The Ever-Changing Climate of Book Reviewing

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A good friend of mine (who started her career more or less at the same time) reminded me the other day how it used to be when a writer of literary fiction published a book. All the reviews would appear within a couple of weeks, and there were quite a few of them at that. I remember, for example, whenever I had a book out in the UK, it would get reviewed the day of publication, and often that same day, in several different places at once. Now, except for the most prominent of writers, the climate has changed.

Due to declining revenues, the space for newspaper and magazine book reviews has considerably shrunk while the number of books published has exponentially increased. Several book review editors for whom I have written have confided to me that they receive up to a thousand books a week, but now only have enough review space for twelve of them. And because some of the books that are published are relevant to the times, these must be given precedence over books that are seen as pure entertainment.

That is probably why there has been a huge increase in book review bloggers, and except for the ones with obvious name recognition, it’s hard to know or pinpoint the reach of these self-appointed blogger/reviewers. Having a good website is certainly key; whenever we get requests for a book from a blogger with a professional-looking website, we are strongly inclined to send them a free book. But because the blogger style tends to be more conversational and personal, a piece that ostensibly means to review a book can come off sounding like an opinion rather than something written in a broader context that either looks at the author’s body of work or discusses other works that illuminate the book under consideration. And let’s be honest, there is something about seeing something in print rather than on a screen that is more inspirational. But perhaps even more than in print is the power of hearing a voice on, say, NPR, favorably reviewing a book that makes one want to go out and buy it.

At the end of the day, though, it’s convincing a few people to buy a book, and if the book is wonderful, they will tell their friends and family and co-workers. This is called “word of mouth” and no book can succeed without it.

Joseph Olshan is the award-winning author of eight novels. His first novel was Clara's Heart, which went on to be made into a film starring Whoopi Goldberg. His other novels include Nightswimmer and In Clara's Hands. In addition he has written extensively for newspapers and magazines and for several years was a professor of Creative Writing at New York University. He spends most of the year in Vermont. His most recent release is 'Black Diamond Fall.'

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