I’ve posted recently concerning the importance of fans in the success of a new writer’s career. More specifically, I gave a laundry list of ways to support your favorite writer.
Near the top of the list (and repeated more than once before the list was done) is the simple act of recommending the book to other readers. That might seem like a painfully obvious suggestion, but authors (and publishers, large or small) live or die by readers’ word-of-mouth.
The humble book review represents one of the most powerful promotional tools available to a writer, and it’s one that’s (almost) entirely out of the writer’s hands. We depend upon our readers.
Back in the good old days of legacy publishing, those reviews came from gatekeepers nearly as powerful as the publishers themselves: professional reviewers for national and industry newspapers. It used to take a positive mention in the New York Times or Kirkus to land a book on the bestseller list or get it into libraries and book clubs.
Professional reviewers knew they had that power, so they could afford to be selective. In fact, they were in such high demand that they had to be selective, so most books published never graced the columns of a major paper.
That hasn’t changed. It’s a lot easier to break into writing these days, but until you sign a deal with one of the big New York publishing houses, you won’t have a shot at those reviewers. But the good news is, those elite professional reviewers matter less with every passing day.
The last few decades have seen a radical shift not only in our technology, but in our attitude toward authority. As a society, we show less and less respect for the opinions of an enlightened few; we prefer to get our data from our peers.
And technology supports that. You can see it in action at Wikipedia, and you can see it even more clearly at the Internet’s favorite place to shop: Amazon.com. Amazon built its empire on two utterly interdependent things:
- An overwhelmingly large selection of consumer goods and
- Convenient tools for finding what you want within the sea of stuff
Recommendations and “Also Bought”s are cornerstones of that process, but the most popular feature among buyers is the customer comment list. You can read what other shoppers found when they took a chance on a new product, or see what they might recommend as an alternative to the brand you know and loathe.
Customer comments at sites like Amazon are powerful tools for selling books. A single customer review, good or bad, might mean an immediate 30% shift in sales. I’ve seen that firsthand with Taming Fire.
So if you like a book, please tell the world. It’s as good as putting money in the author’s pocket.
Reviews across the Web
Of course, there is a middle ground between professional reviews and customer comments. There is a rising class of serious reviewers on the web.
Many of them have their own sites dedicated to their book reviews, but others simply post at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, at Goodreads or Shelfari. The best post everywhere.
These hybrids, these book review blogs, are rising now to the prestigious role the major papers used to fill. And the reviewers are discovering the benefits that come to those who can reliably write good reviews. It’s not just the thrill of sharing your opinion with the world.
Anyone who makes a habit of recommending books in public will soon find books pouring in for free. And not just free, but often early! Advance Reading Copies might show up weeks or months before the book becomes available to the public.
Publishers are making deals with book review bloggers (even my tiny indie publishing house, Consortium Books), and savvy authors are submitting their own books to get some buzz.
That’s all happening because we understand how much we need the fans. A finished book is only half a work of art. Without an audience, it’s just a bunch of letters.
So spread the word. Get the message out wherever you have a voice. Recommend the books you love, and the world will be a better place. That’s what happens whenever you make art.