Book Reviewer Shakeups

Nervous-making news came this week for mid-list or debut authors. First, venerable children's literature reviewer The Horn Book was snapped up by Junior Library Guild. And yesterday the New York Times revealed that Brian Kenney of School Library Journal is now editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly AND Library Journal.

There's more. PW children's book reviewer Elizabeth Devereaux lost her job in the cutbacks (she's reviewed for them since 1989!), Críticas, an English speaker's guide to the latest Spanish titles, was shut down (after 8 years!), and senior editor Aída Bardales laid off. Condolences to one and all. These are hard blows.

Trickling way down through the industry chain, what does this mean for authors already eyeing shrinking print review space? I asked Roger Sutton of the Horn Book this question on his blog, and he gave a reassuring answer about their continued feisty independence when it comes to reviews:
JLG sees books--manuscripts--probably six months to a year before we do. Whatever they choose goes automatically to their subscribers--if you subscribe, for example, to JLG's YA novel plan, you'll get a YA novel chosen by JLG every month. Reviews from HB and elsewhere have no effect on this process.

The possibility of collusion only comes in after the fact, where the Horn Book could give starred reviews to JLG selections, thus making them look good in some generalized kind of way. Media Source has assured me they have no interest in Horn Book doing this, I imagine because a), it would undermine our value with our subscribers and b) because it would be so transparent as to be worthless.

But the perception a few people have seems to be that a good Horn Book review could make people buy a given book from JLG when in fact this is simply not possible. JLG customers are not buying books--they are buying a service that pre-selects books for them.

And know, too, what I think this change of ownership does do for the Horn Book. Media Source has resources--financial and otherwise--we could only dream about, and they have deep experience with youth librarians in school and public libraries. They also have a sales force, something HB has never had before. This is a very good deal for us and has my complete enthusiasm.
Whew. Well, that's good news. As for PW, SLJ, and LJ, they're already part of the Reed family, but I'm keeping an eye on the editorial tier right below Brian Kenney. I want to know that reviewers at all three publications can still disagree wildly about the merits of a bestseller as well as continue to cover a wide range of titles.

Cutbacks and consolidation on the national level is yet another reason why not-so-famous (vs. infamous) authors should take my Kids Heart Authors collaborator and marketing guru Deborah Sloan's excellent advice: we have to court readers locally, regionally, and virtually.