An age old question, Man Booker chairman Peter Stothard's comment that "not everyone's opinion is worth the same" is worth some thought.
Mr. Stothard is not trying to pit professional reviewers against amateurs but that they haven't lost their relevancy. Both, of course, have their place and most "readers reviewers" do not claim or even aspire to being professionals.
I agree with Mr. Stothard to some extent however many of today's professional book reviewers are authors themselves who are returning a favor or hoping to gain favors (this is especially obvious in the NYT) by recommending a friend's/colleague's book. This practice, as far as I'm concerned, is no longer reliable literary criticism.
I have my own bookish blog (shameless self promotion: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com) but I know that I am in no way writing literary criticism, mainly just my thoughts on books I read and hopefully some discussions with like minded (or better yet, those who disagree) as well as give some well needed publicity to books which I like.
Reviewing books is as much a talent as any other. Just because someone is an avid reader doesn't make him/her a good reviewer. It takes someone who can identify and convey what the author wanted to be seen. It's also easy to be critical. I'm not saying a reviewer should always be positive and give glowing reviews, but a person can be too negative and nit-picky (is that a word?).
Anyway my point is, a professional reviewer that doesn't just promote his/her buddy's books (or even worse, take some compensation for it) can still be a poor reviewer, or a great one. An amateur reviewer can hit a homerun the first time out if he/she has the talent.
But, yeah, it does seem like more reviewers are doing endorsements. Not necessarily a bad thing. You just have to pay attention to who is doing the endorsing and why.
I agree Roger. Having a solid Review can transcend into a marketing tool that can be used in a variety of places. Use a Book Review service like mine, www.review-worm.com where you can chose a reviewer that loves to read your genre of book and is in your direct audience is key. Authors being able to see and chose the reviewer as opposed to the services that decide for you. Then take that Review and breaking it down to use in a variety of ways to promote your book. Try and always see beyond just posting on one retailer, look a much larger landscape. Your book can be promoted a variety of ways. I've run a marketing company for 10 years and I'm known for "out of the box" marketing ideas that help authors sell books. Its so important to use what you pay for, like eating everything on your plate and if its free, you might not get the quality you can use - LOL Our Reviewers love to read and they want to help the authors promote. Not sure you can find that type of quality or service anywhere that's affordable. I hope to change the way authors think about Book Reviews. Its my quest!!
Like all things, choosing a reviewer requires research. Whether they are a professional or not. If you have a romance manuscript you don't want to send an ARC to a reviewer who specializes in thriller/suspense. I believe that both types of reviewers have something to offer the writer. Also, consider your audience based on if your work is fiction or nonfiction, the genre, etc.
Maybe the non-professional reviewer is more open to reading the work of an amateur. Whereas, a professional reviewer may not be. I tend to select reviewers based on their past reviews and the types of books they have reviewed. If there past reviews are brutally honest without being mean spirited then they catch my eye. I shy away from those reviews where everything is perfect down to the title because nothing is perfect. Also, I seek out people who don't know me. Those that don't have a vested interest in my feelings.
I recently had the first few pages of my first manuscript reviewed by a non-professional reviewer. She gave me honest feedback. Some I used, some I didn't and it was free. I didn't pay her so I had a greater confidence that what she told me was valid and not motivated by a buck. Non-professional reviewers may not have the training and educational background of a professional reviewer but I've found that they do emanate a certain passion as avid readers. This is a passion that comes across in their reviews and makes me confident that whatever they tell me will allow me to adjust my writing to better connect with my reader from an entertainment standpoint. Should you go with a professional reviewer, you can be confident that whatever feedback you get is steeped in years (maybe decades) of training and knowledge.
Choosing the right reviewer is certainly something that many authors don't realize they can do.
True - but isn't a Reviewers time just as valuable as yours? Why is the review more valuable because its free? That doesn't pass logic for me. If you go to work for an employer and you say; I'll work for free and you don't have to pay me, can the employer expect quality and value? I believe that everyone's time has value and is equal to the author, its truly a team effort. The value of the authors is conveyed in the books they sell. Why is the Reviewer worth less? There is passion in many types of hobbies that reap benefit for the Hobbyist....but when they put a value on that hobby/product is it now less valuable? I do believe that the average person that buys a book should have the freedom to go and post a book review, however, Authors should change the way they think about Book Reviews when launching a book. Its truely a marketing tool and if they don't use it in that capacity and leave it to FREE reviewers to promote their books, then its their loss. Writing a bestseller is like winning the lottery, when you get to a level of the publisher paying you to write the book, then the FREE reviewers are a given. But if no one knows you as an author, you have to self-promote in order to gain more readers. Its to your advantage to spend time searching out a Book Review company that can team up with you and provide you with a top quality review so that you can use it at every level to promote your book. Thats valuable and will, if written honestly, can help you as an author achieve your goals. You make some good points, but I have to say; Nothing is life is FREE and if it is, then I question its value.
I feel the same way as RYCJ about my book reviews on my blog (shameless self-promotion: http://excellentlibrary.wordpress.com/). The people who know me and have similar tastes in books are going to be likely to share my opinions about new books that I'm reviewing. I also try to include both the pros AND cons of the book, something that I've found to be lacking in professional reviews -- they tend to take the extremes of ranting about a book or raving about it, with nothing in between, whereas I try to present a more balanced view of the things I liked and things that I didn't (or that I think other people might not like). That's just my style; my reviews are written for the potential reader, not for the author, and readers really do want the whole picture.
Granted, I'm pretty new to this review stuff but here's my perspective:
1. Too much feedback can really mess you up. I experienced this early on but didn't recognize it in time. One person wanted more details, the next wanted less. The problem is, there is no right answer.
2. I'm really nervous about asking for reviews from anyone who brags about their formal literary training. I've read their reviews of other books. Many seem anxious to play English Professor and rip apart anything doesn't align with their interpretation of the rules.
3. I always read a reviewers comments of other books first. I look for reviewers who are more concerned with how well they liked the story, how it made them feel, and would they read the authors next book. After all, the average reader isn't taking notes and looking for every mistake. They just want to enjoy it.
4. I've read that some major authors never read reviews. I wonder if J.K.Rowling is reading the ones on her latest book?
I read enough of the book to determine that I wouldn't be finishing it.
Also, I find the differences in ratings between Goodreads and Amazon to be shocking. The average isn't that different, 3.5 vs 3, but from a statistical viewpoint the extremes are interesting. Not sure what it means...
Uh oh. Sometimes we just can't help ourselves as readers and have to see what others are saying.
Here we go again: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9594823/Man-Booke...
"Book blogs are killing the art of literary criticism, according to the chairman of the Man Booker Prize judging panel."
No, book blogs are making arrogant "professional" reviewers irrelevant.
Let me expand my editorial comment: it's not just the "pro's" that can be arrogant.
I find it ridiculous when book review bloggers have a policy stating that they will not review "self-published" books. After all, aren't they self-published? (Very, very few blogs are owned by major trade publishing companies!) Some are so full of typos, dead links and horrendous color choices that I'm not sure I'd want their review.
Now, I'm not trying to start a debate on self-pub'ed vs trade published; that's too messy a topic for today.
Nor do I really care. I estimate that there are somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 book related blogs on the internet. Plenty of them LIKE self-pub'ed books (and have better websites to boot.)