Books Magazine

Like It Or Shut Up: On Bad Reviews, Part II

By Gabrielscala

Last month I wrote about the importance of bad reviews – mentioning the fact that without bad reviews, good reviews become meaningless. I also noted the reviewer’s obligation to readers and what writers might be able to learn from the bad review. But today, The Millions mentions a study that further encourages me in my belief that a bad review can be a good thing:

Is all publicity good publicity? Are all reviews—even bad ones—good for books? The answer,according to a new study [pdf] by the journal Marketing Science, depends on whether the writer is well known or unknown. The study examined the impact of a New York Times review on the sales of more than 200 hardcover titles. For books by established writers, a negative review led to a 15% decrease in sales. For unknown authors, a negative review increased sales by a healthy 45%.

This makes sense. According to the study, any review of an unknown author is likely to increase sales because it increases awareness of a title or writer that might otherwise go unnoticed. So, in that case, even a bad review is good. Since the vast majority of my reviews (good and bad) are of books by relatively unknown authors, I take heart in the news that my words, unimportant as they are in the grand scheme of things, are helping writers not just in seeing what I have seen in their work but in sales as well. In an era where literally hundreds of new books are released every week, for the newly published, any publicity is good publicity.

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