Write Byte

On Reviews

(February 15, 2001)

Patricia Rice has certainly received a variety of reviews from AAR, but we find her forthright attitude about it being all in a day's business refreshing. We think you will too.

The romance market has plateaued and will start heading downhill unless publishers and readers start paying attention to what is good and what is not. We'll soon have ourselves spread so butter thin that all we'll have to choose from is the same old, same old, or mind trash (pardon my borrowing the term, but I'm being blunt here). The beancounters in the business are only interested in bottom line, and to get there, they're taking the lowest common denominator - sex. That's a fine selling tool, but when it becomes the only tool, we all suffer for it. If they could still call it romance, they'd go for violence as well (and see the writing on the wall for romantic suspense with this one).

Good reviews and criticism are as necessary as Consumer Reports. We may not like the report, but free and constructive discussion could keep good books out there and undermine the bad ones, so the @#$% publishers can figure out the difference.

If there are only glowing reviews of romance novels out there, something is wrong, and if readers or writers cannot admit to lousy stuff out there being marketed as romance we are hurting our credibility as readers and even more so you as a professional writer(s).

This is business, folks. Everyone's business. Libraries don't want want to pay good money for garbage any more than readers do. We need to start a committee on Good Romance Reading or something, raise signs, and chant slogans! So, what impact does a review really have either for good or ill? Also, does a bunch of good reviews have any effect on publishers? Or do they have to translate to sales?

I think reviews fall under the heading "every little bit helps." A review gets an author's name out there. The more reviews, the more chances a reader will stumble across the name. Pessimist that I am, I suspect it's largely the same number of readers hitting all the online sites, but they can't read all the reviews at each site, so maybe they'll stumble across a different author if they hit enough sites.

Besides the people who don't read reviews at all, you also have the people who read reviews just to see if the book has a plot or character or setting they want to read and who ignore the reviewer's opinions and ratings.

So in that sense, reviews have the potential to increase sales. If an author has a great hook, a great setting, a fascinating character, and the reviews reflect that, then "buzz" will escalate into better sales. Publishers really can't tell what's happening out there unless the buzz is so tremendous it even affects their world, but they love having good quotes to put on their sites or in the next book. And if sales increase, even though they don't know why, they're happy, and the author is in a better position for the next book.

I'm not as certain of the reverse effect of a bad review, since many people will still buy for setting, etc, but if the sites keep an archive of reviews so readers can go back and see if all that author's books have been dissed, they might think twice about buying it. Does the series of negative reviews mean the author is a bad writer or just that sites reviewers don't care for their writing style? But, I just don't know if there are many readers who are this thorough.

Then there are the people who only read print reviews. A good review in the Library Journal and some of the other professional magazines impresses publishers far more than the online reviews, even though the potential readers of that review are smaller in number. Print media still gets better respect in the industry, because they know the reviewers are professionals, recognized by their peers. I won't even venture to guess how this affects sales beyond generating a level of respect for the author. And if a romance is rated poorly in a professional journal, the publishers always have the option of saying "they hate romance." <grin>

So, all in all, positive reviews probably have a more decided, immediate effect than negative ones on sales and publishers. Negative reviews may need to stack up over a period of time before they are noticeable as a lack of new sales. Some readers will continue reading a negatively reviewed author forever, so negative reviews have no impact on their current readership.

Also, sometimes for many reasons a book won't get reviewed and people not finding it listed assumed it was a bad book and so didn't get it - when in reality maybe the review sites just didn't get an ARC and nobody reviewed it at all. Some publishers are notorious about not sending out ARC's and some authors don't know they need to send their own.

So, all in all, positive reviews probably have a more decided, immediate effect than negative ones on sales and publishers. Negative reviews may need to stack up over a period of time before they are noticeable as a lack of new sales. Some readers will continue reading a negatively reviewed author forever, so negative reviews have no impact on their current readership.

-- Patricia Rice

Find links to Patricia Rice articles/reviews after our AAR Review of Volcano
Find a comprehensive list of links on reviewing at AAR following this issue of ATBF, devoted to reviews