I treat these Journals, in part, as a chance to share with readers a bit about the nature of the book world. I’ve become aware over the years that even people who are lifelong readers often know little about how books are produced, marketed, sold, how they get to them.
Sometimes in the next two weeks, advance reading copies of River of Stars will begin to go out, some in January, many more in February, on a timetable worked out by my various publishers – and ideally coordinated among them. (Monthly magazines get them earlier, for example, they need more time.)
When I was first published (back when books were written with quill pens and read by flickering candlelight), and even until the turn of the 21st century, pretty much, advance reading copies (or galleys) had a specific pair of functions.
They went out, a month or six weeks before publication, to the main review sites, in order that editors could assign them, and the reviewers would have time to read the the book and write their vivisections or rapturous encomiums, or whatever, to appear – ideally – the week the book went on sale. A classic frustration for publishers has always been a great review appearing in a major paper long after the book has appeared (and sometimes gone from the shelves of bookstores).
Another small batch of galleys would go to ‘major accounts’ – the buyers for important chains or stores, or the store managers, to start generating (ideally!) positive word of mouth about the title. A few might go to other writers or known opinion-shapers, for the possibility of a jacket blurb or press release quote.
There weren’t that many galleys prepared, and they were fairly rudimentary much of the time (they still are, in the UK, usually).
The blogosphere and online world in general has changed the game. Galleys (usually called ARCs now) are made in much greater numbers, often much more handsomely, and they go out earlier, and more widely. The underlying notion is that online world is where word of mouth is generated. A long piece by Laura Miller of Salon unpacked how cleverly this path was pursued for The Hunger Games when it was about to appear. http://www.salon.com/2012/03/18/the_making_of_a_blockbuster/
There are some interesting tensions linked to this. The tradition, the rule, for newspapers and magazines is that a review must not come out before the pubication date of a book. The idea is simple: publishers want someone to be able to go buy a book when they read a review, not wait three weeks – and even forget about it. But online reviewers don’t always observe this rule (there are exceptions) and – frankly – publishers don’t always want them to. Advance buzz has to be, well, advance.
This rankles book page editors. They are dutifully holding back their reviews and discussions till a book is on sale, but meanwhile the whole world (or the part of it with internet access) will have been reading about the title for a month or more.
There is no obvious right or wrong here, though I suppose I’d agree that holding the Washington Post or Toronto Globe & Mail to a pub date review starts to feel unfair if major online reviewers are way ahead. My sense, is that the important online sites tend to wait until close to pub date, while it is independent bloggers who like to get out early with a review.
Maybe it’ll become a measure of a blog’s transition to stature … that it begins to wait until closer to the book’s release. But the irony is, if publishers are excited or optimistic about a book, they may not mind if blog reviews surface early. There’s a complicated tension here.
In other words, as with so much of the book world today, we are in flux, people are still figuring out how to dance to this new music.