What's your background and how did you get involved with ForeWord?
I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan, not far from where ForeWord is based. My family owned several weekly newspapers when I was growing up, so writing and editing is in my blood. I worked at the paper throughout high school. At Central Michigan University I studied English and German and worked as a reporter then a copy editor for the college newspaper. When I returned home after college I wrote for two regional papers, and then was hired by ForeWord. I was trained by our longtime editor Alex Moore and gradually moved into the position I have now.
How would you describe ForeWord to someone who's not familiar with the magazine?
ForeWord is a review journal that is primarily for librarians and booksellers. We recommend good books from small presses that they should have in their collections. Because we only review books from independent publishers, we cover a lot of great books that you don’t hear about anywhere else.
How can an author maximize their chances of getting reviewed?
Closely follow our submission guidelines. The biggest mistake that small presses make is not printing advanced reading copies or not sending them out soon enough. ForeWord (as well as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, etc.) needs to see an ARC or bound galley three to four months before the book’s publication date. That way, if the book is selected, the review will be published when the book is just becoming available. Librarians and booksellers love to hear about brand new books.
Other than that, the best way to get reviewed is to publish an original, well-written, and beautiful book. We get about 1,000 books every month. We try to find a good balance between all of the categories we cover, and select the most authoritative, informative, and entertaining books from the mix.
Tell us more about Clarion. What prompted the decision to start a fee-for-review service?
As I said before, we get about 1,000 books every month and can only review 60-70 in each bimonthly issue. Books that are overlooked because of the sheer volume of work being published deserve a chance to be reviewed. Clarion was created to give authors and publishers a chance to get some recognition as well as some honest feedback.
A Clarion review is a full-length review by a professional book critic that is completely honest and objective. When the publisher or author gets it back from us, they tell us how to proceed with the review. We will either publish it on our Web site under the Clarion Reviews name and license it to our partners at Ingram, Bowker, Baker and Taylor, and Cengage Gale for publication in their databases, or we will “kill” it, which means we won’t publish it anywhere.
I love managing Clarion because I get to work with people who have published really great work and give them encouragement and the chance to be recognized. I also get to hear from authors and publishers who have gotten a less than stellar review, but have used the feedback to make improvements to their work. It’s really rewarding.
Last fall, ForeWord announced another review opportunity, a Digital Reviews service. If a book is passed over for review in the magazine because of space issues or because it’s too old or for any other reason, but we still think it’s a worthwhile book that meets our standards, we will list it online and will provide a review for $99. The review is then listed online and licensed to our partners.
As a review outlet for independent presses, what recent trends have you noticed in independent books?
We see a lot of the same trends that you see from the large houses. Things seem to flow back and forth as the conglomerates pick up books that were previously published by small houses and as the independents pick up on trends from the large houses. The past few months we’ve seen a lot of great fiction and career-building books. I have several amazing pop-up books in my office. Body, Mind & Spirit topics are popular now too.
Some people in traditional publishing are concerned about the potential e-book revolution. Have you seen an impact on what you do? What do you project for the future?
We are excited about the interconnectedness that is possible because of e-readers and devices like the iPhone. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos predicts a future where every book ever published will be available at the touch of a button, and to us that means that book reviews will be more important than ever. We are about to release an iPhone app for book reviews. Pretty soon, people in airports will be able to read reviews of recent novels and people looking to learn a new skill can find reviews of books about that hobby. Then when they find the best book for them, they can download it and start reading right away. E-book publishing won’t mean the end of print publishing, but we are excited about what it will open up for the future.
ForeWord has a great website as well as links with many popular social networking sites. What's the relationship between this new media engagement and the print magazine?
More and more, the internet is becoming a place to interact, not just to look up information. People want to talk to each other and share with one another. That is what Twitter and Facebook are good at. We are using those sites less to talk about the print magazine, and more to talk about what we can’t do in print. We share interesting stories about books in the news, conferences and events that our colleagues are putting on, and information about ForeWord’s other programs like the Book of the Year Awards and our digital reviews service.
We also recently started to allow comments on our reviews, and it’s been great to see the ways that people have responded to the reviewers’ opinions and shared their own stories about the books.
What impact do you think the internet is having on independent presses as opposed to the larger traditional houses?
The internet is a great equalizer. Only the big conglomerates have the means to take out ads on television or in People magazine, but everybody can afford a Web site and a Facebook account. Independent presses have been able to get more creative than before. Even if a book isn’t reviewed in the New York Times, there are hundreds of bloggers who may be happy to cover it. It’s all about the Long Tail that was described by Chris Anderson. Twenty years ago, you only heard about a small number of books from a small number of sources. But now there are thousands of sources that are able to cover the 400,000 books that are published every year, so readers can hear about books that they never would have known about before the internet.
The ForeWord Book of the Year awards cover a vast range of subjects and genres. Tell us about the awards selection process.
We have 61 categories this year. The panel that selects the finalists sits down with the books one category at a time over a period of several weeks. They look at each category as a group and select the best books from the entrants. They use the same criteria that we do when choosing books to review in the magazine. Once they have narrowed the books down to the finalists, we ship the finalists in each category to two judges who are librarians and booksellers with expertise in that subject. They send their results back and we announce the winners at a ceremony at BookExpo America. This is always a very busy but exciting time of year for us.
Thanks to Elaine Isaak for the wonderful questions!