspapers.)

What about the proliferation of online review sites? How should an author choose where to send those previous few ARCs we’re allotted in the months before our books are released?

The first consideration is eyeballs. How many hits does a review site get on a daily basis? Clearly, it’s smarter to send your ARC to a site that gets 2000 or 20,000 hits every day instead of one that only attracts 20. Many sites won’t reveal that information, but the better ones should.—It’s the best way they’ll increase their traffic! Try to do some sniffing around to learn which sites are the most heavily trafficked. Look for sites that are generous about linking elsewhere. Hooking into the larger network is a sign of cooperative traffic-building.

Some low-traffic sites, however, benefit by having a “big mouth” in charge. (And “big mouth” is a compliment, in this case!) A reviewer who trumpets her news on listserves like DorothyL or among other large groups of readers is a better use of my ARC than one who takes the book, writes a 4-sentence review and makes no effort to generate traffic to her site or build her reputation among readers.

An often overlooked place for book reviews is radio. Check out your local NPR station. Or look for programs that might best fit the kind of book you write. Or take matters into your own hands. Popular romance novelist Cathy Maxwell has her own radio show on WZEZ in Richmond. On the first and last Monday of the month, she reviews and talks books. Her partnership with the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond helps listeners read the reviews of books she talks about on the air.

Have a bigger budget? There are a number of pay-as-you-go sites like Bookreporter that—for a price---will put together good advertising. Why not contact these sites for a price quote? Asking for more information doesn’t cost you a penny, but could lead you to some real bargains.

It goes without saying that in order to be reviewed, a book must first be a great read. An author’s first consideration is to write the best book possible. But once the book is written, seeking creative ways to get it reviewed is time well spent.

But meanwhile, if you want to lend your voice to the battle over newspapers discarding their book review pages, go here:,0,2431161.story

Nancy Martin is a SinC Member At Large.


©Hotbutton Press said...

Can your local cable network handle your book trailer format? Cheap advertising there. And need I press the issue of virtual book tours? More info for the uninitiated here:

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

What a terrific resource, Nancy! Thank you so much!

I'm saving this for my must-do list.

Nancy Martin said...

Dear hotbutton----My local movie theaters take advertising, too. Now that you mention it, I'm thinking it might be the ideal place for a book trailer!

Hank, you probably have some pretty dynamite ideas yourself! Anyone care to share?

Roberta Isleib said...

wonderful blog entry today Nancy--thank you for pulling this together! I better get busy...

Nan Higginson said...

Thanks, Nancy, and thanks Lorraine for posting this. I can always depend on Lorraine for showing me the way to the best advice.

nancy martin said...

One suggestion I neglected to put into this blog post is that some libraries---especially those with many branches such as big cities or county-run libraries---have newsletters that go to patrons or "friends of the library." Check with your local librarian to learn whether or not your system has a newsletter that might include a review of your book. Or--and this is not a free option---I wonder if some libraries would welcome an author underwriting one issue? If you could include an ad in a newsletter that reached several hundred avid readers, how much would you pay?

Kate Stine said...

Thanks to Nancy for her nice comment about Mystery Scene.

We do ask, however, that only publishers submit review material. It's too confusing to receive multiple review copies of the approximately 1,200 mysteries published per year. For the same reason, we can't answer queries about whether review copies have arrived, etc.

Please go through your editor or publicist on this.

FYI, we have posted hundreds of reviews at our website. It's only a small selection of the thousands of books we've covered in print since 2002. (When Brian and I acquired the magazine.)

Michelle Gagnon said...

Great post, Nancy! Lots of good ideas.
I would caution people to doublecheck a reviewer's background before sending an ARC. I submitted a bunch via the yahoo group "reviewer's choice." Few of those people posted a review anywhere, and the ones that did were extremely unprofessional (lots of spoilers from the book, and/or promoting their own work in comparison!!!) So beware...

nancy martin said...

Kate, sorry and thanks very much for the reminder about sending ARCs through the publicist. If you are flooded with self-pubbed books from over-eager writers, you can blame me!

Michelle, I think the discussion of amateur reviewers is certainly fodder for another blog! (Can we volunteer you for that duty?) There are so many cautionary tales where those folks are concerned.

Dave Rosenthal said...

Nancy, great list of resources. But I wanted to add that as newspapers cut back on coverage, some are creating alternatives. Here at the Baltimore Sun, we started Read Street, a blog focused on local book clubs, authors, bookstores, events and related news. This week, for example, we wrote about a local union that is pressing Bouchercon attendees to boycott the convention hotel. This blog and others like it can be good resources for your members. The link:
Regards, Dave Rosenthal, Asst. Managing Editor