Monday, September 17, 2007

BOOK REVIEW WEEK, 1 -- veinglory as usual

My thoughts on the subject of book reviews are disorganised and generally unsatisfactory. I know I am dissatisfied, annoyed and confused. I know that I don't really 'get' what is happening with book reviews and the whole reader-writer-reviewer dynamic. That is why I invited a few people to come and give me their thoughts in the hope it might help me arrange mine...

But I am going to open the week with my usual babbling and a collection of talking points in no particular order.

1) Blogs Didn't Kill Professional Reviewing, Professional Reviewing Did.
The book review sections of major newspaper never sold much ad space, and never made any money. Apparently they never felt the need to. Apparently they were wrong. Commentators blamed sliding literacy, publishers for not buying ad-space, newspapers for their venal priorities...and blogs. Economic reality came crashing down on the pro reviewers heads around the same time as the rise of the blogverse but the cause was their persistent lack of interest in readers--their readers, the readers of books, any readers. If pro reviewers can't interest readers, can't do it better than amateurs, what the hell do they expect?

2) You Can't Milk a Golden Goose
So if you are trying to publish a professional review magazine or webzine you do need to have readers and sell advertising. But am I really naive to think this can be done without deliberately short changing the readers? I just received my first every copy of Affaire de Coeur magazine. The graphic presentation was a little awkward but not ugly--but I don't care much about that. But I did find it odd that they were paying for full cover printing but the review pages have no cover art on them. Cover art is extremely useful to the reader in remembering and finding books and there is plenty of whitespace on these pages where cover art could have been shown. Then I noticed that a handful of books do have cover art shown--you guessed it, the one for authors or presses who paid for ads. So the other reviews are deliberately made more ugly and less useful to provide a perk for paying advertisers? And most of the few articles are also related directly to advertised products. I get that review publications need to make money but as soon as this is done at the clear expense of providing readers with content because it is of interest and presenting it so it is attractive and useful to the readers, then that undermines the basic business model of reviews being for the benefit of readers (especially in formats where the readers muct actually pay for the magazine).

3) Don't Underestimate the Intelligence of Readers
A few comments about book reviews from readers at the RomanticTimes forum:
"I personally never pay any attention to the reviews posted by "professional" reviewers. I like to see what other every day readers think."

"One thing I will say is that I want reviews to say more than "I loved this book, you really need to read it" or "This book was awful, don't waste your money". There are ways to give reviews without giving away spoilers. And the reviews don't have to be favorable, but at least give good, sound reason why the story didn't work - I honestly want to know."

"I definitely check out the reviews – both professional and reader – before I buy a book. I check out as many reviews as I can and I have a list of review sites that I frequently visit. Where I live, the price of a typical new paperback novel is equivalent to 3 lunches, so I try to minimize mistake buys by being as informed as I can be about a book I’m interested in."

"I ... don't like to see spoilers unless it reveals that there is no HEA or that the hero or heroine dies. If there is that type of twist I want to know."

So... that is enough from me--except that I need to go down and update the 'death of StarDust press' post. So if you are on a feed you might want to check into the blog for the updated version. Coming up, posts on book reviewing by reviewers Dawno and BookMom and writers Jennifer McKenzie and Cathy Clamp!


Moondancer said...

You make some good points here about reviews and thier use. I'll have to read over these very carefully and think about what you've said. I've been thinking about linking reviews to author spotlight archives so this is great timing for this post.

veinglory said...

We have a lot more about reviewing coming up from different points of view: reviewers, writers and publishers.

Laura K said...

I totally agree with your comments about reviewing. Prices of things have gone up too much lately, so my book budget is very small. I trust that reviewers will give sound judgements.

I also look at a variety of reviews,too...don't settle for just one review to make my decision.