Monday, February 08, 2010

The importance of the book review

by Jane

Last week I was having lunch with the associate publisher of a major publishing house who was a bit late because he had to deal with the following situation: One of his authors had sent him a draft of a letter her husband, a lawyer, was going to send to Amazon threatening a lawsuit if they didn’t take down a negative Publisher’s Weekly review of her book.

My lunch companion managed to stop this from happening, at least for the time being. But it got me to thinking that in this age of blogging (and the internet in general), how important are reviews from the traditional consumer and trade outlets? I went online and found many, many websites and blogs that are set up specifically to “review” and recommend certain categories of books.

There is no doubt in my mind that book reviews do influence what people buy. But it seems to me that more and more readers want to know what their peers think, rather than reading the opinion of a bestselling author or an academic who might be considered more “qualified” to review a certain title.

I really believe consumers are relying less and less on the traditional review outlets, trade magazines like Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist and Kirkus (if it survives) and major market newspapers, many of which have closed their book sections--and are going to those blogs and websites established solely to review books.

I would love to know if you agree.


  1. I have never read any reviews. I hate to know anything about a book before I read it. I don't even read the jacket. I know! How do I choose? Well, truth be told...sometimes the cover. Also, the author. And often the first page of a book. I seem to have way more books than I can possibly read anyway, so my system's working for me.

    However, I have recently started picking up books featured by bloggers who I know like to read the same things I do. I don't actually read their reviews, but they almost all use star systems of some sort, and if the cover looks good, they reviewed it and gave it 4-5 stars, I'll pick it up. So yes, bloggers are influencing me, but I haven't stopped reading professional reviews because I never did. It seems like they have always given away too much, which makes me cautious.

    I recently picked up FAT CAT a magnificent YA, an I chose it based on the fact that a blogger I know liked it a lot.

  2. I'm not a big fan of reading reviews before reading a book either, but that's also how I am when it comes to movies. I don't want any hints or preconcieved notions about it going into it. My students love hearing reviews for the books their peers are reading, however, and so I set them all up on to get the oppurtunity to not only hear the opinions of their classmates, but also other kids their age.
    My students also love Book Commercial Wednesday we have in class, where I have to do a run-down of all the books I've read and get them to want to read it, and then they get to do their own book commercials as well.
    WHEW! Out of breath. I had no intentions of making this long of a comment... :)

  3. P.S. Meant to add this bit. My book doesn't come out until May, and I am more amused than concerned about my Amazon ranking (how low can I go? 2 million? 3 million?), but I've recently received two really, really good blogger reviews for my book, and out of curiosity, I monitored my Amazon ranking. For a few days after these reviews posted, my ranking spiked from 3.5 million or something to 180,000. I know that is probably only a few book sales, but it does mean that at least a few people probably acted based on these blogger reviews. And on a book they can't even get for 3 months. Peer reviews may have more weight than we think.

  4. If I'm uncertain about buying a book, I read the reviews from readers on Amazon, not the professional reviews. I find a teen posting "Luved it. It was grate!" to be a much better recommendation than all the formal, educated essays out there.

  5. I know librarians who still use the traditional School Library Journal reviews, etc. but for the general book buying public, I think reviews are far less important than how much shelf space the publisher initially buys for the book. Good books do get shared by word of mouth, but they have to first get into the hands of readers, and the reality is that many buyers simply wander into a store and pick up something that catches their eye. The one or two shelf copies, (spine visible, not cover) of my books will sell because someone's seen a good review. But many, many more of someone else's books will sell because their publisher is bigger than mine, and has a lot more money to put towards buying large displays.

  6. Personally, I read a book becautse I want to read it and I choose it because I like the jacket copy and the first page. If I'm undecided then I'll pick a random page half-way through the book and see if I like the writing.

    Reviews, books or movies, don't sway me either way. But if I was looking for reviews on a book, I would read reviews from peers who like the same genres/subjects I do.

  7. I read professional book reviews and occasionally I write unprofessional book reviews at my website, but I’m far more likely to buy my next book based on a common consensus of online folks or people I know. And I always make reading runaway bestsellers a top priority as I hope to write runaway bestsellers. I assume that if a bunch of people want to read a book, like say enough to buy it, there must be something about that book worth learning from and applying to my own writing. I read Dan Brown and James Patterson with the same close attention I give John Updike and Toni Morrison.

  8. I find it really helpful to use the reviews on Amazon -- I'll browse a handful of the ones marked "most helpful," look at the spread of ratings (i.e. 1 to 5), and then read a few of the most negative reviews. This combination usually gives me a good sense of what it will be like to read the book, and in the case of fiction, whether I want to, and for non-fiction, which of a handful of books on the topic is the best resource.

  9. I definitely pay attention to reviews, especially bloggers' reviews (if I trust the bloggers and know them to have similar reading tastes). But I also read trade reviews, I talk to librarians, and I swap books with friends who share my reading tastes.

    How sad that someone would threaten a lawsuit over an unflattering review. I can't imagine I'd be thrilled to get a bad review myself, but I'd rather take that risk than live in a world where freedom of expression was limited by the fear of financial ruin.

  10. I get most of my reviews from the blogosphere, and I read a wide variety of them. I've found a couple book review blogs that have largely the same reading preferences as I, so I trust them the most.

    On Goodreads, I like to read the most negative reviews --- something one person hates in a book, I might not mind so much. This way, I know if I'll be ok with a book's (perceived) flaws.

    Also, I use the first chapter as a decision-maker because it gives me an idea of the author's writing style.


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