Writer's Bloc
My SFWA Bulletin Column

Reviewing Book Reviewing

from The SFWA Bulletin #168, Winter 2006


Book Reviewing – the Few, the Proud, the Lucky

    Your book got reviewed? Congratulations. Whether it extolled your writing as the next Dickens or told you to go there, you made it through a gantlet almost as tough as getting published in the first place.

    Stephanie Giancola talked to editors at several major reviewing publications for her "Book Reviewing" article in the January 2006 RWR. The numbers are staggering. PW receives 60-100 books, galleys or manuscripts every day. Their mass market section can only review 10-20% of the books they get. "And that doesn't include e-pubs and self-published books," said Brianna Yamashita, a former editor of that section. Those are never even considered.

    Newspapers have far less space and are forced to cull as much as 99% of the masses of books that arrive in mass quantities, "three shipments per day," according to Jeff Guinn, the books editor of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Only a dozen or so get chosen for their weekly books page. The Boston Globe is a better place to seek out; it publishes a full 25 reviews a week out of 200 books received.

    Guinn and an assistant go through all the books, selecting his dozen out of a preliminary ballot of 70. Jim Concannon, Globe books editor, uses a similar culling process for his page. "I thumb through all the titles, looking for prominent authors, interesting subjects, solid publishing houses and the like." Not that the books that see print this second round get more than a mere mention. "We went from 35 column inches down to 15 in the last five years," Guinn said.

    The Web is more forgiving of column inches, and BookReview.com has 10,000 reviews archived, yielding a million page views a day. The site uses more than 100 reviewers, who choose which titles to review. They overlap in their reading, and Zanne Marie Gray, who owns the web side, said, "To increase their chances of getting reviewed, authors should sent more than one copy so that more than one reviewer will take a look at the book."

    As with other venues mentioned in previous columns, BookReview.com now allows authors to purchase a guaranteed "Express Review." Guaranteed to be published, that is, not guaranteed to be favorable. They've had so many poor "Express Reviews" that authors now have to sign a release first.

    Yamashita remembered the aftermath of one particular bad review in PW. An author "sent a letter to everyone at Publisher's Weekly with the offer of $5,000 for the name of the reviewer of his book. Everybody ignored it. We figured the guy was psycho."

    He was an writer, Brianna. What did you expect?

Book Scan, Revisted

    Neilsen's BookScan collects weekly information on the sales of 300,000 titles, and then sells it to publishers and other qualified customers for large amounts of money. Individuals cannot get full access to the BookSpan numbers, but it's been suggested (and argued for and against) that SFWA as an organization pay for a membership that individuals could piggyback onto.

    The Mystery Writers of America have the same debate going. Board members Robin Burcell and Reed Farrel Coleman do a pro and con in the October 2006 TTD. First, what do you get for your money?

      For a yearly fee ($55 the first year, and $57.50 the next), the list of the top 100 books selling in your genre (in our case, only mysteries) during that week is available to you — a slice of an information pie that supposedly represents about 75% of the retail market. (Not every store reports to them, and there is certainly some dispute as to just how accurate this percentage is, but most agree it hovers around 65% of the market.)

    Is knowing just the top 100 books in a genre worthwhile? Burcell says yes:

      If I were trying to decide where to go next in my career, I might want to know just what is selling. If cozies are consistently making the top 100, then I might want to switch from vampires to cats. If serial killers consistently make the top 50, then I might want to consider changing from cozies to serial killers. If suspense thrillers are in the top ten, then move over sweet Aunt Sadie, because I’m switching from cozies to spine-tingling suspense….

      I’m not saying that BookScan numbers are better than a royalty statement, but they will tell you what is selling during that week, not six months later when you are trying to decipher your numbers and you are coming up on contract negotiations.

    Coleman, however, says no, or least, buyer beware:

      [W]hat BookScan is offering MWA is much less than meets the eye. BookScan jealously guards its information. Information, I might add, that is terribly flawed because its numbers don’t reflect many of the bookstores we in the mystery community depend on to handsell our product. You get a very skewed sample from BookScan….

      As a closet libertarian, I believe people have an unalienable right to throw away their money. So, if you choose to do this, be very aware of what you are getting for your money, but be even more aware of what you are not getting.

    A sample BookScan chart shows that minimal information is given, even for those top 100 titles. For any individual title, BookScan proffers its rank among the top 100, Current Week's Sales, Last Week's Sales, and Year-to-Date Sales.

They Don't All Come from Poughkeepsie

    The cover of the Fall 2005 Authors Guild Bulletin features a cutely-tentacled, one-eyed alien family, finned rocket ship in background, Buck Rogersish raygun hoisted, pausing in defense or destruction to read their tow-headed tyke a bedtime story. Didn't Mel Hunter do a hundred of these for F&SF back in the day? Ah, the pleasures and problems of always being 30 years ahead of the rest of the world.

    George Lucas was the unseen presence behind the story of the novelization of Revenge of the Sith. If you don't believe that, take it up with novelizer Matthew Stover, quoted in Campbell Geeslin "Along Publishers Row" column. The "gun for hire" reported that his advance was under $100,000 [and whose isn't?] and that his cut of the royalties was "small." He took the job to attract readers to his other novels. It may work for him, but it can't be universal because PW reported that a staggering 1700 Star Wars titles are in print, amassing 70,000,000 in sales. If all those readers crossed over, what a radically different genre we'd have.

    Kazuo Ishiguro's new clone novel, Never Let Me Go, came about as a result of snappy comeback to a stupid question. When someone asked the inevitable "What are you working on?" Ishiguro didn't mention his real work, a novel about a 1950's American torch singer, but stuck his tongue far into his cheek and said he was working on a novel about clones. "The next time I sat down at my desk," Ishiguro later said, "I thought, 'That is a quite interesting story; for a few days I'll see if I can develop it.' In two or three months I had the whole thing."

Beyond the Box Short Story Markets

    G. Miki Hayden reported on several unusual markets in the January 2006 TTD, two of which held f&sf interest.

    Indy Men’s Magazine publishes one story per issue and tries for a range of genres, but limits manuscripts to 3,500 words. The publication buys first rights and pays in line with a 50,000-per-issue readership. Contact info: Lou Harry, Editor-in-chief, Indy Men's Magazine, 8500 Keystone Crossing, Suite 100, Indianapolis, IN 46240. www.indymensmagazine.com. lou@indymensmagazine.com

    Mitzi Szereto, will edit Sleeping With the Gods: An Erotic Odyssey, an anthology to be published by Thunder's Mouth Press/Avalon Publishing Group. “Essentially I want stories with an erotic/sex edge, not straight-up erotica,” Szereto said. “As long as there's some basis in myth, I’m open to genre." A $100 flat fee will be paid for stories of 1,500 to 9,000 words. Some myths have already been taken so query her via e-mail before writing. She will consider non-Greco-Roman myths. No e-mail submissions. Her deadline is 3/1/06. Original material only; no reprints. Contact info: Mitzi Szereto, Editor, Sleeping With the Gods, worddabbler@yahoo.com.

Paranormal Romance Market Update

    The annual RWA Comprehensive Market Update in the January 2006 RWR lists a number of publishers eager for work in the fast-growing paranormal end of the romance market.

    At Avon Books, senior editor Erika Tsang has a fascination for vampires, werewolves, and witches. Email query first with one-page description. Only completed 100,000 word manuscripts accepted after query. Contact info: Avon Books, 10 E. 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. avonromance@harpercollins.com.

    Dorchester Publishing is looking for time travel and futuristic romances from 90,000-100,000 words. Their young adult Smooch line wants present-day paranormals only, of 45,000 words. Guidelines at www.dorchesterpub.com. Accepts hardcopy unsolicited and unagented manuscripts, partials, and synopses. Contact info: Dorchester Publishing, 200 Madison Avenue, Suite 200, New York, NY 10016. Phone: 212-725-8811. Fax: 212-532-1054.

    The Aphrodisia line at Kensington is for sexually explicit erotic romance, including paranormal and futuristic. Novels 80,000 words; novellas 20,000-30,000. Also at Kensington, editorial assistant Sally Hernandez is looking for paranormal Latina romance in both novels and novellas. Send cover letter and three sample chapters if previously published; full manuscript if not. Unsolicited material acceptable for Aphrodisia only. Guidenlines at www.kensingtonbooks.com. Contact info: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 850 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022. Phone: 212-407-1500

    Medallion Press wants far-flung locales and not-often-written-about time periods. They'll accept futuristic or science fiction books and paranormal themes other than vampires. Guidelines at: www.medallionpress.com. Send a hardcopy packet of query letter, chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and first three chapters. No email queries. Unagented material accepted. Contact info: Medallion Press, Acquisition Editor W. Burbank, 27825 N. Forest Garden Rd., Wauconda, IL 60084.

    Pocket Books is looking for exciting new voices! Associate editor Selena James is the paranormal contact. Send a query letter, first three chapters, and an SASE in hardcopy. No disks. No unagented submissions. Contact info: Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Fax: 212-632-8084.

    At Tor/Forge, editor Anne Genoese want 80,000-130,000 word novels that contain themes of science fiction, fantastical, near-future, time travel, or mystery/suspense or witch, vampire, psychic, or ghoul/ghost/goblin characters. Works with greater eroticism will also be considered, along with non-traditional romances (i.e. multi-ethnic, religiously diverse, non-traditional gender/sexual orientation, etc.) Each novel should include at least two main plot elements: one, the romance and the conflict inherent in that; two, another significant conflict. The romance elements should make up no more than half the entire story.

    Guidelines can be found at: www.tor.com/paranormalroamnce/about/submissions.html. Other contact info: Tom Doherty Associates, L.L.C., 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Phone: 212-388-0100. Fax: 212-388-0191.

Tuckerizing Goes Bigtime

    [The late] Wilson "Bob" Tucker's practice of slipping the names of fellow fans and authors into his works became so well know in fandom that it gained the epithet "Tuckerizing." SF authors to this day continue to auction off the privilege of having their names included in a novel, with the proceeds going to any of a number of charities.

    Think of how much money could be made if Stephen King were to pull this stunt. Or Nora Roberts. Or Lemony Snicket. At Neil Gaiman's suggestion, they and fifteen other writers, many with genre roots - Dorothy Allison, Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers, Karen Joy Fowler, Andrew Sean Greer, John Grisham, Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, ZZ Packer, Chuck Palahniuk, Peter Straub, Amy Tan, Ayelet Waldman, Brad Meltzer and Chris Offutt – put Tuckerizations up on eBay with all profits going to the First Amendment Project (FAP).

    The November 2005 RWR cited FAP executive director David Greene, saying that "the money raised will go to support the organization's pro bono work representing clients being sued over free speech, free press, and freedom of expression. About $90,000 was raised by the auction, $25,000 for name-placement in King's next novel alone.


Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

Mystery Writers of America, The 3rd Degree, 17 E 47th St, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, www.mysterywriters.org/

Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 16000 Stuebner Airline Dr., Suite 140, Spring, TX 77379, www.rwanational.org

Copyright 2006 by Steve Carper

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