On the Validity of Reader Discussion

From my Twitter a few days ago:

Review blogs are valid because we host discussion of readers, not because we know best what books are good/not good.

Book review blogs aren’t effective b/c of the review. They are effective because of the discussion among readers who aren’t being talked down to by review who writes with presumption that s/he knows best. Reviews=discussions on blogs, not monologues

Since I wrote the above, I’ve been thinking about the role of the book review blog, either as Evil Killer of Newspaper Book Sections or as Example of Future Horizontal Marketing and Collaborative Success Model –  especially in light of the Harper Studio poll revealing that folks trust “a recommendation from a friend” over “a book review.”

The thing is, I like to think review blogs, especially ones like ours and Dear Author are both. Not only are we reviewers, but we also form friendships and communities on the sites.


In all the grousing here and there about the failure of book review pages – and let me be clear: I am NOT saying someone shouldn’t grouse about losing their jobs because that fucking sucks like holy shit awful – I think that the newspapers themselves need to wake up to something very crucial. The way in which many of us interact with our entertainment has changed. We aren’t solo readers or solo watchers any more. We don’t interact with our entertainment in a vacuum.

We close the book, turn off the ereader, turn off the tv or leave the theatre and We find a community and discussion through which to continue our enjoyment, whether it’s fanfic or library groups or bulletin boards or wikis or blogs or email loops. We have book clubs and blogs, and we crave the exchange. Entertainment is more about community now.

So it’s no wonder that book review pages are dying. They’re one sided. Much of the time, the reviews I’ve read lean toward the presumptuous and are shot through with conceit and self-importance, and leave no room for questioning, exploration, and response. Well-written reviews on blogs invite response, welcome dissention, and allow the book to reveal more about itself from every reader who says, “Oh, I disagree! I loved this book, and here’s why….” There is no shame in disagreeing with a blog reviewer. The same can’t always be said of newspaper reviewers.

But I also think that publishing needs to be more aware of the function and future of blog reviewers too, especially, as Jane pointed out, many of us bloggers are being left off ARC lists as budgets get tighter. In her announcement of their new review policy which gives preference to early e-ARCs submitted over finished copies three weeks prior to pub date (a policy I wholly embrace and support over here in Bitchery HQ, for the record):

…almost all houses are cutting back on the number of ARCs being produced and being sent to reviewers. There is some belief that bloggers do not need much lead time as opposed to print publications. Unfortunately, this is not true.

I’ve definitely noticed that I’m receiving fewer ARCs, and have to ask for things more often. My attitude was, and to some extent still is, “Wow. Bummer. For you, and for me.” As Jane pointed out, the decision underscores two fundamental myths about us blog-reviewers. One, that we have time to review a finished product prior to release date (ha. not.) and two, that overall, our reviews don’t matter as much.

Speaking solely for myself while book shopping: I do notice blog reviews. I prefer them to Amazon reviews written by people who couldn’t find a complete sentence other than “it was good” if you spotted them the “it” and the “good.” I prefer them to longer reviews from publications who often treat romance with barely-disguised derision, or who squee all over the place to the point where I think I need to duck lest spastic streams of Karo syrup come flying out the pages at me.

If marketing folks grab a blurb from a review online, and it’s a site I know and trust, I listen to that over any print publication. I am not necessarily more likely to buy the book based on the review alone, but blurbing from a blog I know and like will absolutely grab my attention. If I don’t recognize the name of the site, I may look it up later to gauge the temperature of the reviews on the scale of “cold honest” to “hot squeeful mess.” I do look at book blurbs, though, to see which site said what – and evaluate the book based on which blog said it, not what was said. And bottom line: I trust blogs more than newspaper or print reviews, because any interaction with an audience is ultimately going to reveal the bias inherent in any review rubric. The community is the key element to blog reviews, and the importance and value of that community, I think, is overlooked.

And this is my frustration with everyone, from marketing teams to newspaper columnists to ebook technology programmers and device manufacturers to publishers who wrap their books up in the chastity belt of DRM: the experience and input of the reader is ignored or considered secondary to the entire purpose. Blog reviewers are readers, and the community that interacts with them are readers, and we’re doing all this writing and reviewing because… we’re readers.

From discovering to buying to reading to discussing, the reader matters. The success and popularity of review blogs proves it. The opinion of the reader matters. The interaction and the discussion of the reader matters. That is what sells books and authors and new series. That is why blogs are important.

That is why one-sided monologues are dying out in favor of community discussion, and why it’s self-defeating to cut us out of the opportunity to start the conversation. The conversation is the review, not the review itself. It’s the discussion amongst readers that defines review blogs, and creates the unique and new opportunity for future sales. Trying to curtail the conversation undermines all of us.


Comments are Closed

  1. Venus Vaughn says:

    The reviewer’s page is their home.  As a guest in someone’s home, I wouldn’t come in and say, “your opinion is wrong, and let me tell you why.”  I would, however, interact with the other guests in the corner of the living room and say what I do and don’t appreciate about opinion.  But I would probably never say that to you.
    As for the reviewer who receives ARCs – it takes you a step further away from the reader who needs to make choices in the bookstore.  What would you read if it WASN’T hand-delivered?  What would turn your crank if you weren’t going to be cut off for not reading what you’ve been contracted to read?
    I pick up lots of ideas on what to read next from blogs.  Lots and lots of ideas.  Rarely though do I trust a dedicated reviewer.  I listen to the random happy squees of regular readers totally unknown to me, then I pop over for a star-rating from amazon (the more people who have reviewed the item, the more likely I am to trust the rating), and then I do a quick pass to see if it’s a genre I’m interested in.  If they all get a go, the book goes on my list. 
    I don’t like spoilers, so I tend to skim reviews.  What I’m looking for isn’t the breakdown of characters or places or why it did or didn’t work (though I know that’s essential to the review), what I’m looking for is the heartfelt reaction.  I want to know if the reviewer is still thinking about the book days later, if they sighed in contentment when they closed the page, if they cried, if they threw it against the wall, and most of all – if they were completely indifferent. 
    And even then, I still don’t trust the opinion of the dedicated reviewer.  I trust the opinions of the dedicated readers.
    [edited to add spaces between the paragraphs.  I hope they show up.]

  2. Carrie Lofty says:

    We need to bring up this stuff up @ our Secret Promotional Baby workshop.

  3. Virginia Hendricks says:

    I have to disagree with the person in the first comment.  I review a book fairly, regardless of whether or not I “will be cut off”  If an author or publisher cannot handle criticism, then they shouldn’t be out there.  I wrote a 3 tombstone review one time and I saw when the author posted on another blog that regardless of her “3 star review” she was going to hold her head up high and keep writing.  I applauded her for saying that, however, I really hoped that she went back and looked at what she had written and learned from the experience.

    I know that the reviewers at bittenbybooks.com (where I review) try to be honest, because they are in the same place that the readers are.  We go out and buy books too.  So we want to spend our hard earned money on a good book, not on something that should have never been published in the first place.  And, not all of our books are “hand delivered” to us.  We do a lot of backlist books as well.  I’ve done the first three books in a series on my own time when I was asked to review book 4.

    I think that a reader needs to look at the reviews on the site.  If they are consistently 4 and 5’s, then its possible that the review site is “afraid of being cut off” but if you see things as low as 3’s and 2’s, then you know its a fairly honest review site.

  4. Chris says:

    I agree. I started my blog for discussion, not to tell people what to read. Every few months this topic comes up somewhere online. I’ve learned to ignore the ‘blogs are evil’ viewpoint since I think readers of blogs are smart enough to know the difference between a personal blog and a professional reviewer.

    I was starting to wonder about the ARCs considering budget cuts, etc. So far I have plenty to read but when will that well dry up? If marketing people and publishers visited book bloggers, I think they would see what a valuable asset blogs are. It’s word of mouth on a global scale.

  5. Chris says:

    I never, ever, ever read reviews – even the ones here and at Dear Author. I go to the bottom line – did you think it was a good book or not? And that’s it. I hate spoilers and book reviews seem to spend way too much time covering the plot.

    Because of how I feel about lengthy reviews and spoilers, I post “reviewettes” on my blog – a few sentences on any given book (basic subject) and whether I recommend it or not. I link to amazon so people who like to get all the gory details up front can get those easily.

  6. SB Sarah says:

    As a guest in someone’s home, I wouldn’t come in and say, “your opinion is wrong, and let me tell you why.”  I would, however, interact with the other guests in the corner of the living room and say what I do and don’t appreciate about opinion.  But I would probably never say that to you.

    First, there is a big difference between “you’re wrong” and “I disagree.” There’s a world of difference between those two, in fact. Almost as wide as the difference between “I didn’t enjoy your book” and “I do not like you.”

    I would welcome anyone who says they disagree with me. Wouldn’t be the first time I got called out on my opinion. But I’m the one putting my opinion on the internet for the calling-out-ing-ness. So bring it on. Sure, it’s our house, but you’re welcome to take your shoes off and tell me if you disagree with me.

  7. Chris says:

    And yes, Virginia, I agree. Even if they book is free (and is it free if you *have* to read something you’re not enjoying?), it has to be reviewed honestly. Most publishers do not expect you to lie and respect bloggers’ integrity.

  8. Vuir says:


    Venus wasn’t talking about the ratings given to reviews, but the choice of books to be reviewed.  Her comment was about being cut off if you didn’t review the ARCs you were given.

  9. Carin says:

    I understand the point of your post, and overall I agree, but even if you disabled your comments, I would still come and read your reviews.  Same goes for Dear Author.  I’ve been a pretty solitary romance reader – I don’t have a lot of friends who read romance – and I’ve found stuff I like in a hit or miss fashion.  But ever since I found this site… Wow! has my book quality gone up!  I haven’t agreed with every recommendation I’ve read, but I’ve agreed with a lot of them.  And I’ve found certain reviewers on DA who I usually agree with and others who I know have different taste than me.  So, I actually do read for the reviews.  For the wit and humor AND honesty.

    The community and discussion?  Total added bonus!  Even the adds crack me up.  Some are so bad I email a friend and tell them they have to check it out.  Some (like Blue Diablo today) make me grin and put that book on my “want it” list.  The recommendations in the comments?  Love them.  I’ve enjoyed looking at the reader recommends on Save the Contemporary.  As they stack up, with commenters adding “yes, I love this one, too” I find more I want to read.

    Bottom line – book review blogs are a huge influence on what I read next.  Publishers are very wrong to ignore you.

  10. Rox says:

    Discussing books with other writers is what caused me to realize that I can’t say that a book is “good” or “bad,” I can only say why I liked or didn’t like it.  I spent several years analyzing books for plot structure with a group of 8 other writers.  I came to the group believing that the point was for me to understand plot.  I did eventually learn how plot worked, but more important than that, I learned that I had always judged and recommended books based on my personal taste.  Eventually, I learned enough about the others’ tastes that I could recommend specific books to specific people, knowing they would enjoy them, even if I had not.  The point, it turned out, was to understand what other people liked to read, and why, not to tell someone else they were wrong if they liked something I did not.

  11. Barb Ferrer says:

    Speaking as both a reader and a writer, one of the reasons I like blog reviews is that ability to enter into discourse (provided one has the sense God gave a cabbage) about books.  As a reader, I love talking about the books I loved, liked, or didn’t, and as a writer, I have enough ego and honesty to admit I like talking about my own books in a safe environment where I don’t feel as if I’m going to be attacked—about the choices I made as a writer, the choices I might have made, given the opportunity, and why something works or doesn’t work for a reader.  It helps me learn by looking at my own work as a critical reader, which in the end is a good thing for writer me.

    Admittedly, the latter is a bit of a dicey proposition because it’s so easy for a writer (myself included) to get their feelings stomped on a bit because these are our babies—stories that we worked on for many, many months and in some cases, years, and that a reader can swallow whole in a matter of hours and then proceed to dissect.  Generally, I don’t comment on reviews because that is a very, very fine line to walk and we’ve seen how some writers just do the gigantic “you suck and don’t understand meeeeee” flounce—but on occasion, I’ll come out of my cave and offer up some thoughts (I did just a couple of weeks ago when an unexpected review of Adiós popped up over at Dear Author.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m firmly behind the review blogs—I think they’re overall more accepting of books at which the traditional print blogs have long turned up their noses or if they deign to review them, act as if it’s something that should be scraped off the bottom of their shoes.  The review blogs, because of the freedom they have in not being bound to a print schedule and their call and response nature also have the freedom to open up a world of new books to readers, because more books are being reviewed as well as being mentioned within the comments. 

    I think that ultimately, it’s all a good thing.

  12. robinb says:

    As one of the five people who liked Shayla Black’s “Fucking UR ass, saving UR life” (what the hell was the name of that book, anyway?) on here, I can attest to the hospitality here.  🙂 

    I think the whole concept of “review” is a product of an era that is rapidly vanishing.  Book reviews, movie reviews, album…I mean CD reviews….. the whole idea that someone else gets to declare whether something is “good” or not is kind of over and I think that is where traditional reviewers have missed the train.  Do I want to know what someone thought of a book?  Sure.  Tell me what you liked about it.  Tell me what you didn’t like about it.  You may say that you liked a book because there were great flashback scenes that really let you inside the characters heads.  I may roll my eyes and not read it because I hate flashbacks.  That is a lot more helpful to me than “This was a great book.  Everyone must read it.”  or “This was a terrible book.  I’m listening to Harlan Coben’s new book right now and I. AM. LOVING. IT.  LOVING it.  Love.  Right before I downloaded it, I read a bad review.  I’m sorry they weren’t impressed, but that reviewer’s reaction has been completely opposite to mine.  The only difference is, I no longer think their opinion carries any more weight than anyone elses.  Yes, they get paid for it, but so what?  At the end of the day, it is still just their opinion.  Doesn’t make either of us wrong, just means that an interested person should see for themselves what they think of it.

    I think blogs (whether they do reviews, or they do publishing news, or whatever) are most useful in getting people talking about books.  There is rarely a discussion that doesn’t lead to OTHER books.  Books that people can then decide to buy (or check out of a library) and isn’t that a good thing?  There are a lot of authors I never would have tried if I wouldn’t have heard about them from someone else.  I may read an absolutely glowing review of a book set in 1850s Texas and I’m probably going to give it a pass.  Not interested in that place or time.  BUT, if that same author writes a book set in a different time period, I may check it out because I remember I heard such good things about their writing style and it deals with something I AM interested in.  I hope publishers (many of whom are part of the online community) realize that word of mouth, of blog, of tweet, is getting more of their books sold, read, talked about than anything else.

  13. I’m in complete agreement with you, Sarah, which is why I asked my publisher to send ARCs to the online reviewers whose sites I already followed, trusted, and enjoyed. I knew that getting exposure in the online community would be the most effective way to get people talking about my book.  And while getting a “good” review is always a nice thing, getting a discussion going about a book will ultimately generate more interest.

    I think that the print reviewers, such as Publisher’s Weekly, serve a different purpose now. Those reviews aren’t for the average consumer; they’re for the booksellers. Those are the reviews that will be trotted out to help the buyers decide how many copies to purchase for the chains. (I mean, how many average consumers ever read a PW review?)

  14. LizC says:

    I do notice blog reviews.

    So do I. Most of the books I buy now I buy because someone gave it a favorable review on a blog. At least when it comes to romance novels because there are so many of them. Many blog reviews have caused me to buy books by new authors or authors I hadn’t heard of and thus wouldn’t normally have purchased (y’all are hell on my bank account, actually). I’ve discovered several new authors and books I love because of this.

    I never read newspaper reviews. I never did before I read blog reviews and I don’t now. I like the interaction that comes with blog reviews.

    I also don’t think, as the first comment suggests, that disagreeing with a reviewer’s opinion is saying their opinion is wrong. It’s saying that we disagree with the opinion and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

  15. Sabrina says:

    Great Post! I totally agree with you that a book review blog’s purpose is to start a discussion about books – not to say “I know it all and my opinion is the only one that matters.”

    I started a romance book blog (http://www.cheekyreads.com) because none of my friends read romance and I wanted a place to discuss books I liked or didn’t like – someplace that I could promote something I really love.

    Since my blog is new, I don’t have many comments yet. BUT – I keep blogging in the hopes that people will find it one day and join in the discussion with me! My goal is for the blog to be a fun place where online friends get together to see what each other is reading. I do hope that visitors will comment if they disagree with my reviews! The blog reviews should be informative, and that means needing more than one person’s opinion.

    As for ARCs, I don’t think any true romance fan or blogger would write a positive review just because something was free – it would ruin your credibility! I wouldn’t want my friends lying to me about liking a book or a movie, so as a blogger I treat my readers as friends who are intelligent and deserve the respect of my truthful review.

    Also as a friend, I try to not mention any spoilers in my reviews – I tend to take the road of discussing how I liked something or how I reacted badly toward it. I don’t want a review that spoils all the great plot points!

  16. she reads says:

    DA & SB are the closest I come to reading “review sites” and the reason I enjoy it IS the discussion, the interaction with other romance readers, and the points of view that I enjoy and often find humor in. Not only that but there is a feeling of community and ‘go ahead, e-mail us if you’ve got any q’s’ that I really like.

    I’ve totally disagreed with reviews on sites, but that doesn’t make me like them any less. We’ve all got a different POV and life would be dull if everyone agreed all the time and liked the same stuff- no?

    I also really enjoy the blogs of a number of romance readers who are just sharing their experiences reading. I read those because I often have similar tastes to them, so I value their opinions.

    Bottom line is that the more personal connection on-line blogs like this give create a community that shares new ideas and has helped me find new reading/authors for sure. Heck- I’ve probably pulled more books TBR from the comment sections than anywhere else!

  17. KCfla says:

    So do I. Most of the books I buy now I buy because someone gave it a favorable review on a blog. At least when it comes to romance novels because there are so many of them. Many blog reviews have caused me to buy books by new authors or authors I hadn’t heard of and thus wouldn’t normally have purchased (y’all are hell on my bank account, actually). I’ve discovered several new authors and books I love because of this.]

    Count me in on this too LizC. ( including the bank-account part lol)
    Up until I found the various review blogs out there ( Bitches, DA, KNB, Book Binge, etc.) I had bought books pretty much as I always had. A couple of “auto-buy” authors, and then it was pretty much a crap-shoot. And OH BOY! I can’t begin to tell you the # of books that made their way to the donation bins.

    Since I’ve discovered the above mentioned sites? Not nearly enough money/time/book shelves have become the problem. Not that I blame you all- after all I’d rather have too many good books as too few.

    And the discussions are great as well. Heck, if truth be told- I’ve found a couple of new authors not from the reviews, but by their own participation on these blogs.  Oh, and the laughs! And the cover snark, and the links, and, and, and, ………

    As for print reviews? Since none of the local press I read would touch a romance with a 20ft. pole ( La Nora being the *occasional* exception here!) they’ve never had a bearing on what I might read. They, for the most part, make you feel uneducated and Plebeian if you like(d) a book they scorned. Harumpf.

    Signed, KC the Pleb.

  18. jenny says:

    I have bought books because of the reviews here.
    Publishers ignore that at their own peril.

    I have enjoyed reviews that tore apart books I enjoyed, because the reviews hit the things that are really wrong with the books without making me feel like an idiot for enjoying the book anyway. (JR Ward anyone?) This site understands that you can love a book for one character, one plot device, one really silly perfect scene even if the book is flawed.

  19. Nicole H. says:

    Book review blogs aren’t effective b/c of the review. They are effective because of the discussion among readers who aren’t being talked down to by review who writes with presumption that s/he knows best.

    As a reviewer it is our JOB to be honest, even though we DON’T get paid! It is our job because many people may not have friends who read the same genre as they do and are looking to try something new. Am I always right? No absolutely not. Why? Because people have different tastes.  I do not try to talk down to people, because I only know what my opinion is. Just because they don’t like my take on a book does not mean that I talk down to them, it simply means that we have a difference of opinion. A review is just that, one person’s opinion of a book. I welcome comments on my reviews regardless of whether or not they agree with me because they may have a different take on what the author was trying to get across. It is just like talking to a friend when you read a review. If you have a friend whose opinion you don’t agree with are you going to take their advice on a book? No. If you don’t agree with the opinion of a reviewer are you going to take their advice on books? No. BUT if you find someone that has the same taste as you, then you are more likely to take that risk.

  20. Melissa S. says:

    When I look for a review, I’m looking at whether or not the reviewer has read previous books by that author and know what their reading. That’s why I like online/ blog reviews. Their specificity in particular genre make them in some cases far more knowledgable then print media to begin with. If book editors want to change things up they should do their column a bit more in terms of genres that people are comfortable with, and stick with that genre so people trust their opinion.

    When I give a review on Amazon or other sites, I like to state what my taste are. I usually end in if you like this this and this you might actually want to read this. It gives specific examples and while it’s elementary reviewing at it’s best without great passages of wisdom it might help the person reading to pick out a book.

    Also I love Amazon reviews, I find them really entertaining when someone who loves the book expounds for three paragraphes while a person who hates the book hates everything the other person loved. I find it silly!

  21. Silver James says:

    Before I found SBTB and DA, my TBR shelf held about four books at any given time. Now? At last count, there were THIRTY-NINE freakin’ books in the pile! Thanks! *mumblegrumblebitchmoangritchmumble*

    The local paper doesn’t review romance. Finding the rare gem in a Amazon/B&N/Borders review that is actually helpful is an exercise in futility. I spend more time on line than I do anywhere else. It is a community and one I’m happy to be a part of.

    As an author waiting a release date for my first sale, I’m also hyperventilating over the idea of reviews and people actually reading my work. *chews nails* As much as I’d love SBTB and/or DA to review my book….? I’m not sure I’m ready. You guys are fair and honest, which is good, but as Barb mentioned above, it is our *child* we’re ushering into the hard, cruel world.

    Spamword: age27 LOL! I wish!

  22. Kimber An says:

    As a blogging book reviewer, I’m there to help my fellow readers find the books they love and also to promote the authors we love so they can keep getting the books we love published.  The economy stinks, but that’s the breaks.  My advice is authors should try to get the eBook version of their novels free to send to blogging book reviewers and be proactive about sending them out.  Most of us have eBook reviewers.  I’m just days from getting a mini-laptop which I hope will make reading eARCs easier.  I also encourage authors to keep track of blog reviews and be there to answer readers’ questions.  We love that!  And are more likely to gush about your book elsewhere as a result.  Also, remember we’re unpaid and unprofessional and squeezing these reviews into our very busy lives.  Try to find the blogs which like your kind of book and be very nice to the visiters there.

  23. Carin says:

    I have enjoyed reviews that tore apart books I enjoyed, because the reviews hit the things that are really wrong with the books without making me feel like an idiot for enjoying the book anyway. (JR Ward anyone?) This site understands that you can love a book for one character, one plot device, one really silly perfect scene even if the book is flawed.

    ITA!  JR Ward, Christine Feehan, and others.  I love these books, but can admit they aren’t perfect.  It cracks me up to read your reviews! 

    Also, I really enjoy following all the crap going on with epublishing, publishing, and the Kindle/Sony war.  Learning about the influence Walmart has on what gets published (I think I read that here…) and Sir Fusspot.  Plus hearing about all the classic authors I’ve missed.  Can you believe I’d never read Loretta Chase or Susan Elizabeth Phillips before I came here?

  24. she reads says:

    Before I found SBTB and DA, my TBR shelf held about four books at any given time. Now? At last count, there were THIRTY-NINE freakin’ books in the pile! Thanks! *mumblegrumblebitchmoangritchmumble*

    ditto that. Except mine is 43 TBR pile, 56 I wanna buy pile…

  25. Lori says:

    For me a reviewer is useful if and only if she helps me figure out if I’m likely to enjoy a book. One huge advantage that blogs have is that you can get to “know” a reviewer and understand how her taste compares to yours. Over time I feel like I can get a pretty good idea of what a blogger does & doesn’t like. I have a few that I read consistently. Some because I know our tastes are very similar and others because I know they’re very different. Knowing that if X likes it I won’t is just as useful to me as knowing that if X likes it I will too.

    With print reviews it’s much harder to get a sense of one particular reviewers taste. There are more of them, they tend to be less associated with the particular review space and unlike online you can’t do a search on all their old reviews.

    I also sometimes feel like print reviewers are trying really hard to create the impression that they know a lot or have exceptionally good taste.  My response to that is, yeah whatever. I feel like most bloggers are just telling me what they like.

    Maybe I’m just picky, but pure enthusiasm level isn’t helpful for me. People like different things and there have been plenty of times when there was huge buzz about a book I ultimately didn’t like. The most recent example was one of the books that went pretty far in DABWAHA. Also, major enthusiasm often comes from, for lack of a batter term, fangirls, and that love tends to be rather uncritical. Unless you’re also a fangirl of that author those reviews can be pretty useless.  Again, the great thing about blogs is you can know that and process the review accordingly.

    The one downside I’ve seen to romance reviews on blogs is the “nice girls” thing. I need to know what a person likes and dislikes in order to get a sense of her taste.  If someone only writes good reviews I tend to stop reading because that’s not helpful to me.

  26. Jane O says:

    Another advantage of blogger reviews — aside from the sheer fun of the comments — is that they are targeted. I don’t drop by here to find reviews of political biographies or economic theory, I come for reviews of romance.

  27. Jessa Slade says:

    spastic streams of Karo syrup


    I too prefer the free and open marketplace of ideas that comms like SB & DA create in place of static reviews. I don’t need command or concensus, just that flow where you set the stage and people freak out on it. Out of that flow, maybe there’s a pattern that inspires me to act, or not.  But it’s far more dynamic and energizing than any one person’s opinion.

  28. Review blogs work so much better for me than reviews from Booklist or PW. Here, I get a sense of your personalities. I can calibrate your opinions with mine, and I’m better able to judge whether I’ll like a book based on your review. The professional reviewers are less personal, more anonymous, and less useful to me for those reasons.

  29. she reads says:

    The professional reviewers are less personal, more anonymous, and less useful to me for those reasons.

    I agree with this, and also when I read newspaper or ‘professional’ reviewing sites I get the feeling like they aren’t actually giving a personal opinion, but rather more what they think of it pertaining to unknown standards of ‘quality’ or ‘good literature’. It’s not about a personal connection or why they loved (or hated) it, it’s a long winded recap of the plot and a pat on back or upturned nose to the author.

    Just another reason bloggers and honest (not full time/pro) reviewers rock.

  30. Kimberly B. says:

    Great posting, Sarah.  I like to read book reviews pretty much anywhere I find them,  although squeeing without specifics doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid.  The thing is, most of what I like to read is genre fiction—-specifically fantasy and paranormal romance—-and newspaper book reviewers often give these genres short shrift.  When they do review a fantasy novel, it’s often something that came out in hardcover, a bit pricey for me right now, and/or something by one of the more popular authors in the genre (i.e. Robert Jordan, or Laurell K. Hamilton).  Aside from my own established favorites, I actually make an effort to seek out newer authors when I can, because they are the ones who really need me to take a chance on their work.  But I feel much better taking that chance if I’ve read something about the book beforehand, and chances are I didn’t read it in print.
    If newspaper book reviewers are losing their jobs, and the Harper Studio survey shows that people are more likely to read a book based upon a friend’s recommendation than a good review, I’m wondering if the reviewers aren’t barking up the wrong tree to blame review blogs.  It seems to be that review/networking sites such as Goodreads and Librarything would pose an even bigger threat,  since they allow readers to read reviews by their friends, in essence combining the two things.  (fwiw I love Goodreads, because I’ve always been somebody who relates to other people through books).  And both Goodreads and Librarything give away ARCs now, too.
    One final comment before I turn back into the invisible girl, and that is that Smart Bitches and sites like it (I also like Bitten by Books, Urban Fantasyland, and Sci Fi Chick) give me a lot more sense of the reviewers’ personalities than newspaper book reviews, and I really like that.  If a reviewer admits s/he thinks vampire romances are overdone, or that “secret baby” plotlines give him/her a rash, I know how well his/her taste corresponds with my own, and can decide for myself whether I’d like to read the book s/he has reviewed.  Newspaper reviews seem to me to totally leave out the matter of personal taste, which really seems a bit dishonest to me.

  31. ocelott says:

    Interestingly, I just had a discussion similar to this on my own book blog the other day.  The general consensis we all came to is pretty much the same as here, that bloggers actually have the edge over newspaper reviews for a number of reasons.  We specialize, we create communities of back and forth discussion, we’re not limited to print space, we can review whatever we feel like, and since we’re not getting paid there’s no ulterior motive to our bias.  And we’re generally more honest and open about our bias.  Every reviewer has one.

    I know that I’ve bought a ton of books on recommendation from this and other book blogs, and people have bought books because of my reviews.  I think book blogs blur the lines between “book reviews” and “recommendation from a friend” because we sort of become both.

  32. Silver James says:

    Speaking of reviews, I just got an email from Amazon. My copy of BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS has shipped! This is me doing the Snoopy Happy Dance!!!!!!!!

  33. Barb Ferrer says:

    So did mine!  WHEEEEEEEE!!!!

  34. Silver James says:

    *high fives Barb* I’m going to be dogging my mailman until it gets here!

    spamword: anything32 Yes! I would do anything to get 32 copies of HEAVING BOSOMS!

  35. SB Sarah says:

    You sound like me last night when my author copies arrived. Massive squeefest ahoy!

    Commence EPIC SHPILKIS.

  36. Suze says:

    Heck, if truth be told- I’ve found a couple of new authors not from the reviews, but by their own participation on these blogs

    Me too!  Ann Aguirre and Ilona Andrews, to be specific.

    And I also have a humongous TBR pile for the first time EVAH, since starting to hang out with all you bitches.

    Blog reviews are the perfect melding of professional review and a friend’s recommendation.  And if I had read newspapers before I got regular access to the internet, I would probably have given them up by now.

    (They’re an awkward size, full of crap I’m not interested in, get black stuff all over my fingers.  I really only buy newspapers when I need kindling for the fire.)

  37. Paul Lasaro says:

    “one-sided monologues” sounds lika a oneway ticket 🙂

    Paul Lasaro

  38. FD says:

    The main reason that I don’t bother with newspaper book reviews is that they so rarely review anything of the genres I mostly read.  I have limited tolerance for ‘literary’ fiction, and even less for the majority of the mainstream bestseller lists.

    I think blog review sites work well because of the sense of community, and also the trust that the good ones build up with your readership.  With the online journal style, I believe the reader gets more exposure to the personality / tastes of a reviewer and builds more of a sense of them, than can be expected to happen with a print reviewer who may only have a column run once or twice a week.

  39. Maili says:

    The reviewer’s page is their home.  As a guest in someone’s home, I wouldn’t come in and say, “your opinion is wrong, and let me tell you why.”  I would, however, interact with the other guests in the corner of the living room and say what I do and don’t appreciate about opinion.  But I would probably never say that to you.

    That’s a shame because a review usually means it’s an open invitation for the others to respond—to the book or the review, or both. If authors are willing to take criticisms about their books, then reviewers should be willing to take criticisms or handle questions about their reviews as well. It has to work both ways, surely? 

    My response to Sarah’s column 😀

    I agree! The major keys to why reader blogs (whether review-focused or not) work are the interaction and approachability (is this even a word?). You could ask a question and it’ll be answered almost instantly. If the reviewer isn’t around, someone else could answer for you.

    This isn’t something you can get from a print reviewer. You have to write a letter and post it to the editor who may or may not publish it in the Readers’ Letters section. By the time it does, your interest might be already gone.

    The success of blogs and forums has a lot to do with be able to provide instant gratification.  Want to buy books but don’t know what to get? Go to where readers are and ask. Almost instantly, you’ll get many lists of suggestions and recommendations.

    Or go to the blog of a certain reader or reviewer who has similar tastes to yours, and check through their archived reviews.  You can’t quite get this from print reviews (unless their publications offer online archives of reviews). 

    It’s always about the timing and the location. If publishers value print reviews over online reviews, then they are missing a real opportunity to generate the word of mouth.

    As for deciding which to go for, readers that review are just like authors; they all have their own tastes, quirks, bias and styles of reviewing. That’s why certain clusters of readers follow certain reader/review blogs. If publishers invest in market research, they should extend it to reader blogs because that’s where good targets are. 

    In my experience, the most popular reader blogs are the ones that actively encourage their visitors to respond, positively or not.  Good (or heated) discussions among readers DO mean a spike in book sales.

  40. SonomaLass says:

    @Silver James & Barb Ferrer:  I got the same message, and had the same reaction!  I was afraid that something would delay it, and people with access to big-city bookstores would get it before me.  Whee, and high-five, and Snoopy happy dance AND SB Sarah’s squee-fest!  Not the first time a book has gone straight to the top of my TBR pile because of this web site, and I’m sure not the last.

    Back on this thread, the reviewers I find helpful are the ones I get to know over time and/or who are very up front about their personal taste.  When a reviewer says, “I don’t normally read paranormal, but I liked this,” I take notice, because I don’t like a lot of paranormal, but there have been a few.  Or when a review has liked (or disliked) many of the same books as me, that tells me our tastes sort of match, and I lean toward their reviews as recommendations.

    Here and at DA, the opportunity to discuss romance with others who love it, but who don’t always love ALL of it, is a huge plus for me.  Also the other content, fun, snarky and serious, about related issues.  Online communities are becoming important for people who want to connect about shared interests, and smart publishers will see how that translates into sales.  I know my buying habits have changed since I started reading some romance and sci-fi blogs, and that didn’t happen with our newspaper review pages (when we had them).  I can’t remember a single book that I bought because of a book review in print, although there were one or two non-fiction books that I got from the library.  Whereas I can’t even count the number of books I have bought because someone (reviewer or reader) who seemed to share my taste recommended them on a review blog.

    I guess we’ll see who the Smart Publishers of Trashy Books are—they will be the ones sending eARCs to SB Sarah and DA Jane well in advance!

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