Nowadays, more and more quality books that are being published are being greeted with radio silence. Is it because there are so many more books flooding the marketplace that the publications devoted to covering them don’t have, as an editor recently told Delphinium, “Enough bandwidth to include them?”
Review space has always been hard to come by, but it used to be that quality books glimmered from deep within the daily delivery pile of books meant to be considered for review at newspapers and magazines. And there was also a time when a book was published and the reviews all appeared within a few weeks. Now, except for a tiny fraction of the authors out there, most of them established and famous, the majority of books get only a few reviews and some of these reviews can appear months late, well after a book has been deemed a dud by booksellers and is waiting in a box to get sent back to the publisher.
It has always been said that a good newspaper or magazine review can sell lots of books. But this began to change at least ten-if-not-more years ago. One author whose book was reviewed glowingly on the cover of the New York Times Book Review told me that her publisher told her that the review itself generated the sale of only 400 copies. This might sound like a lot, but if you consider that the New York Times is by far the most important newspaper review a book can get, this is worrisome. A book that sells only 400 copies, no matter by an unknown or known writer, is considered to be a failure. So where do the other sales come from? Radio? Social media? Or plain old word of mouth?
Book Reviews or Word-of-Mouth?
Publishers still say that word of mouth is everything. A book can be reviewed and bought, but if the book buyers are bored or unenthused, they won’t recommend it to their friends. However, if a potential reader just happens to stumble upon a book that has no advance buzz, picks it up and gets sucked in, here is where word of mouth begins.
The solitary experience of reading is really the only thing that sells a book. Our job is to get the readership to open one of ours and be as mesmerized as we were when we first read the book in manuscript form.
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