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 brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2012 ©

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