Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Book Reviewer Rants

Instead of “rants,” I was gonna use the *b* word, but didn’t want a parental warning slapped on Straight From Hel. Besides, what this book reviewer does is instructive.

Clay Kallam of the Mercury News goes off about how readers can’t judge a book by its cost and how publishers send ARCs to the wrong reviewers. The article is a rather fun read.

Here’s a bit about his complaint that some series books aren’t worth the price or the author’s advance:
This month's example is "The Dark Volume" (Bantam, $26, 508 pages), the next installment in Gordon Dahlquist's "The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters" series. But for that $26, readers don't get any sort of resolution, and in fact, in the grand tradition of Robert Jordan, at the end of the 508 turgid pages, not much has happened at all. Sure, some minor characters bit the dust, and Dahlquist delivered lots of sound and fury, but a reader who skipped this one entirely (after reading the first effort, which was one book in hardback and two in softcover) would be able to jump right into the next volume without need of a synopsis.

Even worse, there might not even be a next volume …

For this, Dahlquist got $2 million?
And here’s a taste of his complaints about the books he’s sent to review:
I'm not claiming that book reviewers have a huge impact on sales, but given the limited means by which publishers can reach readers, it would seem to me that spending a couple minutes making sure the right books went to the right reviewers would make sense. But instead, I get sent loads of books about vampires (despite informing publicists I have no interest in bloodsucking immortals) and lots of horror (which is not now and has never been science fiction or fantasy).
It’s an interesting article. Read it to find out exactly what Kallam thinks is wrong with both The Dark Volume and The Revolution Business.
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  1. This is not the first time I've heard someone say that reviewers don't have much impact on sales, but as a book buyer I often go out of my way to find books after reading a good review.

    I don't get this whole vampire obsession to be honest.

  2. Hi Lauri.

    Reviews influence me, as well. But I admit, I don't read too many reviews, except on blogs.

    The vampires will give way to some other new subject matter. I think some agents are already saying, don't send me any vampire stories right now.

  3. A tough review, but I guess if the author already received 2 million, he's not too broken up over it! I do think reviews affect sales but I don't know to what extent. I read them but other factors also enter into whether I purchase a book or not.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  4. Jane, it does help to have a ton of great reviews to take the sting out of one bad one!

  5. Interesting. I think I will check out the article. I liked the excerpts. And "turgid" - I forgot all about that word. Cool! :)

    The Old Silly From Free Spirit Blog

  6. Marvin, I love surfing the blogs and getting re-introduced to words!

  7. I love getting ARCs to review and, thank goodness, so far they'e all been mystery/suspense/thriller/historical novels. But I'm with Helen. No vampire novels, please.


  8. For better or for worse, reviews DO have a big impact on sales, but not just with readers - bookstores and libraries rely on reviews as well. And if one can't get his book reviewed by the ALA, then kiss almost all chances of school libraries ever ordering that book.

    I like vampire movies, but not books. And no, I've not seen Twilight - probably never will, either.

    L. Diane Wolfe

  9. I've read vampire books, Jean, but I don't believe I've ever reviewed one. I will readily admit, I'm not a very good reviewer. I've not studied the process.

    I've not seen Twilight either, Diane. My son, who's read all the books, saw it and gave it a resounding thumbs down.

  10. I think reviewing is really an art form. I guess one secret, as the author implies, is to accept books in which you have an interest. I’d be really concerned, however, about being honest with potential readers, vs. trashing the efforts of someone who worked so hard to produce the work. Gosh, that’s a tough line to walk. Maybe if it came to that, I’d contact the author and explain that he or she would be better off without my review. Even doing that, though, is kinda shirking my reviewer responsibilities to the reading public. Yuck. Guess I’ll never be a reviewer.

    Best Regards, Galen.

  11. You and me both, Galen. I've occasionally reviewed books, but only ones I like. Since I'm not a professional reviewer, I can do that.

  12. He makes a good point though, send the right genre to the right reviewer of that genre. I could see where it would be irritating.

    I'm afraid I don't like 'epic' books with little or no resolution either, I have read a few. First book had a good premise but not much by the way of developing it.

    Interesting article, Helen.

  13. I rarely read book reviews. I'm more of a word of mouth, NPR review, and impulse buy kind of guy. I have so little time for reading I need to spend it actually reading books, not reviews (the curse of being a slow reader).

    I'm sure they do help a lot, particularly in getting books placed in libraries and bookstores.

  14. As a book publicist, I consider it my job to hand pick each reviewer I ship an ARC to. ARCs are precious and should only be shipped after verifying that the reviewer takes the genre, wants the title, and has time to get the book read and reviewed in 30-90 days.

    Reviews definitely influence what readers buy and read, and a poorly written review is worse than a bad review. I've spent years developing relationships with reviewers who are as good at writing as they are at reading so that my client authors are well served.

    The publicists who are littering Clay Kallam with books don't even deserve access to the mail rooms
    where they work. Here! Here!

    Stephanie Barko
    Literary Publicist
    "Authors indigenous to the American West"

  15. Great comments ...

    It's hard to be negative about someone who has worked hard on their project, but I try to look at it from the reader's point of view: Books aren't cheap, and I hate to see people waste money on ones they won't like.

    (The URL is to my art reviews.)

  16. Clay, that's a very good way to look at it. When I think about it, that's really the purpose of a review.


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