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Behind The Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Brian Hill & Dee Power

Book Reviews – So Many Titles – So Little Space
By Dee Power

In the last few months a number of newspapers have decreased the amount of space devoted to book reviews, much to the dismay of the reviewers and authors.

When we asked literary agents and acquisition editors at the major publishing houses whether reviews were a critical factor in the success of a book, they didn't rank it that highly. Of course a good review in a major, like The New York Times or San Francisco Chronicle does impact sales. Just in case you’re curious, quality of writing was ranked very highly.

We asked bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries:

Are book reviews important to the success of a book? "To the extent that they get the author's name in front of the public and inform the reader about the book's subject, they're important. But good reviews are not important. Bad publicity really is better than no publicity. For one thing, it tells a reader that your work is important enough to be reviewed. That's why I try not to sweat bad reviews (with try being the operative word here)."

Stephanie Laurens answered the question:

How do you feel when you see a review of one of your books that has a negative tone to it? Do reviews matter much to you or to your fan base? "I don't read reviews, only those good ones friends send me and then only to extract useful quotes for my website. Word of mouth is important but that's not formed by reviewers but by readers talking directly to one another.

"Simply the fact that you are reviewed and thus your name and title are stated can be useful, but the substance of reviews is in reality, at bottom line, irrelevant in all segments of the entertainment industry. The audience doesn't allow any reviewer to dictate to them what they ought to like in their entertainment - the audience decides for themselves. With genre fiction, the vast (as in greater than 99%) majority of the audience has no idea reviews of these books even exist, wouldn't read them if they did, and even those who do don't allow the reviewer to tell them what to read. So in genre fiction, reviews of a work are useful in the sense that they call attention to the fact the book is out there to be read, are nice and can be mutually useful if they are good, but beyond that, they don't matter. Just as with author promotion, in genre fiction, no review can affect enough readers to make a difference.

"I'm going to add a catch-22 here which relates to the above - promotion and reviews. In genre fiction, a large part of the reason neither of these is of any great value in initially building your audience, even when they are good, is because the distribution of your book is already set. Accounts buy-in based on previous sales of your books, and their orders come in from 5 months to 1 month ahead of release. So unless you are already a bestseller and can be assured your book is going to be on the racks across America, readily accessible to every potential reader, then any promotion or review can only have an affect when it influences someone who can actually find your book to buy. This greatly limits the effectiveness of author-driven promotion and reviews."

Here’s how Susan Elizabeth Phillips answered the question:

Your books get terrific reviews from readers. Hardly any of them make even a mildly negative comment. Do you pay special attention to meeting your readers' expectations? Do your book ideas spring initially from an interesting character, or an interesting situation, or both? "Believe me, I've gotten terrible reviews as well as good reviews. As far as I can see, neither have affected the sales of my books one way or the other. It's all word of mouth. The ideas for my books can spring from a character who intrigues me or a situation. No rhyme or reason to it."


Reviews in industry publications such as Publishers Weekly, Kirk's, Booklist and Library Journal are a completely different matter. These reviews affect the buyers in bookstores and libraries. A negative review can have a negative impact on sales. You can check the websites of each of these publications for their submission requirements. Usually the publisher provides at least one advance reading copy or galley copy, three to four months prior to the publication date of the title. If you're an author don't bother submitting your book if it's already been published.

Authors can approach newspaper book editors for a review. Send a press release and a copy of the book. The best bet is to go for off the review page coverage, more readers means more potential sales.

And of course there are always the book review websites. And is one of the best.

Dee Power is the co-author with Brian Hill of The Making of a Bestseller: Sucess Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them, BusinessPlan-Basics, Attracting Capital From Angels, Inside Secrets To Venture Capital and the novel, Over Time .

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