There is a really fascinating debate on the nature of covers, centred around SFF, but I’m sure they apply across the board. It started off with the cover of The Black Prism by Brent Weeks and has now moved on to the cover I was showing off a couple of days ago for paperback release of Nights of Villamjur. Things got very very interesting when two editors joined in namely Simon Spanton (of Gollancz) and Julie Crisp (of Tor UK and editor of NoV). One of Julie’s comments stuck out:
The top three reasons for buying an SFF book are: read the previous in the series, read other by author and saw in shop. Most readers will experiment with a new author because it reminds them of someone they’ve read previously and enjoyed. I’m guilty of it myself. They want that simple association – something that’s immediately comparative. And we would be remiss if we ignored that…
And there is lots of discussion of how these affect the design and choice of covers for books. Mark was also game enough to come up with this own thoughts on his blog.
I must admit to be being in a bit of a meh mood this week. I’m putting it down to soon-to-be-a-year-older. I’m not enjoying getting older it seems. And I was thinking about how I spend my time and what is the best use of it. So I was a bit out of sorts when I wrote…
So we write reviews why? If they don’t really sell books…
… on both blogs. Not because I don’t see the value of them or the value on doing them but if they don’t have a big enough affect on sales why do so many people and publishers invest a lot of time and money doing them and in part of my head I was wondering why don’t people read reviews before buying a book? Not that every book gets a review so I guess often you do have to buy blind. But if you had the choice you’d read a review right?
Anyway, in addition to the comments, I put this question on Twitter and emailed a few people directly and here are their thoughts on:
Why Reviews Matter?
Starting with and continuing really from the points above is. Julie Crisp:
And of course reviews matter – they’re the first rung on the ladder of that wonderful word-of-mouth phenomenon that everyone craves for their books. And actually the fourth most popular reason on that list was Recommendation! It’s just I didn’t want to write a whole essay about marketing research into the buying habits of the SFF readership.
And then Simon Spanton:
Reviews matter because when you are fighting to get your book to be theone that’s bought rather than another one of the 80 plus books in the genre that might have come out that month you want to use every available weapon in your armoury.
Yes you might have a great cover but then so might 5 other books sitting on the table next to yours, yes you might have a brilliant blurb but then so might 6 others on the table (3 of which are also in the selection of 5 books with great covers) and so on and so forth – its all about reducing the purchase choice down to as few possible books as possible.
And this assumes the reader is standing in a bookshop. They might be online and your review might be their first contact with the book and your review might be so splendid that they will ignore the fact that the cover has, say, a hooded man, on it
A review may, in some instances, be the 4th reason why someone has bought a book but that might still account for 10% of the total sales and that’s a percentage (admittedly pulled out of the air) that no-one can afford to ignore.
And in other circumstances a review might be the first reason someone buys a book.
Publishers wouldn’t spend thousands upon thousands of pounds every year sending out free books for review if they thought they were just pissing that money down the drain. Reviews are only part of the process but they are a really, really important part.
Selling a book is not easy – as a publisher you want all the help you
Juliet who is the lovely person behind @_thevoyager_ and behind the marketing at HarperCollin’s Voyager
Reviews are important in a variety of ways:
- They ‘place’ the book. e.g. if it’s a quote from Robin Hobb then you know you’re in for well-written, character-led fantasy.
- People like buying books which have been endorsed by authors/sources they respect. If George RR Martin likes something, and I’m a big fan of his, then I am more likely to buy it. Similarly, if a newspaper or magazine, or a reviewer, that I respect reviews something, then it also positively impacts on the likelihood that I will buy it.
- Our reader panel said that reader reviews on Amazon are the second most important factor in whether or not they buy a book, after pricing
And Mark Charan Newton commented a reply on his blog:
To do your best to influence things, in whatever way that might be. No one review can make or break a book. But a movement online can help sway things, to get people talking by word of mouth etc. To be honest, the more people reading online reviews, the more the situation will change. But slowly…
A selection of some more great thoughts from Twitter:
Lit reviews r considered criticism & not shy of slagging off which is unlikely to sell lots of bks
Reviews matter because if the art you love isn’t worth discussing, it’s probably not worth consuming, IMHO. YMMV.
because they help others discover new writing so not *every* book sold is by Dan Sodding Brown AND they guide people away from/toward. More importantly perhaps, they sell authors, and the craft of writing
Reviews matter, who wants to spend their hard-earned money on something that’s rubbish? I like to know what others think b4 buying
On a saturday many custs start a sentence with: I was reading a review in the Telegraph..I have to keep a pile of the weeks reviews on the counter for when they can’t remember title/author, ‘but was a very good review’
Gav – I don’t review in an effort to sell more books. I review because I have an opinion and I love to create a forum for discussion. In the grand scheme of things, we bloggers really are just a small facet of the industry and are only of small (but growing) importance in selling novels.
What Aidan said. You’re not employed by publishers. If you think the purpose of reviewing books is to help sell them isn’t that a conflict of interest? Do you never give negative reviews, for example?
then Arachn came to my defence:
@ Aidan and Neil: I disagree. I think many reviewers hope their positive reviews will help sell the books they enjoyed – at least, I know I would. Of course, if by “helping selling books” gav meant “helping selling all the book I happen to review”… that’d be a quite different story.
Where to start?
I’m going to start by repeating myself from the above blog:
Should bloggers engage with publishers? Should they find interesting things to blog about? Should they share what they are excited by and passionate about? Of course they should. Does it give us a conflict of interest? Only if you we, as a whole, go from being honest to being a tool. We don’t get paid, we don’t do it on the whole for free books, and we do it for free! There is little point in doing this if we don’t enjoy it.
Arachn did have me right. I want everyone who thinks, ‘I want to read that,’ after reading one of my reviews to rush out and get a copy and read it. That’s why I style my reviews in such away to explain why I enjoyed a book and what, if anything hampered that enjoyment, in the hope that if you want to read it you’ll get a spoiler-free experience as possible.
I don’t though go in for the lit cric review. To analyse and deconstruct a work is take a lot of the enjoyment away from it. And enjoyment is the one thing I value above all in reading and I want to share that enjoyment.
So I don’t on the whole do ‘bad reviews’ as this implies that I hated a book and still thought it was worth finding out what happened in the end. I have reviewed ‘bad books’ where there is enough there to keep me reading but the author spoils my enjoyment in some way. And that comes across I hope.
Enjoyment, now there is a loaded term. The OED says, ‘take pleasure in’. But that’s not helpful either especially if I list some of the books I’ve ‘enjoyed’ because they’d range from Cursing Bagels, a collection of poems by Alfred Brendel to The Atrocity Archives by Charlie Stros via hundreds of other books and authors. And looking at those if I could remember and list them all and from looking at the Book Review Index you would probably be as confused as I am about what I’m going to enjoy.
Satisfied might be a better word. It’s that feeling when you come to an end of a book and you feel like it was worth your time reading, even if it wasn’t perfect. Though books rarely are perfect the highs usually more than make up for their imperfections.
Then the more important question then is how do I choose what to read?
And this is were reviews come in, though I’m lucky enough to get a lot of books before they have been reviewed, I am guided to/away from (to go back to Lee Harris) a book a lot of the time because of a recommendation of some sort – reviews being the most thorough but depending on the person it can just be as simple as you gotta read this book.
I am constantly battling away from my own brand of comfort reading, which probably explains why out of the 100 books I’ve read I’ve also read 71 different authors and do on the whole read ‘new to me authors’ going as far to make 2007 a year of debut authors.
I put a lot of value in reviews from traditional reviews to bloggers, though not often in Amazon reviews. All this it seems puts me at odds with the general book buying public.
I guess I was a little hurt that people are so relaxed about reading that a good cover is all that is needed to decide if a book is for them. But then a lot of books don’t get reviewed for a number of reasons so a publishes does need all avenues they can find in order to attract the right person to buy them. It would be wrong for a horror story to be packaged as if it was a classic, that is unless you like the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…
I am cheered though by all the responses.
I haven’t changed my mind. I am here to sell books. Not every book. I am here to ‘sell’ the books that I like in the hope that you find them enjoyable and that after you’ve read them, you think ‘I’m glad I bought that I really enjoyed it’. If so then I’ve done my job.
I probably should go deeper and pull at the stitching, look in all the nooks and crannies. Would that make you more likely to buy a book? Or help you enjoy it more?
In fact what do you think? Do reviews matter? And what should a review actually do?