Behind the Scenes by Emma Lee

How The Blue Nib’s Reviews Get Written

The Blue Nib reviews poetry, fiction and non-fiction and can review from either a .pdf or a print copy; .pdfs are preferred because The Blue Nib is an international magazine and not all our reviewers are based in the same country – currently we have reviewers in the UK, USA and Saudi Arabia. If you’d like your publication to be considered for review, send a request to Emma Lee, Reviews Editor.

We will also consider unsolicited reviews, providing these are unpublished reviews – see the submission guidelines.

A review request should list the book’s title, author, publisher, ISBN, a paragraph about the book, what format the book is available in (.pdf or print copy) and an author information sheet or author biography. Please check with your publisher first to make sure they are not approaching us. Do not send a link and expect us to look up the information on a website. We get more requests than we can cover so demanding we do extra work to obtain the information we need makes it easy to reject your request.

Please don’t follow up a request in less than 48 hours. I don’t usually accept a request unless I have a reviewer in mind and if you send your request on a weekend, I may not get back to you until Monday so a response may not be instant. You are familiar with your book, a reviews editor will not be and will need time to read through what you’ve sent and consider if the review is a good fit and if it can be scheduled (magazines do get more requests than they can cover). An editor might also want to check with a reviewer that they’re available to write the review first. Answering a request isn’t just a simple yes or no and your request will be one of many.

If your request is accepted, please send the manuscript and a high-quality cover image. The Blue Nib uses the cover image alongside the review. Please bear in mind the following:

  • If you’ve mentioned the publication date in your request or when you send the manuscript, we will try and publish our review on or just after if possible. We will not review your book before it’s published.
  • Our reviewers are all writing reviews around other commitments so we can’t guarantee getting a review done by a specific date. The more notice we have, the more likely we can accommodate your request.
  • Reviews are not perishable. It is not vital that a review appears on the publication date and a review a few weeks afterwards can revive interest in a book when initial sales have started to sag.
  • A review is not marketing blurb. Book marketers and publicists often use quotes from reviews as marketing endorsements, but a review is independent from a marketing campaign and should not be relied on as a marketing tool. If you are asking for someone to look over your book and provide a quote for marketing purposes, you are not asking for a review.
  • Please avoid chasing for a review. Once The Blue Nib has asked for a full manuscript, we have committed to writing the review and it will appear. Dealing with additional emails/correspondence about reviews means that you are reducing the time I have available to review and delays the review.
  • Check publication dates when you submit review requests. For example, if you want your review to appear in the April issue, the deadline will be mid-March. This deadline is for receipt of the review, not receipt of the review request. In order to give a reviewer time to write the review, your request should have been sent in January or sooner. If you send a review request on 10 March, the review is unlikely to be written in time for the deadline for the April issue.

It takes time to read a book and write a good review. A good reviewer will read the book thoroughly, perhaps making notes as they read, then put the book aside to think about it. The reviewer may draft their review or assemble notes towards a review. The book may be read a second time for the reviewer to check their first impression was correct or that the extracts they’ve quoted are accurate or check they didn’t miss anything after their first reading. Notes will be added to the draft review or pile of notes from the first reading. The review will be drafted. The reviewer then may wish to re-read all or part of the book to ensure the review has covered all the points the reviewer wishes to make. Then the reviewer will edit the review to make sure it is clear, it conveys the points the reviews wishes to include and that it will make sense to someone who hasn’t read the book. Some reviewers may wish to put the review aside for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes before submitting their review. This process takes time and it needs to otherwise the review won’t be worth reading.

A review is someone’s opinion. Their opinion may not coincide with yours. The reviewer may not be part of your target market. It is very unlikely a reviewer will think you are the best author since your literary heroes. A reviewer might point to a weak spot in your book and offer constructive comments for improvement. A review is not a blurb and is unlikely to be full of unconditional praise. Think carefully before requesting a review is amended. Of course, factual errors such as typos or getting a character’s name wrong should be corrected. But a reviewer is not going to change their opinion. They have read, re-read and considered the book. If a reviewer has misunderstood your intentions, it’s more likely to be that your intentions weren’t clear in the text and the reviewer can only review the text.

A review where a reviewer didn’t like the book is unlikely to harm book sales. If the reviewer took the time to explain their dislike and give a flavour of the book, someone who is the target market for the book will recognise it as a book they would love and still buy it. I know a publisher who has made sales on the back of some of my reviews where it was clear the book didn’t appeal to me, but my review made it sound interesting to the right readers.

Here at The Blue Nib, we do try and accommodate review requests unless there is a good reason not to. Unfortunately, we’re not able to review everything. After review requests are selected, we also do an audit so we can keep track of what we review and ensure a diversity of reviews. The audit is done after selection, so books are chosen on merit, not to meet a quota. We also audit who we review so we know we are covering books by authors from minority groups (our monitoring is based on authors’ published biographies; we do not make assumptions or bring personal knowledge into monitoring).

I have always been an avid reader. I’m also a writer so I don’t just read new books but also a wide variety of magazines and am subscribed to several publishers’ newsletters. I see emerging writers move from getting magazine publication credits to a first collection and I have ready access to lists of forthcoming publications. I’m usually aware of the type of manuscripts certain publishers love and, if I’ve seen poems from a collection published in magazines, I have a pretty good idea of what a book will be like before I read it. I always read a book I review at least twice, but that foreknowledge gives me a head start and I can turn around a review quickly if I need to. However, I’m not going to write a quick review just because a writer only thought of approaching The Blue Nib two days before their publication date and wants the review to appear on that date. I will never pressurise a reviewer for a quick review and I will not ask a reviewer to review a book I would not review myself.

Many review editors only select what they review from requests they receive. That’s not a criticism; many review editors are also doing their jobs as volunteers around other commitments and keeping track of which requests were accepted, which reviewer has which book, editing completed reviews, keeping on top of deadlines and writing their own reviews leaves little time for other jobs. The Blue Nib does not just select books for review from the requests we receive. The reviews editor will source review copies of books The Blue Nib should be covering. The Blue Nib is an international magazine and will review books in English or translated into English from all over the world. We want to bring a diverse range of literature to our readers’ attention.

About the contributor

The Blue Nib’s Reviews Editor, Emma Lee takes us behind the scenes and explains the work that goes into producing a review for the magazine.

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