The imminent publication of The Hanging Wood means that, like any author, my mind is turning to the possibility of review coverage. I say 'possibility' because the days when review coverage was a given have gone - at least so far as newspaper reviews are concerned. My early books regularly received attention from national newspapers such as 'The Times' and 'The Guardian', but the reviewers of the 90s have largely left the stage. An example is the late Matthew Coady, a delightful man who combined political reporting with crime reviewing and who was very good to me and my early Harry Devlin books.
I was very, very lucky with The Serpent Pool to receive good national press coverage, but a number of reviewers have told me that it's hard to persuade editors to allow space to cover mid-list writers like me. I don't believe that's an excuse on their part; I'm sure it's the reality, galling as it is. (Matthew Coady once told me that one of his reviews of my work was spiked for lack of space, and that wasn't the last time this has happened. Frustrating, but that's life.)
Fortunately, the world has moved on, and now the blogosphere provides a good many writers, including (so far!) me, with extensive review coverage. Amazon reviews, too, become more important with every year that passes. And with this book, I'm in the curious position of having had it published first in the US, so that I've had the pleasure of getting some very positive reaction from both the press and bloggers already.
Do reviews matter? After all, I've done well in terms of reviews for a long time, and never really made a massive breakthrough - though I have kept going happily! But yes, I do think reviews matter, and for a range of reasons.
Good reviews are obviously great for morale. Bad reviews need to be considered with care - I pay more attention to criticism from someone who would normally be a fan of my work than from someone who doesn't really get what I'm trying to do, and many other writers have a similar attitude. I do think, though, that you have to be a bit fatalistic with reviews. You can't control what people think, or say. All you can do is your best, and try to fulfil your personal contract with your readers.