The Wizard of Rondo, by Emily Rodda
Click Go the Shears, illustrated by Charlotte Lance
The Camel Who Crossed Australia, by Jackie French
Type the phrase 'book review' into a search engine and you'll get millions of results. Narrow the search by adding a genre or subject (say, 'children's book review') and you'll still get thousands of results. There are hundreds of websites and books devoted to book reviews, with many many more sites devoting varying amounts of their sites to the reviewing of books. In print, too, there are vast numbers of publications reviewing books from magazines devoted just to book reviews, to newspapers and special interest magazines which have a page or a column devoted to reviews.
So with so many reviews being published, there's a good chance someone is reading them. But just who is reading those reviews of your book?
1. You, the Author. Of course you're reading the reviews of your book. If you're not, you're missing out on something. Yes, there are some writers who refuse to read reviews just as there are actors/directors/musicians who don't want to know what the critics say. That's their right, but I'm here to tell you, it's a good idea to hunt down reviews of your book and read them.
The number one reason for doing this is that a positive review will make you feel good. Actually it will probably make you feel better than good. You'll copy the review and send it to your writing friends, your family, your son's teacher in fact anyone who has the fortune (or misfortune) to be in your address book. This good review tells you that your book is just fine, and helps banish any niggling doubts you might have had.
Of course, if the review is not so good, you won't feel quite so elated. You might cry, or throw things at your computer monitor or rant and rave. You still might copy it to your writer friends or even your family so that they'll share in your condemnation of the reviewer who dared criticise your baby. But, after your anger or sorrow has died down, you might learn from the negative review. She said your plot is thin? Have another look at your book. She might be right and you can learn from that, or she might be wrong and you can learn not to submit future books to her for review because she doesn't know what she's talking about. If you get several negative reviews saying the same things, there's a good chance the reviewers are right and you can choose to be devastated OR you can choose to work on the points the reviewers have identified in your next book.
2. Other Writers. Yes, other writers who write in your genre will read your reviews. They'll be trying to stay abreast of what's being published by which publishers, and what's hot with reviewers. If you are not regularly reading reviews of books being published in your genre, how are you keeping up with new developments?
Those other writers will probably be cheering with you when you get a good review and empathising with you when you get a negative one because they've been there too, or hope to be reviewed themselves one day.
3. Publishers. Your publisher will be reading the reviews of your book. They'll be looking for feedback on your book, wanting to know if their instincts were right, and whether their marketing efforts have resulted in publications choosing their books above others to feature in their publications.
If they are planning on publishing more of your books, they'll be looking for good reviews which they quote on covers and promotional material for those books. And, because they know exactly who they've sent review copies to, they'll be watching those publications for reviews and sending them on to you, to keep you informed.
4. Librarians. Libraries have limited budgets to spend on new acquisitions, so reading book reviews is one way of making informed decisions about which books to purchase (or not purchase). Reading review publications keeps the librarian abreast of new releases, and trends, too. Most librarians would not, however, make a purchasing decision based on one negative review of a book. If they are considering buying a book and see a negative review, they might look for further reviews, or consult colleagues or other sources of information such as booksellers.
5. Booksellers. Booksellers, too, need to keep abreast of new releases and new trends. They do receive lots of information from book reps, but may seek more impartial opinions from reviews when making purchasing decisions. Much as we think every bookstore should stock our book, bookshops have a limited amount of shelf space and must make informed decisions about which books to give that space to. Book reviews are just one element which can influence that decision.
6. Teachers/Educators. Whether at kindergarten or university level, teachers and educators need to be able to recommend good books for their students. School teachers especially need books they can share with their students, either for entertainment, or for information. Teachers may search book reviews for reviews of books on their current class themes, or for books to recommend to students looking for private reading material. At higher education level, educators are likely to be searching either for textbooks or for books which deal with the subject matter covered in their courses.
7. Academics. Academics will read reviews of books to keep abreast of new books in their area of interest. These will range from those with an interest in children's literature, who'll want to know about the latest children's books, to those from any number of disciplines interested in non-fiction offerings in their field. Because they may be using the reviews as the basis of their research or teachings, academics will often be interested in longer, more analytical reviews than other groups.
8. The Reading Public. No, I hadn't forgotten the reading public. Readers have been left until last on this list because, in my opinion, they are the most important group of review readers. People who read books can and do get book recommendations from book reviews. Some readers will seek out reviews online or in print to find book suggestions when looking for something new to read. Other readers will come across book reviews more incidentally whilst flipping through the pages of a newspaper, for example, or browsing a website but, having read the review, seek out the book.
Most readers are busy people and like having books recommended to them so a glowing review of a book in their favourite genre or on a subject they're interested in, will encourage them to buy a book. Perversely, though, a bad review can also have them seeking out the book to see if it's a bad as the critics say it is.
There are probably other groups of people who read book reviews, but these eight groups make up the bulk of the review-reading public. Next time you get a review you can picture all of these people reading it and (hopefully) heading off to buy your book.
Firstly, let's get the bad stuff out of the way and assume you got a bad review. The reviewer has said your characters are one-dimensional, or your plot is thin, or that your rhyme is forced (I had a review like that once and it hurt till I remembered I had used that phrase myself for someone else's work). Anyway, the reviewer is not a huge fan of your book, and now s/he's shared that message with the world.
If it will make you feel better, tear the review into tiny little pieces and burn them, or (if it is an online review) throw things at the monitor. Whinge to your mother, your husband or your best friend. Drink a glass of wine and eat a block of chocolate.
Then get over it.
The truth is, every writer gets a bad review sometime. And a heap of bad reviews could affect your sales. However, the truth is the success of your book does not depend on glowing reviews. Not every purchase decision is made based on reviews there are many consumers, librarians and booksellers who do not have the time to inclination to read reviews. There are also many people who will seek out a book and read it because of, rather than in spite of, bad reviews. They want to see if the reviewer is right.
I suggested above whinging to your loved ones. Let me also suggest that you limit this whinging to those loved ones. Don't whinge in your blog, on your website, or in your email groups, if you can help it. This is drawing attention to the bad review, which you don't want to do, can paint you as ungracious, and is also likely to irk the reviewer should they come across your words. Also don't whinge directly to the reviewer. You can disagree with them privately, but it is very bad form to try to get a reviewer to retract their words. Remember a book review is one person's opinion, not a personal favour to you, the author.
Before I move on from bad reviews, there are two more things you should do. Do consider, once you've calmed down, whether the negative comments the reviewer made have any relevance. Can you learn from the comments they've made to avoid making the same mistakes next time? Also, have you read the review thoroughly? The negative review may, in fact, just be a negative sentence or phrase. The reviewer who said my rhyme was forced, also, if I remember rightly, said she liked the storyline. She didn't hate the book - she was just telling it as she saw it.
Now, if the review is positive, the first thing you should do is a happy dance. Rejoice that someone other than yourself and your editor loves the book. Or at least doesn't hate it. Share the news with anyone who'll listen - and show them the review. This will spread the joy and may also spread the news of your book to people who haven't yet heard about it.
Next, if you have a website or blog, share the news of your positive review there. Tell people where or when the review was published and, if it is available online, provide a link to the review. If possible, include a quote from the review, but be careful here. The review does not belong to you. Like any other piece of writing, the rights to the review belong to the reviewer, or, if they've assigned those rights, to the website or publication where it was published. You need to ask for permission to quote from the review, especially if you are reprinting the whole thing. Most reviewers will be happy for you to quote them - I know I always am - but will want to be acknowledged as the source of the review, including a link back to their site, if online.
Thirdly, add extracts from the review to your press kit and/or media releases. What better way to convince media to cover your book news than showing them how much a reviewer loved it? Again, be sure to properly attribute the source.
Of course, by the time the reviews come in for this book, you are busily working on the next one, right? So when you receive these positive reviews, remember that extracts can be used on the covers and press material of your next book. This is the publicist's job, but they may well ask you if you are aware of any good reviews they can quote from, so be prepared with clippings.
And, just as with a negative review, you can learn from a positive review. The reviewer liked your characters, your storyline, or your unforced rhyme? Take the time to think about what it was you did in the writing of this book that you can replicate in your next project. You want to do everything you can to ensure the reviews for your next book are as positive as these ones.
Enjoy the feeling of being reviewed. A stranger has taken the time to read and comment on your book. Now you can grow the love by spreading the word.
Firstly, where do book reviews appear? Traditionally, books were reviewed in print magazines and newspapers. Print publications still account for a large proportion of published reviews. Some publications focus primarily on reviewing books. Reading Time magazine, for example, aims to review every children's book released in Australia while many others devote just a page or a column to book reviews.
More recently, books have been reviewed online. There are thousands of websites and blogs devoted to reviewing books. Some websites review books of specific genres, others focus only on ebooks, whilst others still have a book review page alongside other information and articles. An advantage of electronic reviews is that they can stay online and thus accessible more or less indefinitely, and can thus outlast print reviews.
Both print and electronic reviews can be useful in spreading the word about a book and ideally you want your book to be reviewed in both mediums. However, be aware that getting your book reviewed can be difficult. Most book reviewers and book review publications receive more books than they could possibly review and your book must compete with others for time and editorial space.
So, how do you get your book reviewed? The short answer is that if you are traditionally published, you don't. If you are published by a royalty-paying print publisher, it is not your job to send out review copies or to solicit reviews from reviewers. In fact, most reviewers and review publications would prefer that you don't approach them directly.
Your publisher will allow for a certain number of copies of the book to be sent out as review copies (and in fact there is probably mention of this in your contract). The publicist or marketing department will have a list of publications and/or reviewers and will send them copies, along with press releases and other information.
Some publishers will send copies to every reviewer on their list. Others will send a press release for each new book, inviting reviewers to request a complimentary review copy. Others still will send a regular mailing often once a month advising of forthcoming releases and inviting reviewers to request the books they are interested in.
If you are traditionally published, you can ask your publisher how many review copies they are sending out and may even be provided with a list of publications which have been supplied with review copies. You can also suggest publications, which is especially useful if your book targets a niche market.If, for example, you've written a children's book about a horse, you might recommend a horse-lovers magazine which your publisher may not know about.
Leaving the sending of review copies up to your publisher is good for you because you do not directly bear the expense of postage and book copies. It is good for the reviewer because it depersonalises the review process. Direct emails from authors to reviewers can put the reviewer in an awkward position of trying to maintain impartiality, and make them uncomfortable about reviewing your book.
If you are self-published, you'll need to submit review copies yourself. Because you are bearing the cost, you'll need to research very carefully so that you can target your review copies at publications which review in your genre or area of interest. If possible, send a press release (written in third person), inviting reviewers to request a copy. This reduces the likelihood of sending copies which receive no review. Once you have sent the copy, avoid making repeated contact to find out if the book has arrived and when a review will be published. This marks you as over-eager and, again, can leave the reviewer feeling uncomfortable.
Once the book is in the reviewer's hands, the process that follows can vary from person to person, but in general it will go something like this.
Firstly, the book will be put in a pile with all the other books the reviewer has received. The reviewer may choose to review the books in the order s/he received them and so your book will go to the bottom of the pile. Or s/he might review them in the order they appeal to them, randomly selecting the next book to be read. In my case, I organise the books on a shelf in the order I received them. At any one time there could be over seventy books shelved like this.
Next, the reviewer will read the book. A good reviewer will read the whole book before forming an opinion, but the pressure of time might mean that the reviewer does not finish a book that s/he doesn't like. My policy is to finish every book, because often a book will grow on me or redeem itself further in.
When s/he finishes the book, the reviewer will review the book. The length and structure of the review will depend on the publication the reviewer is writing for, but most reviews include a summary of the plot which does not reveal the ending, some comments on elements such as point of view, story structure, style and a recommendation (or otherwise). If the book is illustrated the reviewer could (and should) comment on the illustration techniques, and the review might also make a suggestion about age groups (for a children's books) and the type or reader who might be attracted to the book.
Whether s/he likes your book or not the reviewer will (hopefully) provide a balanced assessment of the book, focussing on the strengths as well as the weaknesses. S/he'll also avoid allowing personal preferences or bias to influence the review. For example, if s/he doesn't like the romance genre, s/he'll not give a negative review on the basis that your book is a romance. S/he is more likely to choose not to review books in the genre most reviewers do specialise in some way.
Once the review is written, revised and proofread, the reviewer will submit it to their editor, or in the case of a website or blog, post it online. If the editor accepts the review, it will appear in print. The time between submitting the book for review and the review being published varies greatly, but it is not uncommon to wait six months, because of the lead times for print publications, and the sheer numbers of books submitted for review. For this reason, most publishers send out review copies ahead of the actual release date for a book.
Once the review is published you or your publisher may receive a copy of the review or a link to it online, but this doesn't always happen, so keep your eye out for reviews, and use search engines to keep abreast with what's being said about your book online.
Once you have a review of your book, you can use it to promote your book further, but that's the subject for another article.