Reviewing the Situation
"Criticism should not be querulous and wasting, all knife and root-puller, but guiding, instructive, inspiring.
***Ralph Waldo Emerson
But are there any authors who seriously don't care what reviewers say? Weigh in, please. We'd love to hear about that. And meanwhile, meet the amazing and insightful Lori Gondelman--who has grown her incredibly popular site into a must-read for both authors and readers.
HANK: Book reviews! How did you get started with this? Who’s your audience?
LORI: I belonged to a book swapping site ~ www.paperbackswap.com. My friends started calling me “the book pimp” because my book recommendations would cause their wish lists to grow. Several of them started bugging me about doing a book blog. Eventually I gave in and it’s taken off. Now, I get thousands of hits a week.
HANK: What connections do you hope to make between readers and author?
LORI: When I started blogging I never imaged that I would have developed some amazing friendships with authors, publishers and publicists. I think authors are as excited to hear from readers as readers are to hear back from authors (at least that has been my experience). You get such a giddy feeling when an author comments on your post or responds to your email. I want to encourage my readers to reach out to the authors that they love, to email them, to friend them on facebook, to go and visit them at signings. I met two great people at a signing on a day I was in mourning. Jessica Conant Park (who I now consider one of my best friends) and Hank, a great source of encouragement and support. You never know when those little emails, FB comments, or signings will turn into something fantastic.
HANK: How do you decide what to review? Is it tough to cut through what must be an avalanche of publicity?
LORI: I’m pretty open to reviewing anything. I usually read a lot of mysteries, thrillers, suspense, cozies, and women’s fiction. But I’ve tried to push the boundaries of my reading comfort zone and have accepted reviews for books I would not normally read.
If it’s something I know I really will not be able to get into, I am upfront about it while at the same time offering to host a blog tour, guest post, giveaway or author spotlight for the author instead of the review. At times I can get 10-15 books in to review in one week (often a few weeks in a row). I want to please everyone and get their books read in a timely manner, but it's just not possible. It's so hard saying no. I don't want to offend anyone, but unfortunately there just isn't enough time in my day. And then I have to figure out how to choose what to read from everything that came in. How do I make sure everyone is happy with the work I'm doing? How do I not burn bridges by choosing to read book A from publisher XYZ before reading book B from author ABC? Finding the right balance can be very tricky.
HANK: I’m persistent. SO how do you decide?
LORI: I think at this point I just need to go with what I think I will really enjoy. With the amount of books/requests I receive each day I would to read and review as many as possible. With just a few hours to read a day, I want to make sure I'm going to read books that I like. I think it would be futile to choose a book I might not be fully into. I want to use my time wisely.
HANK: Do you read books differently now than you used to?
LORI: I try not to. I read for my own pleasure, as a way to "escape" real life and the stresses of every day. I don’t want to turn my love for reading into “work”. As soon as it becomes a chore, like anything else, it no longer becomes fun. But if there are key elements, a phrase or specific things I think those reading my reviews should be aware of, I’ll take the time to jot down some notes so that I make sure to include them in my review. I'm not one to write the more critical review, regarding character development and those types of elements, I prefer to just write about what I liked and didn't like about the books. I like to keep it as short and simple as possible. I want to give my readers what they want - my opinion on whether or not I liked the book.
HANK: Is it intimidating? Knowing that what you say about a book can make such a difference?
LORI: It's funny, when I first started blogging I didn't think anyone would care what I had to say. I did it more for my friends than anything else. A quick little summary and off you go. I think I've really matured and grown from the quick "you're going to love this", to the detailed, thought-provoking, I really need to think about what I'm trying to get across reviews that I write now. I want to be as honest as I can possibly be with what I'm saying. Readers may or may not buy a book based on what I'm telling them. I want them to be able to say that they trusted my review, that it was true to the book, that my opinion was what made them buy the book, and that they loved it as much as I did.
HANK: The “important” reviews have always been PW, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal. Do you think those boundaries are expanding now? What difficulties—if any—does that create for readers? And authors? On the other hand, what opportunities does it present?
LORI: Let me answer the second part of that question first because I just experienced what I think every book blogger strives for ~ one of their blurbs on the back cover (or inside a book). And in the future, someone could look that up on the website and then check out my other reviews, and maybe, just maybe another quote of mine will appear on the back of a book in a bookstore near you!
Now back to the first question. It's pretty ironic that I became a book blogger and hoping to influence my readers with my reviews of books, because way back when, I never read reviews of books to see what others thought of them. I read the description on the back cover, or on-line, and if it sounded good, I would buy and read it. I had never heard of PW, Kirkus, Library Thing, The Best Reviews, Midwest Reviews, etc. before. Of course I'm acutely aware of them now. And I think more and more readers are depending on them less and less as the number of book bloggers expands.
I do think that readers trust the reviews of these big name sources of reviews, but I think there are a lot of bloggers out there who have formed cliques (for lack of any other word), and they trust each other, they trust what they have to say, they trust their friends and they begin to rely on each other to help make their decision on what books to read or not read, versus the virtually anonymous voice behind the options mentioned above.
HANK: What do authors do that drives you crazy?
LORI: Well now that's a loaded question :) There actually isn't too much about working with authors that bothers me. I love emailing them my reviews and getting an email back with their excitement about how I felt. I will do whatever I can to help them promote their books. I love working with them on guest posts, virtual tours, author spotlights, and contests. I love being able to give them as much exposure as I can.
The only thing that really bothers me is the "pushy" author (and sometimes publicists too). I think I am pretty clear in both my review policy and responses to their emails that I have a lot of commitments and cannot make any promises as to when I will definitively get to their books. The majority of the authors I work with are completely fine with this. They know that I receive a lot of requests for review and are just happy to get their book out there at some point. But when they start emailing me a week or two later, and then another week or two later, asking when I will have the review up I get frustrated. I know they have a job to do, that they want to get the word out about their books, but they have to also realize that I'm not wonder woman. As much as I would love to be able to do it all, I just can't :)
HANK: Now that you’re on the reviewer side of the fence—what hints do you have for authors?
LORI: Be grateful, and nice to your reviewers. Recently an author committed what many are considering career suicide. She had provided review copies to readers and one person had reviewed the book on his blog. He said the story itself wasn't bad, but that there were a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. Instead of either not saying anything or politely thanking the person for reading the book, she went off on him. Even taking it so far as to use profane language. The situation went viral on Twitter and among the blogging world, causing a lot of people to download the free preview of the book then giving her 1 star reviews on Amazon. She really hurt herself and her career.
Also, have patience. As much as you want the word to spread about your amazing book, know that reviewers get bombarded with books and requests. Many of us also have full-time jobs and families, making our reading time limited. We do the best we can to get your books read and reviewed in a timely manner.