REVISED, July 2021
As an author, I understand and sympathize with the need for reviews, and I like nothing better than to praise deserving historical novels. To me, the words on the page matter, not blurbs, awards, or sales records. Decades spent in publishing have convinced me that if a worthy book happens to sell, it’s a coincidence, unless the author is already famous. If your book is adult historical fiction, traditionally published, in print version, and meets my criteria, described below, I’ll consider it.
Now for the bad news: In a given year, I review only fifty-one books. To find them, I cull the library catalog and publishers’ blurbs, of which I read between six hundred and one thousand annually, thanks to my work for Historical Novels Review, where I’m an editor (one of seven). I can’t tell you how many books I begin, realize they’re not for me, and either return them to the library or, if they’re for HNR, assign them to someone else.
This isn’t because I’m hard to please, though maybe I am. Rather, there’s only one thing worse than struggling to read a book that displeases me: having to review it. Such reviews take hours to write, disappoint the author, and bore my regular readers, who know my pet peeves by now. Nobody wins.
So if you want me to help you, please put me in a position to do so. Offer me only what I ask for, as I define it below, and I promise to answer you, even if it’s no. But if you ignore my guidelines, don’t expect me to read your pitch.
To repeat, I consider traditionally published adult historical novels, in print version only. The entire narrative must take place at least fifty years ago. Stories told in retrospect, interpolating past and present, have no chance with me. I also avoid sagas and what the industry calls romances, though a psychologically astute love story works, especially as a subplot. Whatever the premise, the approach must be character-driven and realistic; I don’t review fantasy, paranormal, or magical realism.
As I said, I pay no attention to blurbs, sales records, or awards. But the real sticking point is a favorable review in Publishers Weekly, which I insist on. I wish I didn’t have to; they don’t review everything and are by no means infallible. But they’re the only prepub reviewer I trust, and praise from them vets your book, in my eyes. I came to this requirement the hard way.
Finally, treat your pitch like a query to an agent or editor, succinct, direct, without puff. I’ve had authors say, “Click on this link to find out about my book.” Since they’re asking me to commit my time and effort without investing their own, you can imagine how I feel about that.
Good luck in your search, and I hope we can connect.