Monday, April 28, 2008

First official review

I got some good news. My first official review for THE LAST QUEEN appeared in Publishers Weekly and everyone at Ballantine Books is thrilled. The galleys went out only recently, so I was surprised to hear a review had already appeared. I was also taken aback by its generosity.

My agent had gotten word shortly before she left the London Book Fair that the review would be published - which would prove a boost to her in promoting the sale of foreign rights, if the review was good. But she didn't tell me the review was due, because she knew I'd work myself into a froth over the possible implications of it being negative. She knows me well :) I've been warned by fellow writers far more established than me that these reviews can "make or break" a new writer's career. That in of itself seems rather unfair: I mean, is not reading subjective? How can a mere review determine the fate of any writer?

Well, apparently, it can - and often does. More and more, overworked booksellers and librarians are looking at the reviews from the four big sources - Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal -to decide which books to purchase for their customers and patrons. The marketplace is crowded; space in physical outlets is shrinking; independent stores are struggling. No bookstore or even library, except perhaps the Library of Congress, can stock every book published. Reviews assist buyers to make decisions regarding their merchandise.

It's hard for me, both as a reader and a writer, to regard books as "merchandise", though in fact that is exactly what they are in the commercial setting. To me, the copy I buy is unique, imbued with the magic of words meant for me alone. I tend to forget at least another 5,000 copies sit elsewhere, waiting for other besotted readers to make them their own. I suppose it's just as well that I can persist to some extent in my own naivete: I do have a marketing background that will help me immeasurably to hit the ground running, so to speak, when my book is released; yet to retain some of that wonder I've always had when I see a book will also help buoy me past the crueler shoals of the big bad world of large scale publishing and sales.

Anyway, so I got congratulatory e-mails and a good PW review. It should have been *starred", my associates lament. Honestly, I'm just happy that I've glided gracefully past this particular shoal, seeing as it could have sunk my ship.

If you want to read the review, here it is:
The Last Queen C.W. Gortner. Ballantine, $25 (384p) ISBN 978-0-345-50184-4
The 1492 conquest of Granada makes for high adventure and royal intrigue in this second sparkling historical from Gortner (The Secret Lion). Spanish Princess Juana, 13, watches as her parents, King Fernando and Queen Isabel, unite Spain, vanquish Moors and marry their children off to foreign kingdoms for favorable alliances: Princess Catalina becomes first wife to Henry VIII; Princess Juana, who narrates, is shipped off to marry Philip of Flanders, heir to the Hapsburg Empire. Although Juana balks at leaving Spain for the north and a husband she has never met, their instant chemistry soon turns to love. Years and children later, Juana unexpectedly becomes next in line to the Spanish crown and must carefully navigate every step of the journey from Flanders to Spain, fearful of alienating husband or parents or both. Emotional and political tensions soar as Juana’s loyalties are tested to their limits. Disturbing royal secrets and court manipulations wickedly twist this enthralling story, brilliantly told. (July)


Susan Higginbotham said...


Daphne said...

Don't be so modest - the book is wonderful! Having bought one of the "originals", I am planning on getting this one as well to see what additions you made.

justin said...

Hey, congrats!

I agree that it's kind of silly that a review can "make or break" a writer's career. Personally, I never read reviews because a) I usually never agree with the reviewer and/or b) I don't like someone making up my mind for me. If it seems interesting enough to me, I'll read a book regardless of what Mr. or Ms. Reviewer thinks.

But with all that said, I'm glad you got a favorable review. :-)

Michelle Moran said...

Congratulations! A wonderful review that's well deserved!

C.W. Gortner said...

Thank you, all! These first reviews can be nerve wracking, so good to hear your thoughts and congrats. I agree with Justin and don't let reviews dictate my decision to buy a book; I keep hearing they carry weight in the industry but today I came across a cool blog entry from a book buyer who says reviews don't help her out too much, so that was interesting. Here's the link:

Marg said...

Congrats on a great first review!

Carla said...


Julianne Douglas said...

Congratulations! I am so looking forward to reading your book, especially since Juana's son, Charles V, figures in the novel I'm currently working on.

I hope the "high" that review sparked lasts for days, or better yet, weeks!
At least until the next wonderful review comes out. {s}

C.W. Gortner said...

You're all so wonderful! Thanks so much for your encouragement and praise. I love doing this blog but I love more that you like visiting it!

Julianne, I'd love to hear more about that novel you're working on. Charles V is fascinating, isn't he?

Liz said...

Congrats. That is WONDERFUL news.

I saw that your site centers on historical fiction written by men about males, and wanted to throw in a short recommendation for El Tigre. It follows the life and exploits of Johann Heinrich von Manfred from Prussia to the American west, in the 19th century. Not only is the story well-told, with just a ton of history woven in, but the author is intriguing as well. He's 88, his grandfather was a graduate of the Prussian Military Academy (an integral part of the plot) and two uncles were gunfighters in the Nebraska Territory. He also has written textbooks. He's fascinating and the book in intriguing.

And congrats again.

C.W. Gortner said...

Thanks, Liz. Will definitely check out El Tigre!