Should romance readers rule the world?

Are romance readers the nicest people in the world? Or the smartest?

Lately the subject of book reviews has come up a lot in writing world. The online writing board I visit has writers agonizing over getting more reviews. They buy ads, beg family, offer trades, whine, and cajole. One blog has writers complaining about bad reviews, while another has readers complaining about writers complaining about bad reviews. Is your head spinning yet? Mine is.

On the other hand, a writer friend is worrying about her lack of reviews, but her sales are sky high. She wonders how she can tell if people are enjoying the book or not. I wonder how I get sales like hers.

So what is going on? Are reviews important or not?

I have a theory. (I always have a theory, because I have an out-of-control imagination.) When I used to work in advertising, we had focus groups of consumers to try out product marketing ideas. There were certain consumers who were called heavy users. For example, the beer focus group was shown a new beer, and the guys (yes, they were always guys) said, “I’d try a case of that.” A case meant 24 beers, which they were going to drink over a weekend. By themselves. I leave it to your own out-of-control imagination to visualize what these guys looked like.

Romance is a huge category. In fact, many romance readers may not even consider themselves that since the genre is sometimes belittled. So most readers have subcategory preferences, ones that fit their interests, like suspense, historical, chick lit, vampires, young adult, on and on. I read a lot of hockey romances, because I’m interested in hockey and relationships. And I can usually tell from the sample if I’m going to like it or not. If the sample is not enough, I might look at the reviews, but I usually look at the bad ones first. To paraphrase Tolstoy: all good reviews are alike, but bad reviews are interesting in their own ways. In fact, a bad review may tip me off to something I may like in a book. Like reviews that complain about bad language or an unhappy ending, which are not things that bother me at all. Therefore, the good reviews are not necessary for me to make a purchase.

But let’s get back to those heavy users, but not beer drinkers—romance readers. (Although they may well be doing both at the same time. Personally, I visualize reading a romance with wine and chocolate.) If you’re reading three or more books a week, you are already an expert. You can probably scan a sample in two minutes and decide yay or nay. You have a list of authors whose books you like, and you pick a new one up automatically. You may even download books based on the cover, the subject only (like a hockey romance, pretty please) or because a friend recommended it. Reviews may not be important to those readers.

Really, it’s like anything. If you know about wines, you can pick out a good, low-priced wine by tasting it or even from the label. Similarly, heavy-user romance readers know what they enjoy and can pick out books accordingly. If the books are good, they’ll pick up all the author’s other books as well. They are smart that way, they don’t need reviews, good or bad, because they have self-knowledge.

In addition, romance readers seem to be a lot more tolerant than normal people. I’ve read reviews where readers complained a lot about the book, but then turned around and said they’d read the sequel. It’s the equivalent of having bad service at a restaurant, but being willing to give the place another try, something that nice people do. (Or people who live in a place where there aren’t a lot of restaurants.) And nice readers are also willing to give new/indie authors a chance. They don’t know the writer, but the synopsis looks intriguing enough, so one-click and the book is bought.

So why are all these writers worrying about reviews? I suspect that they write books in other categories where the readers are not so smart or so nice.