Given that I've instigated a blog-off to find and give visibility to the best of self-published fantasy in which the grand prize is to be reviewed on 10 top fantasy book blogs it's probably worth considering how big a prize that is.
Common-sense tells us that it's better to be reviewed on blogs than not to be. It's hard to sell a book that nobody is talking about.
The question is: in general do blogs review books that are already being driven forward by word-of-mouth, that vast off-line network of one friend to another, conversations around the water-cooler or lunch table? Or do blogs initiate and drive forward that larger conversation?
A gratuitous picture of a windsock.
So - how do we know? I mean, obviously the answer is 'a bit of both' but which end of that spectrum is it?
All I have to offer is anecdote, but it's anecdote coupled to some figures.
If you look at the List of Lists I made, showing the Best of 2014 lists that featured Prince of Fools a little clicking around will show that a lot of those lists also include three other titles:
Veil of the Deserters - by Jeff Salyards
City of Stairs - by Robert Jackson Bennett
Mirror Empire - by Kameron Hurley
I'm going by memory here, but I just clicked the first four links on the list and three of them featured Veil of the Deserters.
Bloggers, at least the ones that seem to like my work, love Jeff Salyards. The blog-o-sphere as a whole seemed to catch RJB fever for the last quarter of 2014, and certain high-traffic parts of the blogging world literally ripped themselves asunder in their orgasmic rapture over Mirror Empire.
So how did these books fare?
I'm pretty damn convinced that the number of Goodreads ratings a book gets correlate to sales. If you want to compare two books, then if they are from the same year and same genre the relative number of Goodreads ratings is a half-decent indicator of their relative sales.
Veil of the Deserters - 216 (since May)
City of Stairs - 3725 (since September)
Mirror Empire - 1189 (since August)
For comparison a fair number of popular fantasy books released in 2014 have around 10,000 ratings.
Kameron Hurley reported being pleased with her sales of Mirror Empire, 10,000 copies sold after 4 months is very good going. On the other hand we can see that all of that blog activity (and there was a LOT of it) didn't turn her into a best-seller overnight, or over 4 months.
The real interest for me here is Veil of the Deserters. I've read and enjoyed the book and spoken with Jeff online quite a bit. He readily acknowledges that the book and its predecessor (also lauded on many blogs) have not sold spectacularly.
One obvious reason that the books haven't sold in great numbers is that the publisher, Night Shade Books, collapsed during the release and had to be rescued by selling their titles to another publisher - in the meantime being unable to perform many of the fundamental tasks of a publisher, such as getting copies on shelves.
Random people excited to be drinking water.
This lack of visibility out in the real world obviously had an impact on those off-line word-of-mouth conversations so vital to selling books. We still had the on-line excitement over electronic copies supplied to blogs - but there was no corresponding drive in any of the other places where books get their boost from. This was a book that was really only seen by bloggers. Many of them loved it (as evidenced by its prominence in so many Best of 2014 list) and yet it seems to have sold only a fraction of the copies of some of its peers which got similar levels of love.
The conclusion then? Well, there's no firm conclusion. But as a single observation, gifted to us by a the combination of blogger love and publisher fail. It seems to push us some of the way toward the windsock theory. A blog-gasm alone cannot assure great sales.
I'm still sure great blog reviews are a very definite help though :)