Do reviews sell books?

Last Thursday, the following review of THE BONE GARDEN ran in USA Today:

The discovery of bones in the backyard of a rundown home in rural Massachusetts kicks off this 11th mystery by best-selling author and physician Tess Gerritsen. Just-divorced Julia Hamill searches for the identity of the woman whose century-old remains are found on her property. Gerritsen uses the mystery surrounding the unidentified woman to spin a parallel story that takes place in 19th-century Boston. It centers on a series of grisly murders set against the antiquated medical practices — bleeding patients, unhygienic hospital practices and the stealing of corpses for medical school autopsies — and the cultural prejudices of the time. Lively dialogue and a pitch-perfect narrative make for a highly engrossing novel.

When it ran, my book had been on sale for six weeks, and my sales index (which, yes, I do check way too frequently) had been inching up inexorably toward the 600’s.   But the day that USA Today review appeared, my sales index promptly dropped into the 300’s, where it hovered for a day before again deteriorating toward the 600’s.

I know the temporary improvement in the sales index probably represented only a dozen or so extra sales.  Still, is the only way I have to judge the immediate effect of a review or an advertisement.  USA Today has one of the biggest newspaper circulations in the country.  Granted, the review only appeared in their Mystery Roundup, but still it had great exposure, and could potentially have been seen by a lot of eyes.

Unfortunately, the effect was temporary. One day, and the effect was gone.

After a month on sale, something else has to take over to make a book keep selling, and that’s word of mouth. 

(More blogging after I get home from Germany next week!)


13 replies
  1. ZanyMom
    ZanyMom says:

    But there’s no way to judge any increased sales from bookstores? I bought mine in a brick-and-mortar store (B&N). Is there any way to get accurate sales figures for books? They must, I’d assume, for royalties and such.

  2. struggler
    struggler says:

    Hi Tess – you’re getting paranoid again! I’ve recently finished THE BONE GARDEN and not only did I think it was very good, but I gave it thumbs-up reviews on both the US and UK Amazon sites. Last year I created a ‘Listmania’ on Amazon UK dedicated to you, listing all the books you’ve written (I make it 24, please correct me if I’m wrong!) which at this moment has been read 2,954 times and rated 133 out of 133 helpful, which I’m rather pleased about. I’ve done lengthy reviews on every novel since HARVEST and have received lots of positive/helpful feedback, don’t know the total. I’ve never given you a bad review, everything 4 or 5 stars. Of course my influence is rather small to say the least, but nevertheless I’m flying the flag for you.

    Anyway stop worrying, you’ve written yet another novel of which you can be proud, and unlike some of your peers (imho) you are showing no signs at all of complacency or an unwillingness to put anything less than your utmost into each story. There’s more to life than sales numbers, please don’t let them consume you. Just keep doing what you do and you’ll continue to keep a heck of a lot of people very satisfied.

  3. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    HI Tess et al,
    I’d say that reviews can help as they might persuade others to try a book if they haven’t been brave enough before as people enjoy something different time and again.

    I know this statement to be true as when you look at peoples bookshelves you can tell a lot about them. For example mine are littered with Sci-Fi/Fantasy with a good helping of Historical fiction, a smattering of Crime and a touch of horror. Look at someone elses and you’ll see a different configuration etc. But what this tells you is that what people read does vary.

    Now a review not only helps people make up thier mind but can be a clincher after people have read the book back. Look at a book that has no reviews and look at the sales figures of that compared with one that has a review. The reviewer may not get any thanks but it can be an invaluable service.

    As to why it can make a difference I’d say that with most people having internet access these days they tend to look at things like that but more people trust cash than credit cards and so will pick the book up somewhere they can do that. Now with supermarkets selling books (and at very cheap prices) its where a lot of people go to pick up whats interested them, unless its specialist in which case you dont really have a choice. The fact that youre popular means that the sales figures (when the publisher gets them from the supermarket side of things) should be really in your favour.

    For example look at Mephisto Club. That was a number One best seller in Tesco’s and Asda and the paperbacks done well in addition. Whilst reviews do help, price can also be a deciding factor in what I like to call the Shakespearian connundrum. “To Buy or Not to Buy, that is the question.” LOL

    Hope this helped (oh yeah and my review is up on as well as on the UK Tess Gerritsen Message Board, peeps please sign up by going through Tesses UK site.)

    All the best,


  4. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    Hi Tess,

    I would hope that a review would help boost sales, especially in a newspaper with such high circulation. I mean, you wouldn’t expect a 300 rank bump in Amazon if it was a review printed in a small town newspaper, but the top 5 are definitely a plus.

    Do we still go with the old mantra of “Any publicity is good publicity”? I mean, I just bought Alice Sebold’s new novel–which has gotten VERY mixed reviews–and I’m really enjoying it so far. And isn’t it a bestseller as well? Ah well…

    Have fun in Germany!

  5. Felicia Donovan
    Felicia Donovan says:

    Tess, I could have talked to you for hours at the signing. So nice finally meeting you and you had everyone captivated.

    I have been cautioned against monitoring THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY sales on Amazon because of all the hourly fluctuations, but like you, I do. It is another indicator and a useful tool. I do see TBWA climb (lower numbers = climbing) whenever TBWA gets a good review or write-up.

    Many people don’t realize that authors have few indicators of book sales. Publishers aren’t always willing to release that info and it’s almost an industry secret until a royalty statement comes in. Authors need something to boost them up and know that all that gut-wrenching work was worth it. Amazon is one of the few publically-viewable indicators, so why not?

    As for reviews, publicity is publicity. Good, bad, ugly – it puts the name and title out there.

    Felicia Donovan

  6. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    I understand your concern. It takes a lot of books sold to pay for an advertisement in USA Today. If the ad misses the break even point, that fact would be helpful to know. Checking the spike at Amazon seems a legitimate way to get an idea of whether the ad worked, especially if you know what kind of a sales jump going from the 600’s to the 300’s is.

  7. Cynbagley
    Cynbagley says:

    I write reviews, but I don’t read reviews. Why? I think a lot of the reviewers don’t tell me what I want to know.

    I have enjoyed every one of your books that I have read. 🙂

  8. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    Reading certain reviews can be a problem as for some reason the reviewer thinks that its a good idea to tell you the whole book plot.

    Its one reason Im very careful on how I review things as to me theres no greater crime to a reader.

  9. Kayris
    Kayris says:

    I just finished The Bone Garden last night, and I enjoyed it. I read it, not because of a review, but because I also enjoyed The Sinner, The Mephisto Club, and all of your other novels. The reason I read those was based on a recommendation from my mom, who is also a fan. I tend to ask for recommendations from friends and family over reviews I read in magazines or papers. That’s how I found Jodi Picoult, and Kim Edwards.

    As an aspiring writer myself, I think one thing I really need to do (besides the obvious) is grow a thicker skin. I’ve seen some of the hateful comments people leave on columnists sites or horrible reviews on Amazon, and I just know how deeply those words would hurt me. Kudos to you for holding up against the pressure!

  10. Tom Young
    Tom Young says:

    yes, traveling over 3000 miles a week usually, USA Today is the choice of most people in my profession.

    I shop amazon a lot for older books, reccomended that I might have to order anyways, not really the newest ones that can usually be had discounted anyways from Walden’s or B&N… any of the bigger retailers.

  11. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    Hey Tess I just finished The Bone Garden and I thought it was absolutely brilliant! You could’ve gone on forever on that topic, though. Such a great read. Thank you for being a writer!!!

  12. summerraine06
    summerraine06 says:

    This book is awesome, only took 2 days to read it. I love all of your books. I personally favor the ones with Rizzoli and the gang. I can’t wait for the next one.

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