My new book from Two Sylvias Press, PR for Poets, is a guide for beginning to mid-career poets to learn how to build an audience and promote their books. Think of it as a guide to getting read.
People have asked me many times while doing talks on the subject, “How do I get my book reviewed?”
The book review process can seem mysterious – but as a poetry book reviewer myself for the last fifteen years, hopefully I can take some of the mystery out of the process.
I usually talk first about building a poetry community way before your book comes out. That means things like, joining or starting a writing group, going to other people’s book launches (and trying to learn from them), and…writing some book reviews yourself. It makes sense that you would start contributing to the literary world when you’re starting to even think about having your own book come out. If you don’t feel like putting in the work, well, how can you expect other writers to do so?
If you’re worried about your book reviewing skills, every book reviewer has had to start somewhere, even the reviewers at The New York Times Review of Books and Poetry Magazine. I started out reviewing for NewPages.com, a venue friendly to new reviewers. I recommend that you read lots of literary magazines and online review outlets to see what kind of book reviews you like and what you aspire to, style-wise. I like The Rumpus, Rain Taxi, and many of the literary magazines that run reviews. I noticed that there was a formula you can follow in many of the big review outlets. Then, send out some queries to literary magazines that take book reviews. Sometimes you even get paid!
When the Book Comes Out
So, you’ve written a handful of book reviews yourself, you have built a solid poetry community for yourself, whether online or in real life. And now your book is about to come out. What now?
The first thing to do, if your publisher doesn’t do it, is to build a review kit. This includes a review copy of the book, whether your publisher provided you hard copies or just a PDF of your book, plus a “one sheet” or “sell sheet” which includes your headshot and bio, a few blurbs, all info about your book such as ISBN, price, and publisher, and a little paragraph summarizing your book. Including visuals like your book cover and your author photo is a good way to get attention. This is also great to have on hand to hand out to bookstores when you stop by and ask if they might be interested in stocking your book.
If you’ve built some good karma by reviewing books, it never hurts to reach out to a few contacts and ask if they might be interested in reviewing your book. You probably won’t get a ton of review copies from your publisher (most poetry publishers might be up to provide ten to twenty) so ask for a PDF version of your book (called an e-version or e-copy) you can send out. You might send your book postcards to interested reviewers and put a note – “Let me know if I can send you a review copy!” and your e-mail address.
Another good resource? Literary magazines that have published work that’s in the book may be interested in reviewing it. This has happened for me a few times. So, write a note to the review editor (if there is one) or the managing editor and see if they are interested.
I don’t recommend blindly sending out your scarce author copies – always ask first, because lit mags (and reviewers) get overwhelmed with book copies and often know they won’t be able to review even a fifth of what they receive. Don’t feel bad – this is because so many books come out each quarter, and a literary reviewer has a fixed about of space in a column or time to write reviews (which takes away, usually, from their own creative writing).
If you’re really into social media, you can always put out a call on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or Instagram and see if you can find people who might be interested in giving you a review in exchange for an e-copy of the book, even just on Amazon or Goodreads. Any goodwill you’ve built with other writers and reviewers will benefit you now!
Paid Services for Reviews
It might feel distasteful, but there are several paid services that can help you get reviews for your book. Are they worth the money? Really, only you can decide, but I’ve given a short analysis below.
There’s a service called NetGalley where you or your publisher can post an electronic copy of your book and any interested reviewers can download it for free. However, the service is expensive and the reviewers usually aren’t poetry-focused, so it’s hit and miss for us poetry-types.
Kirkus Reviews also allows you to purchase a review, but there’s no guarantee that the review will be positive, and again, it’s expensive.
You might also consider doing a virtual book blog tour. Sometimes you pay for this service, in which different blogs might host you and your book for an interview or a guest post, but it often results in some surprisingly thoughtful reviews that you didn’t expect. Sometimes people with book blogs will reach out to you outside of a book blog tour. Take advantage of this.
For most poetry books, the timeline to get your reviews might seem awfully slow. I notice reviews can roll in for about 12 months after publication, usually, because the cycles of literary magazines are often quarterly or even bi-yearly. Don’t stress out if you don’t have twenty reviews within the first six months – that is normal for poetry books.
But, if you want to get a jump on reviews, send out your advance PDF and sell sheets as soon as you can before publication. Some review publications (like Publishers Weekly) can require a six-month lead time!
Your Publisher is Your Partner
Also, don’t forget to talk to your publishers about places they’ve places reviews, or connections they might have to review outlets or reviewers. They are your partners! They may have resources you don’t know about, or might be so encouraged by an author who wants to help that they will give you great ideas.
I hope this has been helpful to people who wonder about the process of getting their book reviewed. For more in-depth information about promoting your poetry book, please check out my book, PR for Poets!
Links to order the book from Two Sylvias and Amazon:
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. Her newest guide to helping poets with promoting their books, PR for Poets, just came out with Two Sylvias Press. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review and Prairie Schooner. Her web site is www.webbish6.com. Twitter handle: @webbish6.