Who Reads Book Reviews Anyway?
by Sally Murphy
As a published author there's probably mention of review copies in your contract, and a certain number of copies of your book set aside by your publisher as review copies. If you've been reviewed you've probably either celebrated a good one or felt saddened or angered by a negative one. But have you ever really stopped to think about who the review is for and whether it affects sales of your book?
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.