Reaching for the Stars – The Importance of Book Reviews

by Jenna O’Connell

You’re sitting in your chair, pondering the barren wasteland that is your bookshelf. You wish there was a book, any book, to fulfil your yearning for words. But you’ve read everything. You’ve got that craving, that craving for something new and exciting. You’ve decided! You’re going to get a new book! Hooray!

But as you approach the fantastical world of online book shopping, or that cave of magic and wonder we call a bookstore, you skid to a sudden halt. There’s so many! How are you possibly going to choose one? You need some advice, and the blurb isn’t enough. You want to know the real story, the underground mutterings from someone who has read the book.

Congratulations, you’ve just jumped into a world that authors and publishers face every day. Not because they’re rich enough to buy new books everyday (although that is the ultimate dream) but because they are trying to sell one book within that many.

Marketing today is a complex battle to try and engage readers and draw their attention to one specific book in a market flooded with dozens of options. So we use a number of strategies, including social media, cover teasers, press releases and releasing preview chapters. But one of the most important is the full utilisation of book reviews.

Many of you purists out there will be recoiling in horror. I know many of us would like to believe that book reviews magically appear out of nowhere, penned by an enthusiastic reader who stumbled across the book and fell in love. I’m not saying that those reviewers aren’t out there; I’m just comparing them to our favourite mythical white horse with a horn. The majority of reviews are requested, whether by the publisher sending out review copies, or by the author themselves.

Review copies are copies of the manuscript produced about four months before a book is due to be released. These are usually sent to book reviewers, often for newspapers and magazines, but more and more frequently to book bloggers. Each reviewer usually has their own stipulations for what sort of book they wish to be sent. Most still tend to favour print books over eBooks. Although, as publishers, especially small press, are increasingly reluctant to send out physical copies with no promise of return, sending eBooks to reviewers is a growing practice. Often there is no guarantee that a reviewer will even review your book, let alone say nice things about it, so the more you can send out, the better. Unfortunately, this tends to favour the larger publishing houses, which have more resources to produce and send out more review copies.

This is where services like NetGalley come in. NetGalley is a website designed to bring those eager to review, and those wanting reviews, together. Publishers sign up, and post summaries of their works to be reviewed. Interested readers and reviewers then request a copy of those they would like to review. It does have its flaws, at least from a publishing side, in that there is no obligation to post a review – no one can chase you down after you have requested a book. But it does provide another avenue for publishers to have their books reviewed.

No one who has bought a book online can honestly claim to have not looked at the reviews, even if they only have a quick glance at the star rating. For many authors, especially those with smaller publishers, word of mouth is the best publicity there is, and reviews are the internet’s version of that. With the rise of websites like Goodreads, reviews are increasingly becoming a part of the way we decide which book to read next, making them a vital part of marketing strategy. So next time you dive into the multitude of available books and emerge victorious, consider writing a review! Having now done a couple myself, not only is it not as scary as I thought, but it allows you to think more deeply about what you do and do not like in a book. And if you stumble across one of those little undiscovered gems we’re always looking for, it’s a great way to show how much you loved it.

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