Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do reviews sell books?

I have Google alerts set up to email me with any mentions of the HNS or the Historical Novels Review, and this evening's mailing turned up an interesting link. Authors often wonder if reviews actually sell books, but the answer can be hard to quantify.

You may remember Jeri Westerson's appearance as a guest blogger here in early November. Joshua Bilmes of the JABberwocky Literary Agency, Jeri's agent, recently looked at the difference in sales in the Boston and Richmond markets after positive reviews of Veil of Lies ran in the Boston Globe and Richmond Times-Dispatch. Then he reported the results on his blog.

Although the numbers don't seem to indicate an enormous increase in sales, every little bit helps, and that's 50-odd people who may not have heard of the author or title before the reviews appeared. Veil of Lies is a debut mystery, after all. Both papers post their book reviews online as well; this is convenient for people like me, for example, who used to live in the Boston area and still read the Globe via the web. So I would expect the word has gotten out more widely than just among the locals.


  1. Anonymous8:29 PM

    Yes, reviews do sell books - at least to me! I lurk around quite a few historical fiction blogs and read through at least a dozen reviews a week. Obviously, I won't buy all these books (only when the reviews appeal to me) and I may not buy the books right away (money money), but I do write down the names of books that seem interesting and I do buy them.

    That being said, unless the review is really stellar and hits every point that I look for in my "ideal book" search, it can sometimes take more than one review/mention of a book for me to really get brand recognition and bump that title up my to-buy priority list. So while one review may not do it, I definitely think that having your book talked about will boost your sales a great deal in the long run.

  2. Ok, I'm not likely the BEST sample to use, but yesterday when I needed some book ideas for gifts, I headed to the HNS site and read through the Editor's Choices over the last couple of years - found several ideas and was able to track at least one author's books down at one of the indies here on the Coast :) And the other book I'd bought earlier in the day turned out to be an EC book as well :)

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  4. Think of us librarians - we order so very many books. We really need reviews to determine if the a book is right for our collections. Reviews from Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Review are the periodicals that come to mind.... It's better to have more than just info from a publisher. As a librarian who writes reviews, especially for fiction, it is good to communicate the appeal factors or readalike authors so other librarians get a feel of who a particular title might appeal to. In the case of Library Journal, we are encouraged to say if a title is recommended for all libraries or large libraries or special collections, etc.

    I agree with one other comment-maker here, that reading several good reviews for a book really piques my interest and builds leverage. That's why it's great we also have comments from the peanut gallery on bookstores sites such as Amazon. It's really great to find out what the "common man" thinks of a particular title, or if there is musch debate, etc. Great too when leading a book discussion, to look at these social network style reviews.

  5. Well I'm just an average book reader, but for me it's the common person's review that sells the book. Like the ones found on-line. I usually read several reviews on blogs and Amazon, about a book before I put on my "to read" list. Sorry, not a lot of disposable income these days, so I buy books when I can.
    As with movie reviews, I find most newsprint reviews do not align with my interests.

  6. I'm more likely to buy a book on the basis of reviews than for any other reason. Like several other commenters, I prefer to make a judgement based on several reviews rather than just one. I've found the hard way that cover art and publishers' jacket copy can bear more relation to what's currently considered 'hot' in marketing than to the actual content of the book - e.g. all those clinch covers on Jean Plaidy novels - so I'm now very wary. Reader reviews give me a better idea of what to expect.

    But my guess is that what sells books in any volume is a big advertising and PR budget :-)

  7. I hope reviews sell books.. my contention with advertising in general is that the most effective ads just inform about the existence of a product.. and certainly book reviews do that.

    My other hope is that less than enthusiastic reviews do not hurt sales, particularly those reviews that show up on Amazon, etc. Professional reviewers may not always hit the mark, but some of the pinheads who comment on sites like that are about the worst people to be reviewing a book, whether they detest or adore it.

    So far my experience with reviews of my first novel, An Involuntary King, is that reviewers who liked the book focused on the writing and characters, those who did not missed the point of the book -- that it began as a teenager's view of a generic medieval tale and was never intended to be dead on authentic. They pointed out historical inaccuracies which in this book's case are as irrelevant as the historical innacuracies in King Arthur.

    If reviews do affect sales.. those who buy my book based on the former will get what they bargained for.. but those who skipped it because of the latter will have missed the point without ever being exposed to it.

    Nan Hawthorne