It's all about the conversation.
Reviews count for little today, in various media -- movies, music and perhaps especially books. But talking about books, talking about authorship, counts for a lot.
I was speaking with an executive at a small publishing house who told me that among the many upheavals in publishing, one of the most telling has been the lessening impact of the book review.
First of all, many newspapers have cut book sections or eliminated reviews altogether. Second, newsweeklies that often featured book coverage are much less powerful than in even the recent past (there are also fewer of them). Television spots -- interviews -- are rare, but they're the Everest of publicity nowadays, especially a spot on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, according to my publicist friends.
And those spots aren't reviews. They're question-and-answer spots.
And that's why my executive friend told me: what works better today are Q&As with authors.
Why would that be?
Because even if you're not yourself engaging in a conversation with an author, you like to see that author engage in a kind of conversation. You want to get the opinions of that author - even if it's somewhat rehearsed -- because today we want conversation, dialogue, back-and-forth, give-and-take, the reality -- even at a distance -- of an actual life. Not the opinion of a reviewer who may have an axe to grind.
When I advise my authors -- the ones I work with on bestseller campaigns -- I urge them to create a platform through which they can engage, even if it's in a virtual way, with an audience. They need to be present for their readers. That's why a Q&A is appealing: it takes us into the mind of the author. Sure, books do that. And reviews take us into the mind of the critic. But we don't want the critic weighing in for us, at least not so much, any longer. We want the author to convince us somehow that his or her book is worth our time.
The book industry is changing, certainly. And while the review culture is still strong abroad - in Britain and France, for example -- the U.S. book culture is less critic-centered and more author-centric. As long as the author engages with the reader, beyond the book.