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Book Reviews
January, 2008

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How To Spot A Phony Book Reviewer
Avoid getting "taken" by unscrupulous reviewers
By  James A. Cox

Book reviewers can be categorized much like the books they are sent for review.
I've been a practicing book reviewer and a keenly interested observer of the publishing industry since the fall of 1976.

My more than 20 years as a reviewer, monthly book review newsletter editor, radio and television producer of weekly book review programs (and Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review supervising the work of 37 volunteer book reviewers across the United States and Canada) has taught me a great deal as both a creator of book reviews, an editor of the reviews of others, and the needs and problems of the independent small press publisher with respect to being reviewed.

For the publisher, the primary purpose of the book review is to extract from it publicity and promotion values which will, in turn, result in an increase of sales for the reviewed book. The principal hazard facing the publisher with respect to reviews is getting panned by an honest book reviewer or scammed by a phony book reviewer.

With respect to an unfavorable review by a legitimate reviewer, I can offer the publisher nothing but my sympathy. But with respect to getting taken by the dishonest scam artist posing as a reviewer of books, I can offer some very practical advice on how to avoid getting "taken" by alerting the publisher as to what to look for, what to ask, and how to verify.

This is important money-saving information for every tight budget, every-penny-counts, small press publisher. This is because not only is there the loss of the book (and the shipping and handling costs to send the book), but there is also the absence of the hoped-for publicity and promotion boost for the published book in a very competitive retail marketplace.

Plus, there is the lost opportunity to send that same book (and expend those same limited postage monies) to a legitimate reviewer and thereby reaping the marketplace benefits of a legitimate review set before a prospective audience of potential buyers.

Book reviewers can be categorized much the same as the books they are sent for review: there are the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

The hallmarks of any good book reviewer begin with feedback to the publisher. This is ultimately expressed with the reviewer furnishing the publisher a copy of the review. Typically this is in the form of a tear sheet from their publication or a script from their radio or television program.

This tear sheet or review script is usually accompanied by a cover letter giving any additional details such as the date of publication or the time of broadcast.

There is new phenomena in book reviewing having to do with the internet and the web. When reviews are posted on the internet, the reviewer's publisher notification letter will include the text of the review post, and indicate what web sites, newsgroups, online bookstores, or e-mail lists (Internet discussion groups) were posted to so that the publisher can verify the postings accordingly.

A bad reviewer isn't the one who pans your book with an honest (albeit negative) judgement. It's the one who solicits a review copy of a publisher's book under false pretenses -- and wants a free copy of your book with no intention of fulfilling their side of the marketplace bargain to furnish an opinion for the publisher with regard to publicity and promotional needs, or for use of the potential book buyer in determining what is recommended -- for their own reading pleasures or purposes.

In short, a bad reviewer is someone out to get something for nothing, a scam artist, a thief.

The mediocre reviewer is simply someone of good intentions but poor performance. Never underestimate the ability of a given book reviewer to be basically inept and a failure at the trade and craft of reviewing, just as there are those well-intentioned authors who couldn't write their way out of a paper bag, or those well-meaning publishers who can't seem to proof a text, or design a saleable cover, or balance a publishing budget.

Tune in to next month's IN for a list of "tips, tricks and techniques" for daily use by independent, small press publishers in spotting a "bad reviewer," or at the very least, the "mediocre reviewer."IN Icon

James A. Cox is Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review. a site which hosts monthly book review e-zines for public use, as well as articles of advice, tips, tricks, and techniques for writers, publishers, publicists, reviewers, and book lovers.

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