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Regarding Review Copies

Anthony Dauer wrote: "Common sense dictates to me that the only ethical consideration when it comes to books received for reviewing is that you either read it and write a review or you return it to the author."

Legally, ANY unsolicited mail can be kept, sold or trashed by the recipient -- which prevents unscrupulous direct mailers from sending unsolicited products with bills. Reviewers have the right to do whatever they want with your books, whether or not you mark "not for resale," if you send the books unsolicited.

So many books are sent for review that it would be too time-consuming and costly to return them -- even if postage is supplied, the time factor doesn't make the dollars and cents work. I'm a publicist, but many members of my immediate family are in the media (major newspapers, radio producers, magazine editors). You should see their desks! Piles of unsolicited review copies come in every day, and they aren't even the book reviewers!


Some newspapers have a shelf where they pile all the books sent in for review; if and when reporters feel so inclined, they can go to the shelf and pull anything that interests them. Other papers, once a year, have a library giveaway or a charitable auction of the books. Others throw them away. Radio stations sometimes give the books to staff members, or throw them away. CDS sent for review are almost always thrown away without listening to them, unless they are from a big name.


1) Call first. Send only requested copies. Even if you pay someone to do the calls, it is still cheaper. Look at the figures: To send a review copy, with folder, printout of press kit, and postage, costs $10 to $20 depending on postage options and how much the book costs you. To call first (even if you pay someone) costs $5 to $7 per call. Of these, if you have a book of average interest, about 1/5 will ask for review copies, another 1/5 will ask for faxed or emailed information. The same figures, for a book on a really hot topic by a known author, are 1/3 and 1/3, respectively.

For radio, if you have a quality press kit online, only about 10% of those who are interested, including those who book you as a guest, will request review copies -- the rest will just use your online press kit. Same goes for many print media: If they ask for an email or fax, you send them a one page press release with a link to the online press kit. Only a few will request the book from the email or fax, but several may cover it from the information online.

If you send 100 unsolicited review copies: Your real costs are $1000 to $2000. If you pay to have a publicist call 100 editors: Your costs are about $600 plus about $200 in review copies -- you saved $200 and the review copies went to the RIGHT address to the RIGHT person who has expressed INTEREST.

2) Which brings me to the next point: We are often hired to make follow up calls when people have sent unsolicited review copies. About 75% of them don't remember receiving the book, or the person no longer works there (often hasn't worked there for over a year). We also make follow up calls after books were requested when we called the editors and pitched them. Of these, some still don't remember receiving the book and have to be sent another one, but most do remember getting it and tell us whether or not they plan to cover it.

3) Which brings me to the last point: Address your submission to a specific person, write "requested material" on the outside of the package if you called and they requested it, and indicate what it is -- I usually make labels that say "Requested by ___________ -- this contains [title of book], which is about [brief pitch, same as we used when we called them]. Then fill in the name of the person you spoke with. If this is on the outside of the envelope, they'll remember it and hopefully open it.

NOTE: After the anthrax scare, most newsrooms are less than delighted with receiving unsolicited material in lumpy packages. Some of their processing centers steam all incoming mail, damaging the books and materials sent with them.

So I can't emphasize enough:

Get a good press kit online

Call first

I don't recommend "call them first" when sending books to book reviewers like Publishers Weekly or Midwest Book Review (though occasionally we do call their offices, when a client insists). My criteria: if the publication is solely in the business of providing book reviews, they have operating procedures that eliminate the need for making phone calls. But if it is a consumer magazine, TV show, radio show, wire service or newspaper it's best to call first.

Use your ingenuity when marking the packages you send so they know what's in the package. Use the same phrase you did in the pitch -- they get a hundred pitches a day. Don't expect them to remember you. Instead, helpfully jog their memory with the same info you told them on the phone.

Bev Harris

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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