Because of the success of their recent Children’s Book Week supplement, previously just an annual event, the San Francisco Book Review and Sacramento Book Review have announced they will regularly include the popular child-reviewed feature every month, beginning with the next issue in June.
Heidi Komlofske, president and CEO of the four-year-old book reviews, says that in the past the publications would partner with local schools to have children review books for the yearly features. “That didn’t work, though,” she says, “because the teachers didn’t have time to make sure the kids were turning in reviews. What ended up happening was that there were a lot of free books out there, but just a few reviews coming in from the kids.”
Commencing with the current issue, that policy has shifted to the supervision of “responsible adults,” such as parents, grandparents, and regular reviewers. The result was that nearly 100 kids sent in 130 picture book, tween, and YA reviews – a record for the publisher – and Komlofske has decided to make the section a monthly. “We still provide adult reviews of our kids’ books, and the mixture is equal,” she says. In addition to cover art of the reviewed books, the section is illustrated with several color photos of the children who reviewed the titles, along with their names and ages. Parents can find information about how to sign up their children to review books here.
The company that publishes the two book reviews is 1776 Productions, which Komlofske owns and operates out of Sacramento. She employs a staff of 12, including editor-in-chief Ross Rojek, who used to own comic book stores, and two interns. Komlofske has a background in marketing and graphic design, which contributes to the professionalism in the design of the online periodicals.
The book reviews, which are unique from each another and published online bi-monthly – Sacramento one month; San Francisco the next – began as print magazines sponsored by advertisers. In 2011, though, Komlofske stopped the print editions in favor of the online format. “Digital is so much more robust, and allows us to be more flexible,” she says. In the process, 1776 Productions lost most of its advertising dollars. How, then, do the book reviews generate income? “We have a ‘sponsored review program’ for self-published authors now,” says Komlofske. “Fees range from $125 to $299. We don’t guarantee a good review. The author gets to approve or reject the review, and if it’s bad they can trade it for a free ad.” In addition, for a $400 fee self-published authors can be professionally interviewed and recorded for podcasts that are available on both Web sites, and can also be used for the authors’ own marketing purposes. The reviews regularly get a few thousand downloads each month. The company will soon launch a free app for both periodicals that can be viewed as a PDF or on a tablet.
Although the reviews include 40 book categories, it seems that Komlofske is partial to children’s books. “It’s amazing to work with such young and voracious readers,” she says. “These kids live all over the country, and when they receive the books we send them they’re very excited.” Komlofske also licenses the book reviews out to the cities of Tulsa and Portland, Ore., where their online presence is equally as popular as the original reviews in California.