Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BOOK REVIEW WEEK, 7 [the end!] An Editor's Perspective--Sandra

The topic of reviews always seems to be a touchy one. From newspapers claiming they are losing money by having reviews, to authors not knowing what to do when they get a bad review, the subject can get quite heated. From this publisher's perspective reviews serve a couple of purposes.

1) Publicity
Some argue that any publicity is good publicity. I disagree. While it is good to get your company name out to the public, it is much better to have your name spoken with positive vibes than negative. Perhaps bigger companies can stand the hits better, but no one wants to have something damaging attached to their business.

With so many reviews available on the Internet, the review doesn't go away to be forgotten in the archives of a newspaper or library. Readers may not have a long memory, but the Internet does and readers know how to search for those reviews if that is a factor in their book purchasing.

Aspen Mountain Press will use reviews when appropriate and available for new releases as a means of enticing a reader to read something else by the author (their backlist). We only use the portions of the review that reveal an author's positive qualities and/or rating, and then showcase the book in a positive light.

Being reviewed at different sites can be an excellent way for an author to get their name out to prospective readers. It can certainly help an author build their web presence. I'm not convinced reviews help sales, but it could be because readers are getting inundated with reviews that lack substance. A negative review, on the other hand, could hurt an author's sales depending on how well known the author is.

In my experience, books are purchased because someone knows the author, the story is excellent and word of mouth spreads the news, their story or name comes up under a keyword search on the Internet, or the blurb and/or excerpt have caught a reader's attention.

2) Teaching Tool
Legitimate reviews, ones where the reviewer tells the audience what they liked and didn't like about a story are excellent tools for teaching an author and an editor. This presupposes that a reviewer is truly reviewing a book and offers criticisms that can be used. Perhaps there isn't enough detail for a reader to understand the world the author has created. An author can use this tool to improve their writing. Perhaps a reviewer mentions a glaring number of spelling mistakes. An editor should take this to heart sharing it with the appropriate people responsible (line editors for instance). Reviews can open a constructive dialogue between an author and editor on how to improve future works.

A smart editor and a smart writer should be able to pick up on common threads from review to review. It's rather like ice skating at the Olympics. Each judge gives a skater a score. Sometimes there is a huge disparity in scores, others the scores are within one tenth of a point of one another. If a common thread recurs over and over, that could be one the author needs to carefully examine for either what they have done right, or what they could have done better.

As an acquiring editor, I don't look at reviews in determining the acceptance of a story. Each piece sells itself. I determine how much work the piece is going to need and if I or one of my editors has the enthusiasm needed to see a project to publication.

Reviews though, are often very confusing to the authors. I understand their frustration. If a book is reviewed in glowing terms, doesn't mention an area that could be improved and then is given a three star/heart/flag/cup score the author feels lied to. Which is the truth? The reviewer's words or the score?

For many authors they go through a doubt-filled process, often commencing with the actual writing. Is this crap? Who should I submit it to? How many rejections do I have to have before someone buys it? Are they crazy for contracting it? Oh, god, the editor hates it; there are so many corrections to be made. Why did they contract it in the first place? They hate it, that's why it's not on the release schedule yet. God, is it really going to be released? Will anyone buy it? What will the reviewers say?

There are so many strong emotions involved with the creation of a piece of writing that they often overcome common sense. Writers, despite admonitions to the contrary, to frequently look at their work as their "baby" and who wants to be told their creation is "ugly" in some fashion? It takes a while to see the value of a good or negative review. Sometimes it just hurts too damn much.

Again, this is a great opportunity for a writer to work on communication with her editor to determine the value of a particular review. If there is a legitimate complaint, they can work on the issue together, finding a way to strengthen that area of weakness.

A publisher can use reviews to gain publicity and to teach their authors and editors. In the end, though, it is still the author who must decide what to take away from a good or bad review and how to use it to improve themselves and their craft.

Sandra
Aspen Mountain Press
Adventure, Mystery, Passion

2 comments:

J.M. Snyder said...

For many authors they go through a doubt-filled process, often commencing with the actual writing. Is this crap? Who should I submit it to? How many rejections do I have to have before someone buys it? Are they crazy for contracting it? Oh, god, the editor hates it; there are so many corrections to be made. Why did they contract it in the first place? They hate it, that's why it's not on the release schedule yet. God, is it really going to be released? Will anyone buy it? What will the reviewers say?

Damn, Sandra, you read my mind!

Diane Charles said...

The strangest review I ever got--right along the line of the proverbial "East-German Judge"--was a particularly negative opinion issued right around the same time that the rights to book had reverted back to me.

As both my editor and my friend, Sandra pointed out to me that occasionally people like to take those pieces which aren't their cup of tea and pour the contents out on the carpet.

Thanks, Sandy...