A year-long diary set in LONDON
The book review landscape is changing. How it can be reshaped
14th November 2023
How the book review landscape is changing. How it can be reshaped.
Publicists Under Pressure as reviews landscape shifts, ran a headline in The Bookseller, 9 November 2023. That particular headline and the content tapped into observations that we here at TripFiction have been experiencing ourselves over the last couple of years.
“Publicists are having to be “more and more creative” as they look to manoeuvre changing print and online opportunities for their titles, industry professionals have told The Bookseller.“ Jess Gulliver, associate director at Premier Comms, suggests that the number of fiction books is rising but review coverage is exponentially shrinking. The time seems to have come to reflect on how best to pitch new titles to people, websites and organisations who will actively offer coverage.
Social Media in all its forms is a good place to start, although it is now so broad that it is pretty impossible to target a specific reading demographic, the net is spread so wide. That’s true to an extent. Twitter is looking particularly wobbly (although it still is – for the most part – our preferred platform). We are also active on the Social Media handles listed at the bottom of this post, but both Blue Sky and Threads are in early developmental stages. There is no one specific platform at the moment where book enthusiasts hang out and therefore anyone promoting books has to spread themselves more thinly until it becomes clear which platform will take off going forward.
“Publicists now have a wide array of alternative reviewers and influencers at their fingertips – a positive review by a popular BookToker or BookTuber could result in books flying off the shelves the same day“. Whoah, that’s power at your finger tips. It seems that BookTok and BookTubes are the go-to resources at the moment but these, I think, will appeal a lot to younger readers and sideline readers who are just that bit older. Older readers are more likely to have a greater spending power, have the experience of a long term reading habit and have a knowledge about books and preferences that has been honed over decades, so that is a huge demographic cut out right there.
So what can be done differently – from our perspective at the coal face – that would harness the resources of some great book promoters?
It seems strange that professional book publicists (and by that I mean people employed by a publisher/ PRs or freelancers) – many of whom seem to move jobs at a quite alarming rate, which makes it difficult to keep up – often don’t seem to take details of the blogger / platforms / resources that have consistently promoted books for them, with them into their new position. It is often only by chance that a renewed hook-up takes place at some point down the line. Interaction can be sporadic, changes in personnel are frequent, and thus continuity doesn’t seem to be valued. There is, for example, one PR agency that seems to take on all kinds of ‘high-profile’ accounts but whom we experience as sporadic and unfocussed – we get a flurry of interest (and pressure via e mails), a degree of engagement and then a prolonged silence (if you are on the book blogging circuit, you will know exactly who we mean here). Working with organisations like that is energy sapping and unrewarding. Extraordinary pressure considering no payment is involved.
I have witnessed high-handed publicists on Social Media making bloggers go through hoops to ‘win’ a title, sharing their largesse with minions. At the polar opposite small indie publisher Orenda Books has cultivated a gold standard in publisher/reviewer relationships in the industry: they choose quotes from a review and share them on Social Media, which is much appreciated.
We have cultivated mutual relationships with many publishers and freelance publicists and these work very well. We are alerted to new titles, we get them added to the TripFiction database and then we choose which titles we will feature on the blog. Then, there are some publishers who just don’t connect at all – even if they have a title that is clearly strong on location and would be perfect for us to feature. In some cases we have contacted the publisher and suggested that we would love to highlight a specific book but have been met with silence – fair enough, absolutely their call but it is a roundly missed opportunity for the publisher, for the author (and the author and their book are surely the focus here, aren’t they?) and for us. *Shrugs shoulders and moves on*.
We have spent the last 10 years+ building up platforms on which we can curate and feature books that are strong on setting. We offer the opportunity to add the book to the website, so that when people are looking for books set in a specific location, then that book will appear in their search.
We have worked hard on building followers both through our Newsletter, on the blog and across our Social Media platforms. This work all goes on behind the scenes and it is pretty time-consuming – finding interesting material to appeal to our readers and followers takes research and application.
Having laid out what we can offer to the publisher/publicist/author, we ask for little in return. Yes, an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) is great as the starting point. Then, what REALLY works so well – and we see this time and again – is when everyone engages. If an author doesn’t engage, then our work is fairly redundant. A hasty ‘thanks’ is not unusual (succinct appreciation I suppose you could call it 😉), a lack of response is not unknown but the occasional personalised connection is a real boon; a follow, a re-post and dialogue is ALWAYS the most helpful. In fact, in more general terms, we are dialling down featuring authors who don’t engage, it simply isn’t worth our – or their – while. In this context it is important to understand that a wide and large platform enables an author to appear in front of a lot of people (who may well be potential buyers of books), that is obvious, surely? Building a platform is ultimately a team effort where everyone benefits. An author ‘follow’ on Social Media is a way of showing appreciation (and you can alway mute if you really don’t like the frequency/content) and it helps promote the platform and tickles the algorithms (I cannot stress how hugely important algorithms are in this business). That all comes full circle and helps promote the book.
When we have time, we also post our reviews to some of the bigger sites. Readers are encouraged to do this, because it is important for authors to garner reviews, so that their books are seen by potential readers. Kristen Lamb, for example, drills down on “Book Reviews: Why They Matter SO Much”
We have popped our toe in the water with Blue Sky and with Threads, but, as we have pointed out on several occasions – many of the publishers haven’t yet migrated to these platforms. Why haven’t they? We are making the effort and would love to see more publishing representation there.
Coincidentally we just recently received an e mail from a publicist, who opened with: “I know there’s been a lot of debate on social media recently from bloggers feeling they’re not appreciated by publishers and publishers questioning whether blog tours are worth it”. In our experience there is certainly some truth in that. It underlines that there is a considerable mismatch at the moment but we can reassure everyone that there is still lot of energy to tap into in the book world. It’s about knowing where to look. Just ask!
So, yes, there is a seismic shift but harnessing the efforts of those who have already built a platform over time is surely a good way forward; and focussing on the process of cultivating contacts, which of course takes a lot of effort all round. It boils down to finding the people you can rely on to do a consistently good job and there are a lot of people with well-developed platforms out there with whom it will be worth building a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. Promoting books needs all hands to the deck.
Tina for the Tripfiction Team
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