Sunday, November 9, 2008

Review: The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

A few months ago, I joined an online group called Blog Book Tours to learn how to plan and execute effective virtual tours for future books. From this group I not only learned what I’d hoped, but also learned how to effectively use social networks, how to create a blog site of my own and grow readership, and how to become a good host for other authors’ virtual tours. You, fair reader, are a vital part of the cyper-space tour, just as readers are a vital part of in-person author appearances. In a virtual tour, blog readers use the comments button at the bottom of the artical to submit questions. The authors check in throughout the day to look for and respond to your comments and questions. This is your opportunity to ask the authors anything, and you don’t have to stand in line to do it!

Today I’m pleased to announce my very first victims, I mean guests. Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards have bravely agreed to be the first to bring their tour to this site. Let’s use the comments to extend a warm welcome and ask many questions to keep them busy throughout the day.

Ms. Calvani and Ms. Edwards teamed up to create a much needed guide to writing book reviews. I used tips and suggestions from their book to write the following review.

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards
Twilight Times Books
ISBN: 1-933-35322-8
Copyright 2008
Paperback, 186 pages, $16.95

Do you know the main difference between “reader reviews” and “professional reviews”? Do you know how to interpret the first sentence in professional reviews? As a reader, do you know how to determine if the review is a fair and critical review that you can comfortably use to make purchasing decisions? As a reviewer, do you know how to write negative reviews in a fair and constructive manner? Have you ever wished for a reference book that could help with these kinds of questions? If so, you wish has been granted.

Authors Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards, two professional reviewers with more than ten years experience between them have created a concise, helpful, and easy to use reference for both readers and reviewers at all levels. Ms. Calvani has a Bachelor's Degree in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of Bridgeport, CT. Her stories, articles, and book reviews have appeared in many online and print publications in the States, England and Puerto Rico, and she is co-editor of "Voice in the Dark" ezine, where she writes a monthly column. Ms. Edwards is an author, a voracious reader of mysteries and reviews books for All About Murder, Murder and Mayhem, and Reader to Reader.

The two define a well-written review and go on to say, “A well-written review may lure the reader into a new genre, thus opening a new market for that genre’s writers and giving the reader a set of new places to visit and new people to meet…Reviews that are well written offer much to the reading world, they carry information about the book, the author and the reviewer. A poorly-written review offers the same information, but may turn readers from exploring the book, future works of that author, or turn them against recommendations by the reviewer…”

The book is presented in three parts. Part One covers all topics related to writing the review itself – everything from how long different kinds of reviews (i.e. fiction, non-fiction, children’s) should be, what topics should be covered in each, how to write negative reviews in a professional manner, and even how to handle email/phone calls/letters from angry writers/editors/publishers/readers. It even provides tips on how to create your own review site. In Part Two, the authors discuss how reviews are used by different entities such as libraries, authors, book clubs, and readers. Part Three offers an extensive list of resources for anyone who wants to see their reviews published either on the world wide web or in print. Throughout the book, there are little gems of information that can keep reviewers or of trouble. For example, did you know that some electronic review sites have a policy that states if you post a review to that site, you give all rights to that review to the site, which means you no longer own your own work and may not post the same review to other sites. Would you know which popular book sites have policies similar to this?

Readers do not just receive the wisdom and views of the two authors. Other experts in the field (e.g. Maggie Ball, owner and book review editor of The compulsive Reader, and Alex Moore, Editor-in-Chief of Foreword Magazine) are effectively quoted. James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Midwest Book Review wrote the extensive forward.

The book is filled with examples that clearly demonstrate how to implement the guidelines. The authors do not shy away from the tough questions, either, but tackle them head on in the same straightforward manner with which they address the fun topics. All reviewers and any reader who depends on reviews for purchasing decisions will find value in this book. I plan to keep The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing on my desk for handy reference. Highly Recommended.

You can find the complete tour schedule for The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing here.

Now it's your turn. Use the comments link below to ask your questions and check back later today for answers. I'll start.


Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Mayra and Anne,

Welcome and a huge congrats on being a Best Books Award Finalist. How did you learn you were a finalist and what was your first thought?

Anonymous said...

Do you receive many angry letters or phone calls from authors and editors? Is this a weekly or montly event?

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Me again. The foreward from Mr. Cox is quite a coup - congratulations! Did you expect him to have so many glowing comments about your book? What did you think when you received such a detailed and thoughtful response?

Anonymous said...

What has been your biggest surprise and biggest disappointment with this book?

Bluestocking said...

Over the summer (I believe) there was an article in a book review paper in which the author basically blasted book reviewers as taking away jobs from professional reviewers and that book blogs were essentially putting our substandard reviews and would hurt sales of an authors work. What is your opinion on that article?

What do you think the advantages/disadvantages of book blogger reviews?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mayra and Anne,

How did you come up with the title? Sounds like there might be a story behind it.

Mayra Calvani said...

Hi everybody and thank you all for your comments and questions!

Thank you, Charlotte, for having me as your guest today.

To answer your questions...

It was a thrill to be a finalist at the USA Book News awards. I learned it from Anne (she forwarded me their message and soon as she got it). It was an honor, even if we didn't win, and I hope we'll be able to use this as a good promotional tool.

Fortunately, I've never received an angry letter from authors or editors, but I know review site moderators who have. It's a pity. Authors should be aware that a review is one person's opinion and they also have to be aware that there's always a risk the reviewer won't like their book. Once I heard an author say, 'If I've never received a negative review, it means not enough people are reading my book.' This is very wise.

From early on, I wanted a well-respected reviewer to write a foreword to our book to give it more credibility. We chose James Cox because he is well respected but also because he is dedicated to the When I queried him and he offered to take a look, I was thrilled but also nervous. I told myself, 'What if he doesn't like it?' As it turned out, he really liked the book. I'm honored that he offered to write the foreword.

My biggest surprise and biggest disappointment? Hmm... No disappointments yet, expect for the fact that a book like this, with so many resources, must be updated often. There's always new review sites emerging and others closing down. My biggest surprise so far is that two colleges/universities are using the book as textbook for courses on book reviewing.


Mayra Calvani said...

This line was cut:

"We chose James Cox because he is well respected but also because he is dedicated to the"

I meant to say, he is dedicated to the small presses.

Maryann Miller said...

Char, nice review of the book. I have read several reviews and comments on the book and yours is up there with the best.

Maya, congrats on being nominated for a Best Books award. Have fun today here on the blog.

Maryann Miller said...

oops, meant to write "Mayra" not Maya.

Mayra Calvani said...

I'm not surprised about that article. There have been many similar ones ever since newspapers started cutting down on review sections. I guess you can't expect 'professional' reviewers to be happy about this. But this is the age of the internet and blogs, and bloggers have found a venue to share their views about books they love or hate.

That said, there is an 'art' to an intelligently written, thoughtful, honest review, to a review that is clear and interesting.

What makes a good reviewer is the type of review she writes, and not whether she writes for her own blog or for an established review site or publication

There are many bloggers out there writing great reviews; there are many others who write crap. Yesterday I stumbled upon a review blog that made me flinch. The so called 'review' was really nasty and even had four letter words. Well, she's free to express her views as she wishes, but no one is going to take her seriously as a reviewer. So you have those bloggers who are serious as reviewers, and you have those who simply 'vomit' their turbulent opinions onto a post. Do they have value? Well, you can argue that all has value because it shows us something about our culture. But are those book reviews? No, sir, no. To say 'This must be the most boring book ever to be written' is not a book review.

Mayra Calvani said...

Hi Maryann,

Thanks for stopping by! :-)

Mayra Calvani said...

I forgot to mention that among good blogger reviewers you often find an excitment about a book that you seldom find in reviews written for newspapers. As if the review is 'alive' and not 'dead'. It's hard to describe it. LOL

One thing I like about online reviews (review sites and blogs) is that you find a wide variety of books from large and small presses. The bad thing about newspapers is that they review practically the same books on their Sunday supplements. So readers only find out about those 'big' sellers and the big authors. But what about the small press authors, and those who are self published?

Mayra Calvani said...

Dear Charlotte,

I forgot to say... THANK YOU for the great--and very well written--review! :-)


Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


Thank you! I really did follow one of the examples in the book. That guidance helped organize my thoughts and also helped me make sure all the parts of a review were included.


Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


You're welcome. Thanks for a great resource, and thanks for letting me host this tour stop. I'm having fun.


Jessica Kennedy said...

Great interview. I'm in the middle of writing a review for "Crash". I happen to be reading "The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing", is a goldmine. It's a practical guide.

Great job. I can see you've learned the art well Char.

Jessica Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Writer

Mike Cane said...

Interesting post and comments.

What do you say in response to my assertion that reviews are really irrelevant these days?

Think about it: Can't a recommendation fulfill the same purpose, get someone interested enough in a book that they'll then click on a publisher's site to sample a free chapter and *then* decide for themselves?

Mike Cane said...

Sorry for another post, but is the ebooksnbytes link correct? I'm getting 404.

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Thanks for letting me know. I'm getting the same thing, but it was working yesterday...I think. The address I have is I'll check around and fix or eliminate the link.

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


Why do you believe reviews are less relevant today than in past years? Or do you? It seems to me that some people are depend on reviews and blurbs from trusted sources to help them make their decisions, just like some movie goers depend on those reviews to decide which move to see. Other people never have depended on the opinion of others and haven't changed just because more opinions are accessible.

For those individuals who do use reviews as part of their decision making process, it is important that reviewers provide a fair evaluation. Yes?

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


Thank you and I wish you much success with your review. What do you think of Mike's assertion that reviews are not relevant?


Mike Cane said...

See, the thing is, before the Net, you'd read a review in paper. Then you'd have to make a real effort to order the book or buy it at a bookstore or go to the library.

These days, you can quickly sample a book via the Net.

Thus, there's less need for the kind of reviewing that was done in the past. Instead of a "bullhorn" review touting something, a gentle tap on the shoulder to make someone aware of something is all the effort needed today, I think.

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

So what do you say to the marketing folks who tell us that readers need to see a book cover and/or title 12 times before they feel comfortable making a purchase decision?

Just curious,

Mike Cane said...

Well, I always try to run covers.

12 times? I must be a freak then. I was sold on one book from its first line being sent via Twitter from TwitterLit!

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

You don't sound like a push over to me - must have been a great first line! Do you remember the line or the book?

Mayra Calvani said...

Hi again,

I didn't expect these many comments! LOL

Thanks, Jessica, for stopping by.

I do think reviews are relevant. We conducted a poll before the actual writing of the book, interviewing over 100 people and the vast majority of them look at reviews to give them an idea of the book. We also interviewed booksellers and librarians and the vast majority check out reviews as well before ordering. Plus, it's a lot easier to read a 300-400 word review than a 1,000-word excerpt. I'd say that, if anything, a review can persude a person to go a little further and check out a longer excerpt of the book in question.

I have purchased books based on reliable reviews, and hesitate to buy at times if there's no review at all of that particular book. So if I do this, probability tells me others are doing it as well.

Donna McDine said...

Mayra...happy to see you had yet another successful stop to your tour. Best of luck with your continued success!


Jean Henry Mead said...

You did very well, Char, as a first-time blog host, and I wish the book had been available when I was reviewing. I look forward to your book review for my senior sleuth novel on December 12.