Where’d My Galley Go?: Book Reviews Gone Awry

I have a confession: I know what happened to my galleys. I know what happened, because I have been on the other end of this customary transaction between book publishers and book reviewers. I have been the intern of my own recent nightmares, arriving at a desk piled to my chin with mailers full of review copies sent by publishers from across the country, all of whom are hoping that someone in my office will notice their upcoming title. They want anyone other than me to get a hold of their galley. I’ve dragged the recycling bin over, a daily morning routine, and begun the frenzied process of popping open envelopes, tossing the press releases, and sorting through every submission to find the rare few to pass along to the book review staff. I’ve been the intern slightly-more-than-glancing at a galley and placing it impassively in a donation bin like I’m not at all worried about what this might mean for me as publisher of books.
At a small publishing company like Ooligan Press, getting your books noticed can be a challenge. With a small run of galleys in our arsenals and no official access to expensive resources like Cision, our project teams rely on elbow grease and good old-fashioned research. We invest hours researching media outlets and book reviewers to help our books land in the hands of the people who are most likely to notice them. But even with the most intentional of strategies and a phenomenal book with, say, Barbara Kingsolver’s name at the top, there are no guarantees that your book will receive any reviews. You might get ten, or none. There will be a moment when you beg of the universe, “please let us get just one book review,” and it won’t seem to make sense. Maybe you’ll just get the one.
When you punch in Google searches for things like “how to get book reviews” and “small press book reviews” and the definitely-not-panicked “do book reviews matter?” much of the resulting articles and blog posts offer guidance for authors hoping to self-publish. As a small publisher, you might find yourself at a bit of a loss. There’s plenty of advice for individual self-publishing authors—most of which doesn’t apply at all, in much the same way that the publicity strategies enjoyed by large corporate publishers also don’t apply. (We’d all love to supply a superstar dedicated publicist with an endless supply of year-in-advance review copies to pull strings with, but alas.)
When your resources for review copies and galleys is limited, you grapple often with this question: How much do book reviews really matter?
On the one hand, it’s silly not to try to get them from the most traditional sources, even when it seems like the chances of your galley ending up in an intern’s donation bin seem incredibly high. The only way your book makes it into the coveted New York Review of Books, the arts and culture section of your diligent local weekly, or even into the print magazine that seemed like the perfect fit is if you take a chance with your resources and give it all you’ve got, just like everyone else.
As a small publisher, you are one of your book’s biggest strengths. Identifying a title’s strongest qualities and matching it to the literary communities that champion those qualities is your most valuable resource of all, and you can use this to leverage more publicity for your authors and your books. You must give greater consideration to every media group, every publication, and every single potential reviewer you direct your materials towards. Sometimes you have to make tough calls and arbitrary-seeming gambles, like NYT or LA Review of Books? Willamette Week or The Oregonian? We may not have the luxury of sending galleys everywhere, nor even the luxury of knowing precisely the correlation between book reviews and sales. As small publishers, we’re always thinking in a kaleidoscope of big and small scale, weighing our shifting options, and meting out what resources we have in the most innovative ways we can think of. Do book reviews matter? Maybe. But, as is often the case with small publishers and presses, there’s no single correct and true way to do the thing—even if you’re wearing your Barbara Kingsolver on your sleeve.

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