Reviews don’t make a blind bit of difference to how a book sells. That, at least, is the popular wisdom among publishers. That means Jeffrey Archer’s latest “novel” can get rubbished by the critics and still make millions (the vast publicity budget presumably helps). Or, the other way round, there are thousand and thousands of marvellous books, greeted rapturously by reviewers, that have failed even to pay back their meager advance. A nice review warms the heart of the author but it doesn’t have much impact on the cash registers.
True. But it does rather underestimate the point of the whole reviewing business. Of course, working on the TLS, I’m biased – but I am committed to the idea that reviews have an important part to play in (for want of a better word) literary culture. Not only as a guide to the quality of what authors and publishers turn out, but also in their own right – as comment, criticism, insight, and a good read.
So how do I choose reviewers for the Classics books when I’m at the TLS? In a way it’s a bit like a dating agency.