Monday, June 7, 2010

Reviews: The Agony and the Ecstasy

So your book is published. Yippee! You might think that rejection is now behind you. But don’t forget that now your work is being judged by a new group of critiquers; the reviewers. A bad review can hurt just as much as any rejection, with the added bonus that a review is in the public domain where everyone can see it. There's no wallowing in private misery. On the other hand, a great review makes you feel like Sally Field accepting her Oscar: "You like me! You really like me!"

Many review sites exist online, reviewing both print and epublished novels. Two sites that I’m familiar with are Got Romance, (or their free reads blog page) and Long and Short Reviews (including the LASR blogspot page) I asked the owners of both sites some questions about how the review process works.

How do you receive books that you review?

Valerie Mann, Got Romance Reviews: We receive notices from several publishers on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Sometimes they send us the actual pdf file, other times just a blurb/excerpt, which I post on our review group. When someone asks for a particular book, I request it from the review coordinator for that publisher. Sometimes we receive review requests directly from the author.

Marianne, Long and Short Romance Reviews: We get the majority of our books from the publishers, many of the remaining directly from authors or their publicists, and a smaller number we purchase for our reviewers or our reviewers get on their own.

How do you select books to review? Do your reviewers pick the books they'd like to review or do you assign them?

Valerie: We don't typically select books for review. A couple of publishers let our reviewers go to the website and find books they want to review and then the reviewer will ask me to request it. Reviewers often will see a book blurb that I've posted on the group and request. Then again, I get emails asking for me to simply pick a book for them to read. They may request a specific author or genre or word count. It varies, obviously.

Marianne: We offer everything that meets our guidelines to our reviewers and allow them to choose what they want to read for review. We firmly feel that assigning reviews won't allow for a proper review. If we assign a spicy paranormal story to someone who hates them, she's not going to give it a good review. We want the reviewers matched appropriately -- though, admittedly, many of our reviewers are open to reading and reviewing stories from any genre.

What advice do you have for authors receiving a review, whether good or bad?

Valerie: I am a stickler for manners when it comes to my reviewers. Always try to find something nice to say, even if they don't care for the book. I feel the same should go for the authors. Find the time to thank the reviewer. They took time out of their busy lives to read and write a review for your book. I've been on both ends of this - as a reviewer and as an author who has had her book(s) reviewed. I always acknowledge the review (even if it wasn't the greatest rating).

Marianne: Our reviewers always like to hear from the authors, so definitely say thanks. But the biggest thing an author should remember is this: remain professional and polite, even if you didn't get a glowing review. Getting snarky, throwing accusations about, telling the reviews site they're stupid, wrong, idiotic, that their reviewer obviously didn't read the book, understand the book, etc., is not only unkind and unprofessional but it gets around. The writing world is small...

Thankfully this type of behavior has only happened a few times in the past three years, so I can't complain. For the most part, we've been continually impressed by how thoughtful, generous, kind and professional the author community is.

What can authors do to increase their chances of having a reviewer review their next book?

Valerie: Promote it like crazy, including joining author groups, blogs etc and asking for reviews. Contact review group owners and ask to put your book on their list of books to be reviewed. Make friends with reviewers. Most especially, if a reviewer reviews one of your books, ask her if she'll be willing to review your next book. Chances are she'll say yes.

Marianne: Write a good first book! I have reviewers who have become rabid fans of certain authors and clamor for the stories the moment they're available. Also, when we offer books for review, we post the blurb in our reviews group -- that's what our reviewers have to go on, so make sure it's well-written. That's what will sell your story the best -- both to my reviewers and to the world in general.

Do you think reviews influence sales?

Valerie: I like to think so. There is some debate about this. One marketing director for a major romance e-publisher says reviews really don't. However, she is always right on time sending the new releases to Got Romance reviews every week, so I tend to think she also doesn't feel reviews hurt sales either! I've had reviews of my own books where the comments left by readers of the review will tell me they want to buy my book because of the review. So there you go.

Marianne: Yes and no. I think reviews help -- especially well-written, comprehensive ones. I know I've bought more than one book based on my reviewers reviews (and no, I don't help myself to the reviews PDFs since I don't typically write reviews -- I'm a firm anti-piracy person, so guard the PDFs we're given like they're my children... my reviewers only get the books they review. No exceptions.). I think reviews can also simply get the word out about a book -- there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

But do I think that reviews will make or break a story? No. Take a look at a best-selling author's books on Amazon and you'll see every type of review possible, from glowing to snarky.
I do believe, though, that when a reader finds a site (or even a particular reviewer) they trust, they're going to give credence to the recommendation, and that will lead to sales.

If a writer or avid reader wanted to review books for you, what should they do?

Valerie: We like to accept new reviewers but we also only want serious, committed reviewers. I think every review site owner will tell you that many people sign up for reviewing but only a handful actually do end up reviewing faithfully. But, if someone wants to review for Got Romance Reviews, they can contact Kate or I at gotromancereviews@gmail.com OR ask to join our Yahoo group, Got Romance Reviews.

Marianne: Since we have, on average, 800 - 1000 books and stories in need of review on a regular basis, we always need reviewers. We offer not only free books, but an incentive program that allows reviewers to earn gift certificate, free books that they don't have to review and free advertising on our site (and promo through our sister site, http://www.goddessfish.com/). For more information, they can look here: http://www.longandshortreviews.com/reviewerapp.htm


Reviews can be good or bad. Just remember that a review is one person’s opinion. Sadly, not everybody is going to like your book or your style of writing. Author Joyce Henderson (http://www.joycehendersonauthor.com/) says “My advice, which I rarely take myself ☺, don't read reviews. Unless they come directly to you in your inbox from a fan, a review is some jerk's (if it's a bad review) or it's some divine goddess's (if it's a good review) single opinion. You've already impressed the person that matters--the editor who bought your book!

As a writer, what are your best and worst experiences with reviews? As a reader, do you make decisions on buying books by reading reviews? Have you ever reviewed a book?

31 comments:

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

Hi, Jana! Thanks so much for having us here today. If anyone has questions or comments, I'll be checking in to answer them.

Marianne

Jana Richards said...

Thanks Marianne. I appreciate you stopping by to answer questions and comments.

I have to admit that when I get a notice that one of my stories has been reviewed, I greet the news with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I'm excited because I'm pleased to have been reviewed and to have gained some exposure. And I'm feeling nervous because if it's a not-so-favourable review, not only is my pride hurt but sales could suffer as well. I'm curious to hear how other authors feel about receiving reviews.

Jana

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Jana, Marianne and Valerie,
Thanks to all of you for an interesting and informative interview. I've wondered how reviewers receive books and now I know.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Sometimes I've seen a good review about a book or author whith which I'm unfamiliar. That does prompt me to look for the book if it sounds like my kind of read. So, yes, reviews do influence me in that way. Would I buy or not buy the book of an author with whom I'm familiar simply because of a review, no. I don't normally read reviews for books by my favorite authors--I just order the book. I'm always happy to find a new author, though, so I do read reviews of debut authors.

Celia Yeary said...

Marianne and Valerie--having been on both sides of the fence, I understand both views. I could always find something good to say--my mother's words ringing in my ears--"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything. I don't want you acting tacky."--even it if was lame. Now, I'm only getting reviews, and so far, I have jumped with joy. That's what a good review does for an author. Keep up your good work--you are a valuable part of the publishing process. Celia

Jana Richards said...

Hi Gail. Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you found the post informative.

Vince, I read every word of your comment! I'm always amazed by how many things you've done in this business and your thoughtful comments. Several years ago I wrote some reviews in my local newspaper (it was a small town) for the local bookstore. The owner, a friend of mine, would give me a copy of the book to read or sometimes an advanced reading copy if she had one. Your comment about the difference in the review when you bought the book or when you read it for free struck a chord with me. Although I never reviewed a book I hated, I was always aware that my reviews might influence or dissuade people from buying books at my friend's store. Or maybe I was kidding myself and I had absolutely no influence!

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Caroline,
Yes, there are some authors I will automatically buy too. They've proven themselves to me and I don't care about the reviews. However, for someone I don't know, a good review might influence me to look them up. So I think reviews do have a part to play in selling books.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Becca,
Thank you for joining the discussion. I absolutely agree that snarkiness will get you in the end (pun intended). I try to be as professional in my dealings with people in this industry as I am with people I meet face to face in my day job. However, I know I haven't always thanked every reviewer who has reviewed my work. I am going to be sure I do just that from now on.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Celia,
I know some review sites won't review a book they don't like, or doesn't meet a certain standard. To do so would mean they would have to give a very negative review. I once read a book review of a local romance author in the daily paper (I'm now living in a larger city)that was totally scathing. I felt really bad for the writer and kind of disappointed in the reviewer. This is the community that writer works and lives in and to be publicly raked over the coals was unfair.
Jana

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

Caroline, I think you summed things up nicely with your comment. I've found many new authors from reading reviews, but I have favorites on my auto-buy list that reviews won't impact.

Therein, I think, lies the power of a well-written review.

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

Vince, I'm not certain I agree with your assessment of a free book reviewing differently than a bought one. I almost never buy books until I've read them first (I almost only buy books that are keepers for me), so I'm a BIG fan of my library.

However, this part? I have read too many reviews where it was quite obvious that the reviewer did not read the book. Some reviews are just paraphrases of the book blurb.

I heartily agree with. On my site we have a requirement that we don't post "synopsis" reviews with a "I liked this book" at the end. This brings a lot of work for my editors, and it means that my reviewers have to work really hard -- and I've lost more than one reviewer over this requirement -- but what's the point in a "review" that says nothing?

Marianne

Helena said...

Hi Jana! This is a very good topic, and gave me some new insight into the book review world. The most useful part was giving me sources of book reviews that I didn't know about before.

I have to admit I don't go looking for book review sites online too often, but I do know that the number of book reviews in print publications has been in decline for a number of years. Most newspapers no longer have a significant book section, and generally have very few reviews, especially from local reviewers.

In my library days I used to lean heavily on book reviews for library purchases, but for my own buying/reading choices I am more likely to rely on my own previous knowledge of authors, or word of mouth recommendations, or interviews I hear on the radio with authors. However, I love to read reviews for the reviewers' opinions, good or bad. It might be a different story if I were reading reviews of my own work. When that happens (down the road), I don't believe I will be able to prevent myself from reading them.

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

Becca, many folks wear different hats -- this is VERY true. My reviewers are authors, editors, readers (and many are more than one of those things).

And snarkiness (and it doesn't have to be sent directly to the site, we see blog posts and yahoo group posts, too ... because many of us ARE also authors, editors, readers...) is one of those things that comes back to you, IMHO. I'm a big fan of karma.

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

Celia, if you look at the "about us" page for our site, you'll see that we don't post negative reviews. While we will say what we don't like about a story, there has to be enough we DID like to make up the difference.

Our job isn't to rip someone to shreds. There's no point in that (see my karma comment above).

Marianne

Mary Ricksen said...

This was just a wonderful and informative blog today!!!
Two of the best review sites ever!
Thanks for the input Valerie and Marianne, now we get it!

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

Hi, Mary! Glad you stopped by and thanks for the kind words.

Marianne

Vince said...

Hi All:

Thanks for all who have read my long post. When I said a ‘bought’ book reads differently than a ‘free’ one, I did not mean it would be 100% different. However, I see the reader’s attitude being different between the two.

If I bought the book, I liked it enough to spend my money on it. I also have an investment in it. If it does not get off to a fast start, I’ll stay with it longer. I tend to read it more as a reader would rather than a reviewer. I also don’t feel at all beholding to the author or publisher. I will, however, have a more proprietary view of the book and be more willing to give it a chance -- especially since it was my judgment to buy it in the first place.

On the other hand, I have to ‘earn’ a free review copy. Reviewing it is a ‘job’. I have not yet committed in advance to the work by paying for it. I might resent a slow start more since reading this book is ‘work’ and I resent it taking ‘longer’ to read. I’m also more likely to skim over parts of a book I didn’t buy. (I didn’t pay for those pages.)

I will admit that because there is a difference in the reading experience between free and review copies, it is still possible that the two types of reviews might still closely correspond.

There is always a price to pay for reviews: while a reviewer may have more skill and more knowledge of similar books, the reviewer can become jaded and mechanical in a way that does not represent a typical reader’s reading experience. A reviewer might enjoy an oddball book, that a reader would not, because the reviewer has read four similar theme books in a row and enjoys the oddball for its originality. (At least it’s different. BTW: I think contest judges suffer from this more than reviewers do.)

My prime directive in reviewing is this: Write the review in such a way that you could only have written it if you truly read and understood the book.

I love doing reviews and even thinking about them.

Vince

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Marianne ad Valerie,
Thanks for the informative interview. I found it very interesting.

Many thanks Jana for posting it.

Cheers

Margaret

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

Hi, Margaret! :::waves madly::: Good to see you here.

Marianne

GOT EROTIC ROMANCE? said...

Thank you so much, Jana, for having Marianne and I share your blog today! Kate and I work hard to make Got Romance Reviews professional and trustworthy and I know Marianne and every other review site owner does as well.

There is a lot to reviewing, much more than most authors realize. Our hope is that authors use their reviews for marketing purposes (if they think the review can help their sales) or to take something away from the review (if the reviewer had some less-than-positive comments).

And again - professionalism and kindness needs to prevail on both sides of the fence! Fortunately, I think that's nearly always the case! Yes, it is a small world we work and play in and most of us respect that!

Jana Richards said...

Thank you Val and Marianne, for taking the time to answer my questions and for spending time with us here today. It was great to see the writing world from your side of the fence.

Jana

Reena Jacobs said...

I'm actually new to the world of book reviewing. I did my first in March of this year, and recently Valerie invited me to try out on Got Romance. I take notes as I read, jot down items which pop out at me in the novel. I find if the story line is great (intriguing and logical plot), I tend to gloss over issues with the actual writing. When the story line is not so hot, little things pull me out (a comma in the wrong place, too many participle phrases, just silly stuff). For me, it turns into a critiquing nightmare instead of a review. :)

As a reader, I tend to not read reviews so much. I'm the type of person who goes to the theatre without seeing a trailer. Same goes for books. However, reviews do affect some of my buying habits. I note how often people review a book and go to the site and skip to the end for the rating, bypassing all the dialogue. If I see enough stars, robots, diamonds, whatever on enough reviews, I start to covet the book. :)

steph beck said...

As one who has written reviews on books I really didn't love, I can say there is a way to do it kindly. of course, the author might not agree (I've gotten the crap emails from them about them and didn't enjoy it all).

The only things a reviewer can try to be are fair minded and kind and if those things can't be met, then leave the review unwritten.

Thanks for the great blog Val and Marianne :)

connie said...

Hi Jana,

Yes, a review - good or bad - can introduce me to a new author I find I like - or one I don't like.

Reviews in books of a well known and prolific author annoy me because they don't say which book they are reviewing and they are usually trite anyway.

My non-fiction book is about the shooting of an Indian man by a neo-Nazi. A newspaper review (one of two) said I "must have thought I was writing a novel because there was no way I could know what the man said as he was dying"....you mean other than the interviews with the three witnesses???

The other was from a neo-Nazi who was nasty because I wrote about both sides

I would enjoy reviewing. I always have some pretty specific ideas about any book I read.

Thanks for the email addresses and most of all for the interviews

connie

ps Vince, I read every word.

Vince said...

Hi Valerie & Marianne:

Thanks for your posts today. This was one of the most interesting blogs I’ve read in a long time. I will be checking your websites for new releases.

I've enjoyed reading everyone's post.

Thanks,

Vince

P. S. Connie: thanks for reading my posts. I think non-fiction is much harder to review. You might like reviewing as it is a little like teaching and they say the best way to learn something is to teach it. Reviewing is a good way to get writing technique ideas.

Olivia Starke said...

Great blog! I'm a reviewer for Got Romance Reviews so I have to toot their horn, but it's good to 'meet' you Jana and Marianne :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, great post!

I used to write reviews on every book I read and I still do to a point.

I seem to have drifted into the 'influencer' zone. An influencer is a bit different from a reviewer because an influencer accepts the book on condition that she/he will do everything they can to influence people to buy it. Each influencer is different but for me, it means when I accept a book as an influencer, I post the reviews on:
- my blog
- amazon
- christian book distributions
- shelfari
- goodreads
- eHarlequin
- sometimes on my group blogs like here at Prairie Chicks or over at Inkwell Inspirations

However, if I didn't like the book, or didn't like something about it - in which case I can't truthfully promote it - then, I don't do anything other than send an email back to the author explaining why.

And yes, I have received a book as an influencer and not promoted it.

Anita.

Vince said...

Hi Anita:

I never heard of ‘influencers’ but it sounds like a powerful marketing idea. Do you think you could do a feature blog on this topic sometime?

Thanks,

Vince

Anonymous said...

Hi guys, I'm one of Marianne's reviewers notice the anonymous post, not because we're afraid but Marianne is like a momma bear and protects her reviewers. I also have a blog that I review not anonymously but that's another story.
Vince, I did read your comment from start to finish. I agree with most of what you said except the part of the review being effected by giving the read away for free. Most of the people I know get the majority of their reads from the library so they don't pay for them anyway.
I am one of those and I don't think that when I get a book to review for free (which I do a lot by authors, publishers etc) does not in any way effect my review. I also read many genres so you can't pin me down like that either.
Marianne thanks for all you do for all of us

Sky Purington said...

Excellent and informative post Valerie and Marianne. I know first-hand you both manage wonderful review sites.

Jana, thanks so much for hosting. This is my first time here but I intend to return!

Best Regards,
~Sky

Vince said...

Hi All:

I think I am going to have to clarify my assertion about reviewing a ‘free’ book. I maintain that the ‘reading experience’ is different with a free book; however, that claim cannot show that the reviews will be different. If reviewers say it makes no difference to them whether the book they review is free or paid for, then I have no reason to think otherwise. I do think reviewing library books seems like the perfect situation.

Thanks,

Vince