Friday, 28 November 2008

Book Reviews

Imagine that you’re an influential book reviewer, and each week publishers send you boxes of their books in the hope that you’ll sprinkle some of your fairy-dust over one of their titles and write it a wonderful review. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

How do you think that book reviewers reach such an enviable position? By reading widely and then writing honest, informed responses to the books that they have read, so that their readers know that they can trust them.

When a trusted reviewer praises a book, many of their readers will go out and buy it right away. If they enjoy the book, they’re more likely to buy the next book that the reviewer recommends. However, when readers don’t enjoy books that they’ve bought as a result of a reviewer’s recommendation, not only are they likely to stop reading that reviewer’s work, they’re also likely to avoid any other books that the reviewer recommended.

Book reviewers can only react honestly about books when their opinions have no impact on their financial health: if they’re paid by newspapers or magazines then their reviews will generally be candid and reliable; but if they’re paid by a publisher or writer, their reviews will be written with their paycheque in mind because if they write a negative review, that publisher or writer is unlikely to hire them again.

So, if you want a book reviewer you can rely on, make sure they’re independent. And if you’re looking for people to review your work remember it’s not normal for reviews to be bought and sold. If they’re not free, they’re not worth the paper—or pixels—that they’re written on and no one with any sense will take them seriously.


Gutsy Living said...

Thanks for the information. What about Publisher's Weekly? I assume those reviewers are paid reviewers.

Jane Smith said...

They will be paid for, but if PW is anything like any of the reputable publications I know of the reviewers will be paid by PW for each review, rather than the publishers or authors funding them. I'm not sure, as I don't personally know anyone who reviews for them: however, I do have several friends who write book reviews for most of the UK national press, and they're all employed by the titles they write for rather than by the publishers who put out the books they comment on.

Jean said...

Yes, this makes sense. But forgive me if I sound naive. I'm wondering how I should go about the task of getting my book (to be published by a small press) reviewed.

Jane Smith said...

Jean, getting reviews is usually the responsibility of the publisher, so you shouldn't have anything to worry about: they should send out advance reader copies (ARCs) to all the reviewers a few months prior to publication, to make sure they're received well in time for the magazines' publication schedules.

If your publisher doesn't do this, then you have to ask them for some support in the way of free copies to send out yourself; if they're not prepared or able to do that, then you'll have to bear the cost yourself, and put together your own media list.

If you want to, you can email me to ask questions in private (my address is on my blog's front page).

Anonymous said...

It's worth mentioning, though, that newspapers and magazines are absolutely swamped with books, while certainly in the daily newspapers the space devoted to reviews is shrinking. It's not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the book if it doesn't pick up many reviews - there are all sorts of external reasons why it may or may not. A publisher's publicity department spends a good deal of its time chasing down literary editors and trying to persuade them to review books, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

rxvenomqueen said...

After reading the comment you left on one of my blogs a month ago, which goes to show how bad I can be with 'checking in' on my blog, I was curious about your blog and decided to check it out. Much to my surprise, there's oodles and oodles of information here for which I may need someday.
On your 'Book Review' blog, it never occured to me that a reviewer's name is literally riding on what they praise...something I never gave thought about until now.
Can't wait to read more. Until then, I'll happily browse through prior blogs. And lastly, thanks for stopping by my little area in the blogoshpere and commenting! :)

Marian Perera said...

Now I want to write about reviews as well.

Great point about reviewers earning their readers' trust by being honest. There are some reviewers and some websites which will give anything a five-star rating - not because they're being paid, necessarily, but more because they're not discriminating.

Maybe they just want to rack up a large number of reviews, and it's easier to just copy the blurb and say, "this was a great read". Or maybe it's because they don't want to disappoint or enrage writers (some people take criticism very personally). Either way, though, I either don't read or don't trust these kinds of reviews.

I'll save the rest for my own post. :)

Jane Smith said...

Marian, tell me when you've written your piece and I'll link to it if I remember. Meanwhile, have you read Sally Zigmond's book blog, or Dovegreyreader? There are links to both on the right, over there, look!

Daniel Blythe said...

When my novel The Cut was published in 1998 I didn't appreciate how lucky I was to get a quarter-page review in the Times from Rachel Campbell-Johnston. It just wouldn't happen nowadays. I've had a lot of regional reviews for my non-fiction but the thing that frustrates me is how much of their word-count they spend basically reproducing the blurb or press release, which is then followed by maybe one line of opinion. It's so lazy.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the Sunday Times now has a policy of only reviewing first novels if they like them. I imagine the lack of a review is probably more damaging to a first-time novelist than a bad review would be. The worst thing is people simply not knowing your book is out there.

Jane Smith said...

Daniel wrote, "When my novel The Cut was published in 1998 I didn't appreciate how lucky I was to get a quarter-page review in the Times from Rachel Campbell-Johnston." That was amazing even ten years ago, Daniel--now I just can't see it happening for a first novel. Not ever.

Lesley Glaister, who was one of my MA tutors, reviews books for the Times and told me that she'd noticed a sharp drop in the number of books that the Times would even consider. It has cut back on the number of reviewers it employs, and I don't think it's much changed the pay.

As for those reviews which are no more than reconstituted jacket copy or press releases, well, that's always happened: it's amazing how many news stories do the same. A friend of mine who runs her own PR agency uses it to her clients' advantage. I don't think there's any way round that: it just underlines the importance of writing good press releases!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was incredibly lucky to get reviews for The Mathematics of Love in as many broadsheets as I did, and at least some of the tabloids: some were in roundups, but still quite substantial, others were free-standing. I confess, it was quite a relief knowing that a really bad review wouldn't be published, though I'm sure you're right and any review is better than none from the publicist's point of view, however painful for the author. But the shorter listings in magazines and things often don't do much more than summarise the plot, (fair enough, I suppose, seeing it from the readers' point of view, but depressing if it privileges high-concept but low-execution fiction) and some of the local reviews were more-or-less the press release verbatim.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Jane,

Just wanted to let you know that I put up my blog post on reviews!

Jane Smith said...

Apologies for the comment-spam which appeared here just now: I've deleted it, and have switched on the comment moderation feature in an attempt to stop it happening again.