Monday, March 8, 2010


By Hallie Ephron

Thanks, Sisters in Crime (and Ellen) for asking me put in my oar and share a reviewer’s viewpoint.

Each month, advance reviewers copies (ARCs) and final copies of anywhere from forty and sixty crime novels pass through my office. I have the great luxury of deciding which books to review in my monthly On Crime column in the Boston Globe. (My columns over the last year or two are on my web site, - click on REVIEWS/COLUMNS.)

Here are answers to some of the questions writers often ask.

Opened book How much lead time do you need to consider a book for review?

Lead times for newspaper reviews are short, so as a long as I receive a book at least the month before its pub date, I can consider it. If I get it months before its pub date, I set it carefully aside with other books published the same month. If I receive a book after its pub date, I won’t look at it.

Does the press release that comes with the book influence you?

Most books come with a 1-page press release tucked in. I refer to it to find the book’s pub date and something about the author. For instance, I might be influenced to read a book that is a debut novel, or if trade reviews (reviews in Kirkus, PW, Library Journal often come out months earlier) are particularly favorable, or if the author has some interesting background, or if an author is local. I rarely read the synopsis.

I notice if a book arrives without a press release--that looks unprofessional. But I’m not impressed by fancy folders or glossy color copies of previous reviews. They go right into the recycle bin.

BS ARC What about the cover?

Covers matter, but it’s fine if an ARC comes with a plain cover. I notice if a cover doesn’t look professional. It’s easy to spot an amateurly-published book.

What about the author photo?

I try not to notice but I do. Photos that look like someone’s spouse took it in the backyard make the writer look as if he or she is not taking the career seriously.

What about blurbs?

I might notice a blurb from an author who I know is very picky about giving out blurbs. But as a writer I know most blurbs are from friends so I don’t take them too seriously.

What about the publisher?

I review books from large and small presses. My one criteria for considering a publisher’s books is whether bookstores can obtain and return copies (at a standard discount) through standard distribution channels like Ingram or Baker & Taylor. I don’t consider books that are only sold to libraries or only available directly from the publisher or only available in electronic media. I don’t review self-published books or books from vanity presses.

Do you consider paperbacks?

Yes, as long as the paperback is the original printing.

What keeps me reading?
-- surprise me
-- take me places I’ve never been, or show me familiar places in a new way
-- create a world that makes sense
-- make me laugh
-- don’t CONFUSE me with sliding viewpoints or unattributed dialogue or too many characters introduced too quickly with similar-sounding names and blah personalities
-- don’t gross me out before you’ve earned my trust

More questions? Pile on! I’m happy to answer...
Hallie Ephron is the award-winning crime fiction book reviewer for the 'Boston Globe' where her 'On Crime' column appears the fourth Sunday of each month. Hallie is also the author of 'Never Tell a Lie' which is a finalist for the 2010 Mary Higgins Clark Award, 'Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'Em Dead with Style' which was an Edgar Award finalist, and 'The Bibliophile's Devotional' and '1001 Books for Every Mood.' She teaches writing at conferences across the country. Hallie also blogs with the Jungle Red Writers. Visit her web site.


Deb Baker said...

Hi Hallie, since publishers are cutting back on the number of ARCs they send, do you consider a review if the copy comes directly from the authors?

Hallie Ephron said...

Hi, Deb --

Absolutely - I've always been happy to get a book from an author. Anyone who wants to send me an ARC just has to email me (my web site has an email link) and I'll tell you where to send it. Or just email me and I can tell you if I typically get ARCs from our publisher. Make sure the cover tells me the pub date.

Julie Kramer said...

I particularly liked your line about not grossing you out before we've earned your trust.I think readers appreciate viewers who watch out for them in that regard.

Hallie Ephron said...

Thanks, Julie - hey, reviewers are just readers with their own idiosyncrasies. I'm one who finds it hard to read past violence (to a child, woman, man, pet...) lovingly rendered in the voice of the villain. Fortunately I'm not the only reviewer out there!

Marcia Talley said...

Hallie, this is GREAT information. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

I'm curious. Would you say that more ARCs are coming directly from authors rather than publishers these days?

If an author creates his/her own ARCs, what's the best way to do that?

Hallie Ephron said...

Hi, Marcia --

Most of what I get is from publishers. Maybe 5% from authors...if that.

On authors creating their own ARCs... I have no idea how to create your own ARC. It would be better to send me the earliest copy of the book itself. Usually authors get copies a few weeks before the pub date. Send that right away. That would be better than a home printed manuscript.

Christine Husom said...

Hallie, Great information. One question I have is the reason for reviewing a book only before its release. Thank you!

Hallie Ephron said...

Hi, Christine --

Good question. I didn't mean to imply that I review books before they're published. Never never never. I want to publish reviews of books with official pub date within the prior 4-6 weeks of the column - and I need lead time to read an write and submit the review.