Connelly on Downsizing Book Reviews

As part of the NBCC’s ongoing campaign, the LA Times ran an op-ed from Michael Connelly about the importance of book reviews to his career:

Fifteen years ago, my first book was published in near obscurity. Only 15,000 copies of

“The Black Echo” were printed, and the publisher didn’t place a single

ad for it in any newspaper in the country. It could easily have been

ignored or forgotten or simply missed among the thousands of books

published to little fanfare every year.

But even without an

advertising push, the book got reviewed in newspapers big and small,

far and wide. Across the country, newspapers had strong book sections

and critics were always on the lookout for a new voice. The Washington

Post’s Book World devoted half a page to a review of my novel,

predicting a bright future for both its protagonist and its author.

That review and others like it stimulated interest in what I had to

say. They got the momentum going in the bookstores. Those reviews

helped establish the voice of the protagonist, Los Angeles Police

Department Det. Harry Bosch, and now, 12 books later, Bosch has led a

full and adventurous (albeit tortured) life in Los Angeles. He has

explored places and seen things in this city that most people who live

here don’t even know about. All the while he has tried to understand

and make sense of his city and his place in it — just like everybody

else who lives here.

I can’t help but wonder, though, how long Harry would have lasted had he been born in today’s newspaper environment…

I elaborate a fair bit in the comments section at Critical Mass, bringing up Connelly’s support by independent mystery booksellers and how word of mouth led to increased readership (and eventually, greater in-house support and subsequent breakout and bestsellerdom) and how I do think that for someone like Connelly, he likely would have traveled along a similar trajectory even if the first Bosch had been published this year instead of fifteen years ago.

But it also makes me want to bring up specific examples. Based on print run and publisher support, the best comparison to THE BLACK ECHO published so far this year (and that may change since we’re not even halfway done yet) that I can find is Sean Chercover’s BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD. It is a PI novel (instead of a police procedural) but Chercover’s book introduced a dark, somewhat tortured protagonist questioning authority and battling multiple fronts in a city which shares almost equal billing with said protagonist. And where was it reviewed or got coverage in print? The four trade publications, both major Chicago papers (Tribune & Sun-Times) the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, the Lansing State-Journal,  the Globe & Mail, the Hamilton Spectator and the AP.  Not to mention lots of online chatter, online reviews and features and such.

Time will tell if Chercover – or anyone debuting in 2007 – will have Michael Connelly-like success. And of course shrinking print book review coverage will play a role, or force all parties to redouble their efforts in different areas. But remember, too, in some ways genre fiction, especially crime fiction, gets off fairly easy in the critical coverage game. There are dedicated reviewers (and from the sounds of it, one extra fresh face, which is welcome news.) There is a strong, active community of fans, booksellers and knowledgeable people who want nothing more than to spread the love about books at signings, conventions and other events and get-togethers. There are networks, in-person and online, to tap into and then expand in the quest for broader readership.

So even though I think Connelly’s op-ed makes great points and is a strong conversation piece, I’m not certain it tells the whole story – or that he was precisely the right person to put this idea to pen.