Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Happiest of Fridays to all!

(So maybe I'm extra chipper because there's SUNSHINE outside my window. I'd forgotten what it looked like.)

Here's a question for you:  Do professional reviews affect your decision to read or not to read a certain book?

I'm looking askance at the Kirkus reviews.  Not that I pay a lot of attention; personally, I get excited about books my friends and colleagues are gushing about, and I read first pages to see whether they draw me in.  I don't give a chicken's turd what Kirkus and the others are saying.

Kirkus has given its well-known "star" to books I've liked -- and to books I haven't.  And it hasn't "starred" books I've liked.  I think it must feel Very Good to receive a starred Kirkus review prior to the release of one's novel.  But I'm wondering why it feels good.  Is it a sort of scholarly affirmation?  An extra pat on the back?

I'm not being facetious.  My main Love Language (really, you should read the book!) is "Words of Affirmation".  So give me a gold star, a compliment, a word of encouragement, and I'm GOOD TO GO.  I don't merely feel affirmed or encouraged; I feel loved.

The downside is, of course, that the lack of a gold star or a kind word can lead to my feeling unloved.  (Fortunately, I've worked hard to toughen that "love skin" over the years, because there is SO MUCH REJECTION involved in the journey toward publication -- and beyond.  And yes, I've conquered it.  I no longer attach emotions to rejection.)  And I'm sure that there are many authors who have similar responses when they read negative reviews, or don't get stars, or whatever the Powers That Be on the review side neglect to dole out.

(I'm not talking about Amazon and Good Reads reviews.  That's a whole 'nuther ball of wax.)

So how do you feel about professional reviews, both as a reader and as a writer?  Do they matter?  Do they affect you?  Do the reviewers actually know what they're talking about, or are they just expressing their opinions, same as the rest of us?

Share your thoughts!  This is something I haven't given a whole lot of thought to until recently, and I'd like to take your pulse on this one.

See you Monday!


  1. As someone who did receive a starred Booklist review but also received a bizarre Kirkus negative review I figured I'd add my .02 cents.

    The Kirkus review was one of the first 'professional' reviews that HENRY FRANKS received and, I have to admit, the negative aspect really hurt in a number of ways. But I had a number of people immediately point out to me 1) the specific complaints about the book from the Kirkus reviewer were so odd that anyone paying attention would pretty much ignore it (the review consisted of a VERY lengthy plot synopsis and a VERY short, as in 2 sentences, critique of (absolutely serious here) the fact that every line of dialogue was NOT attributed so the reviewer was apparently confused because every line of dialogue did not have 'he said' or 'she said.' Since I have never read a book that did attribute every line of dialogue, and can't imagine ever doing so, this knock on my book seems a little 'odd' as I said). And 2) what was most helpful was being pointed in the direction of other Kirkus reviews for other wonderful books that were either vicious or equally bizarre. See NOWHERE GIRL for example, which is just fantastic.

    With the Booklist review being so positive and wonderful, calling HENRY FRANKS 'the thinking teen's horror choice of the year,' the weird negative Kirkus review just sort of faded away.

    As to how they both actually 'felt'? There was definitely a little sadness and hurt with the Kirkus review, but in this business you just have to keep telling yourself that the negative doesn't matter that much (even if you don't 100% believe that). And, of course, there was absolute joy and jumping up and down (for a minute or so) with the Booklist star. But even that faded rather quickly to a nice steady happiness.

    The occasional fan email has engendered the same feelings of joy as the pro reviews; since they both reflect the same baseline: readers who liked the book. That's what affects me the most, when readers relate to these characters I've lived with for so long. Makes it all worthwhile.

    The negative reviews? Look up any of your favorite books, you'll find negative reviews on each and every one of them.

    In the end? It's an honor just to be read and I treasure each and every person who reads my book.

  2. As a writer who is "not there yet", but as a reader who used to be a professional (drama) critic, I'll say this. Reviews are the most subjective things in the world. Unless you personally know the critic, there is little way to know if they were just having a bad (or good) day, what they'd read directly before your book, if they were ill, just had a fight with their spouse, etc...

    I can't begin to count the number of "STARRED" books that came out in 2012 that bored me to tears in terms of the plot AND the writing. And yes, there were some that I would also count among my favorites, so there you go.

    I read reviews to get a feel for the plot and for a general overview of the writing. If I'm intrigued, then I'll go find out for myself if the book is something I want to read.

    One thing I will say, from a writer's standpoint, is that I can handle someone not liking my work. I have issues with responses that either show that the reader wasn't paying attention or that are factually incorrect. Even as a reader this makes me nuts to see my favorite books criticized by people who simply didn't understand them or pay attention.

  3. I wasn't exposed to book reviews much in my earlier reading years because I didn't have the same online access. I did see movie reviews on TV or in the paper, and those were so hit or miss--I loved what the "pros" hated, and what they adored bored me to death--that my default is to ignore reviews by The Critics. I don't think most of them read for the same reason I do.

    I rely mostly on recs from friends or the buzz on what's trending right now. If I love a premise and the first few Look Inside pages are readable, I'm pretty much good to go.

  4. I'm a reader and a reviewer, and I definitely pay attention to professional reviews. I just have so many books coming at me, both as review copies and as purchases, that I sometimes need some guidance in choosing which book gets my time. I don't necessarily look for a good review, but I pay attention to what they are saying, and try to get a sense of if the book will work for me. Sometimes I'll read a pile of reviews and try to take the "average", so to speak.

    Because of this, I suspect I would pay a lot of attention to professional reviews if I got published. I do feel that they matter, and I have a lot of respect for my professional colleagues. "Fans" tend to glad-hand, but a critic can give a nuanced, impartial, or different take on the text. Again it's less if they liked or disliked it that matters to me, but what they have said and why.

  5. A bad review can sway me, but not if I really like the blurb or the author.

  6. As a reader, professional reviews have zero impact on my book buying habits.

    As a writer, I mostly read books recommended by authors I know. But concerning my own work? Well, I'm not published yet, so I suppose there are some good parts to being still aspiring.

  7. Nope.
    Reviewers have their likes and dislikes and so do I. If it sounds good I'll check it out.
    From Oprah to NY's #1, they can give it a million gold stars, but if it doesn't tickle my fancy or strike my funny bone,or light a fire in my imagination than I'm not reading it. I say to the authors of the world: Entertain me! If not, give them a star and let the others read them.

  8. As an author, I don't read my own reviews. Ever. But as a reader, I do read reviews of other books. I could care less about "stars" and only want to know what the reviewer has to say. Their observations help me determine whether or not it's a book I might enjoy. For example, something a reviewer hates could be something I love, and vice versa. So it's the content of the review that matters to me. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

  9. Reviews from friends are always first for me. People are always suggesting books for me to read. Then if I like the writer/writing, I typically read all I can from that author.
    The only books I read based on 'reviews' are YA books with shiny awards on the cover. Gah. I'll admit that. I read them for research first (if it's won an award that means that a collective of people like it for various reasons) - what does it take to write an 'award-winning' book...i may ask myself. I've never read an award-winning YA book that I haven't loved. (Like, to the point of asking myself the follow-up question: why do I even write when there's magic like this in existence? Then...I suck it up and keep writing, of course.)
    In a nutshell (not walnut - yeck), friends' reviews always come first for me.

  10. I rarely read trade reviews when deciding which book to read. Recommendations by friends and other writers carry much more weight.

    Having said that, there are many who make purchasing decisions based on reviews. I think the very positive review my book got on School Library Journal, which said to "Give this to Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Game fans,” helped get the attention of librarians and media specialists. For that, I am grateful.

  11. I confess I always read the blurbs and reviews attached to a new book before buying it, but I don't necessarily base my purchase on them. Personal recommendations from friends whose reading habits I know and respect are much more influential. I admit, however, that any book that warrants a "New York Times" recommendation or bestseller will always make it to my bookshelf and rarely have I failed to like them.

  12. Yes, I read professional reviews and base whether I will buy a book or not on them. Not Kirkus reviews though - more like the NYT, New Yorker, etc., etc. Blurbs count, magazine reviews count. Recommendations from friends do count as well of course. But those often come accompanied with the book itself, so it's not much use to the author...

  13. The sample chapters are what sell me. But with so many books, who has time to read sample chapters of everything? So I use reviews to winnow down the options. A good professional review certainly helps. A bad professional review may make me pause for a moment, but then I'm even more curious to see what other readers have to say in their review.

    Professionals can be subjective, too. And if they are anything like professional movie critics - I'm curious what people think of that comparison - then all bets are off.

    Professional movie critics aren't there to really critique a movie. They are there to make a name for themselves as movie critics; to be remembered, to be read again - to be entertainment themselves, in a word (just like some famous Goodreads reviewers, I've noticed!!!)

  14. Trouble with reviewers is some of them are people who just are spiteful. Some of them are wannabees who are bitter rejected authors - others are gushing because they like the subject, and are not subjective.

    I even saw one author who was reviewed by a professional who advised the book be put in a camp fire and let the scouts douse the fire with their flies open if you get my meaning.

    That's not a review. It's a slur against the author.

    But I will review the 50 Shades books. I lasted 20 pages. Didn't even get to the sex.

    And my review is a simple:

    "What the....?"

    NY Times List? Humph!

  15. Reviews will always be subjective, but as a writer, of course it's nice to get a seal of approval from someone widely received as a good critic.

    However as a reader, speaking of Kirkus specifically, I never check them, because I think their reviews are useless. They're very short, and 80% of the review is just a summary of the plot, with maybe two or three sentences at the end actually reviewing the book. I have no idea why they're held in such high regard.

  16. As a librarian and aspiring writer, and avid reader, I suppose I have a three fold response...
    As a librarian, reviews really do help me narrow down what I order for my library. I wish I had an infinite amount of time to read everything that I consider, but that's not humanely possible. I'm not locked into one particular source though I try to find at least two positive reviews for titles I'm unfamiliar with. I tend to rely on Horn Book and School Library Journal most often. Word of mouth is as important or sometimes, more important than reviews.
    As a reader, I don't care one bit about reviews. I like aimlessly wandering the bookstore, flipping through the first few pages and reading the synopsis to see if it's something I'm interested in.
    As a writer, negative reviews sting, but at the end of the day, it's just one person's opinion of your work. Sometimes it's honest, sometimes it might be negative because they didn't get it, etc, and sometimes, the review might help you iron out some wrinkles in your writing and help improve your next project.

  17. I look at the reviews on Amazon, not the ones by professional reviewers.

  18. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that we share the same love language :-)

    I don't read professional reviews, actually. How "professional" a review is matters less to me than "do I generally agree with their opinion," and for that I go to my friends who have historically liked the same books I do.

    It also helps if there are aliens or dragons in it.

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  20. I was thinking about this a while back after reading two YA novels: One is critically acclaimed, heavily marketed, and currently a NYT best-seller. I didn't care for it and had a number of issues with plot and characterization. The book really didn't work for me. The other novel I probably wouldn't have known about at all if the author hadn't been at a regional SCBWI conference. I absolutely loved this novel and thought it was beautifully crafted. This got me wondering and I googled reviews for both. The first book had glowing professional reviews and mixed Amazon reviews. The second had mediocre professional reviews and glowing reader reviews (far fewer reviews, though, than book number 1).
    I didn't really find answers, but was left wondering, more than ever, how much impact those professional reviews have and how the whole marketing thing works. (I know that's another can of worms!)
    Personally I mostly choose books based on titles I've seen recommended by other writers online, and browsing. I have googled reviews, but look at both professional and reader reviews. I'll admit, though, that when browsing, I'm probably influenced by good review quotes included on the book jacket.

  21. As an author whose debut novel releases in July 2013, I can tell you this subject is on my mind.

    I'm in agreement with the commenters who've mentioned that all books get good and bad reviews. A book that has ONLY good reviews is suspect to me because humans don't all like the same things, and if a book has been read only by people who love it, odds are that book has been read only by people who know the author. (And therefore give only good reviews.)

    Personally, I only review books that I can give good reviews because I read other people's reviews to find books to read, not books to pass on. That said, I don't think all reviewers should be obligated to give good reviews - and reviewers should give honest feedback on what they did and didn't like about books they read.

    Ultimately, though, I've never decided to pass on a book I wanted to read because it had bad reviews. I have, however, bought a number of books because reviewers I trust gave them good reviews.

  22. I don't just check out reviews if there's a book I'm interested, I tend to base my reading choices around them. I actively read the paper on the weekends looking for book reviews and recommendation, and I buy the paper that I trust the most on that head. That said, I always pick up the book at the store and have a look at the first couple of pages to see if it looks like one I'd really connect with.

  23. I hope to have to worry about this someday, but for now, I do use general SLJ and Booklist reviews to help me choose a book now and then. Kirkus does seem, well, quirky. Kirkus loved some books that I could not stand. And others that I loved too.
    Anyway, I think it's interesting to talk about.