The word “discoverability,” when used in the book publishing context, tends to focus on how readers can find authors and books that are new to them. But another part of the discoverability challenge is how readers can find authors and books that are new to the world, as in recently or soon-to-be published. As brick-and-mortar bookstores close and newspaper book review sections fold, it’s harder to stumble across publishers’ latest offerings.
A new, free online newsletter for consumers, titled Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers–from the editors of Shelf Awareness–aims to introduce everyday readers to the best new books. And while that sounds like an obvious goal, the fact is that it is much easier for consumers to learn about upcoming movies and music than it is for them to learn about new books. “Movie houses put up their trailers many months in advance and show previews every time you’re at the movies,” says Jenn Risko, Publisher of Shelf Awareness. “You start seeing ads on iTunes for upcoming albums in advance and they usually release the hit song before the whole album….I’ve wished for a long time that I knew what was cool and new [in books]. This is our answer to that.”
Although websites like the Huffington Post and Daily Beast have added books and publishing coverage, you still have to wade through them to find any book reviews, which aren’t the focus of those sites (reviews of single books don’t drive traffic). And while publications like Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly review dozens of new and upcoming books each week, they are aimed at professional book buyers and publishing professionals and they include positive, neutral and negative reviews. Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers, sent out on Tuesdays and Fridays at noon, will review just 25 books each week–including e-book exclusives, paperback debuts, book apps, audiobooks, and traditional hardcover releases–across all genres. It aims to feature only “the best” books.
“The reviews will be honest, but they’ll be positively honest,” says Bethanne Patrick, consumer editor of the new publication, “not because we’re against running critical or negative reviews but because we’re trying to set up the 25 best books for people to pay attention to in their local bookstore. That’s the goal behind it. We’re not reviewing everything and we’re not trying to do critical analysis.” However, reviews of exceptional books will be starred, “in recognition that it often takes a starred review for a library or bookstore to stock a title.”
Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers also aims to differentiate itself from Kirkus and PW by the backgrounds of its over 60 freelance reviewers, who include booksellers, critics, book bloggers, and librarians with “great street cred” in a variety of genres. The reviewers are paid more than the reviewers for Kirkus or PW. Patrick and book review editor Marilyn Dahl will select the books to be included each week.
The newsletter will also include features and items from the professional edition of Shelf Awareness that are most likely to interest general readers, including book trailer of the day, author media appearance listings, and news on topics like e-reader price wars and bookstore chains.
Patrick said that the new Shelf Awareness is aiming for 150,000 to 200,000 subscribers by the end of the year. The newsletter will be promoted extensively using social media (Patrick already has 87,000 Twitter followers, thanks in part to her weekly “Friday Reads” campaign), outreach from trade publishers to their in-house consumer lists, and recommendations from subscribers to the professional edition. Ingram has agreed to license the publication’s reviews, and other deals are in negotiation. Some of the larger independent bookstores have also expressed interest in adding the publication’s reviews to their in-store newsletters. Shelf Awareness has partnered with social media agency Banyan Branch–which also handles social media for Glee and Fox Searchlight–to run galley giveaways.
Like the professional edition, Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers is entirely advertising-supported.