Sunday, May 31, 2009

BEA: Book Reviews 2010

You all know my interest in book reviews, so of course I attended the BEA Panel, Book Reviews 2010.

The room was full to over-flowing; and the only seat I could get was in the back, so sadly wasn't able to be close enough to always see who was answering what question. Overall, I thought they had a good mix of people talking.


Interesting points made about the differences between reviews and recommendations; the need for a reviewer to have knowledge and context for a review; and the risks of corruption from/influence of publishers, editors, agents. For a different perspective, here is a report from

EDITED TO ADD: Melissa Wiley & Gail Gauthier are having an amazing discussion in the comments about what reviews. After the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I'm going to do a post about reviews, recommendations, good, bad, worst. And I'm bumping this up after the 48HBC so that others can join in.

Here are my notes if you are interested:

* the importance of word of mouth; and also of advance buzz

* what is a review? a good review? a bad review? pointing out the difference between a book review and a book recommendation. what is and isn't a review

* GoodReads was described as a "book discovery channel for readers" * what is "authority" and how that has changed, from a gated community to one that is constantly changing

* people are creating themselves as a brand

* it's not your tweet that gives you authority, it's what you are linking to or retweeting, twitter is
a tool, not an endpoint

* very important: how well does the reviewer know the body of work so that it is an informed review? what is the context, i.e., does the reviewer have the knowledge to put the work in a broader context?

* again, book reviews versus book recommendations with a note that both are needed

* people are still looking for information about books

* there is a whole spectrum of reviews

* reviewers are about what another person will think about the book ("I love this book because..." versus "You will love this book because...")

* for book reviews, newness is everything, so online is valuable because it's not about "new", it's writing about "older" books (i.e., nine months, eighteen months old)

* how do you get readers to different sites? different readers have different needs, and it is difficult navigating user created content

* there is still value in starred reviews

* Amazon reviews are "corrupted by the publishing companies"

* difference between assigned books and acquired books, with assigned books you have no choice

* book reviews are a profession

* danger of corporate influence in book reviews (from publishers, editors, authors)

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Jen Hubert said...

Thanks for this, Liz! Good to know that us reviewers are still relevant:)

Gail Gauthier said...

Liz, I'd be interested in seeing you expand on the difference between a book review and a book recommendation. I've been thinking about it ever since I originally read this post. Many bloggers have a policy of doing only so-called "positive reviews." (I hate the whole "positive" and "negative" label for reviews.) Are some of them doing recommendations instead of reviews?

Not that there's anything wrong with that. As an author, I would be very happy to have bloggers recommend my books. I just wonder what exactly a true review should be. In fact, I stopped referring to my book discussions at my blog as reviews. I call them reader reponses instead, since I'm not sure what a true review should include.

Melissa Wiley said...

Great stuff here, Liz, thanks.

Gail, I've done something similar re book discussions vs reviews. This year I shifted to "reading notes" posts, documenting my reactions to various books, sometimes briefly, sometimes in more detail. I'm not exactly writing to recommend a book to my readers (sometimes I am, like with Fruitless Fall recently); more often I'm writing to think out loud, so to speak, about what I've read because putting things into written words helps me clarify my own understanding and opinions.

As an author I find it quite uncomfortable to publish negative reactions about other (contemporary) authors' work. Sometimes I'm frank, but more often I'll just say nothing at all about a book I didn't like rather than post something negative about it. For this reason, most of my more substantive books posts are about books I had a positive response to.

Gail Gauthier said...


Authors are in a bit of a bind because if we say something that could be taken as "negative," we raise the question of whether or not we could have done any better. Or will we do better next time we have a book come out? And are we just bitter because the author we're writing about is more successful than we are?

But thinking out loud about books, as you describe it, or what I might call analysis, is important, I think. If you're in a writers' group and someone points out some flaws or weaknesses in your manuscript, do you consider it a "negative" comment or a professional analysis/response? Why is it negative to read the same kind of thing in a balanced vs. a snarky review/analysis/response/whatever we want to call it?

If no one will analyze, doesn't the reading culture lose something?

Of course, my interest in reading something more than recommendations may be because I'm as interested in writing as I am in reading. I want to know about the writing. Maybe other readers don't.

Melissa Wiley said...

Gail, you are spot on. I sometimes wish I'd established separate online identities for my writer self and my reader self--but it really isn't possible to separate the two. Like you, I'm approaching books with as much interest in HOW a story is told as in the story itself.

I think I think too much about the person behind the manuscript--because I too am a "person behind the manuscript." I worry about hurting another writer's feelings. And yet, as you say, in a workshop or editorial situation, I would feel no qualms about offering honest criticism. Perhaps it's the difference between pre- and post-publication.

But you are right in pointing out that the reading culture suffers if no one is brave enough to analyze and be frank. You also make a great point about balanced vs. snarky. I enjoy a good snark as much as anybody, but I do see a trend toward easy snarkiness in online discourse (and other places, but especially online) that I think ultimately shortchanges the topic at hand. It's easy to make fun of just about anything. It's much harder to write clear, insightful, respectful analysis.

Gail Gauthier said...

I used to enjoy snark, but it got old for me. (Lots of things get old for me--I worry about not having much of an attention span.) I still enjoy a strong voice in a commentary, some attitude, perhaps, but that doesn't necessarily mean snark. I think.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Interesting stuff! I just came back from an authors retreat with 8 other pubbed YA authors and we were talking book bloggers and noting which review sites authors read. We all pretty much came back with the same lists . . .