Wasting time with review copies

22 June 2009

Time for a Monday-morning grump.

One of the joys and curses of working at a small press is you get to do just about anything. At the moment, one of the several things I’m doing is vetting the lists of journals to be invited to review various books recently (or soon to be) published by NIAS Press. This isn’t a joy.

I mean, what is the purpose of sending review copies to journals? I would have thought this was to get the book reviewed, and in so doing to inform/promote it to a wider readership, one not reached by the publisher’s direct-marketing efforts. So far, so good.

But, if this is the case, one would expect that:

  • Nominated journals are still alive (and with their most recent issue published less than a year ago).
  • They actually focus on issues dealt with by the book to be reviewed.
  • They do indeed review books.

Sadly, not all authors see it that way. Time and again I receive reviews lists that have not been thought through. Obviously, these authors haven’t read my recent post; they are paying little attention to who their readers are and what they need.

Nor is it just something affecting us. Until recently, NIAS published a magazine called NIASnytt. This never reviewed books but it didn’t stop publishers sending us books to review. Our library was happy to get the free copies but for the publishers this was simply money down the drain.

Nor is this unusual. A typical academic press often sends out 20-25 review copies of each book they publish. Unfortunately, there are more books offered for review than journals can cope with, especially the top journals. First, even though the norm is that reviewers get to keep the review copy, finding and persuading suitable people to review a book is not easy. Second, there are only so many pages available in a journal that can be used for book reviews. The result? Of those 20-25 copies sent out, very few will result in a published review.

NIAS Press tries to beat the odds by thinking through its review lists and by sending very few unsolicited review copies. Instead, there is a hard grind of checking the suitability of a journal, adding others that haven’t been but should be considered, checking that its contact details are still current, mailing the reviews editor with an invitation to review, and so on. It works. Our ‘strike rate’ is much higher. And, provided we and our authors have done a proper job with the book, we end up with good positive publicity – an important channel for getting our books read, and our authors ahead in their careers.

This isn’t rocket science, surely?

Enough of the grump, back to the review lists!