Reviews

Why I Review Everything I Read

21 August 2016

From BookRiot:

A little more than eight years ago, I started blogging about the books I was reading. Over the course of those eight years, I’ve written a post on almost every single book I’ve read. (The only exceptions that I can think of are books I read for a class, books I quit reading, and books I reread.) Writing these reviews has become part of the reading experience for me, and my reading no longer feels complete if I haven’t written a review.

You see, I read a lot of books, and without a blog, most of them would go into a black hole, leaving nothing but a faint memory and a vague feeling of pleasure or annoyance. Character names and major plot points often fall out of my brain.

Reviews are a great memory aid, and I use them that way often, going back to read old reviews to refresh my mind. However, the process of writing reviews often keeps me from even needing to consult them later. Writing seals in the knowledge, making every book just a little less forgettable. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.

 

Writing reviews also slows me down and forces me to reflect on my reading. I’m greedy for books, wolfing down one right after the other, not always taking the time to appreciate each one. Pausing to write a review helps me to digest my books better.

In my years of review writing, I’ve found a lot of truth in the quote often attributed to Flannery O’Connor, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I write reviews to figure out what I think and why I think it.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Pamela Paul to Oversee Daily and Sunday Book Coverage

19 August 2016

From The New York Times PR department:

Dean Baquet, in a note sent to staff, writes that Pamela Paul will now oversee The Times’s daily and Sunday book coverage, including coverage of book news and the publishing industry:

“Colleagues,

For generations The New York Times’s criticism and coverage of books have been a vibrant part of America’s cultural life. We are the last daily newspaper in America with a free-standing books section, an essential journal of literary discussion and debate. And to a remarkable degree our daily book critics help set the literary agenda for the country.

In order to continue and enhance our influence in a digital age we have decided to place all books coverage — daily and Sunday — in the hands of Pamela Paul, the current editor of the Sunday Book Review and one of our biggest stars. It will be Pamela’s job to think about how our coverage should change and, of course, how it should not change. (We will, for instance, maintain our Sunday Book Review. It is hard to imagine the paper without it.) Above all, we believe we have a significant opportunity to expand the audience for our books coverage.

This may seem like simple tinkering in the flow chart. But it is large in the life of The Times and in American publishing. Currently, the line between Sunday and daily reviews — a line established when the paper was divided according to print constructs — means that the great critics Michiko Kakutani, Dwight Garner and Jennifer Senior do not write for the cover of the Review. It means that we don’t often coordinate in deciding which books are so important they deserve both a daily and a Sunday review.

We also hope this change will create a structure that will allow our critics more breathing room to do other kinds of writing — including essays that marry the world of books and the larger world. Pamela will also oversee coverage of books news, including the work of Alexandra Alter, who covers the publishing industry.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG predicts that Pamela receives even more invitations to lunch at expensive Manhattan restaurants.

While the Times continues to lose print circulation, it does have one of the few reasonably successful digital subscriber programs for access behind a paywall – about one million digital subscribers in the most recent information PG could find.

In the US, the Wall Street Journal has much larger print and total circulation than the Times, but the Times has the largest US digital newspaper circulation. Unfortunately for the Times, print advertising continues to decline and the paper still loses money every quarter.

Will the Times ever pay any attention to indie authors? PG has his doubts. The book world as perceived by the Times staff and the world of legacy publishing are essentially identical. Plus the Times book sections receive most of their advertising from large publishers.

Reading Reviews: It’s Complicated

11 August 2016

From author Laura Benedict via Kill Zone:

There are as many approaches to dealing with reviews as there are writers, ranging from the diehards who don’t read their reviews, ever, to the snowflakes among us who turn into sad, quivering puddles at the sight of the dreaded single star. (As a former snowflake, I resemble that remark.)

Book reviews fall into several categories:

–Good (Loved it!!!! Five Stars!!!)

–Bad (“Horrible!! wish I hadn’t read it.”)

–Meh (or what I like to call damned by faint praise)

–Irrelevant Content

–All About the Reviewer

–Actionable

The Good Review

Everyone loves a good review (except your enemies). It feeds the ego of the little kid inside of us who trudged home from school clutching a hand-loomed potholder, desperate to hear that it was the BEST POTHOLDER IN THE WORLD! We’re adults now, of course. We are mature professionals who understand that a job well done is still just a job, and while we humbly tell ourselves that there are probablydefinitelycertainly things we could have done better, somebody thinks it’s the BEST POTHOLDER BOOK IN THE WORLD!

. . . .

The All About the Reviewer Review

All About the Reviewer reviews can be a lot of fun. These reviews are for…other reviewers! Back in the day (and now occasionally in the New York Review of Books) there were many actual book critics who spent their time explaining books by connecting their cultural context and literary significance. Good critics were well versed in their specialties and liked to show it. The wittiest ones were often cheerfully savage and careers were made or hearts were broken. Now, the standard All About the Reviewer review is an extensive book report written for the reviewer’s memory of their favorite high school English teacher. I may seem to be poking fun, but these are the most useful reviews to people who are trying to decide whether to buy/read a book. They’re often thoughtful, complete, and nearly always earnest.

. . . .

Whenever I’m tempted to read reviews of my work, I keep in mind what my very first writing teacher told me: “You don’t get to look over your reader’s shoulder and explain your work. It is what it is.” That’s it. It’s out on paper or online (or shared with your workshop or writing group or significant other) and it must stand on its own. Sometimes it’s going to wobble, and sometimes someone is going to point out where you screwed up. That’s the way of sending work out into the world. The sending out has to be its own reward because there are no guarantees once it’s done.

If you’re not one of the stalwart writers who can confidently take anything a reviewer throws at you, pause a moment before you sit down to read your reviews at Goodreads or Amazon or anywhere else and ask yourself a few questions:

Am I looking for approbation? If so, then go ask your mom or spouse or bff what they think of your work, because while you might find some solace in reviews, you’re going to find a lot of other things that are nothing like approbation.

Am I being tempted to look at reviews by my overbearing inner critic? This is your own resistance trying to keep you from your work. Your inner critic will skim over all the nice things it reads and zero in on the negative comments. These are the ones that will stay with you when you sit down to write.

Link to the rest at Kill Zone and thanks to V.S. for the tip.

Here’s a link to Laura Benedict’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

If you doubted there was gender bias in literature, this study proves you wrong

14 June 2016

From The Guardian:

A new study has confirmed what many already suspected: the careers of Australia’s female authors are suffering due to gender bias within the literature industry. That female writers are still consistently being overlooked in the 21st century is not only unacceptable; it is embarrassing.

The study, conducted jointly by Dr Julieanne Lamond from the Australian National University and Dr Melinda Harvey of Monash University, looks at reviewing patterns in leading Australian publications from 1985 to 2013.

Male authors were found to be more likely than their female counterparts to have their work featured in published reviews. Despite the fact that two-thirds of published authors in Australia are women, two-thirds of the books being reviewed are by men – a ratio that has remained largely the same for 30 years.

. . . .

Australia’s statistics are part of a global trend; the international body Vida also releases annual stats that year on year have shown disparities between how writing by women and writing by men is received in Britain and the US.

The reviewing pages are just the beginning. Male authors are also more likely to win awards and are significantly more likely to be included on course syllabuses at both high school and tertiary levels. In short, writing by men is considered more culturally important.

The under-representation of women in our literary culture is an embarrassment to an industry that prides itself on being intellectual and progressive. It’s also puzzling when considered in the economic context of the publishing industry.

. . . .

This all underlines a vast chasm between people who are consuming literature, who are mostly women, and those who are being lauded and rewarded for their work, who are mostly men.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nate for the tip.

 

Attention, Readers: ‘Rotten Tomatoes For Books’ Is Here

8 June 2016

From The Huffington Post:

A scene: You’ve just read (and re-read) the final paragraph of a novel you’ve been savoring, and you’re almost mad at the author for wrapping the story up so neatly, so poetically. How dare she refuse to imply the possibility of a sequel? What are you supposed to read now?

It’s tempting to peruse Amazon, your cursor hovering over what Customers Also Bought. You find a big, 800-page tome — a Pulitzer winner that should hold you over for a while — but wait, what’s this? A 3.5-star rating? You don’t want to be dissuaded — the book sounds smart, fast-paced and full of heart! But, alas, you decide look elsewhere, hoping for something in the four-to-five-star range.

It’s something so many of us readers are guilty of: allowing aggregated user reviews to influence which books we pick up. But while these star systems featured on Amazon and Goodreads serve a purpose, they loom too largely over reader activity. Which makes sense; they’re the only quantitative assessments we have of books’ worth.

That’s why Literary Hub, a site dedicated to book news, essays and excerpts, has launched Book Marks, which they call a “Rotten Tomatoes for books,” aggregating professional critics’ takes on new literary novels and assigning them a letter grade.

Andy Hunter, publisher of Lit Hub, told HuffPost how the endeavor will work. The site currently has a stable of 70 outlets with professional book reviews, ranging from The New York Times to blogs like The Millions and including HuffPost’s weekly book review, The Bottom Line. Once three of the 70 have covered a title, it gets added to Book Marks.

. . . .

Because book reviewers aren’t prone to slapping a rating on their takes, Lit Hub editors — many of whom have worked as professional critics themselves — assign the reviews letter grades. But, Hunter notes, the site welcomes reviewers to submit letter grades of their own, to avoid any miscommunication. “We want this to be an open, collaborative thing that book reviewers are happy about,” he said.

“I think books are an extremely important part of our culture, and I think professional critics are people who devote their lives to engaging with books in a substantive way,” Hunter said, explaining why Lit Hub embarked on the project. “A book reviewer has a responsibility to talk about a book’s worth within the context of its peers and the history of its genre and the works of other authors that are tackling similar subjects.”

. . . .

It’s an altruistic move on Lit Hub’s part to offer a solution to the multifaceted, hotly debated problem of professional book reviewing.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

PG notes that Bookmarks and Lit Hub are co-sponsored by Grove Atlantic, a traditional publisher.

Amazon sues sellers for buying fake reviews

3 June 2016

From TechCrunch:

Seller beware — if you buy reviews for your products on Amazon, the company might sue you.

As part of its effort to combat fake reviews on its platform, Amazon sued three of its sellers today for using sock puppet accounts to post fake reviews about their products. Amazon has been aggressively pursuing reviewers it does not consider genuine over the last year, often using lawsuits to discourage the buying and selling of reviews, but this is the first time it has sued the sellers themselves.

Today’s suits are against sellers who Amazon claims used fake accounts to leave positive reviews on their own products. The fake reviews spanned from 30 to 45 percent of the sellers’ total reviews. The defendants are Michael Abbara of California, Kurt Bauer of Pennsylvania, and a Chinese company called CCBetter Direct.

Amazon is asking for the defendants to be banned from selling products on any of its sites or accessing its services. The suits also ask for the profits the sellers made on Amazon, attorneys’ fees, and damages exceeding $25,000.

Amazon says that, since early 2015, it has sued over 1,000 people who posted fake reviews for cash. Now, the company is going after the retailers themselves. Amazon said that it intends to eliminate incentives for sellers to buy fake reviews for their products.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Annie for the tip.

Amazon Continues Its War Against Fake Reviewers

26 April 2016

From Business Finance Review:

Just a year after its first official act against fake reviewers, Amazon is pursuing its third case against falsified reviews on its website

Reliability and authenticity are paramount for the success and long-term feasibility of the company-client relationships. In the age of information, reviews play a pivotal role in the sale of any good or service, it thus comes as no surprise that companies put in significant effort into ensuring the legitimacy and accuracy of reviews. As part of its ongoing complain to root out false reviews on its platform, Amazon.com, Inc. is suing five more websites that are providing fake product reviews.According to a company spokeswoman: “We will continue to pursue legal action against the root cause of reviews abuse — the sellers and manufacturers who create the demand for fraudulent reviews, as well as the ecosystem of individuals and organizations who supply fraudulent reviews.”

. . . .

The online retail giant started its war against fake reviewers in April 2015 by filing a lawsuit against them. The act, the company’s first, stood as a testament to Amazon’s commitment towards ensuring the reliability and authenticity of its 5-star review system. Following the filing in April, the online retailer continued to take a stand against deceptive users and services, filing another lawsuit in October, targeting over 1,000 users registered as sellers on the website, Fieverr — a site that allows people to sell odd services and jobs for at least $5.

In the latest case, the online retail giant filed charges against New York resident Chris Embry, CEO (alleged) of AmazonVerifiedReviews.com, and California resident Jane John-Nwankwo, who allegedly owns and operates PaidBookReviews.org. Amazon has also filed charges against the operators of ReviewConnections.com, BuyAmazonReviews.info, and AmazonReviewStar.com. The company, however, was unable to identify the websites’ owners.

. . . .

The online retailing titan is suing for trademark infringement amongst other claims, demanding that the aforementioned website not only cease using the company’s trademark, but also offering reviews to items and services.

Link to the rest at Business Finance Review

The Self-Hating Book Critic

6 April 2016

From Copper-Nickel:

Remember when everyone was super upset about newspapers cutting their book review sections? People picketed. People with better things to do and ideas in their heads stood outside of newspaper offices and held up signs and said words through bullhorns and performed other related physical activities. Until, I’m guessing, their feet got tired and they all shrugged and went to Starbucks.

Most of these people’s employment was in some way tied up in the newspaper book review section. Either they were writers worried about their next books not being covered and thereby boosting sales, or they were critics themselves, worried about their paychecks. I point this out to illustrate that there was no big public outcry that book review sections were being cut. A few readers may have written a letter here or there, or strayed into the picket line until their feet also got tired. But as a whole, the cutting of book review sections was met by the general public with a shrug.

This all happened several years ago. More and more book sections collapsed, more and more longtime critics were laid off. And still, no one outside of those inside of the business of reviewing books quite noticed.

. . . .

It feels stupid to talk about the crisis of book criticism when the entire industry is in crisis. We have no bookstores now—now that Borders bullied so many independent shops out of business and then died itself, now that Barnes & Noble is in death throes, now that Amazon rules publishing and treats it like a British landowner in 19th century Ireland.

“Oh, you’re starving to death? That’s too bad, it’s your own fault really. It’s a shame you can’t have any of that nice food you’ve been growing, because you know that’s ours now. Because we said so. If you could go outside to die, that would be helpful, it makes such a mess when you go, you know.”

. . . .

And let’s look, for a moment, at what the death of the newspaper review actually meant, because that keeps getting lost in the nostalgic haze of men who remember a simpler time, when literary culture was tied intimately into popular culture and authors could still be rock stars without writing about magicians or vampires or whatever. The death of the newspaper review meant the end of the literary authority who would declare that books by straight, white men are always the best of books. That books by the conglomerate publishing houses are the best of books. That literary culture exists only in New York City. That literary critical culture is a lofty, apolitical space of objective assessment.

. . . .

It’s hard to say what value the literary critic provides to the larger culture. And I say this as someone who has spent the last twelve years of her life engaged in this activity. Don’t think there weren’t nights where I woke up with the thought “My entire purpose in life is to help people make decisions about which books to buy; I am simply part of someone’s marketing strategy,” chilling me to the bone.

There’s the value that the literary critic can provide, but it is so often buried under needs of that critic to tend to one’s career, to boost friends’ books, and that burning desire to make one’s opinion heard. That value is, thinking a thought out loud, following it through centuries of other people’s thoughts, synthesizing it with your own thoughts and experiences. Books are vehicles for ideas, but ideas have no purpose until they are forced into contact with minds and bodies and experiences. Critics can put ideas into action, through the juxtaposition of idea and world.

And books are deeply personal things. Wept over, treasured, passed along. Not external objects, their function is to become internal. Sometimes the fit needs adjusting, that is another thing that the literary critic can provide.

Literary critics have value. And yet sitting here I cannot come up with a single name of a critic who has played some sort of role in my life.

Link to the rest at Copper-Nickel and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Manipulating Reviews on Amazon

4 April 2016

From The Never Ending Book Basket:

It’s taken me a bit of time to write this post, but I figured it’s about time to share the utter nonsense that’s happened between me and Amazon, and how a company that I once highly respected, has now become one that I have zero respect for.

I’ve thought about writing this post for weeks, what I would say and how I would capture everything that’s happened, and I’ll be honest with the fact that this post has taken on many forms, but finally I decided that it would just be easiest to state the facts.

So here it goes…

As some of you know, on February 24th I was sent an email from Amazon letting me know that I could no longer post reviews on their website, and that all of my previous reviews had been suppressed or removed. In case you’re wondering, that was well over 300 reviews that I had written in my over 2 years of book blogging.

All gone in an instant because Amazon decided that I was “manipulating product reviews.”

I don’t even know what that means for Amazon. I have no idea why my reviews were deemed manipulating or misleading, and when I asked for clarification on this, you know what I got? I got an email from them saying they weren’t going to give me any information or “evidence” as to why this all happened.

. . . .

That customer service representative I talked to had no idea what to do with me and my issue, and as it was also 7 o’clock in the morning, she couldn’t talk to anyone who worked in the online communities department because they weren’t there yet. She told me she would forward what was going on to them, and that they would call me back within 24 hours.

Well funnily enough, 24 hours came and went, and I got no phone call. Can’t say I’m shocked about that one.

So that’s when round 2 of calling customer service came, and over 48 hours after I first called Amazon about this, I tried again. That customer service representative also had no idea what to do with me, but after about 10 minutes on hold, they informed me that they had submitted a form to the online communities department about my inquiry as to why I was banned and why my reviews were removed. This representative informed me that I should get a reply within 2 days.

And he wasn’t lying. I got a response alright, and that response is by far one of the worst displays of customer service I’ve ever seen. (And this is coming from a girl who worked in retail for many years.)

Amazon sent me a *lovely* email telling me they found my reviews to be manipulating or misleading, yet I still had no clarification on what that actually meant, and that they were not going to give me any other information about this. They also added that they were probably not going to respond back to further emails about this issue, and then added that they could only respond via email to questions about reviews.

. . . .

If you’re going to remove my reviews and ban me forever, the least you can do is talk to me in person.

Right? Apparently not though, since all I got was that email.

. . . .

Now I’m not a numbers person, but you can’t deny numbers and facts, so here it goes:

  • In 2015 I spent roughly $1,441.33 on books on Amazon. That’s a combination of over 344 e-books, paperbacks, and Audible books. (And let me remind you, that’s just for 2015. That doesn’t include the money I spent in the 2 years before when I started buying e-books and paperbacks through Amazon.)
  • As of February 28th 2016 I had already spent $163.17 on Amazon on e-books, Audible books, and pre-orders.
  • Between 2015 and 2016 I have done giveaways on my blog for over $196 dollars’ worth of e-books and gift cards from Amazon. ($115 of that was gift cards to get people to buy things on their website.)
  • I’ve also been a member of their Amazon Associates Program since 2015, meaning that on a daily basis, multiple times a day, I promote Amazon and their products on my blog and my blog’s Facebook page.

And what did Amazon do to thank me for that daily promotion and my almost daily purchases from them?

They banned me.

They didn’t ban me from buying things from them of course, but from giving my honest reviews of the products I purchased.

They also removed hundreds of reviews I worked my ass of on, and for what reason?

. . . .

Was I banned because I like the books I read too much? Is it because almost every book I read is 4 or 5 stars, or is it because my book reviews are super detailed and long? Well let me tell you something Amazon, after being an avid reader my entire life, I have a pretty damn good idea of what I like to read. I know what I’ll love, and when I love a book I love it hard, and I write reviews that show that.

. . . .

Well to me it is a big deal. Book reviewing and blogging is my passion. It’s something that helps keep me sane from my daily on the go life, and it’s what I LOVE to do. So to remove hours and hours of work that I did, to remove reviews that I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into, and to ban me from supporting books and authors pretty much feels like a slap in the face.

. . . .

What they did shows a hell of a lot more about their company and its ridiculousness, than it does about my book reviews.

What I can do is keep reading, and reviewing (on my blog and other retailers), and telling readers about the books that I love while supporting hard working authors who deserve a damn book review.

I can also tell people about what’s happened to me with Amazon, and how it’ll probably happen to them sooner rather than later because let’s face it: Amazon makes their own rules, and they just don’t care about the ramifications those rules have.

It also means that I can be a smarter consumer with whom I choose to give my money to when I buy books and other products.

Link to the rest at The Never Ending Book Basket and thanks to P.D. for the tip.

PG says that, for a very large company, Amazon still does an amazing number of smart things.

Unfortunately the scam review discovery algorithm is not one of those smart things.

People who are enthusiastic about a product or product category quite often write the best reviews. And they tend to write a lot of reviews.

For PG and many others, quality reviews are an extremely valuable part of Amazon. PG will often read several before deciding on a purchase in an unfamiliar product category.

Amazon knows that reviews are important to the continuing success of their online. That’s why they don’t like scam reviews.

However, PG suggests one motivated and honest reviewer provides benefits to Amazon that outweigh the damage done by several scam reviewers. PG thinks most scam reviews aren’t difficult for customers to identify.

The scam detection algorithm needs to be modified. And a non-algorithmic review process needs to be established. Yes, you will deal with some scammers in such a review process. Yes, you may not be able to outsource the review process to low-cost Indian call centers.

However, a quality reviewer is almost always a quality Amazon customer who communicates thoughts about products (and Amazon) in venues other than Amazon reviews and is a serious contributor to Amazon sales in one or more product categories.

If Amazon wants an outsourced means of identifying scam reviews, it should identify quality reviewers and give them a private email address or portal to report scam reviews. The real reviewers will do a better job than social media stalking bots at identifying phonies.

The Joy of Writing Negative Book Reviews

1 April 2016

From LitReactor:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Isn’t it convenient that the stupidest quote ever also provides its own defense against critique?

But more to the point, I’ll respond to this quote. Why say something mean? Because it’s fun to say mean things sometimes.

There’s a bit of a backlash against the negative book review at the moment, and I’d like to make a case for why it’s good, clean fun to get dirty in your reviews.

. . . .

Buzzfeed made some news a while back for banning negative book reviews from its site. They just weren’t going to waste the time bashing on bad books.

The literary world went nuts, defending the practice of writing bad reviews, talking about the necessity of honesty.

Forget that. The debate on whether or not bad reviews are necessary isn’t what we’re talking about today. Because since when is necessity our guiding principle for everything? Did Voltron NEED to be a giant robot comprised of several smaller robots? No, he didn’t, and he was probably a lot harder to build that way, but they did it because it was awesome. Did all four Ninja Turtles NEED to have different weapons? Couldn’t they all just use swords? Of course they could have. Nunchucks are never a necessity, but they’re always awesome (most quotable thing I’ve ever said).

Life isn’t all about necessity. So whether or not negative reviews are necessary to write isn’t the point. It’s whether or not it’s okay to write them.

I’m telling you, Yes, it’s okay to be negative. The right someone has to write a crappy book is the same right someone has to critique said crappy book. Simple as that.

. . . .

I’ve reviewed 540 books on Goodreads. Know which reviews are the most popular? The negative ones. I hated A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and apparently a lot of other people felt the same way I did, that the tree grows way too slowly and with too much detail. I hated The Scarlet Letter, and boy am I in good company there. I slapped a none-star rating on Merchant of Venice, and that one…okay, that was met with mixed reactions.

Link to the rest at LitReactor and thanks to Randall for the tip.

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