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Archive for November 3rd, 2009

carol.thumbnailCarolyn Howard-Johnson is the founder of Authors’ Coalition, an award-winning author and poet, a columnist for My Shelf, and an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her books include the popular titles The Frugal Promoter and The Frugal Editor, both USA Book News’ Award winners. Carolyn is also the editor of The New Book Review, a book review blog with a different twist: authors may submit reviews which have already been written about their books, thus extending the life of the reviews. In this interview, Johnson discusses the influence and effectiveness of reviews in terms of book promotion, among other things.

How influential are reviews on consumers?

For some consumers, they are very influential. My daughter-in-law (she helps me nominate books for my Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize that appears on MyShelf.com) buys her books almost exclusively on the basis of reviews. But different people buy their books differently. I believe that word-of-mouth is more influential and most studies uphold that view. By the way, winning a contest can be a big influence, too. And what a wonderful opportunity a win is to get the word on a book out there.

Do you think reviews can make or destroy an author’s career?

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. I also think that many authors view reviews as bad reviews when they aren’t. A review will have more credibility if it isn’t all raves and rose petals. A balanced review is more credible. And like everything in our culture, reviews are short-lived. Everyone forgets them in short order. Except maybe the author.

Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites?

Facile praise. Quite a term. Yes, I do. But if someone loves a book, who out there should tell them that they are wrong. I’d just prefer reviews to be a little more even-handed. After all, the review process is about learning for the author and credibility for the reader, too.

What is your stand on paid reviews?

I’m against them. Paying for something undermines its credibility. And, yes, that even applies to the paid reviews that Kirkus does.

Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books they review? What about advance review copies?

No, reviewers should donate their books to libraries. It is a fine point of ethics but an important one.

With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?

I think there is a place for shorter, quicker reviews online regardless of what the LA Times does with their pages. Still, one hates to see lovely old review sections in journals and newspapers deteriorate.

Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?

Absolutely. But I also keep the future of her craft in mind.

Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?

Not so far. I did quit reviewing for a newspaper who demanded that I write only good things because it was a “family newspaper.” This is a freedom of the press issue. Reviews — once committed — get to say what they want. Only their own standards should affect what they say.

Thanks for the interview, Carolyn!

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