Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Reviews and Reviewers

Over the last couple of weeks, I got into the habit of digging around some of those review sites for books. You know the ones I'm talking about. A group of readers has gotten together, created websites and will review and comment on your books. Now, while I think this is a unique venture, I have seen some huge problems with many of the sites. Namely, objectivity.

Being a reviewer means it is your job to be objective. Of course many of these sites and reviewers might claim objectivity, intentionally reading only those books you like and from authors you like just to give them a great review is far from objective. On the other side of this coin reading things you know you will hate and then slamming an author with a bad review is equally as bad. In the case of this last one, I actually read a review where the opening comment read something to the effect, "I've never liked this person's writing or genre and decided to see if that was still the case." What?

I understand this business is subjective, and certainly some books will work for some readers and not for others. But we still have to be objective when we review. As an agent, I too have to be as objective as possible when reading a project. Of course, if there are genres I know I don't like, I make sure I don't acquire those (I'm not a big fan of Sci-fi romances so I don't ask for these stories).

I guess this is also one of those reasons why I tell authors not to worry about all of those comments and reviews. Honestly, how many people do you see at your local book store walking around with a copy of the latest online review from these sites deciding on a book to buy?



  1. Yes, objectivity is what makes the review process worthwhile. But.. I've reviewed a bunch of things on Amazon and started out that way. It's not that I went in wanting to bash something, but sometimes it takes a while to learn that you just don't click with someone, no matter how good they sound on paper (or flap jacket).

  2. I can't tell you how informative I find this blog to be.
    I am currently trying to get my first book published, and there are so many things I just don't know-obviously-but I have found your blog to be insightful and helpful.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and your input.
    My teenage boys didn't make their long-course cuts for Nationals this year (it was a sad, sad, summer...)but maybe we'll get to meet in Florida for short-course? Hope you have a safe and productive trip.

  3. Here's a question on a form of reviewing-submissions and agents. When an agent tells you they like the story, but it's just not for them, but then adds that I shouldn't give up that it will find a home. Do they really mean that or are they just being nice? I've had many tell me to keep looking and not give up, but it keeps getting rejected. Just wondering.

  4. @Bethanie

    I've received this conflicting message also. If you check some of the forums, you might find it's just a typical form letter and really means nothing other than your work didn't grab them. It's worded to soften the blow without destroying your dream. It's not an indicator your work is marketable or well-written.

    I would love if agents who used formed letters took the time to select a specific one like: The premises of your story didn't sound fresh enough. The query didn't grab my attention. The query sounded intriguing, but the writing wasn't strong enough. I couldn't invest in the characters. Or I like the writing, but not the story.

    Just one simple sentence cut and pasted from a list to give direction. However, I understand why agents might avoid this. Not every writer receives feedback well. Sometimes it's just easier to say no and give the writer hope, even if it is false hope.

    Form letters are also sad though. Sometimes it leads writers to waste time on an nonviable piece of work. Or perhaps the work is viable, but needs a bit of tweaking. Yet because the agent said in a form letter they just need to keep trying and they'll find a home, the writer doesn't make the change which turns the story from just okay to great. So the writer sends out new queries and wastes potential opportunities with agents because he/she just doesn't know what is off about their story.

  5. I really enjoy your blog! My first book releases next February and I have to admit I'm nervous about reviews and comments. Your insight helps a lot. Thanks!

  6. Bethanie,

    Rejection is just part of the deal. And everyone has to say something in those form rejections. The business is SO subjective.

    My first book, I had sent it to EVERYONE under the sun at the time it was making its rounds, agents and publishers. (I still have somewhere some of those rejection letters--it was quite a stack. Everyone said some kind of "this isn't for me, but keep trying" comment in the letter.

    The thing you have to remember, it just takes ONE agent, ONE publisher to like it. And remember that the next time you glance at Writer's Marketplace, and the thousands of listings there.

    The ONE is out there. You'll find him/her.