Monday 12 June 2017

Why do Professional Reviewers Dislike Bestsellers?

By Iola Goulton

Christian literary agent Dan Balow recently asked this question: why do professional reviewers dislike bestsellers? 

And it got me thinking. Do reviewers dislike bestsellers?

I’m not a professional reviewer—after all, I don’t get paid for reviewing (except in free ebooks, which are of little value because I can’t even loan them to friends, let alone sell them). But I’ve reviewed over 800 books on Amazon, which makes me a prolific and enthusiastic amateur. An amateur with definite opinions on the topic of reviewing.

Dan’s post got me thinking because I don’t review a lot of bestsellers. Why not? Am I guilty of some kind of literary snobbishness, as Dan suggested? Or are my reasons a little more straightforward?

Upon reflection, I decided there were three main reasons I don’t review bestsellers:

1. Bestseller lists are dominated by general market books

… and I mostly read and review Christian fiction. The bestseller lists are dominated by general market thrillers and romances, which have too much sex or violence (or both) for my taste.

It’s not that I don’t read bestsellers—I do. But not often. And when I do, they are generally books I’ve bought at full retail price after they’ve become bestsellers (or become a movie). By the time I read them, there are already hundreds of reviews on Amazon.

I don’t see the need to add my voice.

Sure, I might rate the book, but I rarely review. I do read a few of the reviews at the star rating I would have given the book, and vote a few of them as helpful—those that most closely reflect my view of the book. I usually find at least one review which reflects my views exactly, and is often better than any review I might have written.

I guess I subconsciously follow C Hope Clark's "rule": I buy it, or I review it. I sometimes do both, but not often. When I do buy and review, it's usually that I enjoyed the ebook review copy so much that I want a paper copy to keep, or to loan to friends.

2. I review pre-release copies

My main source of books for review is NetGalley, which I’ve previously written about (click here to read). The major trade publishers which use NetGalley usually make the books available to reviewers well before their official release date—as much as six months in advance. So I might be reading a book in December that doesn’t release until April or July.

Most publishers don’t want reviews posted until close to publication date—and sites like Amazon don’t permit reviews in advance of publication date. So I’m reading and reviewing books in a vacuum, with no information from other readers or reviewers that might influence my view.

I see this as a good thing.

It means I'm reading the book with no idea whether it's going to be a bestseller or not. I can often guess based on the name of the author … but that suggests bestseller status is based less on the quality of the book and more on the name of the author.

Which could be a valid reason why reviewers don’t like bestsellers.

3. My reviewing preferences

This is the main reason I don’t review bestsellers: as a reviewer, l like to find and recommend books and authors that my readers might not have heard of. These are often titles from new or upcoming authors in the Christian fiction world. These books tend not to be bestsellers, for the simple reason that publishers put their marketing dollars behind the known authors, the likes of Karen Kingsbury and Francine Rivers.

I’m also reading and reviewing an increasing number of self-published authors with low or no marketing budget. But their books are as good as or better than many of the bestsellers.

In fact, a lot of the titles I read and review go on to be nominated for major writing awards such as the RITAs (from Romance Writers of America), the Carols (from American Christian Fiction Writers), the Christy Awards (from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association), the CALEB Prize (from our own Omega Writers), and the INSPYs (a blogger-run award).

Yes, I do read a lot of award-winning books. 

But I don’t see a lot of bestsellers on these lists … not that I read bestseller lists to know.

Overall, I suspect that I don’t review a lot of bestsellers because I try and review great books that aren’t getting a lot of attention. If they become bestsellers, great. If not … well, maybe they should. It’s not that I don’t like bestsellers. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. But they aren’t what I choose to review.

Dan Balow’s conclusion was that professional reviewers bring their personal preferences to their reviewing, which I agree with—after all, that’s what I do as well.

As Dan says, that’s human.

What about you? Do you read bestselling books? Do you buy them? Do you review them?

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more

You can also find me on:
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  1. Yes, Dan's article was an interesting one. I do check out the CBA Bestsellers lists and probably do read & review a number of the Suspense and Spec Fiction ones. And through judging I will come across some bestsellers.

    But I don't read too many General Market books these days. I wish I had more time.

    1. Too many books, too little time ... I agree. There are a lot of general market books I'd like to read. But there are even more Christian books, and they get priority!


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