10 Reasons Book Reviews Still Matter
I’m a book reviewer. I’m a professional book reviewer. I’m the book reviews editor for PANK Magazine. The list of places in which my reviews have been published is so long and full of defunct venues that I don’t even try to remember all of them. Yeah, sometimes I get paid and that’s great, but most of the time I don’t, and that’s also fine by me. I review books because I love literature and spreading the word about things I enjoy. I think book reviews matter. Sadly, many venues are killing book reviews, and I’m pissed about that. Y’all like my angry essays, right? Well, here’s one about why book reviews matter and why all literary venues should publish them regularly.
You know what? Instead, of an essay with all my points, I’ll do a list. Lists are more readable and folks share them more. Sharing, in the case of this piece, is crucial, so here we go. Here are ten reasons why book reviews matter a fuckload:
1. Not everyone can pay to play
Fuck Kirkus and places that charge to review books. I know it’s all business and everyone wants to get a positive review from Kirkus, but when you throw serious money into the equation, indie authors and presses start the game at a huge disadvantage. Money should go into superb cover art, top-notch editing, and an outstanding layout. If there’s more money to spend, it should be diversified with ads on a few online sites, giveaways, contests, readings, etc. Truth is, most indie presses don’t have a dollar left to invest after the book is done, and if they do, they go with something like BookBub. The more small venues kill book reviews, the less possible venues indie authors have to get their work promoted.
2. Book reviews are free advertising, even when negative
If you read point #1, you already know that indie presses don’t have enough money or contacts to get massive coverage. Book reviews are free. Free is good. Sure, the odds are still tough because most serious reviewers (and even a few jackasses) get inundated with review copies, but more reviewers and venues equals more opportunities for free advertising, both good and bad. Plus, publications that publish reviews share those reviews on their platform, so authors get new eyes on their work every time. Also, they work even when "negative." Sometimes I read stuff like, "This book was absolutely disgusting. The horror is over the top and the gore is pushed to the limit." The reviewer hated it, but I'm already heading to Amazon to get me some of that gruesome action.
3. Possible blurbs/pull quotes
Asking for blurbs is hard, and creating images to share on social media without blurbs or pull quotes from reviews is hard. I guess that’s why a lot of authors share their books with quotes attributed to no one (seriously, stop doing that shit; it’s unprofessional and makes you look desperate). A solid review will give authors at least two lines they can use for promotional materials, their Amazon page, social media plugs, etc.
4. Every copy counts
Book reviews sell copies. They can sell two dozen copies or a single copy. It doesn’t matter because every copy sold counts. Every copy is money in the author’s pockets. Every copy is the possibility of a new/future reader. Every copy is a message to the publisher saying, “Publish this person again.”
5. Serious book reviewers having a huge platform is how you fight assholes trying to prey on newbie/lost/desperate writers
“Hey, I just saw your book and it looks like a perfect match for my site/Instagram account/whatever! For $100 I will…” Here’s the only response to those emails (take note!): “Fuck you.” Never pay anyone who contacts you making promises for a review. If Kirkus sucks, these folks suck much worse, and they’ll leave you with empty pockets, a shitty review, and possibly an STD. Professionals have resumes, and so do professional book reviewers. Yeah, as I pro, I get paid for reviews, but I get paid by the venue. Get it? I create content for them, so they pay me. I have not/will not take money from authors. Ever. Anyone preying on them deserves to be shot down with the quickness.
6. Amazon reviews are tricky, disappear, can be bought, and sometimes are the result of a vendetta
You’ve read at least one of them. “I haven’t bought or read this book, but the author is an asshole.” Those reviews on Amazon are a joke. Sure, we all want 500 reviews on Amazon (especially if they all say Verified Purchase at the top), but for folks to read all your Amazon reviews, they already have to be aware of the book. The best way to make people aware of a book? Reviews in large venues with a nice platform and a passionate book loving readership. I have lost three or four Amazon reviews, but my review in the Los Angeles Review of Books is still there, and it still gets hits.
7. NPR and the New York Times won’t come knocking
I’m seriously not hating on those venues here, but they won’t come for your hardcore horror novella or your poetry or your experimental literary novel published by a new indie press. That’s when people like yours truly come in and say “Fuck Patterson and Clinton; I’m only reviewing indie folks!” I mostly review books by women, POC, and members of the LGBTQ community when I have a choice. Why? Because they need more exposure than Stephen King. Actually, King and Patterson don’t need reviews to sell books or spread the word, so venues covering them and not covering indie folks are doing readers a disservice. Fucking fight me.
8. Book reviews = discovery
This one isn’t debatable. You put the word about a new book out there and folks will come across it who would never have discovered that book or author otherwise.
9. Book reviews belong in literary publications/websites/magazines
I’m always grateful for the great venues that publish my work. Places like Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Criminal Element, Crimespree, Verbicide, The Brooklyn Rail, Heavy Feather Review, The Collagist, PANK, etc. I love them for what they do. I think book reviews should be part of all lit/book sites and publications. When I see places like LitReactor and Electric Literature drop reviews, it hurts. They have large followings, and a review in them always helps authors. “They don’t get as many hits as other stuff” is something I’ve heard plenty of times. Well, make them exciting again. Share them more. Give them tricky titles. Promise readers naked Brad Pitt and Scarlett Johansson pics. Force reviewers to mess with the format and bang out different reviews. Whatever you have to do to get them going, do it. If ten people read them and one buys a book, mission accomplished. Holla at me if you have a venue and need a reviewer. Seriously.
10. Book reviewing is an art
You could argue that reviews on Amazon and Goodreads range from awful to great, and you’d be right. However, great book reviews are an art. Superb book reviews are entertaining and engaging without giving away too much. They make readers want to read books. They talk about the strengths of authors and the problems of genre constraints. They celebrate great writing and novel ideas. Great book reviews are smart and profound. Want to talk about analysis? Check. Passionate explanations? Check. Deconstruction? Check. We do it all. We offer it to you. Book reviewers are tastemakers. They are a vital part of publishing. They are indie press warriors. They are content creators and entertainers.
Long live book reviews!
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