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Opinion

How did a self-published author get his book reviewed by the New York Times?

Actually, the title’s something of a trick question because although Alan Sepinwall did indeed self-publish his book The Revolution Was Televised, and although he did get it reviewed in the New York Times, he’s a fairly well-known figure in the US TV business. Nevertheless, as Forbes points out, it was something of an achievement for him to get the NYT coverage, but for most self-published authors it’s still extremely difficult to get noticed by the mainstream reviewing press.

For the most part, reviewers review the books that they get to hear about. There are so many books being pushed, few reviewers need to do much digging to find titles worthy of their times; there’s simply no real incentive for them to go trawling through the lists of self-published titles. Also, there’s a perception that self-published books tend to vary wildly in quality, in which case many people don’t know here to begin when it comes to finding the best offerings. So you can kind of understand why a reviewer for a prestigious newspaper would stick to picking through the titles being promoted by publicists. Still, I bet many reviewers would be happy to review a self-published titles if it was presented to him or her in the right way.

The problem, obviously, is discoverability. Marketing people work around the clock to get their clients’ books in front of reviewers. How can a self-published author compete with those titles? In Alan Sepinwall’s case, he was already well known thanks to his What’s Alan Watching? column at HitFix. In other words, reviewers had a reason to (a) know who he is, and (b) expect to find his book worthy of their time. The fact that the NYT reviewed the book shows that there’s no conspiracy to crowd out self-published authors; instead, there needs to be a mechanism whereby the best self-published titles are brought to the attention of reviewers. If anyone can work out how to do that, they might make a lot of money and build up a lot of influence…

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