In old movies about playwrights and stars, the cast and director and backers of a Broadway play had a cast party on opening night, after which they ended up at a bar or an all-night restaurant and waited for the morning papers to hit the streets with major reviews. Those reviews could make or break the play. With fewer reviewers and newspapers these days, I don’t know if waiting for the reviews to come in is still a part of the opening night drama.
When a play goes on the road before its opening night in a major city, it often gets revised a lot before it’s final version appears, all this is based on audience reactions and the reviews in small-town papers.
Authors also wait for the reviews to come in. Major authors published by large presses know a lot about how their books are fairing–in terms of reviews–long before publication day. The publisher usually sends books out to major reviewers four to six months before they are published. In part, this is because the publications require it; and, in part, this allows blurbs from favorable reviews to appear on the book cover and sometimes on the first several pages.
Small press authors usually don’t have enough clout or name recognition to approach review sites like the New York Times, Book List, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus reviews and others. Also, we work on shorter time-frames, so the books aren’t going to be ready for reviews six months before they’re published. Truth be told, the books won’t even be completed so far in advance.
So, our version of the traditional all-night restaurant wait is checking Amazon for reader reviews. Sometimes, small-presses have relationships with blogging sites and smaller media outlets, but these reviews almost always appear weeks after a book is released.
The first book site review for Lena appeared today at Big Al’s Books and Pals. It’s a nice site with a number of reviewers and an interest in multiple genres. Their reviewer gave Lena five stars, saying (in part), “I have been looking forward to this book. At the end of Eulalie and Washerwoman Eulalie was leaving to fetch Willie back home. They’ve had a long-standing relationship and Eulalie was ready to take it to the next level. Being a romantic at heart I was ready for this relationship to move forward. So, what does Mr. Campbell do? He puts Eulalie in peril! Which in turn kept me reading late into the night.” (Click on the graphic to read the review.)
Whew. One hopes readers will like a new book, but I’m a bit superstitious about a series because I worry that those who liked earlier books might think the author lost his focus with the new book. So, I’m relieved that a review site I trust liked the book. One never knows what to expect. Readers liked the first book in the series, Conjure Woman’s Cat, and it ended up with 22 reader reviews on Amazon. People told me that the second book, Eulalie and Washerwoman was even better, but it only has seven reviews on Amazon. So, a writer never knows what to expect.
We do appreciate those reader reviews. The existence of those reviews play in to how Amazon displays our books. They also determine whether other sites will consider our books for review. Some sites won’t consider reviewing a book if it has fewer than ten Amazon reviews. So, those reviews matter to an author just as much as they matter to the director and cast of a Broadway play on opening night.
There’s a lot of waiting and uncertainty in the writing biz, so much so that betting on a novel is probably riskier than betting on a horse. Years ago, I bet on enough horses to know how things worked. I decided I didn’t make enough money to do that even though standing next to the rail near the finish line certainly was a rush. Books are a similar gamble.
Fortunately, writing a story is a rush even before we start waiting for the reviews to come in.