Monday, April 26, 2010

What's It All About, Alfie

And I reference the Michael Caine version.


Lenore at Presenting Lenore has her latest Bloggers Behaving Badly post up, and since one my suggestions was included, I wanted to follow up here.

My pet peeve: "Using the publisher summary in your reviews but not linking to your source."

My lawyer and librarian (and semi journalist) hats insist, "if you quote, cite your source." And cite accurately. The Amazon page for Ally Carter's Heist Society contains a "product description." If you didn't know before, know now -- that product description is not written by an Amazon employee. At Barnes & Noble, they call it the Synopsis, but it's still not B&N's words. It's written by someone at the publisher. (Huh. In this instance, Amazon, for no apparent reason, leaves out two of the lines from the publisher copy. ) (BTW, I'm picking on Carter because I LOVE her books so it's truly an example, not a picking on her.)

So, please, if you've decided to use the publisher copy (which can also be found at other online places), please, use quotes and note that it's the publisher description. I'd add that italics or indenting isn't enough, because RSS doesn't always preserve that type of formatting, so people (like me) reading via readers (like Bloglines) don't "see" those italics and indents. All I see is your review and I don't realize you're using someone else's words.... until I read the same start of a post on other blogs. I'd add, "don't assume that the reader will know it is publishers copy." Why would a reader -- especially someone new to blogs -- assume part of your post isn't yours?

Under "requests," I'd also like to see more bloggers not rely on publishers copy.

That request is partly selfish; but I like to think that some of my reactions are shared by others.

Why create your own synopsis / plot description?

To Stand Out. Like many of you, I read hundreds of blogs. What do you think I'm more likely to click thru to read -- a post that begins exactly like twenty others in my blog reader? Or one that begins with something unique? (I said this was "me me me".)

To Give Your Own Spin. I don't always agree with how the publisher's describe their own books. No, really. I understand that the copy is marketing and is designed to sell the book. That's cool. But different readers take different things away from a book, even including what a book is about. That can be reflected in not only your review of the book, but also how you write up what the book is about.

To Showcase Your Own Original Voice. I love the variety of voices in the blogosphere, including what and how say about books. Why limit that originality to the review/discussion portion of your blog?

I'll be honest. It can be hard to write a plot description for a book! And it doesn't have to be a separate part of a blog post; it can be woven into the review/discussion. The reason I have "The Plot" and "The Good" for my reviews is because when I started blogging it helped me to focus on a tight, short synopsis. And at times, I've used publisher copy when I have failed at doing my own description.

So, I am alone and lonely on this one?

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


GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

It's very rare that I use publisher copy-mostly because I don't like it and want to give my own spin on the story. I will use it when I absolutely can't think of any other way to describe the book-some books I just can't think of how to summarize it! But I like forcing myself to do my own plot summary-I have to think about what the book was about, what will entice readers, and not give spoilers away. It's good practice for my librarian-self for booktalking, and very often, I have a summary I can use or tweak for a booktalk.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Thanks Liz! I now have this clarification linked in my post so people can get the full story!

I've only ever used the publisher summary in one review...for AS King's DUST OF 100 DOGS, because that is the coolest, awesomest summary I've EVER read. Seriously.

April said...

Well, I admit that I am totally guilty of this. My review format is that I begin by summarizing the book, characters, plot, etc. Followed by my thoughts and reviews on all of the above, including my take on the author's writing voice. After my review, I do post an "about the book" which I take usually from the Amazon, then an excerpt from the book, and close with the author's bio and a trailer if there is one. I guess for me, I read the back of a book or the book's description before deciding if it would be something that I would like to read. For that reason, it really doesn't bother me if bloggers include the synopsis in their review. I, personally, do try to mention things other than what is mentioned in the pre-written synopsis. I figure that way it gives the reader of my review a more extended idea of what the book is about.

Helen Hemphill said...

Liz: I agree with you. Bring something about the book that is fresh to your review, rather than relying on the publisher. As a writer, I really appreciate it when a reviewer offers up his or her version of the book summary because there is almost always something new mentioned. I know, a thousand books and so little time, but just know that the extra work is appreciated. Great post!

Tricia said...

Thanks for sharing this. I don't use the publisher's summary, but I know folks do. What I like is the personal spin that bloggers put on their reviews. That's what draws me in and keeps me coming back.

And can I say that I must be REALLY naive, because when I read the list of sins and saw plagiarism my jaw hit the floor. Do people really do this? Rhetorical question, I know. If it's on the list, I guess they do it. I'm just shocked that it happens.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree! I tend to skim over something that even sounds like it COULD be the publisher's copy. I can find the publisher's copy time and again, on Amazon, in catalogs, on the book itself-- when I read reviews, I want to hear a unique take!

This is especially important to me on read-alike or themed lists, because then what I most want to hear is WHY that book is on that list. So then the description ought to be slanted to the subject, pointing out the details of the book that matter to the topic at hand.

I don't know why it's so hard, myself. I've made themed lists of books I haven't even read, just summarizing sort of WHY I'm choosing that book for the list. Of course those are just short annotations rather than book reviews, but short annotations that are the same every time you read them about a particular book annoy me too.

Lawral the Librarian said...

My blog started as an assignment for my Resources for Young Adults class for my MLIS. The professor forbade us to use the publisher's description when summing up YA books, because "stuff like that will not make it past your teens BS meter in the real world." So I just never got intot he habit of using publisher's descriptions in my reviews. I agree with GreenBeanTeenQueen that writing my own blurbs has really helped me to booktalk at work. PLUS I read blogs for the bloggers take on a book. If I wanted the publisher's take, I'd read about it on amazon.

Liviania said...

I've always avoided using the jacket copy. I think it's boring, and like you said, so many people post it that it doesn't really register. Besides, if I write it myself I can blend synopsis with commentary.

melissa @ 1lbr said...

I used to use pub descriptions. Until I got annoyed at how long they were and decided to try to do a one sentence description. That didn't last long. I do my own descriptions now, though I think it is the hardest part for me. They always come out sounding so cheesy.

Lorin said...

I think I'm about half and half on my own descriptions and using the publishers. I hate writing them so if the publishers is good I'll use it. But even then, I always edit them for length - they are always too long.

Becca said...

Interesting. Sometimes I use the publisher's summary but never thought there was any need to cite since I thought it was understood when I say that it is the "book summary". I guess not.

The1stdaughter said...

This is a really great post. Honestly, I'd never given it much thought. Maybe I'm a bit naive, but I always assumed that the "publishers summaries" on other blogs were taken from the publishers site. Granted I haven't been linking to it, but that's always my source (will link from now on). In the very beginning I noticed that there were sometimes small differences between the publisher and other place's description, it just felt wrong to not use the accurate info.

Definitely some things for me to work on myself. Thank you for the tips!

Kathleen said...

Interesting post. I guess I'm a bad blogger. I mostly use the description from amazon, the author's website, the back of the book or goodreads. I have so much trouble explaining the book myself and I never understood why I should have to re-explain it when it's already been explained but what you said makes sense. I also never thought about someone thinking I had wrote that summary myself. I don't have time to fix 500+ reviews but from now on I'll either write it myself or credit the source.

Liz B said...

I didn't intend my post to "should" anyone other than to ask to please indicate when you're using someone else's words. I think these conversations help us to know what people really do or don't assume. Right now, for instance -- should I worry that people think my "the plot" on my posts, which is mine, is someone elses because they assume summaries always come from other sources?

GreenBeenTeenQueen, yes, I use this for practice for booktalks also.

Lenore, thanks for the link. Sometimes a publishers summary is perfect.

April, I like how you include it after the review. Maybe I get overreading, but I'm curious, do you ever think the summary from the publisher is "off"? Part of the reason I do my own is I don't always agree with the way they describe a book and I wonder if others have that reaction or if its just me.

Helen, thanks!

Tricia, I'm shocked by the plagiarism, also. I've only experienced it with the type of spammish blogs that pull RSS feeds mindlessly or randomly to get clicks for pornish/dating ads, but apparently there were more deliberate instances on actual book blogs by actual people, not bots.

rockinlibrarian, I hope that bloggers who think either they "can't" do summaries get inspired to write them -- or who think its standard to not write summaries realize that there are book bloggers who do. Just sharing more options with people.

lawral, interesting to hear your professors take, especially the need to offer our patrons something more.

liviana, i think I should do more blending but i started out needing structure and now view the plot/the good as my "thing" so don't blend.

lorin, and there is another choice for people -- take the publisher's copy and spice it up (or pare it down).

rebecca, i think it depends on the reader. so there is the question: what is the best thing to do, if some some readers will assume its from the publisher? and others won't? my take (obviously) is better to give more information, to be on the safe side of assuming people don't know unless they are told.

1stdaughter, because it is all about me me me, now I'm going to worry that people think "my plot" isn't my writing and its free to copy & use. yep i'm paranoid.

callista, no bad blogger! no!! just a discussion and sharing information and talking about ideas and how we do things and why.

Jess said...

I'll confess to skimming over plot summaries when I'm reading reviews. While some plots sound better than others when boiled down, I really just care about what the reviewer thought of the book, not what happened (can you tell I read for character/setting/language more than plot?) Because I don't like to read them, I don't include them in my own reviews - I figure there are enough summaries out there and easy enough to find.

Nayuleska said...

I always use a publisher's summary - more for a time factor than anything else. (It gives me more time to write. I'm a writer and a reviewer).

However, In the sentence before the summary I always put 'Summary from publisher' and make sure there's a link to the publisher's blurb (usually on their website).

I think from the language it is clear where my review begins :) I hope!

I would love to spend the time creating my own summary. Yet for me, I'm trying to reduce blogging time (and still put up reviews) so that I can fit in more writing time. If I wasn't a writer, then yes I would create my own summary. I admire all those who do.

Great post topic here!

Michelle said...

Liz, you make a great point about writing your own synopsis. Up until recently I had been doing that (as I too prefer the personalization over publisher redux) but I've gotten so far behind in writing my reviews that I had to start using publisher copy to speed through getting that pile down. I hope to get back to my own synopsis in the not too distant future.

This is great information, thanks for sharing.

Bibliovore said...

Actually, one of my favorite parts of writing the review is writing the synopsis, and I also like to see what others thought were the most important or most compelling bits of the story. I also don't have the time crunch that some others have mentioned. I only review about 10% of what I read, so if I can't come up with a synopsis, then I clearly am not interested enough to write the full review.