I was flying into Chicago for an event. Usually I’m a sucker for in-flight wifi, but given that I didn’t have my laptop and I was in the middle of reading a really good book (The Force by Don Winslow), I didn’t pony up for it.
When the plane touched down, I turned off ‘airplane mode’ and the first e-mail to pop up on the screen was from my publisher.
The subject line was: “Holy. Shit.”
I figured it was good news. I was shocked to find out how good it was: Publishers Weekly, the premiere trade magazine for the publishing industry, picked my next book, The Woman from Prague, as one of the best reads of the summer.
Time for some real talk: A lot of authors will tell you reviews and lists don’t matter. I think at least some of those authors are lying. Whenever a new “hot books of the season” list comes out, of course I check it, on the off chance one of my books made the cut. This is rarely the case. That space tends to be reserved for the Big 5 publishers or the hyped literary darlings. It’s rare to see something like what I write: A genre book from a smaller publisher.
So to make a list like that is pretty incredible. And it meant a lot coming from Publishers Weekly. Here’s why: They said some nice things about my first book, but dinged me on the plot (fair). For the second book, they praised the plot but dinged me on tone (also fair). For the third, it was smooth sailing. All praise, no dings.
I hoped for the fourth book I’d make it a step higher—a starred review. If I was improving as a writer, that would be the natural progression. Maybe it’s a silly benchmark. Maybe that’s not even how I should be thinking about it. But I did. I wanted that star.
When the list came out, there was a little blurb about The Woman from Prague, and under that there was a link you could click to see the full review. Every time I clicked it (and I clicked it a lot), it would say the review wasn’t available yet.
Weeks passed. Every now and again I’d be working on something and click over to see if it was posted. It went from habit to tic. I’d do it without even realizing I was doing it.
Even knowing that new reviews tend to go up on Fridays, I would do this all week long. Morning and night. When the review finally posted, I froze.
I got my star.
And a hell of a nice pull quote: “Hart’s Kafkaesque fourth novel featuring amateur PI Ash McKenna has great pace, a fascinating relationship between the central characters, and superb atmosphere… Noir fans will be enthralled.”
They went one better, too, putting a picture of my goofy mug at the front of the review section. I don’t tend to keep mementoes, or else I do and end up tossing them after a few years because I don’t like clutter.
But this is a thing I’ll keep.
From a technical book-selling standpoint, this is great: A starred review tends to mean more orders from bookstores and libraries. And the timing couldn’t be better. This is the first book in the series that’ll come out in hardcover, a format which tends to be more popular with libraries.
So right off the bat, more copies should (in theory) go out the door.
It speaks to the importance of trade reviews. The average reader doesn’t know what Publishers Weekly is, but the people who keep the gears of the industry turning—they do.
And, it’s a nice little feather in my cap, as I’m currently without an agent. Mine retired, which means when I finish my next book, I’ll be back on the market. This certainly will not hinder the search.
For as happy as I am from a business perspective, I’ve even more happy from a writing perspective. The trajectory of the reviews was going up, which I took as a good sign: My first book will always be special and important, but I also want it to be the worst book I ever write.
I want the last book I ever write to be the best.
Whether I accomplish that, who knows, all this shit is subjective. But it’s nice to see something that could serve as evidence that, yeah, maybe I am getting better at this.