Book reviews, author relationships, and TMI

by Sunita

There must be something in the air these days aside from tornadoes.

This week one of the romance novel review sites in my RSS feed had a post on a new book by one of my autobuy authors. Since I wasn’t expecting a review of this particular book for a while and the reviewer was one of my favorites on the site, I happily clicked through to read the whole thing. The usual intelligent, thoughtful review had been augmented, and not for the better, by a discussion of the reviewer’s relationship with the author, disappointment in the book, concern about harshly reviewing this author, musings about why this author would write this substandard book, and so on. These personal reflections didn’t overwhelm the review; they were summarized in a couple of paragraphs. But for me, they detracted from the review proper and gave me more information about the reviewer-author relationship and the reviewer’s feelings about the review (as opposed to the book) than I wanted or needed.

On leaving that webpage, I remembered that I had been intrigued a by conversation about a new offering from a highly regarded but not well known author. I thought I had seen a recommendation for it from one of my autobuy authors, so I surfed on over to the author’s blog and scrolled through the latest post and comments. The post was primarily about a newly released book, so there was a lot of fan gushing about how great it was, with appropriate thank-you responses from the author. Normal stuff.

But then I got to a comment from a fellow author, who even I know is friendly with Author #1, expressing interest in the new book and asking for a review copy. Say what? Asking for a freebie on a comment thread filled with fans? Of a book that was already out? Author #1, of course, graciously said yes. What other option was there? But for Author #2 to ask publicly for a review copy on what is essentially a blog for fans just squicked me out. If you want a favor, use email, FFS. The contact info is right there on the page (info which you presumably already have in your possession, being best buds and all). And why solicit a review copy of a published book from the author, anyway? You can buy this book right now in the US and other countries for the price of a large calorific beverage at my neighborhood Starbucks. Or, across-the-pond readers, for less than the cost of a single ticket from Heathrow to Russell Square on the Piccadilly line. Was Author #2 doing this to advertise a close relationship with Author #1, hoping to piggyback on a healthy fan base, or was it just cluelessness? Either way, I now have zero interest in reading that review if and when it is posted.

Finally, I went back to the publisher site where the book I’d been interested in was available. There I noticed a book by another author, whom I’d intended to try for ages. I didn’t remember much about this book but the title, so I googled for a review. There weren’t many, but I found one by an idiosyncratic but reliable reviewer and clicked through. Here I learned that the author of said book and the publisher were closely connected. The reviewer was clearly peeved about this and basically said that this personal connection made the book more like a self-published product than a properly vetted publication (although the reviewer admitted that the book was pretty good, so maybe it could have been published elsewhere). Okay, possible, I guess, so thanks for the heads-up.

But it didn’t stop there. In the part of the post which comprised the actual review, the reviewer repeatedly compared the book to another published by the same press, the latter by an author who was apparently not connected to the publisher. And guess what? Conflict-of-interest author’s book wasn’t nearly as good. The review delineated the reasons for this assessment, but its overall persuasiveness was undercut by the repeated refrain that the CoI book was not the non-CoI book. To top it all off, the grade awarded was a B/4-star, which seemed a lot higher than the criticisms warranted. The reviewer explained that that was the “objective” grade, but as far as I was concerned the boat to objectivity had set sail a while ago, so I reread the summary and closed the tab.

I’ve always thought that romance authors should regularly review each other’s books. Authors review authors in every other area of fiction and non-fiction. I also firmly believe that conflicts of interest and author connections should be disclosed. But these examples really make me wonder. If author reviewing in the romance genre is regularly going to include this kind of questionable judgment and TMI, I’d like to return to my previous state, the one where ignorance was bliss.

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