Recently, a friend pointed me to a blog on Galley Cat that bemoaned the dwindling enthusiasm in the blogosphere to review books. It seems that publishers are depending on online outlets to review their books, and bloggers are growing resentful of the stacks of books they receive and are expected to review for free. Although the Galley Cat blogger was most concerned with the non-paid reviewing aspect, I see yet another symptom of a growing crisis for non-bestselling authors: the shrinking opportunity to sell any books at all.
As newspapers struggle for readership, they have severely diminished, if not outright eliminated, space for book reviews. The demand for celebrity and local news outstrips both international events and, among other features, book reviews. This means that the traditional method of getting word out about a book has narrowed to include mostly the usual suspects -- the blockbuster authors -- if that. To further compound the difficulty of gaining exposure, the superstores, including the online ones, prominently display only those titles publishers pay to have featured, and of course those spots generally are awarded to the books that earned the highest advances. The blockbusters. Independent bookstores, faced with both limited space and often precarious finances, must select their inventory carefully; while they can afford to carry a few off-the-beaten path titles, they cannot possibly carry a significant portion. All local bookstores will order books requested by their customers, but if readers don't know about the existence of a book, how will they know to request it? How will a reader find it in the huge database of a site like Amazon.com or a superstore like Barnes and Noble? The answer is: they won't. And therein lies the crisis for midlist authors.
Once upon a time, a starred review in a major pre-publication outlet such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, or Kirkus virtually guaranteed widespread coverage in review outlets and inclusion in bookstore inventories. A positive, but non-starred, review at least ensured some coverage and bookstore stocking. Now, such reviews mean little more than something to include on the dust jacket of the next book. After all, most readers don't subscribe to the trade journals. Yes, books with starred pre-publication reviews get reviewed and stocked, but they depend more on the backing of a huge publisher than on critical acclaim. As a result, publishers and authors have increasingly turned to the online review outlets to get the word out -- free of charge -- to readers. These review sites and blogs have been the salvation of some midlist authors. If they disappear, so will a significant portion of literary writers. After all, if a book doesn't meet sales expectations, then the author often cannot get her next book published, no matter how great it is.
It should be noted the the GalleyCat blog is misguided in suggesting that publishers pay bloggers to review their books, since such a practice will result in reviews-as-paid-advertisements and thus will, once again, ignore the non-blockbusters. Reviewers have always been paid, albeit poorly, by the review outlets, not by the publishers or authors. If readers hope to learn about exciting new books online, then they must support the bloggers, whether by ordering from their pages or by thanking them in writing. Sometimes expressing appreciation through an email offers a far greater reward than money.
(To read the Galley Cat blog that inspired this, go to http://tinyurl.com/6rxhny)
Causes Debbie Wesselmann Supports
The Jane Goodall Institute
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