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Saying No to the Perfect Book

Juggling Books

We all know it when we see it: the perfect book.

A couple days ago in the Wall Street Journal, I caught a teaser for a review of Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku and I was reminded of holding an advanced reader copy of that very same book six weeks ago and thinking, yes, this is the perfect book.

The University of Nebraska published Waterman, so I already knew the talent was there, but for a thousand reasons the book just glowed like starlight in my hands—a complete no-brainer, can’t-miss project.

I tossed it into the slush pile.

“You don’t need Foreword Reviews,” I thought. “Everyone else will be fighting to write about you.” And I was able to fill that review slot with another talented, albeit lower profile, biography from another deserving independent press. Seeing the review of Waterman in the WSJ made me feel great about my decision.

In all seriousness, I’m ecstatic for the good people at Nebraska. I hope they sell a bazillion copies of Waterman. We frequently review their titles, as well as books from other prestigious indie presses—California, Princeton, Overlook, Other Press, etc.—but I dig deep in their catalogs to find eclectic, sleeper books that won’t receive much, if any, attention elsewhere.

I often tell publicists to let me know about their best low-profile books, and our readers tell us those reviews of obscure, important books are what they most value about Foreword. In our minds, it’s no fun to write and publish just another review of just another mainstream book. We strive to give voice to great writers and thinkers from unexpected places. So send us your disadvantaged, your hungry beacons of light. We know what to do with them.

Bonus Afterthought: You Can’t Shame Us

Book publicity is a game of buzz building and wringing for everything it’s worth, you don’t need me to tell you. But from my side of the equation, I try to stay oblivious to any press materials that don’t relate directly to the book. Yeah, I might be swayed a bit by a promo line in a tip sheet pointing out a surprising readership statistic that helps me gauge the broad appeal of the book, but generally, I try to use my own judgment as to what’s a worthy project to review. So the wittiest, prettiest press materials often put me on edge because they spend more wattage crowing about the timeliness and uniqueness and necessity of a book than they do about the subject, contents, and author.

Lastly, if you really want to piss me off, push send on an e-mail with something like this:

“Yo, Matt, wanted to let you know that the NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, PW, Kirkus, and other top review pubs will ALL be reviewing my new book. I assume Foreword Reviews will be too, right?”

Uhhh, that would be a no.


Matt Sutherland
Matt Sutherland is managing editor at Foreword Reviews. You can e-mail him at matt@forewordreviews.com.

Matt Sutherland

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