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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Review Of Book Reviews

Authors live and die over what book reviewers say about their books. The author hopes for a great review, not only to push book sales but to validate the author’s brilliance. But why do readers listen to book reviewers – or do they?

When I read a movie review I don’t give the review too much stock, especially if the movie looks like the kind I would see. For instance, after seeing the coming attractions of Lincoln, I knew I wanted to see it and did not care what the reviews said, though most praised it. But for a movie I don’t know much about, I might look at a review. More likely, I’d read a few reviews. I would weigh who wrote it and exactly what was said. Did they use harsh words like ‘boring,’ ‘predictable,’ ‘choppy editing,’ ‘bad acting,’ or ‘lousy script?” Did they compare it to other movies that I am familiar with? Did they get specific about why the movie failed or succeeded?

Book reviewers have a tougher job. There are no movie trailers or familiar actors connected to the book that people can immediately draw an opinion on.  The book will sink or swim on its content and whatever you know of the writer. Book reviewers have many more books to review than movie reviewers have movies to review, thus they are overwhelmed.

In theory, book reviews save us time. They help us choose what to invest our time, money, and brainpower into. More importantly, they help us select what will empower, enlighten, inform, inspire, and entertain us. With over 1,000 news books published daily just by the mainstream American presses (and many more from self-published and foreign published books), how can one choose the books he or she will read?

Book reviews can do us harm. They can turn us away from a book that perhaps could change our world. Or worse, they simply remain silent about a book, leaving us to not even know of the books to run towards or from. But that is the case today. We have many more books to review than there are qualified book reviewers. And there is less time to read these reviews. That is a problem: More books, fewer reviewers, less time to read a review.

We need a book classification system, but one that is more descriptive and neutral than judgmental, more like a database than a rating system. Imagine a database that lists all of the books ever published, where one can search a catalog based on certain items – such as year published, genre, number of pages, price. plot elements, themes, and other factors that describe the content. It would be important to have every book in there – not just some. There would be no value in having some biased or ignorant entity saying they liked or disliked a book. Instead, the real value here is that one can find the type of books they want to read.

Such a database would give people equal access – instantly – to all books. One won’t depend on whether a store or online site sells the book. One won’t need to read a review. One would not have to rely on judging a book by its cover. One would be able to find a book based on things like the time period of the book, whether it involves violence or harsh language or sex, where the book is set, etc.  We need the overflow of content catalogued, but not necessarily rated. We don’t need opinion to replace fact, or for choice of what to read to be disproportionately influenced by reviewers. But we need to know what exists and to have each book presented through the same profiling system of information. It will keep all books on the same playing field.

Perhaps we come up with 40 or 50 bits of data that each book will have a profile created to include. I wouldn’t want to minimize each book by tearing it into pieces or by reducing the whole into merely parts, but at the same time I don’t want to have millions of books floating around that people have no way of discovering or finding. We need something to keep us informed of the books available to us. On the other hand, such a database is only good for people looking for a certain type of book, but there is a Catch-22 here. What of a book that is so new and fresh that it exceeds any database’s ability to properly present and explain it? How do people stumble upon a book instead of hunting down the one he has convinced himself he would want to read?

I guess no system is perfect, but I think a book industry that is increasingly relying on book reviewers to help sell books puts itself in danger of only rallying around a few books while ignoring the vast majority of others that are worth finding a readership.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2012 ©


  1. I do know that I would value knowing whether a book was YA before I bought it. When there is no hint on the blurb - how is a reader to know? I might want to read - 'the sexiest romance of the year' as stated on the front of the book - but I was several pages in before it became clear the female protag was 17. No, that's NOT what I want to read.

  2. The problem with any database is that it relies on some form of tag as a filtering mechanism. Here’s what one review said of my first novel: “not 'hard' enough to be spec fic, not 'weird' enough to be fantasy, too realistic for the humour section and yet too humorous to shelve easily with the lit fic” – so how would I list it? It’s a problem. What I see nowadays are people deciding beforehand what genre their book is going to be and limiting their writing to fit within its confines. And that’s not good. People are always on the lookout for something different and they usually find out about it by word of mouth or by reading reviews on blogs as opposed to sites like Amazon. Amazon is great if you know what you want; the odds are they’ll have it or one of their sellers will have it. It’s like a dictionary. Dictionaries are wonderful when you know the word you want to look up but what happens when you want to find a word for that rumbling sound your tummy makes? That’s not so easy. The best thing a database could have would be a column for ‘similar to’, ‘if you like this you’ll like that’, that sort of thing.

  3. This idea sounds familiar to what I heard Netflix does. Netflix pays people to manually tag movies with lots of detailed tags. The comment by Jim reminds me of librarians talking about the proper taxonomy of tagging...

    Netflix is far from perfect at making suggestions for new movies and TV shows based on past preferences but it is very good. The tagging is part of it but the algorithms are also very important for how you related things...

  4. This is my 7th year to review books. I began reviewing on my own with books I bought or borrowed from the library, but now at least half the books I review are those that I've been asked to read/review from outside sources. I'm not paid, except in a free copy of a printed book. Although many sources are switching over to eBooks. Recently I've been asked to edit first chapters for new authors (for free). I have a particular passion and interest in reading new authors works, also those books that were published by the authors themselves. I've found many great reads this way. I find it interesting that many reviewers are not interested in independently published books or first time authors. But, that's their choice.
    I've thought for a long time there needed to be a better system in place to give more information (like a data-base) --a stream-lined and easy to understand way to choose books.
    I've noticed some books are marketed heavily, while others that I thought were better written are on the sidelines so to speak. I don't have an answer for that except the publisher relied on that one book to make a better profit, ignoring the other.

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