September 27, 2012 / by Jenny Wittman

For one of the oldest forms of media, it’s amazing how fast technology has changed the book industry in the last five years. E-readers, including Amazon’s Kindle, have revolutionized how we read. Additionally, book reviews are released at a much faster pace due to more independent reviewers and bloggers racing into the picture. As a witness to the evolution, Keir Graff, editor of Booklist Online, discussed these new trends in the book industry that have become the new normal.

“The speed with which books are written, acquired, published, and promoted has gone from languid to breathtaking. And with the advent of social media, the amount of information we have about books and authors has grown tremendously,” Graff said. “The pace is exciting, but the volume is certainly a challenge to keep up with. I sometimes talk with other editors who feel that, perhaps, we should all be doing just a little bit less…but no one wants to go first.”

Published by the American Library Association, the print version of Booklist has been helping readers find titles for more than 100 years. At Booklist Online, Graff oversees the public website that also includes a subscriber-only database that contains over 130,000 book, audiobook, video and database reviews. The site also facilitates six blogs, six e-newsletters, Twitter feeds, a Facebook page and a heavy schedule of webinars.

One of the most relevant changes in the book review arena has been the rise of citizen reviewers through blogs, on Goodreads or on Amazon.

“Where prepublication journals such as Booklist once offered the earliest buzz on new titles, publishers now court book bloggers and amateur reviewers, some of whom are willing to post about a book mere days after receiving it,” Graff said.

“The importance placed on being first puts traditional media at a disadvantage, given both the print production schedule and our desire to publish carefully considered, carefully edited reviews.”

But Booklist has quickly adapted to the pace. “While we can’t turn around all 8,000 book reviews per year with lightning speed, we do discuss books still under consideration and publish faster, web-first reviews for embargoed books when possible,” he explained.

With such a large scale amount of information, social media has encouraged many new voices into the scene which Graff finds encouraging for all book lovers, but relevance still plays a role. “Does the sheer number of voices make it harder for people to find the voices most relevant to them? Possibly,” he said. Still, Graff believes that Booklist has had a better outlook on relevance, compared to newspaper book reviews, since librarians are clearly Booklist’s defined audience.

Of course it would be hard to ignore the e-book industry, as it has quickly become a game-changer. Graff finds the e-reader to be “an entirely new way of thinking about books and libraries of books.”

Not to mention that self-published authors have taken advantage of the ease and immediacy of e-books. “We’re seeing an explosion of new titles that is really hard to grasp in its magnitude,” he said.

Graff is often asked if Booklist Online reviews e-book originals. They do, but sparingly. “Publishers’ policies regarding e-book sales and lending for libraries is, quite frankly, a mess. And we don’t want to review books unless we’re sure that our subscribers can acquire them,” he explained. “On a quite practical level, too, we have a method of selecting and assigning books for review that has evolved over more than a century. E-galleys represent a challenge both of file management and of making sure our 200-plus reviewers all have compatible e-readers.”

As a book lover himself, it’s impossible to say what book is his favorite. But as for 2012 (so far), he enjoyed Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys.

Making the Pitch

The most important thing to remember when pitching Booklist Online is that the primary product is book reviews. “We have an extremely limited budget for author interviews, profiles, etc. And I have limited time to even consider such things,” he said.

“My favorite pitches are those that offer ready-made content to complement our review, such as an unpublished photo from a photography book, or an audio extra from an audiobook, or an author willing to be a good sport in response to our offbeat questioning (see Hostile Questions).”

A few pet peeves that Graff has are publicists that don’t know what Booklist Online does or who they write for, publicists who send press releases every single day, publicists who want him to promote author events in Brooklyn bars and publicists who ask whether or not to send a book. “Answer: we receive over 50,000 books each year and we don’t have time to ask for them one at a time. Just send the book,” he said.

He also will not review books that were published last month since Booklist Online is a prepublication journal.

Graff also suggests reading the submission guidelines before sending anything and prefers to receive pitches via email, not phone.

Graff jokes that he is “not as cranky as this makes me sound.” He adds, “I love publicists who have done their homework, offer a targeted pitch, and don’t follow up more than once or twice.”

Graff can be followed on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.


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About Jenny Wittman

Jenny Wittman is senior editor and features writer for Cision Blog and oversees the daily media updates on the site. She is also senior media researcher at Cision and joined the company in March 2008. She likes being outdoors, going to concerts, traveling and exploring art galleries. She adores all animals and has a fascination for the cosmos. Find her on Twitter @jennywittman.