Monday, May 19, 2008

Reviewing Reviews

I just got a pair of reviews for my latest Jack book, FUZZY NAVEL (July 8, 2008), and it got me thinking about something:

Reviews sell books.

I know this for a fact, because I buy books after reading reviews. It doesn't even matter if the book was given a thumbs up or thumbs down. I read reviews for content, not opinion, and reviews alert me to the existence of the types of books I normally buy.

If this works on me, I'm guessing it works on other people. As a counter example, I've never bought a book because I ate a piece of candy with the book cover image glued to the wrapper. Because of this, I don't pass out snacks to potential fans. But I do try to get reviews.

Unfortunately, getting reviewed is becoming harder and harder.

The first reason: Too much competition. There are 200,000 books being released every year, and too little space to review them in. The bestsellers get preferential treatment, leaving the rest of us midlisters to fight for scraps.

The second reason: Too few publications review books. As newspaper circulation dwindles, so does advertising by publishers, which reduces or eliminates the book review pages.

I haven't gotten a lot of print reviews. No big ones like the NYT, ET, or People, and not many by bigger newspapers. My big hometown paper, The Chicago Tribune, has never reviewed me, even though my books are set in Chicago. Though my other two Chicago papers, The Sun-Times and the Daily Herald, have reviewed me, but in both of those cases knowing the reviewer probably had something to do with it.

Genre mags have been good to me, and I've been reviewed in EQMM, The Strand, Mystery Scene, and Crimespree, but they've each missed a few titles.

The trade mags (Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, PW) have all reviewed me, but again they've missed a title here and there.

The Internet has been very kind. Lots of book review sites and blogs have mentioned my books, and Amazon.com reviewers continue to post their comments about my oeuvre.

How does a writer get reviews?

Usually a publicist, either in-house or independent, sends out galleys or ARCs to reviewers along with a brief letter and perhaps a press release. Reviewers can receive over a hundred books a week, even though they only have space in their column to review six books.

Sometimes an author will send books directly to reviewers, and this personal touch may improve their chances. But it's expensive, time consuming, and there is still no guarantee you'll be reviewed.

A good way to get reviewed is to already be a bestseller. Then reviewers will seek out the book, because they know their readers are anxious to hear it. But even then, some reviewers might pass on reviewing the latest Patricia Cornwell if given the chance, and might embrace a smaller author whose book they adored.

Since competition for print reviews is so stiff, many authors are concentrating on the Internet. The World Wide Web has the advantage of being Googleable forever, which can lead people to your book for years after it's been published. But most of the review sites are small, getting very few hits. While it may be great that you're reviewed on 100 blogs, you have to consider the cost-effectiveness of it. Sending out 100 ARCs will cost about $500 (double if you have to pay for your own ACRs), and you may only be reaching an audience of 50,000 people total. Two million people read the Tribune, and it only cost you $5 to send the ARC.

I've seen authors offer free copies of books to Amazon reviewers, which seems silly considering the very small number of books Amazon actually sells.

I've also seen authors give free books to bloggers, which is a somewhat better prospect, but even then you have to consider cost-effectiveness.

It's a dismal situation.

Writers and publishers spend big money on ads and fancy multimedia websites, with unspectacular results.

They spend big money on galleys and ARCs, even though the overwhelming majority of them don't lead to reviews.

More and more books are being released, with less and less print venues to review them in, and Interent reviews are probably not cost-effective to procure.

So what's the answer? Here are a few:

1. Buy reviews. I'm not talking about paying a reviewer. I'm talking about getting a more famous peer to review your book, then using that as the basis for print ads. If your publisher has an advertising budget, it's a much better use of their money if they run 200 words about your latest, reviewed by a known writer, than the standard book cover/author photo/blurb.

2. Schmooze. Reviewers are people. Meet them. Be nice to them. Chances are they'll remember you, and you'll have a better shot at being reviewed than the thousands of authors they don't know.

3. Give away ebooks. While mailing out review copies to people with small blogs probably isn't cost effective, you can email them a pdf file of your latest for free. You'll have to clear this with your publisher first. Remind them how much they spend on galleys.

4. Become a reviewer. Many of us have blogs and MySpace pages. There is also Shelfari, Twitter, GoodReads, Amazon, BN.com, and many others. Review your fellow authors in as many places as possible.

What are some other good places to post reviews? I want to hear them. By the end of the week I'd like to have a semi-comprehensive list of all the major places fans can review books. Then I'll repost this blog entry with the list at the bottom, to the service of all writerdom.

In the meantime, I humbly ask you to review my books in as many places as humanly possible.

Yes, I'm serious. Review my books. Right now.

32 comments:

Simon Haynes said...

If one of those small blogs you mention DOES review one of your books, it's easy enough to link to the review and bring it to the attention of visitors to your own website and blogs. I try and link to them all - big or small.

Okay, so a blog review is someone's personal opinion and not some heavyweight reviewer doing an in-depth in a big newspaper. On the other hand, if someone feels strongly enough about your work to review it on their blog, then you've hit a nerve somewhere.

ben said...

Great post Joe. I just finished reading Fuzzy, all I can say is wow! Like you said...its time for me to go start reviewing. Thanks again for the ARC, Ben

Kameron said...

I'm not sure I agree with 4). Giving a blurb is one thing, as it's pretty easy to come up with at least one good thing about a published work (hey, it was good enough to see print). However, a full-on review can sometimes infringe on that whole "professional courtesy" philosophy. I've had reviews where I gave honest criticism come back and bite me in the butt. I now avoid publishing reviews on books within the genre or from the same publisher I've written for.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Konrath, I would love to review your books. I am always looking for a great book to read by an author that gives each book his/her best.

You speak of author's producing an ARC. Funny, but I have just read an ARC. An ARC of a favorite author.

I posted a review of that ARC on Barnes and Noble's website.

Much to my horror, methinks that they are censoring legitimate reviews in order to keep ratings numbers up for a favored author.

Is not Barnes and Noble a bookSELLLER? Am I not a bookBUYER?

I am offended and flabbergasted that my review of an ARC, presented for preliminary review, has been deleted from their website. Yesterday, there were 26 reviews for this particular book. Today, they are all gone. Yesterday, this book dropped to a 3 star rating from 5 stars. Five stars was based on past performance.

If an author distributes an ARC, looking for feedback and hype to genterate sales at release, it needs to be good to deserve a good review. If a book is not up to par, you cannot expect a good review.

Methinks that a nerve has been hit somewhere.....and freedom of opinion has been censored.

Tsk, tsk. As you said, there are thousands of books out there. An author cannot rest on their laurels.


I shall find another venue to enter a review of your books. Not at Barnes and Noble.

Adrian said...

Back in 1993, I read an article by a magazine editor who talked about "reverse shoplifting". He would sneak copies of a new magazine into the store and leave them on the display rack. If the copies sold, the inventory system might be tricked into "re-"ordering more copies.

I imagine you could do the same thing sneaking your paperbacks into a Target or Walmart--high volume stores that carry very few titles.

Oh, here's a link to the article I was remembering:

http://www.ddj.com/184408947?pgno=6

Kameron said...

@Anonymous reviewer: it's possible the early reviews violated some sort of pre-release agreement BN had with the book's publisher. That seems more likely than a plot to squelch the success of a particular author.

Anonymous said...

"Much to my horror, methinks that they are censoring legitimate reviews in order to keep ratings numbers up for a favored author.

I am offended and flabbergasted that my review of an ARC, presented for preliminary review, has been deleted from their website."

Anon, 2 things could be going on, neither of which are personal to you. First, BN, Amazon and others state that they are the copyright owners of any reviews posted on their sites. Thus, if they feel that a posted review is already copyrighted somewhere else (e.g. a review ezine), they won't post it.

Second, sometimes reviews are inadvertently allowed to be posted before the book is released but then taken down when they realize the mistake. Generally, reviews can only be posted after the book is released.

Gabrielle said...

A word for the small blogs:

Even if a blog only gets ten or fifteen hits a day, those are ten or fifteen people who read XYZ blog because they like and trust the opinion of XYZ blogger. They don't come because of a buzz factor. True, not as many people will read about your book, but those that do will be more likely to go pick up at B&N.

David Weisman said...

http://www.epinions.com

And you even get paid a bit for each new review, potentially two dollars and change or more.

Not all books are in their database, and I haven't tried the special e-form to add new ones yet. It has to be manually reviewed which must take a couple of weeks.

worldphotos said...

Okay, you can see my brief review on my site. Not much, but I did enjoy Fuzzy Navel.

Katie Alender said...

I keep meaning to tell you that when I was in New York last month, I saw a woman reading one of your books on the subway. She was holding it high and proud and totally mesmerized. The cover looked great (I think it was Rusty Nail). A pretty good form of review!

Thought you'd like to know!

Anonymous said...

I've had reviews where I gave honest criticism come back and bite me in the butt. I now avoid publishing reviews on books within the genre or from the same publisher I've written for.

That's a good policy.

Writers have to promote. IMO, that responsibility doesn't stop where our books ends: we have a certain obligation to our publishers. Very few people in other industries would be surprised if they fielded a few cold stares at the water cooloer after publishing critical comments about the company's product, business decisions, or the work of one of their colleagues. The smaller the office, the colder the stares.

Same with writers. The more distance, the less problematic a critical review might be. Someone who writes midlist popular writer probably wouldn't raise any eyebrows for posting a negative review of a major bestseller, or a nonfiction book, and so on. A writer criticizing a book from her publisher might avoid stepping in brown applesauce if that publisher is so big the connection isn't immediately apparent. But if, for example, one Star Trek author posted negative reviews of another Star Trek book, that could be . . . really awkward, and not particularly good judgement.

There might not be any such thing as a bad review from the recipient's point of view, but I do think there are certain constraints on writers.

michele-lang said...

Some yahoo groups will post reviews written by members -- for example, Paranormal Romance Reviews has a yahoo group for its readers, and a membership of well over 1000. A review posted there will be seen by a lot of folks.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/paranormalromance/

This is just one example...yahoo groups of readers abound.

I love your blog, btw....thanks for your generosity!

Michele

Nancy Warren said...

Great post, Joe! I recently experimented by offering free books to bloggers/reviewers who subscribe to my newsletter. I feel that they are probably already fans and should get some perks for being loyal.

I had quite a few requests, so we'll see how it works.

Nancy
http://www.nancywarren.net

Josephine Damian said...

Today, I'm writing up an in depth, rare rave review on a book written by a blogging author.

I'll have it posted to my blog by Sunday. It'll be interestinmg to see if that writer notices a sales increase from my review - it'll be an interesting experiment to see if these blogged reviews have any impact. Or am I just whistling in the dark and no one's listening?

Maria said...

www.mysterybookspot.com (tied in with www.fantasybookspot.com, but you'd be in the mystery category.)

Your name has been mentioned on the site a few times, although I don't think your books have been formally reviewed.

:>)

Anonymous said...

Uh, that's right. There's no difference between being reviewed in the legitimate trade and consumer press, and being mentioned in people's GoodReads and Shelfari lists.

Yeah.

Dream on, JA.

Maria said...

Here's a better link to the forums (that includes the forum with all the reviews and also the forum with the mystery discussions.)

http://www.fantasybookspot.com/forum/index.php

Re: Anon, there's no difference to me whether I read a review in a "legitimate" trade magazine vs online via a blog. They're all pretty much opinions and you go where it's easy to find. I lean towards reviewers that share my interests. Just doesn't matter to me if they are in the NYtimes (which I don't read, but do have access to at the library if I cared) or the various blogs I frequent.

I even read a lot of amazon reviews--I usually see a mention of the book elsewhere, but if there are reviews at amazon, I scroll through 3 to 6 --I always check out a good one or two and any bad ones before buying a book. They can influence me if I'm on the fence about a book.

Patry Francis said...

Gather is a great place to review and be reviewed. They reward members for participation with gift cards to B & N so there are a lot of readers there. It's also a wonderful community.

Chris said...

I used to write reviews for Wicked Karnival (a short-lived horror mag), and actually reviewed Whiskey Sour there (my review was along the lines of "good, readable book with a lot of promise, great characters, but an ending I did NOT like").

In any event, I reviewed a bunch of ARCs then, and a lot of BAD ARCs, and always felt guilty giving a bad review. Of course, I also reviewed a lot of good ones (and saw a bunch of great writers just waiting to break through).

Anyway, rambling aside, I should be back to reviewing soon for my personal site (I'm putting together a customized web app now to do it, rather than blogging software, most of which I hate), and will add all of your books to my list. It will give me a reason to reread them.

(And, yes, I've liked each one more than the last, so the reviews will get progressively better).

JA Konrath said...

There's no difference between being reviewed in the legitimate trade and consumer press, and being mentioned in people's GoodReads and Shelfari lists.

What's the circulation of Publisher's Weekly? 50,000? I'd trade a PW review for 5000 blog reviews in a heartbeat.

Jamie Ford said...

I went to two conferences recently--at one, my roommate was a book reviewer--at the other, my roommate ran a website that hosts reviews. Pass on the private room. Ya never know.

JM said...

It wasn't until I became a reviewer that I realized how important reviews are to authors. As someone I work with said to me, "Spotlights and interviews are nice, but reviews are like gold."

There are a lot Ning groups like http://bookmarket.ning.com/ for marketing your books. I'm sure there are plenty review ones, too.

BT said...

Hi Joe

I'm an associate editor for HorrorScope, Australia's Dark Fiction Weblog and primary Internet presence for reviewing tales of the darker side. If your thrillers come under that banner, get your publicist/editor to get in contact with us. We'd be happy to review your work - all your work. Or pop over to http://musingsofanaussiewriter.blogspot.com/ and let me know if you'd like any further information. Leave a comment while you're there to let me know if you're interested.

BT

AstonWest said...

Writers are readers too...visit writer's sites, contribute, and then mention your publications (and reviews) as they come out.

J Scott Savage said...

Joe,

I've read you and followed your blog for years. I'm even an adherant of the no SASE club. Your marketing madness is infectious and has rubbed off big time on me and my first national series.

I agree that I'd take a good PW review over most blogs. But I think I'd take 50,000 hits on book review blogs over a review in most newspapers. My thinking is that 50,000 readers seeing my reviews on blogs that cater to readers is probably creating more viable book buyers than the actual number of people that read a review in a paper.

How many newspaper readers only read the comics or the sports page or check their stocks?

I launched the first book in my five book series with just over 150 book review bloggers. They are all doing a review and a Q&A as part of a two month blog tour leading up to the release in September. Of course I had the benefit of the publisher paying for all the ARCs and shipping. But I still want to get the bang for the buck.

I am also taking the ARCs to CRMs and B&Ns, store managers at Borders, etc.

I'll see if it helps create buzz for a new series.

Dorothy Thompson said...

Joe, there are a million reviewing blogs out there. I know because my business deals with a lot of them and they are very good at giving good reviews and they are very good for helping sell my clients' books. I think the author doesn't think outside of the box sometimes. Like you said, it's too hard to get a review from a well-known publication so let's play hardball with them. Go elsewhere. I'm serious...go elsewhere. You don't need them. If the competition is that hard, go to where it isn't. Read through a few reviewing blogs to determine whether they are worthy of your book, haha...but find them..they're out there and dying to review books. If you'd like to email me at thewriterslife(at)yahoo.com, I could get you in touch with quite a few reviewing blogs who will review your book in less than a month...they're great.

Jennifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

I recently borrowed "Dirty Martini" from my city's library. For the first time in years of borrowing library books, there was a piece of notepaper taped to the inside cover page. It read "Please share your thoughts on this book!" I'd never seen such a thing, but I thought it was a great idea.

(My note -- the first entry -- read "His best yet! J.A. just keeps getting better... funny and brilliant."

You're welcome.)

Bella said...

I read/review/edit for one review site and one review magazine.

To respond to Kameron, I review under a pen name so I don't get bitten myself. I've reviewed hundreds of books, and posted them on my MySpace blog, BN.com, Amazon.com and under my own name (from ARCs I've been sent/emailed) on my website, blog, MySpace, and BN, Amazon, etc.

It IS true that there's a lot of competition for reviews. With only so much time in any given day, it can be a stretch to expect the book to be reviewed near the publication date. Right now, in one of our databases, we have 3000 books waiting on review (and the other site I used to review for has about the same amount). Some authors in that pile, waiting to be read, are unknown. Some are more well known. It's true that a good, well known series is more likely to be picked up but there are many authors that get reviewed every month and I've only heard of half of them. Chalk that up to ebooks, self-pub and print pub.

I really believe that internet blogging and review sites are better than magazines... and I review for one! Sites produce more traffic than magazines. And even if you were one of the 50K who subscribed to PW, who's to say that you'll be reading cover to cover? I know I sometimes skim the mags I subscribe to.

While some of the genre mags may have missed a few of your novels, if you have a devoted audience, you're bound to get repeat customers for loyalty purposes and those customers tell others about your books, esp. when they're seen reading them. I've also seen many customers in stores reading blurbs simply because the book is on a table, end cap or bargain shelf. It's how I found one of my favorite authors and I've been reading him for well over a decade.

One of the sites I review for is Fallen Angel Reviews. Please feel free to send our owner and ARC coordinator a request for review. We'll accept ebook files as well as prints. (jaymi AT fallenangelreviews DOT com)

Send Jack our way! We'll be happy to read!

Bella March (bella AT fallenangelreviews DOT com)

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