If you look at the back of a novel published in, say, the 1980s—a good novel, I mean—you will almost certainly see a panoply of “blurbs,” publishing-speak for excerpts from reviews of the book. “A delightful entertainment,” the blurbs will say, or “Unexpectedly moving,” or “Drop what you’re doing and get a copy.” And the blurbs will be attributed to critics from newspapers and magazines around the country—if the writer was lucky, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly (and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Hartford Courant, the Tampa Tribune, perhaps, with a little less luck).
Them days is gone. Most of the papers and magazines I just mentioned are still around, for which let us give thanks, but print reviews have largely gone the way of the dodo, as the press has desperately, understandably, slashed page counts in an effort to stanch the bleeding brought on by our global shift to digital media.
From a book publisher’s perspective, that's a disaster. Without respected reviews, how are we supposed to get the word out about our wonderful books? We are all of us left scrambling after the handful of outlets that still publish quality reviews. For a small publisher, getting a nod from one of them is not unlike getting struck by lightning.
That crackling you hear? That’s the sound of some felonious fire. Because we have only published two non-reissue books this year: only two books that could be in line for reviews. And not only did Publishers Weekly—the grand panjandrum of the biz—review both, but it gave both starred reviews! That’s the equivalent of saying “highly recommended.”
First up was The Plague Road, No. 3 in L.C .Tyler’s extraordinary series about John Grey, a dangerously smart-alec lawyer in Cromwell’s England. The books manage to be both incredibly authoritative and well researched and irresistibly witty, skewering pomposities and pretensions left and right. PW called the book “stellar,” praising its “authentic period detail,” and added that “fans of C.J. Samsom” (an author who is a bestseller in England and the U.S.) will be eager for more” of Grey’s exploits. And if you don’t want to start with lucky No. 3? That’s cool: We publish No. 1 (A Cruel Necessity) and No. 2 (A Masterpiece of Corruption) as well.
Do you like some giggles with your gore? We do, too. And so, apparently, does Publishers Weekly, which tossed a star to Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace (coming soon!), calling it “excellent” and “zany” and “hilarious,” and promising that “readers will have a rollicking good time.” Are we surprised? Well…not really. After all, the first of the Prefect’s Adventures (Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar) earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal (publishing’s Big Three). But we are pleased as punch! Think of it this way: We had only two players at bat, and they both hit home runs.
Yes, we’re gloating a little. Forgive us.