Here’s a surreal chronicle of my experience with Publishers Weekly Booklife, the free review consideration program offered to indie authors, most of whom are eager for exposure but too penniless to do anything about it.
Note: On top of the free Booklife service, Publishers Weekly also offers a wide range of paid services. For the purposes of this article, I will merely discuss Booklife, which is free of charge.
Entering my book was simple and easy. It was like signing up for Facebook. I don’t recall it taking more than a couple minutes, although it was approximately four months ago, so I could be off in my estimation. To be clear, it was not a hassle. The most time consuming parts are uploading an electronic copy of your book (ebook or PDF) and filling out your author profile.
To provide a general chronology, here’s how long it took from filling out the review consideration form to seeing my review on Publishers Weekly’s Booklife website.
4/10/16: Your project has been received
The BookLife project you submitted (Latency Paradox of Barret Trufflehard) to be considered for a Publishers Weekly review has been received.
6/2/16: Your project is being considered for review
Our editors have looked at the BookLife project you submitted (Latency Paradox of Barret Trufflehard), and they are considering it for review. While this is no guarantee that your book will receive a Publishers Weekly review, you have cleared an important hurdle.
6/5/16: Your project has been selected for review
Congratulations! Your BookLife project (Latency Paradox of Barret Trufflehard) been selected for review by Publishers Weekly!
In the coming weeks your review should appear in Publishers Weekly. When it does, you will be able to see it on BookLife’s review page:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Because your project has been selected for a Publishers Weekly review, it will most likely be reviewed in Publishers Weekly. However we cannot guarantee your book will actually receive a review; in some rare cases, a book or project selected for review does not actually receive a published review.
At the moment, I have yet to receive another email, but on 8/17/16, I found out on my own the project had been reviewed and posted on PW’s Booklife website, and by 8/23/16, it also became available on Publishers Weekly’s flagship website.
As a byproduct of anticipating my own pending book review, I had read a fair sampling of book reviews from PW, and although Booklife was established to highlight indie authors, being selected does not entitle you to a flattering blurb.
By submitting your book to Publishers Weekly for review, it means your book will be judged by professional standards, the same standards Publishers Weekly applies to books submitted by traditional trade publishers. This means your book must be ready for a wide, general-interest readership that expects cleanly written, well-edited, and engaging books.
To give you an idea of a typically conservative review, here’s another book that was reviewed the same week as mine.
The Land Uncharted by Kelly Brook Keith
The simple life of physician Lydia Colburn expands with the introduction of an enigmatic stranger in Keith’s (Aboard Providence) chaste Christian romance that insufficiently blends science fiction with Amish-style culture. In 2025, a world war rages over natural resources. Navy pilot Lt. Connor Bradshaw ejects and parachutes into the Land, an isolated, pre-industrial island in the South Atlantic Ocean. The settlers are descendants of pioneers who left America in 1861 and maintained a society of horse and buggy and prairie dresses. Unfortunately, it’s also a society in which Lydia fears that her reputation will be destroyed because of deranged stalker Frank Roberts. Meanwhile, Connor embraces his peaceful new life and virtuous courtship of Lydia. He also encourages local inventors to stop experimenting with electricity, so the outside world won’t discover the Land and its abundant fresh water. Science fiction elements intrude on the idyllic life of the villagers adding little to the story of a peaceful people and their homespun troubles. An inadequate background for Connor leaves his character and his quick adoption of the Land incomplete. (Booklife)
Notice the careful choice of words that makes the review spin-proof.
Coupled with criticisms I’d read about PW’s systematic guidelines for book reviews, I had come to expect – under the miraculous event that a professional critic selected my book to read and review – a simple buzzword would be enough.
So imagine the look on my face when I read the review for Latency Paradox of Barret Trufflehard.
When Inspector Amelia Pillowspoon tells Eldridge Kane, Lord Chief Executive Officer of the Ekonomy, “We’re all feeling the Latency Paradox of Milton Grainjar,” Eldridge is as baffled as the reader. Still, Kwon’s debut is wonderfully imaginative, clever, and funny in a madcap, just-go-with-it sort of way. Protagonist Milton Grainjar, a disgruntled employee of the XYZ government agency, lives to track down members of the secretive and illegal Jade Association, who (mercifully offscreen) eat babies and sacrifice virgins. But it’s not clear who are the true Jadeites—or who Grainjar is. Kwon’s knack for giggle-worthy names and inventive gizmos (a plutonizer, the Zwylx Q-Ten gurgle machine) work well with mild romance and themes that include totalitarianism, rival dystopias, and the true purpose of Grainjar’s blighted life. The plot doesn’t entirely make sense, but the book is a fun read, and comic fantasy fans will look forward to more adventures in this world. (BookLife)
Suffice to say, I was pleasantly shocked.
Juxtaposed with the context of how hard it is to garner reviews without the budget of traditional press, Publishers Weekly Booklife is a godsend for indie authors.
As someone who writes genre-benders, if not postmodern or non-genre stories, it’s difficult to find qualified readers who are willing to give your book a chance, let alone review it. Case in point, spending my own time and money to set up and deal over a dozen signed copies through the Goodreads Giveaway program led to a sum total of 0 written reviews, a disappointing contrast to another blog post whose author claimed to have earned three reviews for every five books given away.
Had it been my reality.
Perhaps, even among the small community of book lovers, my style of writing appeals to a still esoteric demographic, comprising readers of a certain ilk ideally desensitized to the standard commercial fair.
But in swoops Publishers Weekly with its honest efforts to run a community-based meritocracy that raises awareness for the oft-overlooked works of indie and self-published authors.
Even if the positive review doesn’t translate to sales, there’s an aesthetic advantage to sticking an endorsement from a reputable source, in this case a perennial international trade magazine, during book pitches to potential readers, and most importantly (at least with my goal) bolstering query letters for publishing agents to accept future manuscripts.
Dear agent, PW calls my debut novel “wonderfully imaginative, clever, and funny.”
Well then, Publishers Weekly is for real.