How quickly can you expect a review?

I get it: you’re eager for the affirmation of a good review, or at least a not-bad review. But there’s silence. You know your publisher has sent out review copies but the magazines haven’t published them yet. You begin approaching bloggers. How long can it take?

Reviews of live events, such as readings, generally appear quickly because a readership’s not going to be interested in reading a review of an event that happened six months ago and now seems a distant memory. Reviews of purchasable items such as books or downloads don’t have that urgency so long as the book is still available for purchase.

No matter how eager you are, you don’t want reviews of your book to appear all at once. Several reviews appearing gradually over time are better. Each time a review appears, it reminds potential buyers your book is available. Not everyone rushes out to buy a copy after the first review appears, so reminders are better.

A key factor in when reviews appear is the fact that, in order to write a review, a reviewer actually has to have time to read the book. You know your poetry book inside out but a reviewer will be reading it for the first time. A slow, considered review is preferable to a rush job that doesn’t do your book justice. With experience, it is possible to read a poetry book in a couple of hours and draft a review, however that’s not going to be a very good review. Poems need to be thought about, re-read and read aloud. A first impression isn’t always the right impression.

Reviewers also have lives and other commitments. Your book is hugely important to you but to a reviewer, it’s another item on the to-do list and will not get priority over caring responsibilities, the job that pays the bills, their own poetry (most poetry reviewers are also poets) and the fact that they have a long-anticipated holiday coming up.

Magazine deadlines and available space play a part too. A review may be held over for a subsequent issue. Sometimes I schedule blog posts in advance so reviews have to wait their turn. I can receive an electronic copy of a book the day I’ve agreed to review it, but postal copies take time to arrive. Sometimes the delays are with the postal service. Sometimes publishers only do their post at set times so they organise and prioritise their own tasks so review copies may have to sit and wait before they can be posted.

I prefer to turn reviews around quickly, where I can. I like to read a book within a day of it turning up (whether by post or download). I make notes as I am reading. I might draft my review from the notes or I might read the book again before writing my draft. Once I have a draft review, I will put it aside and read the book again. Each book I review is read at least twice. Then I will read my draft review to check I’ve covered everything I want to say. I will do any necessary editing. I might put it aside for a final check through depending on how much editing I’ve done. When I’m happy that I’ve said all I want to say and I then do a format edit. I review for three different magazines and my blog so I check my review is in the right format for the publication and check the word count. Then I’ll sent to the relevant magazine or schedule it for my blog.

Writing a review takes at least a week. I have to review around other commitments. If a book takes a week to arrive, that’s two weeks for me to write my review. This assumes that when the book arrived, I didn’t have any other reviews to write (books for review are put in order of arrival so if I already have four books to review, yours will be the fifth. There’s no queue-jumping.) Other commitments may take over and give me less time to review.

If your book took a week to arrive, it was fifth in queue and I had a busy week of commitments, then it could be six weeks before I can even look at your book. That would actually be an extremely rare occurrence. For the magazines I review for, if I couldn’t turn around reviews within a month I would warn the editors. When people commission individual reviews, I tell them how long it will take and if I already have books in the review queue.

Generally I won’t commit to review something if I know it will take longer than a month. But I can’t see into the future and can’t guarantee a quick turnaround.

It’s taken me nearly 800 words to say “Don’t expect a quick review.” No matter how much you want that affirmation for your collection of poetry, you don’t want book reviews to appear quickly.

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