Thursday, March 08, 2007

My Vision For Reviews

I’ll admit it: I’m too lazy right now to look up the source on the fact that review space in newspapers is shrinking… again… but this is something that’s come up for discussion on DorothyL.

You know what I would like to see happen with reviews? I’d like to see some system in the future where there are reviews on hand at bookstores.

Okay, okay, I haven’t worked out all the logistics. But maybe in the future we’ll see publishers paying for electronic display devices or producing flip-through books (think the automotive section at Canadian Tire, the books where you look up the correct part number for vehicles) with reviews of the books they’ve published.

I guess the problem I have with reviews is that I don’t read many of them, so I can understand why newspapers are cutting the space. I know a lot of people who don’t read reviews of books, and one of the reasons is they don’t want spoilers. And if people aren’t reading that section of the paper companies won’t advertise, so the newspapers look at trimming something that’s not earning much of a draw financially.

I’m not saying it’s good news. I’m just saying I can understand why this is happening.

But where would reviews matter? Do you know how often I overhear a conversation in a bookstore, with a customer clearly looking for information and willing to shell out cash on the right book, and the staff don’t know anything about the books? I listened to one excruciating discussion from someone who was basically reading the back of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe to the woman and then said, “Well, there’s going to be a movie” and that’s all he knew about it. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

But what if there were a few computers – Chapters/Indigo have computers for customers already, to look up nation-wide which of their stores is carrying books you’re interested in – where you could look up reviews? Okay… I think this happens with the computers they have, if you have reviews posted on the Chapters/Indigo site online. I’ll double check that next time I’m in the city, but I think the reviews might come up. And everyone worries about their Amazon reviews…

Anyway, back to my fantasy, what if you could type in a book name and see various reviews of the book? For someone standing in a bookstore, trying to decide if they should buy one book over another, this could make the difference.

One of the other big problems with reviews is that there isn’t any money in it. We’ve never broken even financially on an issue of Spinetingler yet, and we don’t expect to any time soon. Despite the fact that we have a high readership we’re primarily an online source. This means we merit being quoted for blurbs on books, but not for advertising dollars.

What will this mean in the long run? Well, it’s going to come down to who sees it as being worthwhile to invest in reviewing from their free time. Believe me, when people start arguing about reviews I start thinking about pulling the plug, because I just don’t have time for that on top of everything else. I mean, I’ve read reviews that have been personal attacks. Our reviews do tend to be balanced and fair. I think the only thing I said once that was perhaps unfair was that I wanted to see Barry Eisler write a political thriller. Unfair, because I projected what I hope Barry will do into a review of a book he did, which should have been reviewed solely on its own merits. Barry’s a great action thriller writer. But I’m still going to have my fingers crossed for a political thriller one day, because I believe he has the brains and skill to write one that’s brilliant, and there aren’t many people I’d say that about.

Anyway, I should have said it here instead of at the end of a review on THE LAST ASSASSIN.

What does the future hold for reviews? More and more online review sites, I believe. Beyond that, I don’t know. But in the mean time, Bill Crider, Gerald So, Graham Powell and Steven Torres have put a new spin on reviewing with Nasty. Brutish. Short., a site for reviewing short stories.

On that note, author and blogger extraordinaire Bill Crider has posted a nice plug for Last Shot, my story that appeared in the first issue of Out of the Gutter.

And, as though there isn’t enough about me online already, I have a Publishers Marketplace page now. If someone can tell me how to set myself up as a blogger and modify the page to post links and stuff, I’ll be all set.


Daniel Hatadi said...

I did a one day local course called Demystifying Publishing a while back. One thing that really surprised me was on the subject of reviews.

They said that even a bad review will sell copies.

After some thought, this makes sense to me. I don't want no damn stinkin' critic telling me what I like, I'll decide if the book interests me on my own. So a review at the very least is a mention of a book, almost like an ad.


*Daniel strikes a thoughtful pose*

*then falls over*

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bad reviews do sell books. The way I see it, people thumb through People or the newspaper and see book covers and titles in the review section. They don't even necessarily read the review, but when they're stuck in the airport they end up picking up a book that they've heard of, even if they can't place from where.

Sorry you fell, I really wanted to see that pose!

Sela Carsen said...

It's true. Reviews are publicity -- good or bad. I recieved a 90 from an online source with lots of hits and sold almost as many copies that month as I had in the 3 months previous.

I saw a book get a 1 rating. As in, slit your wrists in a warm bath, type of review. I bet she sold a ton of copies simply out of morbid curiosity.

But a mediocre review is worse. It inspires nothing. "Great" and "horrible" sell books. "Meh" is getting mired in a stagnant pool teeming with mosquitos. Even if you get out without getting too muddy, you're still going to get bitten on the ass.

Trace said...

It's amazing how many more sales A Million Little Pieces got after the public found out that James Frey had fictionalized most of the book.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Maybe I should take one of those yoga classes Mary keeps talking about ...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sela, I agree about mediocre reviews. Better to be loved or loathed!

Trace... really? Blech. Maybe next time he'll write fiction and we'll find out it's a true story he stole.

Daniel, just avoid any spandex.