Re: Re: Handling negative reviews

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Mikala Engel

noblew – 2008-04-11 8:51 PM Ahem…errr…**tentative smile**, as well as being a writer…**blushes**…I’m a reviewer. **quickly ducks** I see my job as having two main roles: 1) Helping potential readers know whether a book is the sort which would appeal to them, or perhaps entice them to give a new genre a try. 2) Providing an honest, thoughtful and educated critique to the author. I have actually had thank you letters from authors whose work I’ve reviewed. Thankfully, so far, they’ve been nice letters but I expect a day may come when I’ll receive the other sort as well. (I guess, a form of negative review in reverse!) I would hope that an author could garner some information from every review, good or bad, which would help them grow. However, I know that there are some power-mad creeps out there who take delight in pulling someone else down. They are easy to spot – their reviews are usually vitriolic and spiteful. Why not write a review of their review and send it back? HAHAHAHA Just don’t do it to me, ok?


I don’t have anything against reviewers.  Not even the power hungry ones.  I know something most reviewers don’t know. . .even lousy reviews sell books.

Now, realistically, there are only about a dozen print review sources that sell books in big number, and about the same number of TV outlets that sell books in big numbers.  But there’s a saying in publishing that’s absolutely true.  “A good review in the right place will sell one hundred thousand books.  A bad review in the same place will sell ninety thousand books.”

Most people, it seems, remember the book and the writer, but forget what the reviewer actually says about the book itself.  A few days after reading a review, they buy the book because they remember reading about it somewhere, but don’t remember what was said about it.

To this day, no book has had more bad reviews, or fewer good reviews, than “The Bridges of Madison County,” but it still holds the record for most hardcpver sales of an adult novel.  There were hundreds of truly horrible reviews, but the book hit the top of the NYT bestseller list three times, and stayed there for years.

This does not mean publishers pay no attention to reviewers.  If the review is in the right place, a publisher will use it as a jacket blurb, and will even listen to it.  The first time I had a novel reviewed in The New York Review of Books, the reviewer’s last line was something like “In Ben Hawkins, James A. Ritchie has created a character worthy of a sequel.”

My editor called me the day the review came out, read the review to me, and pretty much ordered me to write a sequel immediately.  Talk about a fast track book.  I had a contract in hand before I even wrote a query or a synopsis.

Another great place for a writer to get reviewed, and here good reviews do matter, is Library Journal.  Libraries automatically order books that make the NYT Bestseller List, but newer writers often have to fight for space in libraries.  You won’t get rich from library sales, but you will get the kind of exposure that matters.  Readers find you in a library, and then look for you in bookstores.

The thing is, word of mouth is what sells books.  All reviews do is convince a few readers to buy the book, and a bad review convinces almost as many readers to buy the book as does a good review.  After that, it’s up to readers.  If they talk about the book, if they recommend it to friends, who in turn recommend it to other friends, you get big sales numbers.  If, on the other hand, buyers don’t like it, don’t recommend it to friends, even great reviews matter not at all.  Books with lousy reviews hit bestseller status routinely, and books with great reviews flop routinely.

It kind of goes back to what Georganna said in that most any publicity is good.  Or, as it’s usually put, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

What matters with books isn’t what the reviewer says, but where he says it. Space is hard to come by in the large review magazines and newspapers, so if a reviewer does give your book space, it’s a good review, no matter what it says.