Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Review Redux

I just got a really good review from Publisher's Weekly for my latest book, DIRTY MARTINI, 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 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 Internet 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 asking 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. Enlist your fans. Why not use a portion of your marketing budget to reward the folks who already buy your books? If you have a blog, MySpace, website, and/or newsletter, tell your fanbase if anyone writes and posts a review of your latest book on their website, blog, MySpace, Amazon,, etc, you'll send them something. Maybe a signed bookplate. Maybe a signed magazine you have a story in. This could run a few hundred bucks, but it will reach more people and cost much less than going to an out-of-state writing conference. You can do this for several weeks after your book comes out, or you can do it forever.

5. Become a reviewer. I've written several dozen of Amazon reviews. I've also posted reviews on various sites, and have even had a few reviews published. We need to help each other, and you reap what you sow.

And on that note, DIRTY MARTINI will be out July 3. To paraphrase a bit of PW's lovely review:

"Konrath's latest is a particularly potent mix of equal parts mirth and mayhem with a dash of sex and a twist (or two) of plot. It should be taken straight, no chaser needed."

Want to review DIRTY MARTINI? Email me at


Bill Peschel said...

"As newspaper circulation dwindles, so does advertising by publishers, which reduces or eliminates the book review pages."

This is bass-ackwards. At the major newspapers, publishers may buy ads, but not below that. The mid-sized paper I worked for had no book-related advertising, nor the small-town newspaper (except when the local bookstore wanted to publicize a signing; very rare).

The PDF offer to reviewers is a good idea. I've accepted PDFs twice, but both were from writers who I've had some relationship with (mostly through discovering their blogs). The book would have to be something I'd want to read otherwise to accept a pdf.

Anonymous said...

Joe: What I've noticed is that there is a whole new era of brave reviewers who aren't afraid to pick up a book by a newbie, or by a small publising company, and see if it's worth telling the world about. To me, they play a more important role in the publishing industry than the traditional reviewer who will only look at a top ten bestseller. True, there are a lot of books out there. But there are also a whole lot of reviewers sifting through them.

And you're right that reviews sell books. When Library Journal reviewed my latest book, thousands of orders came in for the book from libraries across the country.

JA Konrath said...

The mid-sized paper I worked for had no book-related advertising, nor the small-town newspaper.

Wouldn't advertising lead to a bigger review section? Especially if that were part of the deal?

Ty said...

Being in the newspaper business myself, you're right that advertising at smaller or medium newspapers could lead to a review section. But here's the catch: It would have to be rather extensive advertising over a period of time. No smaller paper is going to create a books section with reviews just for the once-in-a-while ad that likely brings in less than a grand, probably much less. It would take some pretty hefty dollars, probably something near or at five figures, for a small to medium paper to even think about adding pages and space.
Paper and ink do costs money, and the price always seems to be going up. So, for a publisher to consider to add some pages would mean money coming in would have to be involved.

Also, keep in mind I was using very general numbers. Things are different at various newspapers and within different companies.

Anonymous said...

Joe said:
Want to review DIRTY MARTINI? Email me at

Done! Finished the book on Sunday, posted the review on Monday. It's now making the rounds through my office.

Unknown said...

Interesting and useful post. I think that Internet advertising is really changing the way businesses are being run. the internet allows access to more consumers and it also gives business more opportunities.

Stacey Cochran said...

For my latest Lulu-self-published novel The Colorado Sequence, I considered sending out like 40 copies to well known writers I've met. I even wrote up a list of the authors most likely to respond.

Then, I buckled and worried that no one would want to write a blurb because it is a self-published novel with Lulu. Even though the novel is probably as good as just about anything coming out of New York, the stigma that it's self-published turns a lot of people off.

I wouldn't be self-publishing it had it not been rejected by 440 literary agents this winter. (And before someone jumps on my case and says maybe I should move on to another novel entirely, consider that The Colorado Sequence is one of ten novels I've written, and they've all been rejected by everyone.)

At some point, you have to make a stand.

So, should I ask my crime fiction friends to write a blurb for it?

I've heard it's not an unusual practice to actually write the blurb yourself and ask the famous author to "sign off" on it. Ever hear of that practice?


JA Konrath said...

Ty - For an ad to justify five figures, the ad/review would need to sell 334 copies.

It's posssible, but not probable.

Rob - You're a corspe in FUZZY NAVEL, which I just finished. Advance readers say it's my best yet. Thanks for the DM review!

Stacy - You have yet to get lucky. Keep at it.

Simon Haynes said...

"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."

I don't recommend this approach for stand-alone books, but it could work for an ongoing series. I hope it does, because it's one of the weapons I'm deploying.

s.w. vaughn said...

Ah, reviews. I've gotten a lot of great ones, but since my current book's out through a small e-press the impact has been small. Congrats on the excellent PW review, Joe!

I'd love to review Dirty Martini. I thoroughly enjoyed Whiskey Sour and recommended the hell out of it to everyone. I'll email you, then...

(And thanks for stopping by to comment about confidence! :-)

Anonymous said...

Joe wrote:
You're a corspe in FUZZY NAVEL, which I just finished. Advance readers say it's my best yet. Thanks for the DM review!

I'm looking forward to reading the grizzly, Konrathian details of my death! Quite frankly, my friend, you've got some twisted things lurking in the darker corners of your mind. FN should be loads of fun.

Anonymous said...

Stacey, you wrote:

I wouldn't be self-publishing it had it not been rejected by 440 literary agents this winter. (And before someone jumps on my case and says maybe I should move on to another novel entirely, consider that The Colorado Sequence is one of ten novels I've written, and they've all been rejected by everyone.)

And I've seen you mention the rejection numbers before....why would you continue to mention this over and over on the blogs? You think lit agents and editors don't look writers up on the web when they're considering manuscripts? What if they start to like your work, but then realize everyone else on God's green earth has passed on it, and have second thoughts? Brag about all the rejection AFTER you've published your first novel, and keep up the persistence (just not so publicly).

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate enough to have 2 reviews of my unpublished novel (yes unheard of) and while it was great for my ego it hasn't garnered much clout on the road to publication. Lets hope reviews add to sales but will they surpass "word of mouth" as the best marketing device?

Lucas Pederson said...

Golden advice. If I ever do get published this will help a lot. Thanks for all the great information you are giving us yet unknown writers. IT truly means a lot.

Stacey Cochran said...


The reason I talk about it openly is largely because if I just keep that kind of rejection inside and never tell anyone, it eats me up like a disease.

It genuinely helps to let people know, to get it out in the open, and to talk about it. It's my way of processing it.

If an agent can't look beyond what other agents have said -- and actually look at the person and his or her work, then that's not an agent I would want to work with anyway.

I do appreciate your insights, though. You're obviously a caring, thoughtful person. I can see that you actually care.


g d townshende said...

I came by your blog through a rather circuitous route. After reading the last three entries, I found I really quite like it. Very thoughtful posts.

I've had a few items published, all non-fiction articles, both online and in print, but no fiction... yet. It would help if I didn't go through bouts of laziness, as I am currently. I have managed to garner several handwritten rejections - my metier is science fiction and fantasy - and they have actually outnumbered the blue forms of death.

I'm going to link to your blog (if you don't mind), and visit it more often.

Anonymous said...

Joe, interesting post. Do you fish? Odd question I know. While out on a walk today, I watched a couple of guys, and a dog, stock some nice rainbow trout into a local stream, here in Germany. I've posted a few pictures on my site. You are welcome to take a look, or not.

Lisa Hunter said...

Great post, Joe, but don't forget about "off the book page" opportunities. Does your novel tie into a current event or popular topic? If so, you might be able to score a feature story, or at least a couple of quotes in an article.

For instance, chick lit authors could make themselves known to reporters who write about dating and relationship issues.

Unknown said...

Some excellent ideas/advice here. I'm bookmarking your blog. :)

Joe Moore said...

I had the opportunity to sit beside Oline Cogdill at lunch during SleuthFest. She reviews mysteries for the Sun-Sentinel. I mentioned that the recent restructuring of the paper’s format had cut the book section in half, and asked if it was due to lack of advertisers. She said publishers don’t advertise. That it was a result of the overall increased cost of doing business. So what was for many years a very generous book section has now grown quite slim making it even harder to get reviewed.