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Black Static


Trade Secrets Part 1: Where Books Come From

23rd Apr, 2009

Author: Peter Tennant

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By way of filling in time until something more interesting occurs to me, I thought I’d write a bit about how we put the Case Notes column together for Black Static.

At Kirkus Reviews they publish something like 4800 reviews a year, while Publishers Weekly run approximately 7000, and actual reviews only account for a fraction of titles received (I read somewhere that Kirkus receive more than 50,000 books a year for review). At Case Notes we scrape by with a measly two or three titles per week, and yes, I do feel hard done by, but console myself with the thought that at least I don’t need to rent a warehouse or two to store them all.

More than half of the books are sent to the TTA Press address shown on the website, and every three weeks or so Andy will email me a list of what is available and I’ll tell him which titles I’m interested in seeing, and Andy will then post those on to me. The remainder are sent to me direct from the publishers, who’ve acquired my address at some point in the past.

In the early days of Black Static I was quite pro-active in chasing down books and asking publishers for review copies, but nowadays I’m less so.  As we’ve become more established and people have grown aware of Black Static as a review outlet, the volume of books received has increased, and so not only is there less need to hustle for review copies on my part, but also less room to manoeuvre when it comes to telling publishers that a book will be reviewed if they send me a copy.

Nowadays if I specifically request a review copy, it’s usually because I’m looking to beef up a feature, or if I’ve become aware of a new publisher and want to get on their radar (e.g. as per the White Noise column in Black Static #10, I’ve only recently found out about Ex Occidente Press and Ghost Writer Publications, and requests for review copies have been sent to both).

The scenario that I think works best for everybody, is if the publisher queries with me via before sending us a review copy – I can give them my address, so that the book can be sent direct, which saves time (the sooner I receive a book, obviously the more chance there is of it being reviewed), and if I’m not interested I can tell them and save the publisher wasting a review copy. (In parenthesis, I often receive books that are inappropriate for a Black Static review, such as a Heroes tie-in novel and a biography of the actor Alan Bates.)

Black Static is a horror magazine, so obviously horror books are suitable for a Case Notes review, but what else am I interested in seeing?  I’ll also consider dark and urban fantasy, though the latter might be more appropriate for Interzone. Crime/thriller fiction is okay as long as it comes from the dark, psychological end of the spectrum (think Se7en and not Ocean’s 11).  There’s some overlap between horror and science fiction (e.g. apocalyptic, end of the world novels), and I’ll consider non-fiction that might be of interest to horror readers (e.g. criticism or books about alleged supernatural phenomena). Mainstream work with a dark complexion fits the bill (e.g. American Psycho or Beloved) and slipstream. And I’m happy to cut Black Static contributors a little more slack when it comes to what I’ll look at, on the grounds that if our readers have enjoyed their work in the past then they’ll be interested in what they’re doing now (Westerns are outside our remit, but if Joel Lane ever writes a cowboy novel then I want to review it).

Stuff that I’m not interested in seeing? Books that fall outside our remit. Books that are too old (if your novel was published in January don’t send me a review copy in November). Self-published books by people with no track record outside of self-publishing. Books by authors who then trot off to message boards or take to their blogs and slag off the reviewer if they don’t like what they hear. Books by authors I hate. And probably half a dozen other types of books that I can’t think of right now.

The golden rule: if in doubt about whether to send a review copy email me via and ask.

And the platinum rule: if I express an interest in seeing a review copy then it doesn’t guarantee that a review will be done. We do our best, but space is limited.

If you want to be sure that your book is mentioned in Black Static, and know for certain that any comments will be wholly positive, then I understand that the advertising rates are very reasonable.


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