As authors and/or publishers, we often struggle to get reviews for books—especially positive, glowing reviews. Each author that gets a positive review basks in its warmth for a while, and we usually share them with others like pictures of a new baby… or perhaps a new boat or motorcycle.
As readers, we seek out reviewers whose judgement we trust, whose taste runs at least roughly parallel to our own, so we can be guided by their opinions.
A few months ago, I started a review site strictly dedicated to genre fiction, The GenReView. Thus far, I have published quite a few reviews of books in a variety of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, romantic suspense, mystery, suspense, GLBT. It’s been fun, although finding reviewers I can rely upon to turn out at least one review each month has been a bit of a trial.
But, as I read some of the online discussion group postings and listservs to which I belong, I’m wondering about the importance of reviews. (Yeah, yeah, I know—why am I stabbing myself in the back?) Seriously, folks. An uncommonly large number of people say that reviews mean little to nothing to them. I was really surprised at this, especially given the amount of time and money publishers and authors devote to gaining reviews.
Personally, I like to read reviews of books before I commit to buying and/or checking them out at the library. My time is valuable, and I don’t like to waste any of it. I figure, once I find a couple of reviewers whose views and taste are close enough to my own, I can use them as bellwethers for at least some of my reading forays.
Reviews in print are highly prized, yet are the hardest to obtain for most authors and publishers. Many newspapers have cut back on “frills” and reviews are often viewed as that sort of luxury. Plus, the sheer number of books being published each year makes getting the few review slots a very competitive process. Online review venues are becoming more and more important to those who want reviews, as fewer and fewer print reviews are available.
Here are some things other than reviews that people said influenced what they pick up to read, in no particular order:
- Friends’ recommendations. If a friend whose reading tastes are similar to your own says, “Hey, you gotta read this book! It’s awesome!” then chances are you will be influenced to at least give the book a shot.
- Recommendations from other readers on [insert name of appropriate listerv] list. Whether you regard someone as a particular friend or not, if they read the same sort of fiction you read, and you’ve heard them say other positive things about books where you shared the same opinion, you are often likely to trust their opinion.
- Advertisements in “target” magazines. If you read Ladies Home Journal, and trust it, and see an ad for a new romance novel there, you may be influenced to see what it’s all about.
- Past satisfaction. The fact that you have read past titles by the author and enjoyed those books, is usually an indicator that you will like the newest title. But as authors get long in the tooth, or perhaps long in the pen, there is a general consensus that often authors begin to run out of new ideas, or become too predictable. (Just how many times can notorious ex-IRA-enforcer Sean Dillon tell someone that he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and performed Ibsen there?)
- The amount of advertising about the new book that they saw on television or heard on the radio… or now, on the Internet. Radio, TV and Internet ads for books are popping up more and more often. As with most ads, some people view these as intrusive and annoying, but they still get the name of the new book in front of potential readers… and that often works.
Surprisingly, back-cover blurbs seem to have the least influence of all. Well… maybe not so surprisingly. I know that I have been too often disappointed by what the blurb on the back said, compared to the reality of the book inside the covers, and I think many people have had that same experience.
What do you think, as reader, publisher or author? Are “formal” reviews of books losing their importance to you? If you are an author or publisher, is it worth the trouble it now seems to be, to get those elusive reviews? Do you trust online review sites, or do you only rely upon NYT Bestseller lists? What’s important to you when considering whether or not to read a new title?
I’d like to know what you think!