Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who Gets Reviewed and why?

As a novelist, I yearn for reviews. Of course I do. I worry and panic and if I still bit my nails (thanks to hypnosis, I gave that up last year!) I'd do that, too. I study every word of every good review wondering if they gave me the review because they felt sorry for me and I memorize every word of the bad reviews (I can still recite a Kirkus I got for my third novel by heart.) panicking that it might be true.

But, I know the other side, too. As a book columnist for The Boston Globe and Dame Magazine (I'm also a critic for People, but all those reviews are assigned), I have the privilege and responsibility of choosing about 8 books every month to review. I want to do right by authors. I want to give ink to the books that might be under the radar.

It's incredibly hard.

There are so many wonderful books that I often make huge piles and try to winnow it down before my deadline. Though I try to keep up with religious readings of Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus, I still somehow miss a lot of books--either because I didn't get the catalogue or I didn't hear about the book until too late--or I simply missed them. Sometimes I ask for a book and it gets lost in the mail and I'm so busy, I forget to rerequest. I work with a lot of fabulous publicists at the houses whom I trust completely. They know what I like and what I can't get through and they alert me to books I should know about. In fact, once a publicist called me and said, "I am trying so hard to get reviews for this book, but it's so sad, it's difficult." I immediately requested it (I adore sad books) and wrote a whole column around it (Let's Hear it for Unhappy Endings) for the Globe.

It breaks my heart sometimes, not to be able to give space to every book that comes in that I love. Right now I have eight books lined up that I desperately want to do for Dame, but I only have space for five. Some, I probably can do for the month after, but some, the pub date will make them too late. Some I can probably talk up on my blog, but some I can't.

I guess all this is in way of telling writers out there--that reviews sometimes don't happen because of space or timing, not because your book was not wonderful. And that reviews are really one person's opinion. There have been books that every other reviewer on the planet has loved and I've loathed. I've championed books that other reviewers have dismissed. So who is right? (I'm dying to say me, but that's just not so.) Of course, this is the kind of thing I tell myself when I get a review that isn't cause for celebration.

Before I was at People, my last novel, Girls in Trouble, was slated for a People review. I was thrilled! Everyone was thrilled! They called for me to take a photo and FedEx it to them the next day! I had Jeff take pictures of me standing on our front stoop, an urban landscape, and I was freezing in a little red velvet blouse because it was winter! (The People photo is on my website on the bio page, I think-)And then I waited. And Waited. I bought the magazine every week and the review never ran. I was sure it was because the review had been so awful they hadn't wanted to run it. But now that I'm at People, I know that many books are reviewed, but space, timing, and a whole lot of other factors all go into what the editors decide to run, and that many four star reviews I wrote for the magazine never saw themselves in print.

So I try. I try to give press to the books that might not get it otherwise, and I'm trying now to give press to books on my blog with author q and as, and my personal Ya Hoo Go and Read This Book Immediately! On my blog, I break the reviewer rule and I'll give press to people I know (with full disclosure, of course.)

It's a tough world out there and books need every bit of help they can get.


Clea Simon said...

This is all so true! I do some reviewing - not as much as Caroline - and I write, too, so I know both sides of this. It is so difficult when you have a new book and you desperately want a mention. It feels like the world is against you! But then when you get asked to pitch a book for review, and you have a pile next to your desk and you know you can't write about all of them... aiee!

Clea Simon said...

PS - I love that you're using your blog for "overrun" reviews and author Q&As! Great for authors, great for us readers, too.