A while back I asked on anoher SE "Which, originally non-English, work has the widest reception in English SF?". Shortly after the question was closed for being opinion based. Now another user modified the question by adding the qualifier "... widest reach as measured in Google Scholar citations" as this is an objectively measurable item.

I find it rather puzzling, tbh, as I think wide reception means things like lots of copies sold, read, borrowed from libraries, talked about in zines, referenced in other works etc. - most of which might not show up as Google Scholar cites.

When literature people talk about reception of a work, how do they measure this, how do they compare receptions of different work?

Note: SF differs from other literary fiction and other genres in a few way that might be relevant:

  • SF is self referential in a different way (background and plot ideas of other authors are examined and re-examined) so the reach of an SF work might lie in how its tropes are picked up by other authors.
  • There is or was the SF ghetto meaning that SF works seldom reach anyone beyond an SF audience.

But that shouldn't affect the answer much?

  • If literary scholars looked at quantifiable measures of reception, I think they traditionally looked at sales figures, if those were available. Usually, I think they investigate(d) non-quantifiable aspects of a work's reception. And Google Scholar may be too strongly biased towards Western languages to provide reliable measures for non-English works.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 13:27
  • to be clear, I was looking for reception within the Anglosphere. Also, My question is also If Lit. scholars look at quantifiable sources at all.
    – mart
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 13:30
  • 1
    That's OK. I wasn't criticising your question.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 13:33
  • For the record, your original question on SFF has now been reopened. (That doesn't invalidate this question, of course.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


When literature people talk about reception of a work, how do they measure this, how do they compare receptions of different work?

Typically literary scholars look at all of the published reviews to get one documented form of "reception." In the 18th-20th centuries, the number of periodicals specializing in reviews was enormous, giving a good gauge of the range of responses.

Sales figures provide a second metric, and these are found in the archives of publishing houses or sometimes in the correspondence and diaries of authors, who generally tracked sales (and the income they produced) closely.

Book historians have another technique, of looking at the records of libraries to get a sense of what they were purchasing and how much individual books circulated.

Of course, all of this predates Google Scholar, which would be a singularly unhelpful source to track reception of anything except new books -- and even then, I would question its accuracy.

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