"Last week's paper from the Harvard Business School asking "What makes a critic tick?" put me in mind of teachers and bombs. Literary critics can be either, but are they any longer central to the chances of a novelist's success?
The Harvard report compared "professional" reviewers (ie those working for newspapers and magazines) with their new competition: the folk who leave reviews on Amazon. Though they limited themselves to Amazon reviewers, they could have cast their net much wider; these days the ivory towers of book reviewing are under attack by a ragtag, undisciplined army of humanity, dispensing their reviews and their ratings across Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and the whole glittering panoply of the social web.
The conclusion of the Harvard academics was broadly this: that professionals are slightly more likely to review and approve of books written by writers who worked for the same titles as they, or books that had won prizes. Amazon reviewers, on the other hand, were rather more eclectic, and in particular seemed to be more supportive of debut authors.
I find the first part of this analysis less surprising than the second part."