Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What's in a Review?

First: Thanks to Rob and Miranda for their views. Most helpful.

Next – a bit more on plotting. I've been dealing with my latest story board plotting system here, but I've also discussed my "needlepoint" approach to plotting at the Author Exchange Blog.

On to today's post:

In my routine blog-hopping, the topic of reviews has come up lately. How reviews for the same book can vary from one reviewer to the next. Whether they have any effect on sales. How an author should respond. Or if the author should respond at all. It's an arena where subjectivity rules.

Since I write for one publisher that targets the library market, I've had to look at reviews from an entirely different perspective. It's not the what, it's the where.

People who purchase books for libraries often base their acquisitions on whether or not a book has been reviewed by a relatively limited number of publications. And it's not necessary, apparently, that the review be a good one. If the title shows up with a review, it stands a much greater chance of being added to that library's buy list.

Keep Reading...

Some readers say that they will go out of their way to buy books that get terrible reviews, because they want to see whether or not the reviewer was being nasty, or if the book was really that bad. And what's bad? I've read a heck of a lot of books that hit the best-seller lists that have rave reviews, but I don't care for them. What makes a book special for one reader may be a total turn off for another.

When dealing with reviews, it's difficult to separate the "book" from the "me." And those five star reviews give the author a feeling of success. Yet there are also authors who will tell you that a 3 star review is more dreaded than a 1 star review. Why? Because the 1 star means there was an emotional reaction from the reader, even if it was negative. There was some sort of a connection. The 5 star review, of course, is coveted, because it also shows that emotional connection, but in a positive way. The "me" gets stroked along with the "book." But a 3 star review says the book didn't resonate one way or the other.

That being said, a friend sent me the following, which in addition to being a review is one darn great sentence.

Quote from the NYT "Opinionator:

Tyler Cowen says “the best sentence I read last night” is from a review of William Vollman’s new book, “Imperial,” in New York magazine by Sam Anderson.

“Imperial” is like Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” with the attitude of Mike Davis’s “City of Quartz,” if Robert Caro had been raised in an abandoned grain silo by a band of feral raccoons, and if Mike Davis were the communications director of a heavily armed libertarian survivalist cult, and if the two of them had somehow managed to stitch John McPhee’s cortex onto the brain of a Gila monster, which they then sent to the Mexican border to conduct ten years of immersive research, and also if they wrote the entire manuscript on dried banana leaves with a toucan beak dipped in hobo blood, and then the book was line-edited during a 36-hour peyote séance by the ghosts of John Steinbeck, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis, with 200 pages of endnotes faxed over by Henry David Thoreau’s great-great-great-great grandson from a concrete bunker under a toxic pond behind a maquiladora, and if at the last minute Herman Melville threw up all over the manuscript, rendering it illegible, so it had to be re-created from memory by a community-theater actor doing his best impression of Jack Kerouac.

And, in closing, if you want to help me bypass the 'not enough reviews in the right places' dilemma, if you'll request that your library carry When Danger Calls, that might help get the book onto that golden buy list.
ISBN: 978-1-59414-723-4
Publisher: Five Star, a part of Gale/Cengage Learning


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Five Star usually gets great placement in libraries, since that's their primary focus. I'll be sure to put in a request, though.

Funnily enough, I blogged about libraries (mentioning the importance of reviews) on my blog today.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Elena said...

And, as Terry says, requesting actually works. Library systems have differing ways for the public to request books. Here there is a place on their web site, and/or you can go to the library and make the request.

In another city the first time I tried it apparently was a 'novel' idea. The person in charge told me I'd have to write a good review for her to consider it. I responded by asking if she hadn't actually meant for me to write a literate review. That did it - they got the book.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - Sometimes I think there's an amazing synchronicity in blog-land. Similar topics seem to show up in clusters. As for Five Star and libraries - there's a difference, unfortunately, between their mystery line and their romance line as far as getting picked up for reviews.

Terry Odell said...

Elena - I love your story. Good vs. literate!

Our library recently added an on-line way to request titles not in their catalog. They also created a 'local authors' section, which is great, except for one catch. What it really means is that they accept the book a local author donates, even if it didn't get a qualifying review, instead of putting it on their dollar sale shelf.

Zach said...

Hey, I just walked into my local library and handed them copies of my two books. I have gotten great reviews for both. I figured it was a good way to get the word out and they were appreciative. A different approach. Oh crap, here I go as my son Zach again, but if I change, I'll lost my post.


Terry Odell said...

Patsy, as someone who wrote a book called "What's in a Name?" you can be anybody you like here.

If your library accepts donated books for the collection, that's great. Many find it's too expensive to add them to their system and use them for fundraisers on their 'sale' tables. While I like that a couple of people might buy the book, I'd rather see a LOT of people able to read it because it's in the library.

Helen Ginger said...

What in the world? What kind of review was that? That sentence was nuts.

I'm glad you're posting about reviews and getting your books in libraries. Thanks.

Straight From Hel

Terry Odell said...

Ah, but a delightfully 'nuts' sentence, was it not? And, although it's been a long time since I've tried diagramming one, I think it's actually gramatically correct.

Maryann Miller said...

I guess like book reviews, sentence reviews can vary. I found the "favorite" sentence ponderous and about halfway through, I wondered what the writer was trying to say. Less literary references would have been better.

M.Flagg said...

Hi Terry. I appreciate your post. As a recently pubbed author, reading the first review was a true learning experience. When a book intrigues me, I don't care what the brag page says. I read it to form my own oppinion.

I donated my debut novel to the local library. It's on the shelf and it's been taken out. Readers email their thoughts, which generates more interst.
Thanks for your insights. It gives me more to think about.

Terry Odell said...

Very true, Maryann. I did read it more than once.

And M.Flagg -- good luck with your book. Sounds like you've got a great library system.

(Did you know you can track which libraries have it at

Mary Ricksen said...

Good luck Terry. We all want a five star review because it makes us feel we are successful.
My library stinks there are hardly any books there. Mostly computers and videos. When I try to get a book ordered from another library, they never do it. So I'm not sure how to handle that.
Good luck with sales Terry and I am rooting for you.

Debra St. John said...

I know I was waiting on pins and needles for my first review. But it was nothing compared to the nail-biting moment of finally seeing my book on the review list and being really scared to peek at it.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Terry,

I have officially requested your book through my regional library system. They're pretty responsive, provided the book isn't already available through multiple libraries in our cooperative exchange program.

I previously requested Elizabeth's book and it's apparently on its way since it just hit my On Hold list.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Patricia. Hope your library will order it.

Sheila Deeth said...

Don't think my library listens to me - they never have done yet - but I hope they get it anyway.

Terry Odell said...

I hope so too, Sheila - but if not, I have a good deal on an autographed copy!

Marianne Stephens said...

Reviews are so personal...and a reviewer might not "get" what your book is about! I've also read some well-known authors (top NY) who had terrific reviews, only to be disappointed. In fact, there are a few books I started but never finished.
How do you judge reviews? Just keep in mind everyone has their own likes and dislikes...and favorites who can do no wrong.

Terry Odell said...

I like a review that uses correct grammar. Gives credibility to the reviewer. I like when the reviewer is objective and tells why he/she likes or doesn't like something, so a person reading the review can decide if that's a valid reason to consider reading or not reading the book.

If the sex is too hot, or too mild, or the reviewer doesn't like stories with dogs, or heroes who drink, that's fine. Just say so up front.

The review should be about the BOOK, not the author, and it shouldn't give spoilers.

It shouldn't sound like a fourth grade book report.

At least that's what I look for.

And I know I won't agree. There was a movie critic for our local paper, and if he gave a movie 3 stars, I knew I'd probably love it. If he raved about it, I probably wouldn't want to go see it.