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July 31, 2007


Roddy Reta

I don't know if it's economically feasible, but I think book reviews would have more of an impact if there was a website that aggregated all of them on one web page, a la ROTTEN TOMATOES for movies.

BOOKMARKS magazine sort of does this, but it's well, a magazine, and I don't read magazines anymore. I would prefer a web version.

I'm a hardcore reader, and I know that my booklove is a highly subjective sort of thing. Just because David Montgomery loves a book doesn't mean that I'll like it. You have to find a book reviewer who matches your own personal tastes, and that can be tough to do, since there are very few reviewers out there to begin with.

So I take every book review with a heavy grain of salt, especially those on-line reviews that sound more like advertisements and PR puff. By the way, it's not just Harriet Klausner who does this, there are certain websites out there that seem to be in the business of churning out enthusiastic reviews for really mediocre books.

Steven Torres

I think reviews do sell books. They can also hinder sales - true, not in the huge numbers one would like, but still...

When I see good reviews (several) by reviewers I trust, I'm likely to buy. When I hear terrible things about a book from those same outlets, I tend to shy away. I also tend to parse the reviews for things that move me as a reader - when I hear a negative review about a mystery where the puzzle was too simply though the writing is first rate and the characters will break your heart, I buy the book. A positive review that gushes "Wonderful puzzle! I finally got to use my Ph.D. in Quantum Mechanics..." leaves me looking elsewhere.

For the most part though, I read reviews for insight into the content the same as I watch Siskel and Egbert (can't recall which one has moved on to the aisle seat in the sky) for the clips.

Roddy is right though - there should be a place online to collect the reviews.

Clea Simon

People may not read, but you're right about write-ups (of any sort) functioning as advertising. In other words, the old saw about "just spell my name right" is true. A few books back, I was one of several books slammed by Salon. It was an overall dumping on pet-related books and I guess I was the least slammed, but still... far from favorable. But the piece linked to Amazon, and all that week my rank was stellar. I saw royalties that season, which took much of the sting out of the review.


Steven--Gene Siskel is deceased and its Roger EBERT! (I have to make that correction because Ebert is one of my television heroes.)

I think Roddy has a fabulous idea and I hope someone runs with it.

Regarding reviews and specifically print reviews, I think that they help sales in different ways. First of all, enthusiastic early trade reviews in PW can push booksellers and librarians to preorder more books, thereby increasing the print run of a book. If the book was a risky acquisition for a young editor, an affirmative review can affirm her and her publisher's decision, thereby encouraging more in-house buzz. A good review in a large newspaper such as NYT and LA Times can help catapult a little-known work. (This happened to a friend's picture book, BASEBALL SAVED US, which received a full-page treatment in NY Times. They sold half a million copies--good timing played a major role as well.)

It also depends where a book review is located within the newspaper and whether it's accompanied by an illustration.

Rave reviews help word of mouth, which in turn affects other kinds of sales and licensing deals.

I think it also depends how an author/publisher uses those reviews. Are they included on websites and newsletters and in press packets? Are they placed in the paperback version of the book? Are they known among book clubs, libraries, etc.?

A book review itself can't magically change anything. It needs to be read by the right people ("circles of influence") who then act on the recommendation.


With a single reviewer, it's always just one opinion. In Siskel's & Ebert's cases, I knew how their opinions matched and didn't match mine. Most reviewers aren't so popular. I don't usually develop that kind of sense or that kind of "relationship" with a particular reviewer.

Rave reviews make me skeptical, and so do negative reviews. With a positively-reviewed book, if I prove the reviewer wrong, then I've wasted my money and time on a book I didn't like. If I buy the negatively-reviewed book, I can prove the reviewer wrong AND enjoy a good book.

So I have to agree that I buy more negatively-reviewed books. I tend to be contrary, though. :-)

Jack Payne

Yeah, rave reviews definitely help. A couple of years ago I had a rave review of my novel, Six Hours Past Thursday, by R.R. Bowker (BookWireReview & Books In Print). They likened it to The Great Gatsby. You can't get more "rave" than that. The resulting sales blast lasted a few months then levelled. Now, it seems to have found a niche in a small corner of the overall book market--law schools, law libraries, lawyers, and law profs. (One law librarian told me it was the first work of fiction ever taken into their collection, and she'd first read it as a result of the BookWire Review.)

--Jack Payne

Lesa Holstine

As a librarian, I can definitely say that positive and negative reviews of books do have an influence on buying, particularly if they appear in our professional magazines such as Library Journal or Booklist. Those are tools we use to support our reasons for purchasing books. When Bob Fate received a starred review in LJ, I guaranteed him that his book would be picked up by more libraries. If it's a negative review, librarians will think twice before purchasing a book.

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David J. Montgomery is a writer and critic specializing in books and publishing. He is an emeritus columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Beast, and has also written for USA Today, the Washington Post, and other fine publications. A former professor of History, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two daughters.

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