Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Views on Reviews

Everyone in the publishing business realizes the important of reviews.

A review is part advertisement, part endorsement. Studies have shown that even the bad ones are useful in boosting sales. That's why publicists, and authors, spend much of their time and money getting books into the hands of those who review.

Internet reviews are thriving. In the mystery field, a good review or mention on websites (www.booksnbytes.com), listservs (www.dorothyl.com), newsgroups (news:rec.arts.mystery), and even blogs (www.sarahweinman.blogspot.com) can reach thousands of fans, and these are fans who buy books. Unlike newspapers or magazines, the World Wide Web allows people to respond, interact, and debate.

A print review will run for a day. An Internet review can circulate forever.

The downside is that amateur reviews are written by amateurs, and sometimes give away spoilers, or fail to convey any plot points whatsoever, or have grammar or spelling or coherency problems.

Sometimes there's even doubt that the reviewer has read the book at all.

There's a certain Internet reviewer named Harriet Klausner who has somehow managed to review every single book released in the past five years. I don't know anyone who has actually met Harriet. Perhaps it's because, like Shakespeare, she's actually a dozen people working in tandem (one of which is the Earl of Sandwich). Or perhaps it's because she's hooked up to a feeding tube and IV, never able to leave her bed due to reading and reviewing thirty books a day.

Though Harriet's reviews rarely amount to anything more than a brief retelling of the plot and a generic comment about how good it was (she never pans a book), I've seen her name and comments on actual book jackets, and I've heard that many publishers send her galleys.

The line between amateur and professional has become very blurred.

Professional reviewers have (or should have) a certain level of writing ability, some professional standards, and a realization that their opinion is only a part of what constitutes a review.

For the time being, the professional reviews dominate the public mindset, and these tend to be the ones that get into print. What did the Times say? Does Publishers Weekly like it? Can we salvage anything quotable from that Kirkus review?

The print reviewers were (mostly) kind to Whiskey Sour, and I was able to cull some good quotes for the paperback edition. I've been keeping my fingers crossed for Bloody Mary, because everyone has told me that reviewers are traditionally harder on the second novel.

The finger-crossing paid off, because I just received a good review in Kirkus for Bloody Mary. But my excitement was short-lived, because there is absolutely nothing I can quote from the review.

While being very complimentary of my book, the way the review has been written makes it impossible to crop out a sentence or liberate a phrase for use in my promotional material. The reviewer seemed to enjoy it, but never came right out and said that.

For example, "Jack and her partner, Det. Herb Benedict, have him in their sights, and that's when the fun really begins."

Obviously the compliment is "the fun really begins," inferring that the book is fun, but they didn't come out and say, "the book is fun."

Another line, later on, is, "Konrath keeps the proceedings moving so briskly that you may not even notice how many corpses are piling up--over a dozen, with plenty more in the backstory."

Again, there's a reference to "briskly moving," but worded in a way that's very hard to extract. Plus, the entire sentence draws attention to the violence in the book, which I wouldn't exactly call a selling point. Nor would I entirely agree with it (I would swear I killed less than a dozen people...)

A friend of mine is a genius (read: shameless) when it comes to paraphrasing reviews. He once took the quote "Astonishingly bad!" from the London Times and trimmed it to, "Astonishing..." - The London Times.

It made his cover.

I don't think I'll ever be that brazen. But talk to me again in ten years.

I have another friend who had a review so bad all he could cull was, "the book had... characters... a plot."

That one didn't make the cover. You win some, you lose some.

Ultimately, not being able to quote Kirkus isn't a big deal. The libraries and bookstores that read Kirkus will get the point, and hopefully be swayed enough to stock my book.

In the meantime, I'm waiting, scissors in hand, for more reviews. They can even be from amateurs with spoilers and spelling mistakes and coherency problems.

As Oscar Wilde said, "It's better to be talked about, than not talked about."

But I'm paraphrasing there...

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Harriet Klausner is an actual person. The WALL STREET JOURNAL did a profile on her a few months ago. She lives in suburban Altanta with her retired husband.

And she reads. A lot. Though the article never actually said (IIRC) how she got through so many books, it implied she did them all herself. Which would be like reading a dozen books a day or something.

--Harry

Stacey Cochran said...

Harriett Klausner is actually a chimp named "Mickey" orbiting the Earth in an old Soviet spaceship called the Vladimir XII.

I have this from reliable sources.

Stacey

Jim Winter said...

I was bummed when my book switched to trade pb. I was going to send Harriett the book jacket so she could paraphrase it for her review.

bret said...

I think you should've gone "cajones to the wall" and used this blurb: "Konrath keeps...corpses...piling up" Maybe the shock-value alone would have helped sell books. 8]

Russel said...

The internet is both a great tool and a forum for idiots (like Klausner whose reviews frequently appall me). I may not be a professional reviewer (I don't get paid) but I draft and redraft every review I do and try to do more than say, "Uh, geez, this book is good!" and so far most people are pleased, even when I find faults in a book (except one author who was bad enough that I struggled not to sound mean doing the review). Reviewing is not easy, but sadly a lot of people believe it is. I had to spend a whole semester at uni learning how to review books (really; it was a requirement for the course that we learned how to properly review philosophy books for possible journal publication) and everything I learnt there I've taken to my reviewing of fiction books.

David J. Montgomery said...

Having given Whiskey Sour a positive newspaper review, I can say that I look forward to doing the same for Bloody Mary.

It's hard to quantify what effect these reviews have in terms of actual sales, but at least it fills space on the paperback.