Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reviewing the Situation

"Criticism should not be querulous and wasting, all knife and root-puller, but guiding, instructive, inspiring.
***Ralph Waldo Emerson

HANK: As our Hallie knows all too well---the rigors of book reviewing are endless and enormous. The responsibility! The authors' fragile egos! The fear of ..I don't know. Ruining someone's life. Okay, kidding. Kind of.

But are there any authors who seriously don't care what reviewers say? Weigh in, please. We'd love to hear about that. And meanwhile, meet the amazing and insightful Lori Gondelman--who has grown her incredibly popular site into a must-read for both authors and readers.

Here she is with her favorite niece.

HANK: Book reviews! How did you get started with this? Who’s your audience?

LORI: I belonged to a book swapping site ~ My friends started calling me “the book pimp” because my book recommendations would cause their wish lists to grow. Several of them started bugging me about doing a book blog. Eventually I gave in and it’s taken off. Now, I get thousands of hits a week.

HANK: What connections do you hope to make between readers and author?

LORI: When I started blogging I never imaged that I would have developed some amazing friendships with authors, publishers and publicists. I think authors are as excited to hear from readers as readers are to hear back from authors (at least that has been my experience). You get such a giddy feeling when an author comments on your post or responds to your email. I want to encourage my readers to reach out to the authors that they love, to email them, to friend them on facebook, to go and visit them at signings. I met two great people at a signing on a day I was in mourning. Jessica Conant Park (who I know consider one of my best friends) and Hank, a great source of encouragement and support. You never know when those little emails, FB comments, or signings will turn into something fantastic.

HANK: How do you decide what to review? Is it tough to cut through what must be an avalanche of publicity?

LORI: I’m pretty open to reviewing anything. I usually read a lot of mysteries, thrillers, suspense, cozies, and women’s fiction. But I’ve tried to push the boundaries of my reading comfort zone and have accepted reviews for books I would not normally read.

If it’s something I know I really will not be able to get into, I am upfront about it while at the same time offering to host a blog tour, guest post, giveaway or author spotlight for the author instead of the review. At times I can get 10-15 books in to review in one week (often a few weeks in a row). I want to please everyone and get their books read in a timely manner, but it's just not possible. It's so hard saying no. I don't want to offend anyone, but unfortunately there just isn't enough time in my day. And then I have to figure out how to choose what to read from everything that came in. How do I make sure everyone is happy with the work I'm doing? How do I not burn bridges by choosing to read book A from publisher XYZ before reading book B from author ABC? Finding the right balance can be very tricky.

HANK: I’m persistent. SO how do you decide?

LORI: I think at this point I just need to go with what I think I will really enjoy. With the amount of books/requests I receive each day I would to read and review as many as possible. With just a few hours to read a day, I want to make sure I'm going to read books that I like. I think it would be futile to choose a book I might not be fully into. I want to use my time wisely.

HANK: Do you read books differently now than you used to?

LORI: I try not to. I read for my own pleasure, as a way to "escape" real life and the stresses of every day. I don’t want to turn my love for reading into “work”. As soon as it becomes a chore, like anything else, it no longer becomes fun. But if there are key elements, a phrase or specific things I think those reading my reviews should be aware of, I’ll take the time to jot down some notes so that I make sure to include them in my review. I'm not one to write the more critical review, regarding character development and those types of elements, I prefer to just write about what I liked and didn't like about the books. I like to keep it as short and simple as possible. I want to give my readers what they want - my opinion on whether or not I liked the book.

HANK: Is it intimidating? Knowing that what you say about a book can make such a difference?

LORI: It's funny, when I first started blogging I didn't think anyone would care what I had to say. I did it more for my friends than anything else. A quick little summary and off you go. I think I've really matured and grown from the quick "you're going to love this", to the detailed, thought-provoking, I really need to think about what I'm trying to get across reviews that I write now. I want to be as honest as I can possibly be with what I'm saying. Readers may or may not buy a book based on what I'm telling them. I want them to be able to say that they trusted my review, that it was true to the book, that my opinion was what made them buy the book, and that they loved it as much as I did.

HANK: The “important” reviews have always been PW, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal. Do you think those boundaries are expanding now? What difficulties—if any—does that create for readers? And authors? On the other hand, what opportunities does it present?

LORI: Let me answer the second part of that question first because I just experienced what I think every book blogger strives for ~ one of their blurbs on the back cover (or inside a book). And in the future, someone could look that up on the website and then check out my other reviews, and maybe, just maybe another quote of mine will appear on the back of a book in a bookstore near you!

Now back to the first question. It's pretty ironic that I became a book blogger and hoping to influence my readers with my reviews of books, because way back when, I never read reviews of books to see what others thought of them. I read the description on the back cover, or on-line, and if it sounded good, I would buy and read it. I had never heard of PW, Kirkus, Library Thing, The Best Reviews, Midwest Reviews, etc. before. Of course I'm acutely aware of them now. And I think more and more readers are depending on them less and less as the number of book bloggers expands.

I do think that readers trust the reviews of these big name sources of reviews, but I think there are a lot of bloggers out there who have formed cliques (for lack of any other word), and they trust each other, they trust what they have to say, they trust their friends and they begin to rely on each other to help make their decision on what books to read or not read, versus the virtually anonymous voice behind the options mentioned above.

HANK: What do authors do that drives you crazy?

LORI: Well now that's a loaded question :) There actually isn't too much about working with authors that bothers me. I love emailing them my reviews and getting an email back with their excitement about how I felt. I will do whatever I can to help them promote their books. I love working with them on guest posts, virtual tours, author spotlights, and contests. I love being able to give them as much exposure as I can.

The only thing that really bothers me is the "pushy" author (and sometimes publicists too). I think I am pretty clear in both my review policy and responses to their emails that I have a lot of commitments and cannot make any promises as to when I will definitively get to their books. The majority of the authors I work with are completely fine with this. They know that I receive a lot of requests for review and are just happy to get their book out there at some point. But when they start emailing me a week or two later, and then another week or two later, asking when I will have the review up I get frustrated. I know they have a job to do, that they want to get the word out about their books, but they have to also realize that I'm not wonder woman. As much as I would love to be able to do it all, I just can't :)

HANK: Now that you’re on the reviewer side of the fence—what hints do you have for authors?

LORI: Be grateful, and nice to your reviewers. Recently an author committed what many are considering career suicide. She had provided review copies to readers and one person had reviewed the book on his blog. He said the story itself wasn't bad, but that there were a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. Instead of either not saying anything or politely thanking the person for reading the book, she went off on him. Even taking it so far as to use profane language. The situation went viral on Twitter and among the blogging world, causing a lot of people to download the free preview of the book then giving her 1 star reviews on Amazon. She really hurt herself and her career.

Also, have patience. As much as you want the word to spread about your amazing book, know that reviewers get bombarded with books and requests. Many of us also have full-time jobs and families, making our reading time limited. We do the best we can to get your books read and reviewed in a timely manner.

Thanks, Lori! Now, Reds, who has a question? Lori is here to answer them all!


  1. This is such an incredible interview! Very informative--and such good advice.
    I have to ask, though, as I've always wondered: is it easier to deal with a publicist or directly with an author? I've often wondered if it is harder for reviewers to deliver less-than-stellar reviews directly to an author without having the publicist as the go-between. One of my friends who is a reviewer recently got caught in a situation where an author had pitched her a book that she accepted for review, read---and thought it was awful. She told me that dealing directly with the author was a little tricky in this instance, as she was worried about hurting his feelings. What do you think?

  2. Hi, Maryglenn! So great to "see" you here--we need to catch up!

    And yes, that's a great question.

    Asan author, I guess...I'd rather have my my publicist tell me. Then I could really pump her for info.

    But Lori, what think?

  3. Lori (and Hank),
    Great interview. Your enthusiasm and love of reading are certainly encouraging.

    I just got eliminated from the Amazon Breakthrough contest, but PW actually gave me a good review, and it made my whole day (although not as much as continuing would) because it also pointed out parts of the book that need more work.

    That gives me another chance to make the book better, which is especially good since it's not out for public scrutiny yet. Nobody else sees the weak stuff. It's too bad I/we can't get more reviews of works that can still be fixe.

    Do you (and Hallie, this applies to you, too) review self-published books, too, or only ones that originate from traditional publishers?

  4. Really appreciate Lori's candid answers on such a tough topic. Writers, publicists, and yes, readers, need to be mindful that a review is a gift. Some gifts are too large, too small, the wrong color, etc. One can always buy their own, but it's usually far more satisfying to send a thank-you note.

  5. Lori, we are so glad to have you here on JRW! Great idea to invite her Hank:). I think the reviewing scene is changing as fast as publishing in general so websites like Lori's will get more and more important.

    Steve raises an interesting question about self-published books and reviews as critique. this seems to be the challenge of publishing yourself without layers of editing--you need to find readers who will critique with eagle eyes before the book's available to the public. Or classes or workshops or books on writing...

    As none of my mass market paperbacks were reviewed by the "big" three, I relied heavily on less formal reviewers--and was grateful for every one. Okay, almost:)

    Lori, will be in touch later about A TASTE FOR MURDER, coming in January:). And thanks again for being our guest!

  6. Moolly, I know it's a metaphor--byut what about an actual thank you note for a review? Is that...ever done?

  7. I loved the questions as much as the answers. Appers Lori loves what she does and does it extremely well. And is a nice person to boot. As is our Hank. THANK YOU both for a terrific interview.

  8. This was interesting. As a longtime former newspaper book critic, I used to get these questions all the time. Then I had to consider the audience and often ended up reading books I wouldn't have read otherwise.

    I'm thankful for that experience, but I love blogging as a hobby because now I read what I want and write about it if the spirit moves me. I don't think my reviewing style has changed as much as publishing has.

    These days, I hear as much from writers as I do from publicists.
    Just wish there were more hours in the day to read and write!

  9. Serious Metaphor Seatbelt Warning:D

    Hank, I'd liken the "TY note" to our comments here. Maryglenn's, Steve L.'s are great examples of thank yous. Regardless of what we write, (stories, blogs, reviews, columns) most of us hate to think we're just yelling into the well — or worse — yelling just loud enough to wake the beast. ~m (who is missing the days of lovely stationery and waxed seals.)

  10. Lori and Hank--what a great post. I think most authors, myself included, are just beginning to appreciate the power of the blogger/reviewer now that most newspaper reviews have dried up.
    So thank you for taking over the reins here.
    Do you also review hardcovers? How does one get a copy to you?

  11. Thanks, all. Yes, it's pretty fascinating, the power of blog reviewers..

    (Digression: oh, Molly, I did love sealing wax! And beautiful stationery...)

    Lori, do you get actual thank you notes? is that a good thing?

    patebooks, where's your blog?

  12. Thanks, all. Yes, it's pretty fascinating, the power of blog reviewers..

    (Digression: oh, Molly, I did love sealing wax! And beautiful stationery...)

    Lori, do you get actual thank you notes? is that a good thing?

    patebooks, where's your blog?

  13. (I just had an entire comment typed up and then got a service error when I tried to post it. So here I go again).

    Thank you everyone for having me here today. I am pleased and honored to be here.

    Maryglenn ~ I find it easier to deal with publicists directly. They really understand the amount of requests that bloggers get and that we're only human, that we only have so much time in our day to read and write reviews. Their main goal is to get the books into reviewers hands and hope they'll get a review done in a timely manner. I know that I try to at least do a book spotlight if I won't be able to get a review done. And most publishers are happy with that. With authors, they are, rightfully so, only concerned with their book. Some think that their book is the only one we have to read/review. They want that positive, glowing review up as soon as we can get it. And we just can't get every book we get read, and we can't like every book we receive.

    Steve ~ I receive requests from everyone. Big name publishers and first time self-publishing authors. As long as I think the book sounds interesting I will accept it. I don't like the time of the publisher/author, or one of the few advanced copies they may have if I don't think I will ever read the book. It's not fair to them.

    Molly ~ I always send an author an email thanking them for writing their book, telling them how I felt about it, and include a copy of my review. I know how much hearing from readers means to then. I don't think there has been an instance yet when an author hasn't written back to me thanking ME for the review, telling me how much they appreciate what I've written, and for taking that extra minute to write them and share my thoughts personally. And of course I've saved all of those emails :)

    Roberta ~ I am truly honored to be here and thank you for having me. I'm anxiously awaiting the new book!

    PJ ~ I've been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I do love what I do, and I'm glad that you, and others can see that. I think that even if the work I did went unnoticed, I would still do it - for myself!

    Rhys ~ I accept books in any format. I will get ARC's months before the book comes out. (Then I get all excited when publication date arrives and then have my duh moment when I realize I've already read the book!) I can read books in PDF format and accept them in both paperback and hardcover format. You can email me at lori AT frandanbolt DOT com and I'll send you my mailing address.

    Hank ~ I adore you! Thank you for this wonderful interview!

  14. Lori and Hank - I totally enjoyed your insights.

    Lori, the birth of your blog is a great story unto itself - did you ever dream your reviews would be read by an audience of thousands? I'm curious how much time you give to reading each day.

    It appears that more people are reading more books due to the Kindle/Nook explosion. Has your audience expanded since the advent of the digital book?

    I'm so happy I stopped by - learned the TY lesson and gained a new tab on my 'must read' blog list.

    Thank you!

  15. Rochelle--you're the perfect candidate! Don't you have something Lori might just be lucky enough to read???

  16. Lori, thanks so much for giving us authors an insider's view of reviewing books. Bless you!

  17. Rochelle ~ NEVER in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be here right now with my blog. I just thought my paperback swap friends would check it out and that would be it. Now my head spins (in a good way) with all of the attention it has gotten. I don't think the explosion of e-readers has altered my audience. As beloved as the e-reader has become there is still a huge amount of controversy surrounding them. Especially in terms of pricing of e-books. It really infuriates me when I see books being given one star ratings strictly based on the Amazon Kindle price. It is completely unfair to the author and really skews the actual rating of the book.