The Value of a Publishers Weekly Review for a Debut Author

Sarah Stankorb
6 min readMay 26, 2023

Learning Curve is a new series tracing the experiences of debut author Sarah Stankorb, with insights into the steps between writing the manuscript and getting the book into readers’ hands.

The author’s first book review

I hadn’t accepted that my book was in its final form — in fact, I was still begging the production team to change a couple of phrases — when I received an email late one Wednesday night from my publicist at Hachette full of exclamation points. My book had earned a STARRED review from Publishers Weekly!!!!

Judging by the exclamation points, I knew this was a good thing. But the number of fancy publishing terms jammed into the first sentence of this post (production team, publicist, Hachette) belies how new all this is to me. I didn’t even know enough to know how exactly excited I should be.

I decided I was going to dedicate myself to trying to get a book published over fourteen years ago, then I spent most of the subsequent years failing to sell a book. I’d started to wonder if it was ever going to happen when it did. A dream scenario landed smack in the hardest year of my adult life. I got a deal to write a book about topics I’d been reporting on for years as a journalist just as I wound up caring for both my parents as dementia set in, including for my father who had terrorized me as a kid. He was diagnosed with cancer, and I cared for him as he declined and ultimately passed away.

I didn’t mean for his story to bleed into the book — one about abuse. I’m also not sure how it couldn’t have, he so dominated my days. In its way, writing the book kept me going. Although, my first draft was a mess. I reworked it, chopping the thing up with scissors for a complete restructure.

“Congratulations!!!!” my email now read. How had I gone from that mess to this? Worst, someone I didn’t know had read the book. This was my first irrational anxiety.

I handed my phone to my husband and asked him to read the review. For years, as a woman who made her living writing on the internet, my mantra has been “don’t read the comments.” A male friend recently told me he reads every review of his books. I told him I’ve seen enough comments threatening to stab me in the eyes, that I’ve stopped looking at reader responses.



Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb