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‘Good’ Reviews are Hard to Get – You Can’t Buy One.

Sammy's Day at the Fair - Good reviews

‘Good’ reviews are critical to publishing success, but they are hard to get. You can’t buy one. You can, but don’t bother. Every high-volume book buyer knows about those phony, for-a-fee lures. And they avoid them like fish avoid rotten bait. 

‘Good’ reviews come in one size only. I discussed this in my last blog. I pointed out that selves (self-publishers) don’t get these reviews. But large publishing houses get them in bunches. That might give high-volume purchasers (libraries, bookstores, schools) pause to think about justice, but probably not. And probably not about honesty, either. I don’t doubt elite book reviewers choose the best books to award their ‘good’ reviews from among the large lots five giant publishing houses produce. We do not suggest there is any overt payola involved.

In my last blog, I promised I’d tell other ways this self has tried to realize the dream of getting a ‘good’ review. I already hinted that I try to fool them into believing I am no less than a tier 2 or 3 publisher so they will at least open the covers of the books I send them. Beyond that, I will now divulge that even selves sometimes have what seems to be a bright idea. I know. I had one of them when my son Paul and I published our first book in 2004.

First, a brief on galleys. A galley is an uncorrected proof of an upcoming book. Publishers manufacture a small amount of galleys for each book they intend to publish and send them out to elite book review outlets that employ book reviewers who pretty much demand them so their reviews can appear in advance of a book’s publication. Galley production and distribution constitutes a small part of the cost of doing business for the big guys, but a large investment for selves seeking ‘good’ reviews.

Paul and I didn’t know about the pointlessness of selves sending galleys to elite book reviewers back in 2004. But we did intuitively know that glowing reviews sell books. I had read these reviews for years and they often swayed me. I also presumed a book that didn’t have them was somehow lacking. 

Our first book, “Sammy’s Day at the Fair: The Digestive System”, came about because Paul’s middle school science teacher loved a term paper he wrote and illustrated. While grading it A+, she also glowingly remarked that Paul should publish it as a book. Some time later, we decided to do that. Then soon after our decision, we had our bright idea. If Paul’s teacher loved his term paper so much, wouldn’t other teachers also love the book we created from it? And if those teachers were nationally recognized for excellence in their teaching profession, wouldn’t their weighty, glowing endorsements sway people to buy our book? 

We answered these self-posed questions sure, of course, why not. Consequently, we invested in manufacturing galleys (which were not crude – they almost amounted to a real book) to send to select award-winning teachers nation-wide. Almost to a person, the teachers we contacted responded with glowing reviews. Then, just as if we were a giant publishing house, we used these good reviews to promote our book.

All to no avail. We blew our savings manufacturing 1000 library-bound, real books. We sold but a handful. The rest we eventually donated to various literacy organizations across the country. 

In early summer 2018, we updated the book and renewed the original endorsements from the award-winning teachers. In August 2018 we published a second edition in softcover of “Sammy’s Day at the Fair: The Digestive System”. We then reached out to hundreds of libraries and schools across the nation. Once again, to no avail.

That makes twice we over-estimated the value of endorsements from nationally recognized, award-winning teachers. Their endorsements carried no weight at all. Somehow theirs do not qualify as ‘good’ reviews. Strange but true that such expert opinions matter not.

Nevertheless, we do not regret giving it all another try. Yes, we are disappointed with the result of our efforts. But we still believe we had a bright idea and still delight in the glow of it.

Cover of "Sammy's Day at the Fair: The Digestive System" Sammy and his father at a corn dog stand at the Fair, Sammy wolfing down the corn dog as his father pays for it.

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