Monday, August 13, 2012

The Ugly Truth About Consumer Book Reviews: Part Two

 Finding Reliable Indie Reviewers 

by Terri Giuliano Long

With traditional media snubbing indie books, a whole new culture of indie reviewers has emerged to fill the gap. IndieReader, a respected resource for indie news and information, publishes professional, unbiased reviews written by the IndieReader staff. The esteemed traditional critics Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly also review indie books, although they do it for a fee.

The fee-based review model is in itself a hot-button topic. How can a review be trusted if an author is actually paying for them? What indie author’s fail to grasp is that while some outlets charge for reviews—most notably Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly—they are not necessarily charging for a good review. Kirkus and PW inform authors explicitly that their reviews are unbiased. As with IndieReader (who doesn’t charge for reviews), these valuable resources give talented indie authors the opportunity for the same notice afforded traditionally published books. Readers hungry for indie reviews benefit, because they know they can trust these sources to give them honest reviews.

Nevertheless, indie authors tend to resent the fact that they have to pay for brand-name reviews. What they fail to understand is that—albeit indirectly—traditionally published authors are also paying for reviews, in the form of monies that are kept by their publishers. And the money paid to reviewers at traditional publications like The New York Times are generated, at least partially, from ad sales paid for by those same traditional publishers. Looked at this way, it’s no wonder there’s resistance from traditional media to review indie titles. It’s not the lack of quality they’re afraid of. It’s the hard fact that there’s no money to be made.

To augment reviews from trusted reviews like IndieReader, PW and Kirkus, readers can compare them with consumer postings on social media sites like Goodreads or online retailers like Barnes & Noble or Amazon.  Readers might also consider following a book blog.

Like professional reviewers, reputable bloggers offer a thorough analysis of the book under review. Before Lori (aka “Next Best Book Blog”) prepares a review, she asks questions: “Did it [the book] do what I thought it was going to? Did the characters make me feel something? How is this book different from anything else I’ve read? Why should others read it?” 

The Picky Girl describes her process this way: “I jot down my initial impressions as soon as I finish the book before going back to flesh them out. Then I try to give my own summary and then my thoughts.” While Picky Girl does find negative reviews helpful, she adds, “I try to always mention something positive in addition to the negative.”

It may take a few tries to find a book blogger or bloggers whose taste and sensibilities match yours. If you care about book reviews, if you long for an honest voice to help you navigate the swelling sea of indie titles, it will be well worth your effort. Even if you find and follow the perfect blogger, though, be sure to keep your own voice in your head.

The reading experience, after all, is subjective. The story, writing style or plot device a reviewer disdains may excite you. Naomi, of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, advises readers to keep an open mind. “I have read some books that were highly rated and I thought I was going to gouge my eyes out and I just read one that was panned by reviewers and I loved it.” As Jennifer, “Books, Personally,” puts it, “the only opinion that truly matters is your own.”

Following find some useful tips from Jennifer, creator of the blog “Books, Personally”: 

Don’t rely only on reviews at the extremes: some of the most valuable reviews can be the ones in the middle, noting both the positives and the negatives of a book. 

Do look beyond the number of stars 

Do look for reviews that tell you what you want to know. 

Do look for reviews that sound like a little thought was put into them, that are clearly and logically written, that are written in a style that resonates with you, and that address issues you care about. 

Do look for reviewers (following favorite blogs is great for this) that have similar taste in books. 

Do read sample pages when they are available – they will help you know quickly if a book is for you. 

Do take it all with a grain of salt and decide for yourself- you know the saying about opinions…. everybody’s got one.

Terri Giuliano Long is the author of the award-winning novel In Leah’s Wake. Her life outside of books is devoted to her family. In her free time, she enjoys walking, traveling, and listening to music. True to her Italian-American heritage, she’s an enthusiastic cook. In an alternate reality, she might be an international food writer. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College. In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel.

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