Have you any idea how many books are published in a year? The number is staggering.
In 2019, print book sales in the US alone was 675 million. That’s a lot of books! And that’s just print. It doesn’t include audio or digital. And that’s just here. It doesn’t include global sales.
It’s no wonder book reviews have become ubiquitous. With so many books out there, how would you begin to choose what to read without them?
Book reviews have been getting a bad rap for a very long time. Even as far back as the 1840s, Edgar Allen Poe slammed them as a sham, being written as nepotism or with ulterior motives. And he wasn’t the only one. There is a long line of people who have been bashing reviewers and reviews through time.
But you can see why they are important. A book review gives you a snapshot of what the book is about and tells you whether or not you should take the time to read the book. I don’t necessarily make my decision based upon whether or not the reviewer liked the book but rather if it sounds like something that interests me.
But we don’t just rely on professionals any more for reviews.
If Oprah or Reese or Jenna tells you to read a book, it is an immediate success and climbs the charts. They are readers like you and me but they are famous so their opinion matters.
If you are lucky enough to be chosen by New York Times or the Washington Post or the Atlantic to be reviewed and they crucify you, at least you know you were in the upper strata of the literary elite or something like that to be reviewed at all. Better luck next time.
But these are the days of the Vox Pop, the voice of the people. Opinions are rarely left only to ‘professional’ critics. Hundreds of thousands of Goodreads or Amazon reviews will put you in good stead. When I read reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I find for the most part the readers are mostly kind and generous and are just looking to get lost in a good story. The paraprofessional reviewers on those sites that get advanced reading copies for professional book promotion websites are more discriminating but are mixed in with everyone else.
The big publishers are in the mix with websites, email newsletters, facebook pages and online book clubs.
Then, there are podcasts, weeklies with book columns, magazines devoted to book reviews. Booksellers in the independent stores (when they were open) who were always a good source for recommendations. And blogs like this. A plethora of them.
And word of mouth.
And the popularity of book clubs.
Since everyone’s opinion counts, and there are so many books to choose from, the little guys from small publishing houses, mid-list publishers, and indie publishers fall down the rabbit hole. Even getting your book into the right hands, takes money and connections.
Where I’m leading to with all this is the tale of my own novel.
What Love Becomes, was published by a small literary press. There was no marketing budget. Advanced Readers Copies were promised but never materialized before the book was published to generate some buzz..
There is an industry out there to review, market, and promise to do whatever else to promote your book. That presents impossible issues at every level of sale. It all costs. Whether you have the resources to hire a publicist, to travel to book signings, to pay for tables at book fairs, to give talks at libraries and other venues, participate in book giveaways. It all takes resources—personal and monetary.
Needless to say— word of mouth is my primary resource and the bit of publicity I can generate.
And I am not alone in this.
I did the best I could. I did get some reviews.
Here are some links to a couple of reviews and a profile, if you are interested.
So, what is she going on about, you wonder?
Like every other writer in the world, I am always hoping that one reader will be THE ONE to make the difference. We can all dream, can’t we?
But in reality, I have been happy enough for the feedback I have gotten… this character resonated with me… I didn’t think anyone felt like that… yup, I never wanted to talk about that either…definitely going to recommend to my book club… when will the next one be finished... that in itself is divine.
I sit on both sides of the fence.
AS A WRITER, I know the importance of people talking about your book and I know the cynical side, the business side, the vulture side. So in many ways the reader reviews are probably the most genuine.
Seven or so years ago, when I sat at my desk looking out the window and thought, hmmm. what if a tall, slender golden-haired woman married to a troubled vet had fallen in love with a dark curly haired man and what would happen if she had gotten into an accident as she was about to leave him? And what if this dark curly haired man not knowing of the accident went home to tell his wife he was leaving her? And what if a journalist suffering from ptsd was on leave from her London assignments and happened to be at the accident site?
And what if? And what if? And what if…as Stephen King advises as the key to storytelling.
It’s been a hard road but creating that world has been particularly uplifting when I go to book clubs and the discussions are lively and impassioned and gratifying. There are characters people love, hate, are ambivalent about, that they can relate to, that bring back memories. It’s what a writer hopes for. Readers to care about characters as if they are real people.
Am I disappointed the book hasn’t had more readers? Of course, I am. Absolutely. But I’ve done what I can do and the readers I have had are the best any writer can hope for. And that’s all I will ever burden you with concerning my book.
AS A READER, what can be more unfulfilling than finishing a really good book and not talking about it? Or finishing a book that raises so many questions and sitting alone with them?
So here I am with you now doing just that. Not reviewing per se—whatever that means—just talking.
Next week, for real, some thoughts on The Other Americans by Laila Lalami.