This post, by Charles Atan, originally appeared on his Bibliophile Stalker LiveJournal on 5/27/09.
Over at Fantasy Book News & Reviews, Jeff swears off reviewing books before [the] release date. It’s a good guideline to live by but it’s by no means a universal rule. Jeff is also working on the belief that book reviews are in the service of the publisher/author–and that’s honestly not the case with every reviewer. But if we’re just talking about promoting a book and the corresponding book review, when to release a book review depends on the publisher’s marketing plan.
Pre-release hype is good but I’ll qualify that by mentioning only if it can be sustained. Theoretically, you want to build-up excitement for the book and reviews can help with that (it’s not the only method but for the sake of limiting the scope of this essay, I’ll just focus on the book reviews aspect). A lot of the blockbuster movies accomplish this through trailers and the occasional new media marketing ploy. An example of how early book reviews [are] leveraged by the publisher is when they use a line or two as a cover blurb for the book (or failing that, a blurb for their website, which was the scenario for my review of J.M. McDermott’s Last Dragon [as far as marketing is concerned though, you might want to read about McDermott’s experience with having a dedicated sales force working on his novel]).
I added the qualifier "if it can be sustained" because a poorly executed marketing plan can lead to a lot of wasted effort. Jeff tackles some of those points but I’ll talk about an issue closer to home. One of my local publishers is Philippine Genre Stories. One of [its] biggest mistakes is the timing of its online promotions (to their credit, they also have some great successes–they have more local readers on their blog compared to mine for example). The first mistake they make with each issue is posting the cover of the magazine months ahead of when it actually gets released. Case in point is the horror issue ([in] which I’m included) which went live at the blog last October 15, 2008. If the issue came out in October or November, the timing would have been right. The second time they failed to capitalize on the publicity was when the book was reviewed in a leading TV station’s site, last December 10, 2008. Again, if the book had come out in November or even December, the timing would have been great. But since the issue still hasn’t been released (I suspect it’ll be out in time for this year’s Halloween), whatever interest stirred up by the review has dissipated.
That’s just one perspective on the matter though. A publication with an efficient marketing team could have sustained reader interest until the issue’s release. This usually works well with either an established series or a really popular author. Look at J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books. Mid-way through the series (which was when people started paying a lot of attention to her), it was a year or two between the release of each book. Yet fans were looking for news and snippets every single week which would culminate in large gatherings during the book’s release. In fantasy, this is also the case with the multi-volume epics such as The Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire. The scenario of epic fantasies is interesting because it’s an example of how negative publicity is still publicity: all those fanboys complaining that the books aren’t out yet are contributing to the hype surrounding the books.