100 Indie Lit Reviews in 2015! A Chat With Atticus Review Book Reviews Editor Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter currently serves as the book review editor for Atticus Review, an online journal that publishes fiction, CNF, mixed media, columns and a cornucopia of book reviews featuring independent presses. This year he hopes to publish 100 reviews on the site. Why? To shed light on books from presses without big publicity budgets, to showcase a wide range of literary styles, and possibly to become the official hub for indie lit reviews.
Those of you who review books, who have books coming out, or who linger in literary criticism may want to check out this interview. Find out why Slaughter calls this the golden age of independent literature. Learn how to spot a potential review months before its release, what makes a good review, how to pitch one, and why reviews are sprouting up throughout Cyberlandia.
Interview by Nichole Reber
You have set yourself a particularly curious goal for this year.
What’s great about reviewing books and getting reviewers for books is the diversity in the stuff that comes across my desk. I love learning about new presses and new authors. Because I’ve seen so many new books (by new, I mean books outside what I would consider my wheelhouse) I’ve also started to make an effort to read different books. If nothing else, it’s making me a better writer because I’m exposing myself to a ton of new material and perspectives that I wouldn’t necessarily come across on my own.
Another thing writers are doing is reviewing books to get our own names out there and to introduce ourselves to leaders in the publishing industry. You are, after all, attempting to publish 100 indie lit reviews in 2015. Why?
First, it gets indie publishers and authors’ names out there. Some people have called this the Golden Age of Independent Literature. Even if it isn’t golden, there are amazing things being published every month by small presses across the country that deserve to be read. Even if visitors to Atticus don’t read every review, they at least get to see the names and titles and presses that are out there. I know it's not completely true, but I like to think that for the most part the indie lit community collectively holds an us-vs-the-big-dogs mentality.
As for the number itself, it was somewhat arbitrary.
Thankfully or not, I’m not going to be reading 100 books to review by myself. I needed to be able to find both a stable pool of reviewers to do consistent work, as well as other writers who would maybe do one or two over the course of the year. I’ve been really lucky that a number of great reviewers seem to be in it for the long haul and I can keep sending them books. I couldn’t do this without them.
I look for book reviews that are thoughtful and willing to be critical.
You do a lot of your own reviews elsewhere. How does a writer ensure a proposed book review is accepted?
I typically work with the same few publications, though I’m working on branching out as well. With those publications, I can email the editor and let them know I have a book I’m looking to review and they’ll give me the go-ahead if they want it.
To line up the books for review for this year, you’re right, there was a fair amount of research involved, but thanks to magazines like Entropy, who put out great lists at the beginning of the year, I was able to keep track of who I needed to contact and when. Now, too, that I’ve worked with a number of publishing companies, I’m on their email lists so I find out about books when they’re ready to be reviewed.
Is there a best time in a book’s marketing cycle to get it reviewed? What kind of age limit do you set for books being reviewed (published six months ago, a year ago, 18 months ago)?
At Atticus, I try and limit our reviews to books published within the last year and that’s really only because there are so many good books being published that it’s almost too hard to keep up.
What are you looking for in reviews? There is certainly more than one way to review. Can you expand on the methods you’re using, such as immersive reviews, standard reviews, etc.?
I look for book reviews that are thoughtful and willing to be critical. This is different, also, than a negative review. There is a place for those, but the indie lit world is not it. If a reviewer thinks a book is bad, that’s fine by me, but he or she needs to be able to articulate in a thoughtful, critical manner why they didn’t like it. What I want my reviewers to do is offer insight into why they feel the book did not work for them.
I love when a reviewer can make connections to other texts or draw on their knowledge of the author’s previous work to flesh out the work before them. When I write reviews myself, they are somewhat formulaic, in that I give a hook, a brief synopsis, the points that work or don’t work, then finally a summation of my thoughts. Book reviews aren’t typically all that long, so it’s important to get all the important information in there quickly and concisely.
Interested in pitching Sam a review? Check out the reviews page on Atticus Review. His short story collection, God in Neon, will be published late this year by Lucky Bastard Press.
Nichole L. Reber’s nonfiction about travel and the arts has appeared or is forthcoming in World Literature Today, The LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Recess Magazine, and EastLit. She has won awards from Traveler’s Tales and the Antioch Writers Workshop (Midwest). She serves as interviews coordinator for The Review Review and has started a NonFiction Authors Association chapter in Columbus, OH.