The voices that control me… say I shouldn’t kill you yet; Appalled by reviewers

Jonathan Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain” with video by the awesome Mike Spiff Booth. I did finally get the full collection of his music, and I highly recommend doing the same if you enjoy the songs so far!

I recently learned of an, umm, “interesting” practice I hadn’t known about before. Apparently, because reporters and journalists tend to be so incredibly busy these days, it’s considered good business sense to include a “sample review” with your book when sending a review copy to these folks. The idea is that if they find some comments in the sample that they agree with after reading your book it makes their lives easier (because they can adapt those comments), and any way in which you can make their lives easier makes them more likely to take the necessary time to review your book.

I can’t blame authors for doing this. If it works and it makes their books more likely to get reviewed then it makes good business sense for them to do it. Certainly if it’s being used in the manner suggested above–simply to make things easier when the reviewer finds things they agree with in the sample review–I guess it isn’t a horrible thing. However, the book that recommended this practice admitted straight out that there’s a surprising number of journalists/reviewers that use whole paragraphs from the sample review without altering them–or even the entire sample as written.

Okay, I tend to vacillate between cynical and naive I guess, but jeez. I don’t care if you agree with the sample review or not; that isn’t reviewing a book. As far as I’m concerned, unless you’re writing your review in your own words you aren’t writing a review. That’s a good argument for finding a few reviewers whose reviews you like and sticking with them for a while–you should get to know their style well enough that you’ll be able to tell they aren’t copying other people.

I hate the idea of being influenced by other people when I review a book. Typically I not only don’t read any sample reviews I might receive before reading a book and drafting my review, I don’t even read any other press kit materials I receive. I don’t read other people’s reviews (unless I was drawn to the book via reviews). I might read some of the press kit material between drafting my review and posting it in case I want to mention any awards the book has received (or background material on the author), but I don’t want it to influence my basic evaluation of the book in any way. And if I feel that an author is deliberately trying to influence my review, I will politely but firmly rebuff any such efforts–I’m stubborn as hell about my opinions, and while I’ll do my damndest to give a book a fair, unbiased chance no matter what the topic or slant, I’m not going to change my view on it just because someone tells me I should.

I tell ya, though, this is going to make me look a lot harder at the reviews I read.

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2 comments on “The voices that control me… say I shouldn’t kill you yet; Appalled by reviewers
  1. Scott M says:

    That’s one of the reasons I really like hitting the local coffee shop (Javawava, seriously) on Sunday mornings– for the SF Chronicle book reviews. It’s pretty clear that they’ve read the book and they’ve pointed me toward several good ones.

    Of course, it does make my book list even longer than it already was…

  2. Hehe, what a great coffee shop name! Certainly stands out. And oh dear lord, I have like two boxes full of books I need to review right now, three if you include another box of books I bought for myself. Eeeeek! Just got a pile of cookbooks for review today; it’ll be fun getting those out for the holiday season.

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