Do Book Blog Reviews Have Real Influence?

Blog Influence Snoopy Cartoon

The book blogger versus traditional literary critic debate has been rumbling on for a while now, especially as it is noticeable that endorsements from bloggers are increasingly used alongside reviews by established journalists. However, I was recently surprised to find a quote from my review of Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien inside the UK paperback edition published by Granta. I hadn’t known my review was going to be used for this purpose (but I don’t object to it) and I also didn’t receive a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my comments.

Interestingly, ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ is not the kind of book I would thrust into somebody’s hands with the promise that it will change their life forever. Rather than gushing praise, the quote selected from my review is descriptive and the other reviews collectively suggest that Thien’s novel isn’t exactly a light read which will appeal to everyone but it is a striking one if you enjoy densely written historical fiction.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing Blog Review

Given that ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year, I was a little surprised that my comments were considered important enough to be included, especially as the book had already received lots of positive coverage from official media outlets through its association with one of the most famous literary prizes in the world. I like to think that the inclusion of book bloggers can be attributed to our reputation as keen readers who write thoughtful reviews, but it is also likely to be a sign of the decline of traditional books coverage in newspapers.

On the other hand, while my blog has a fair amount of followers, I still don’t consider it to have anywhere near the same amount of influence as other media. With newspapers and magazines, I find myself automatically looking at who has reviewed a book rather than the reviews themselves in order to ascertain the target audience, genre or level of quality of a book. For example, I wouldn’t expect Jodi Picoult to be regularly featured in the London Review of Books or the latest novel by Thomas Pynchon to be among Woman and Home’s top summer reads. However, it is much more difficult for readers to make quick judgements about which blogs are worth their time partly because there are so many of them and the tabloid/broadsheet distinction doesn’t really exist in this context.
Snoopy Literary Criticism Cartoon

Overall, I am not expecting my reviews to be quoted alongside newspaper critics on a regular basis. In this particular case, I think my pithy one-line summary was just seen by the right person at the right time.

What do you think? Do you tend to look at the reviewers rather than the reviews themselves? Do book bloggers have real influence or not?

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52 Comments

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52 responses to “Do Book Blog Reviews Have Real Influence?

  1. I have a media background. And I started my blog because my friends were asking ‘if I blog’ and ‘what I was reading’ pretty much in the same breath. Since I have started blogging about I am reading, I am surprised by the responses I get. (I remember one elderly gentleman who thank me for reviewing Teva Harrison’s book because he was still coming to grips with dealing with his wife’s cancer and always thought he was alone with those memories until I mentioned the book) The quantitative numbers don’t always reflect that my blog has any influence on readers, but in my immediate circle, the qualitative comments are worthwhile.

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  2. To be honest, I don’t usually read traditional reviews any more. I used to like the books supplement that came with the Saturday edition of the Times but that disappeared ages ago. I tend to rely on the book bloggers I know and trust. As to bloggers’ influence – I imagine the publicists nowadays see them as another useful tool to try and sell books, but how much influence they actually have I couldn’t begin to guess! 🙂

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    • There are still some books pages in the Saturday times in the Review section but they have been reduced over the years and there are usually only 1 or 2 pages for fiction reviews. Influence is always going to be pretty much impossible to quantify in terms of sales. It will be interesting to see if blogs are quoted more frequently over the next few years.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s pretty cool they pulled your quote! Although wouldn’t you kind of expect them to contact you first before they put it in print? Or is a blog review public enough to not need that to happen? I’ve never thought about it before.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. labnut

    Yes, blog reviews are having growing influence. I definitely attach more weight to your reviews for the simple reason that by regularly reading your articles I understand you better. Therefore I trust your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, what a surprising thing to see. I do pay attention to bloggers because you know who has similar taste to you, and also if enough good reviews appear in my feed, I’ll give a book a go. I don’t expect to have any influence myself, though.

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  6. Margarita Morris

    Book bloggers can be useful to authors as a means of obtaining editorial reviews. As far as how much reviews (from any source) influence readers, I’ve really no idea. When something is mentioned in the national press then it becomes part of people’s consciousness so a lot of readers will pick up a bestseller to see what all the fuss is about. But I’ve done that myself and been disappointed. If you find a reviewer who seems to chime with your reading tastes, then you’re more inclined to trust their opinion.

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  7. I would say that blog reviews have a much greater influence on what I read than the national newspapers for three reasons. 1) we all know that critics in the papers often know the author they are reviewing, or share an agent etc. (2) newspaper reviews are usually of the hardback when it first comes out, and many of us won’t be able to afford the book for a year or more (3) professional critics of books, film, or TV fill their reviews with spoilers! So annoying. So let’s all keep blogging!

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    • Yes, I think bloggers are seen as more independent in that respect as a lot of us have day jobs outside of publishing or the media. Some blogs have spoilers but I agree that they are much more prevalent in professional critics’ reviews.

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  8. jen_bookworm

    I only read reviews online, on blogs or on book websites. I do read the reviews/quotes on books themselves but I don’t read newspapers. And when I’ve read the film reviews in newspapers I’ve disagreed with then. For me -as a reader- I tend to put more faith in reviews that are written by bloggers than anything else because they haven’t been paid. And I think that they tend to be more honest – in my experience- and more helpful in their reviews and I hope that if they don’t like them instead of given a scathing review they will just be nice about it. Maybe it’s just my perception of newspapers they always seem full of rumour and gossip and about making a scandal than telling the truth. (Sorry journalists)
    Congrats on being quoted, shame they didn’t ask though
    Blogs are more personal and I like reading them 🙂

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  9. I admit that I rarely read review by literary critics anymore. I much prefer to read reviews posted by fellow bloggers and my Goodreads friends. I find their reviews usually give me more realistic expectations and are much more straightforward. As far as how much influence we have, I’ve often wondered the same. I’ve been flattered to read excerpts from my reviews featured on publisher’s websites as well as links from author websites. While I can track some of that influence on my site via referral stats, I wish there was a way to easily quantify the reach we have. I don’t think that stats alone are an accurate reflection. Especially given that many of us post our review on several social media sites in addition to our blogs.

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    • I think it’s impossible to quantify influence in terms of sales. I agree that blog stats can be misleading too – it’s not always obvious who your faithful followers are unless they comment on posts frequently and posts can be shared in so many different ways.

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  10. I think book bloggers are the future for book promotion. I only use book blogger reviews for my TBR pile.

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  11. I feel like a blogger is likely to be more considered and have more license to be honest. So if I find that my taste in books align with the blogger’s, then I would be very likely to take their review as stronger encouragement or discouragement than a ‘traditional’ media based review.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow this is so impressive your quote was printed, congratulations! It’s hard to say how much influence we have as bloggers, but I do know that as a book lover and blogger, I get most of my recommendations from other bloggers, and we seem to be a guaranteed source of readership for publishers, so it makes sense they would use our quotes here and there.

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  13. Full reviews by both newspapers and bloggers do have the power to influence me to turn me on to a book. Not so much the short excerpts on the books themselves. Classics don’t need them and contemporary can be so hit and miss, I stick to prize-winners and nominees. There are some exceptions. Because we now read so many books in translation or from non-Western writers, it matters to me that they have not just been praised in the West. I read a lot of Indian fiction for example, so praise from other Indian writers or Indian newspapers will help influence me. For non-fiction I also now checkout the credentials of the writer. I quickly got sick of ‘history’ and ‘science’ books written by non-experts, usually journalists, who don’t understand the subject in depth and give a lot of time on discredited ideas out of a journalistic ideal of balance.

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    • Yes, literary prizes have the most immediate impact on sales for sure. You make an interesting point about books in translation too – I usually find that these books have already had strong reviews in other countries in order for translation to be considered worthwhile. Author credibility is important too!

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  14. whoa! That is so cool. I would love to show up in a blurb, though I sure hope someone tells me if i do! The question of influence is do interesting to me. I’ve asked a couple of traditional writers and critics of they think blogs and YouTube etc. Ate legitimate criticism and got mixed responses. But it only matters what regular readers think. I think bloggers have lots off influence – in other bloggers. With then never public? I think there are too many blogs out there, and the quality is so variable, it’s hard to believe they have much…

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  15. Congratulations on getting quoted in the book. That sounds amazing and I really like the words that you used to describe the book. I think reviews matter a lot. I have read a number of books simply because of reviews from other bloggers. I have also had people tell me that they read certain books due to my reviews. So yeah, they do matter 😉

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  16. Congratulations! This is great news for all us book bloggers. The publisher obviously feel that they should include a quote from a blog as they know their readers look at blog reviews. I often suspect that newspaper reviewers are afraid to be negative in their reviews because they are about to publish their own book and would like a good review themselves. I even had a newspaper reviewer confirm this to me. That’s why our unbiased reviews are so important.

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  17. Congratulations on the blurb! I’ve spotted blurbs from The Writes of Woman, Lonesome Reader, Elle Thinks and A Life in Books in paperbacks/reprints before. In every case when I let the blogger know about it it was a total, pleasant surprise for them. It’s not standard practice for a publisher to let you know they’re blurbing your review. I wish it was, but I guess it’s too much work for them. I’d hate to think I’d ever miss a quote of mine appearing just because I happened not to see the paperback of a book I’d already read.

    The only time I’ve been quoted — that I know of — was when Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel was published in the UK. I spotted one word taken out of context from my We Love This Book review of her first novel plastered on the proof: “Impressive.” This was funny to me because overall my review of The People in the Trees was mixed at best. And then I was pleased when a quote and the name of my blog featured in the press release for the Elliott & Thompson Seasons anthologies after I reviewed the first book.

    I guess publishers want to appeal to the broadest range of readers possible. It’s like, “Oh, you don’t trust those stuffy old critics? Well, here’s what some regular readers like you had to say.” It’s great to see blog reviews being given equal footing in this way.

    (I love your Peanuts cartoons!)

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    • Thanks! I had seen Lonesome Reader quoted before but nobody else. I’m not too bothered about not being notified as it was a pleasant surprise to find it by myself. Granta chose to leave out the second half of the sentence they quoted where I said I thought the book would be more popular with judges of literary prizes than general readers, so they are understandably selective! I think it will become more common for bloggers to be quoted alongside professional reviewers. If I see any of your other reviews quoted, I will let you know! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Well, I think of all the book blogs out there, yours influences me the most. I appreciate your range, especially as you cover book prizes that I don’t have time for. Without you I would never have looked at the IFFP for example, and now I do. As for seeing a quote in a book…don’t usually read them once i have the book in my hand. I only take one paper a week and subscribe to none. The Saturday Guardian still has a fairly good review section and I read that, garner a list and take it the my favorite independent bookshop, Primrose Hill Books.

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  19. The majority of books reviewed in the Broadsheets and Lit Mags are Non-fiction. I asked Andrew Holgate of the Sunday Times why that was so when I met him last year and he said that research showed that fewer people read the fiction reviews. If this is the case all over, then blogs definitely have a part to play and I’ve been gratified to be quoted in several books – only one of which I knew about in advance of discovering my quote by chance!
    As to looking at the reviewer vs the review – I do a lot of both!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think I was actually with you at the Young Writer of the Year Award event when you had that conversation with him! I’m not wholly convinced that fewer people read the fiction reviews but maybe they have stats from their online pages to support this claim…

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  20. That’s great that you’ve been quoted inside a highly esteemed novel and in my opinion, deservedly so. A little like Kaggsy, I used to pine for the Saturday literature review in the Guardian, but over time found it featured less and less the books I wanted to read, and when it did, I’d usually already heard about them via my favourite book bloggers.

    There are a few media reviewers I like to follow like Eileen Battersby at the Irish Times, because she reads a lot of translated fiction, but generally I’m more influenced now by book bloggers and things like #WITMonth, initiatives started by passionate bloggers that then become more mainstream.

    I think publishers are trying to harness a little of the blogging power, however the best blogs are those that retain their liberty and freedom to choose, with little influence from what publishers try to tempt them with.

    I have one little example of the power of blogging influence, in that I recently recommended a novel by an Australian author that was not yet available in Europe to Gallic Books, who translate French novels but started a new imprint for works in English outside the UK, and the book was picked up by them and published this month. I hadn’t read it, but I read some excellent reviews by bloggers and so decided to be bold and suggest it to them! I said No to being in the blog tour, as that’s not my kind of thing, but I’ve just read and reviewed it and enjoyed it very much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I like Eileen Battersby’s reviews too and I like that there is so much focus on translated fiction in the Irish Times. I agree that the best blogs are the most independent ones – review copies and so on are a nice perk but I wouldn’t want to have my schedule dictated by them.

      That’s a brilliantly positive example of blogging influence – possibly a unique one too!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I usually don’t read reviews until after I’ve read and decided about a book, but when I do, I enjoy having my opinion confirmed – or sometimes challenged. I hope my reviews alert readers to books they have not heard about or thought about reading.

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  22. Your clear-sighted piece and then the comments following it sorted out my thinking about reviews – thank you! I’ve always had doubts about gushing praise from other authors on the front of books, imagining it to be a necessary gambit arranged by publicity departments, and meaning very little. I am much more likely to take notice of the opinions of the book blogs I trust and follow. Good to have discovered you!

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  23. Havva Teede

    Yes, I also prefer to look at the person reviewing, not taking the review at face value. This helps me ascertain their authority and credibility. I think book blogs, especially ones that have gained traction within the book review world do have real influence. I agree with Steven Buechler’s comment above regarding influence measured qualitatively rather than quantitatively as an important distinction. It’s likely the right person that read your article at the right time is now within your readership. And so, your reputation, authority and credibility for reviews will grow. In a world where web writing is ubiquitous, and just about anyone can author a blog, your interpretations really do add value and for this reason, these type of book blogs will overtake the more traditional formats. Mostly because the blogger is well versed in their topic, offering a much more tailored, personal but informative perspective, than say, someone who writes reviews for a large variety of topics and genres. There are so many different perspectives. Sometimes when I read a review, then read a book, I find myself disagreeing with the reviewers interpretation. As time poor as I am, it’s important for me to find a reviewer that resonates with my perspective, and the best platform to search for one is on blogs.

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  24. Hi, your blog came up on my Bloglovin’ feed & I always like to check out new book blogs! Congratulations on your mention, btw. I was pleasantly surprised when an author commented on a post I’d written about one of her books – it’s only happened the once. I have a handful of book blogging ‘friends’ that I trust & know will be honest in their reviews & more often than not, I’ve been disappointed after reading glowing reviews in articles & newspapers to find the books were pretty forgettable. So yes, I think book bloggers are very influential as long as they write what they relly think & aren’t just trying to get people to click on an affiliate link.

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  25. I find that bloggers hold the best reviews. I think they are more like me and give a true account, not ones that are so swayed on writing for “the man” for instance, a news outlet or magazine. The the recommendations from those that comment are just as good too. I have found some great reads that I wouldn’t have otherwise found. For instance I am reading a book right now called Tenuous Tendrils by Tom Corbett. I have family members that saw the 1960’s through different views. His book shows how hard of time that was. I wouldn’t have found this book without bloggers and commenters!

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