Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who Values Book Reviews?

A new Broadway comedy just debuted, It’s Only A Play, pokes fun at the theater world, sparing no one, from snobby theater critics and struggling actors to directors, producers, playwrights and even theater patrons.  At the heart of it, the play zeroes in on how those involved in plays live to hear what critics have to say, no matter how much they claim not to, and it shows how reviews make or break a play and supply the only sense of reality for ambitious, egotistical, and sometimes desperate creative types.  It made me wonder if the same holds true in book publishing.

Do reviews make or break a book?   I think they mean more to authors – as a validation of their work – than they do to the sales process.  Most books don’t get a lot of major reviews, and whether they are positive or negative, reviews can be outweighed by social media, savvy marketing, aggressive advertising, and creative publicity with traditional media.

However, reviews are more important to fiction than non-fiction.  And a good review in a quality media outlet, such as Library Journal or Publishers Weekly, can increase sales and serve as leverage to generate more media buzz for your book.  Surprisingly, though, one literary agent told me last week that reviews in places like PW or Kirkus “don’t do shit.”  He dismissed them as irrelevant.

Reviews, depending on who says what, can be helpful in a number of ways.  First, who ever reads them may be so moved as to order the book.  Second, you can pull positive quotes from the reviews and post them in your marketing materials, website, social media and on the cover of a second printing/edition.  Third, and perhaps most importantly, they give confidence to the author, helping to reassure them that someone authoritative thinks their book is worth reading.

The ego of most authors is massively obese, yet fragile, and when someone says a few kind words about the tens of thousands of words they’ve written, they feel rewarded.

Of course, certain reviewers matter more than others.  A reader posting on Amazon means far less than what The New York Times says.  Reviews read by bookstores and libraries are important, because they order books in bulk.  They will read PW, Library Journal, Kirkus, Choice, NYT, and a handful of other publications.  Reviews posted in big online communities are important too, such as GoodReads, Riffle, and BookTrib.

Whereas plays can close shortly after bad reviews, as theater is much more dependent on such reviews, books have many different options to be reviewed, promoted, and marketed.  Reviews may serve as therapy to authors, but in the long run, are far less important today than they used to be when it comes to sales.  Sure we want lots of great reviews, but reviews are just open piece of the PR pie.

Oh, and the play, by the way, was hilarious. Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing were just excellent. Matthew Broderick was dull and lacked depth. I am sure they are reading this review with great trepidation.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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