Thursday, September 27, 2012

Star treatment?

A long-established aspect of the American publishing scene is the so-called ‘pre-pub’ review. These are not reviews written, as you might think, before the first double scotch of the day (many, I wouldn’t wonder, are written after it...); they are reviews published in the months running up to publication. Their target audience is not the general reading public, but retailers, who order books in advance, libraries and book reviewers in the wider media. Some pre-pubs, especially those that offer a neat summary of a book’s plot, are read by film scouts on the look-out for attractive adaptation opportunities, although this is less significant than it was twenty years ago, when novels were optioned for screen development more frequently than they are today. Nonetheless, strongly positive pre-pubs can help a book get noticed in what remains a very crowded marketplace, even if, by themselves, they’re no guarantee.

Among the four pre-pub reviewing journals - Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist- it is Kirkus that authors and publishers most fear. Its slogan is ‘Life’s too short to read bad books’, which pretty much tells you all you need to know. Three years ago Kirkus briefly closed before re-opening under new ownership, its apparent demise reportedly toasted by a number of literary agents in New York.

Kirkus, like the other journals, awards a star to the books it most likes. Although it has been generally pretty positive about my previous outings in the US, it has hitherto only awarded a star once, to Omega, way back in 1997. Omega was the second Patrick Lynch novel to be published stateside, and went on to be a bestseller there. The second star turned up earlier this week, for The Valley of Unknowing. ‘Holy catfish!’ my American publisher declared. And he should know.
"A compelling story of jealousy and betrayal behind the Iron Curtain. Personal and political limitations shape this subtle novel... which balances serious and menacing questions of moral compromise with ironic comments on Actually Existing Socialism... Atmospheric, poignant, witty, but mournful too, Sington's novel cleverly considers what might have been the back story to real life tragedies.”

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