Later, with Rebecca Barry

When last we visited Rebecca Barry, her novel in stories Later, at theBar had just received a glowing review in The New York Times Book Review. We wondered what it is like for an author after receiving such a review. Does it influence book sales? Does it impact word of mouth and if so, how much? Upon leaving the house, do blue birds alight on her shoulders? We asked Rebecca to update us on any corresponding changes to her book sales, life, or ornithological prowess. Here, she pontificates on the impact a review makes in her own words:

“Here are my thoughts on that review, a month after the fact.

The first great thing about a review like that is the validation. I burst into tears when I read it. Then I ran across the street to the public library where my husband was working and showed him the review and he cried. I had been preparing for the worst, like we all do when we put something we love so much and have worked on for years out into the world. And when I got such a positive response from such a great publication, was more than I could have hoped for. I just sat down and said, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, to every god I could think of, plus Danielle Trussoni, who wrote the review. Then, when it was an Editor’s Pick in the Times a week later, I was pretty much over the moon.

You would think this would make any bad press that followed insignificant, but I have to admit that when, a month later, the book got a much less favorable review in the LA Times, it was still really hard and unpleasant, etc. But the interesting thing was that when I put the two reviews side by side, (naturally, I got out the NYTBR review again to make myself feel better) I realized that they both brought up a lot of the same things about the book. It’s just that one person really loved those things about the book and thought they worked, and the other person simply didn’t. So in the end, you just have to accept that not everyone is going to like your book. (Other people probably already know this already. I’m a slow learner.) I think you just make a decision about who you’re going to believe, and if it’s your mother or your friends, or the random person who writes to you saying they loved your book, or your good reviews, then you go with that rather than the cranky ones.

In terms of sales, after the review came out there was a spike in sales, and we went back to press twice in the first three weeks. Now, in the book’s sixth week since publication, the numbers are holding steady, at about half what they were that first week after the review. My impression is (and this comes from the numbers as well as talking to booksellers) that a good review will give you a good two or three weeks, and it definitely helps, but word of mouth is what really sells books. I think the same probably goes for negative press–a bad review might sting for a week or so, but word of mouth can overcome that too. If a friend tells you to read a book, you’re more likely to read it, regardless of what you’ve read about it. I also think that reviews have a cumulative affect. A good review in The New York Times makes people make a mental note about your book. Another good review in a local paper makes them think, “Ah yes, I meant to buy that book.” A reading or event, or a friend saying, “I loved that book,” might just push them over the edge. At readings a few people have come up to me and said, “I read the review in the Times/People and I’ve been meaning to get the book, but when I saw you were reading, it gave me a good excuse to actually buy it.”

The other thing I’ll say is this. Basically, my dream came true. I worked very hard for a long time on a book that I’m finally pleased with. And then I got a great review in the New York Times Book Review, which was more than I ever could have hoped for. And I was completely happy. And then a few days later I was standing in my tiny kitchen that needs renovation, trying to get the laundry together, and I realized that the thing about your dream coming true is that in a way, everything changes, and nothing does. I don’t mean this to diminish the review in any way–it was and is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me and I’m still really thankful/thrilled about it. But my life isn’t that different, and I think this is true of good reviews and bad ones. If there’s a good review, even a great one, you get a fabulous high and it pushes you into a new level of attention, and it helps to stop and enjoy the moment and be totally grateful that that happened. But you still have to do the laundry and try to keep your one year old from putting his face in the toilet. And if there’s a bad review, it hurts your feelings and makes you mad and defensive for a while, but chances are you can still do most of the things that made you happy before the review came out—eat good food, enjoy your friends and family, have sex, and find a new dream and keep writing. Because for better or worse, most of us keep writing and working and making our art, no matter what people say about it, which is what makes us the valiant, courageous, hopeful idiots we are.”

Grab a free ice cream cone (courtesy Uncle Louie G’s)and hear Rebecca Barry read along with Owen King and Darin Strausse next Wednesday the 27that One Story and Park Lit’s Summer Park reading in Park Slope where we will answer, among other questions, how many times can you say the word ‘park’ in one sentence?

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