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Book review vs book discussion

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Posted in: Azteclady Speaks

White question mark with grey shade

A while back, the very smart Jessica of Racy Romance Reviews asked whether author comments on reviews stifle reader discussion. The ensuing thread is all kinds of interesting and thought provoking, and I heartily recommend braving the hundred plus comments to truly savor all the insight given there.

That post and the subsequent discussion addressed something that has been present in the dark recesses of my mind for a while, but it didn’t crystallize into something at least semi-coherent until a week or so ago—and this epiphany was spurred by orannia’s Broken Wing Challenge. (Original post, the challenge, and the discussion with review links).

Here is the result of all that cogitation:

As far as I am concerned, reviews are for potential readers—which is one of the reasons I avoid spoiling the plot as much as I can*—so I don’t really expect comments from people who have read the book. Mind, I enjoy them, quite a bit**, but I don’t expect them nor, indeed, foster them in review threads.

On the other hand, I really love discussing what worked about a book or a series—or an author!—with other readers, and find that there are fewer such conversations going, in the blogs I visit regularly, than I would like.

All this has me wondering whether readers here would like to engage in discussions about books I’ve reviewed—either in the review itself with some sort of warning (i.e., “comment threads contain spoilers, reader beware”) or the occasional discussion thread for say, one specific book or a trilogy, etc.

Crazy?

Superfluous?

Redundant?

What say you?

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* exceptions being excessive violence or gore, or graphic descriptions of rape, or sexual abuse of minors, etc. that I think may be hot buttons or triggers for an unsuspecting reader—those I do my best to warn about

** especially when I get an “I’ve read this, you nailed it, good review”—but then I’m as vain as the next person

17 Comments »


  • Myra Willingham
    August 12
    5:05 pm

    I belong to the paranormal romance reviews group on Yahoo and there is one reviewer there who irritates me no end. She gives away most of the plot then ALWAYS in the next to the last paragraph asks a series of questions like: Will Tani be able to even make it to the island to meet her warrior? Will she be able to break the curse upon him? What type of danger will they face?

    The very last paragraph of her loooooooooonnnnnnnnnngggggg reviews has just a smidge of what she thinks of the book. The majority of the review is in giving away the plot.

    ARGH! It drives me crazy.

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  • Without going to read the links (I shouldn’t even be here reading lol) I’ll only comment about whether *I* think author comments on reviews stifle reader discussion. Yes, yes and definitely yes.

    I cringe every time I see the very FIRST comment (or second or whatever) on a review be from the author of the book that was reviewed. It’s like dropping a water balloon on a crowd. I’ve never understood why an author needs to immediately pop in even with a thank you. I get they’re being polite but since reviews aren’t supposed to be FOR an author, why then? If you must offer any comment, an email to the reviewer is perfectly fine.

    But here’s the thing. When an author pops in, and I’ve seen it time and time again, you simply do not get the same level of discussion in the thread that you would if the author was absent. Even though we all know the internet isn’t private (ok most of us know that) there is still a certain feeling of freedom when you dont know for sure that author is there watching and reading.

    As soon as the author pops in then everyone immediately knows she’s lurking and reading and so most people won’t go into any in depth discussion about why they did or didn’t like the book (usually the latter)

    If I wanted to pop in and agree with a review that X element in the story was a disappointment to me and offer my reasons why, I’d be much more likely to do that if the author wasn’t all over the comments. It’s just human nature.

    I think an author shoots themselves in the foot when they pop in with even a simple thank you blah blah because the very thing that they hope happens with a review–discussion of the book and exposure–is the very thing not very likely to happen because they’ve made an unnecessary appearance.

    But then sometimes I think it’s done purposely, particularly in a not so glowing review, because again, if an author pops in, it is less likely (I didn’t say it won’t happen just that it won’t happen to the degree it would if she wasn’t there) that the comments will weigh in heavily on “I agree, this book was a total waste of my time” or “I agree, the author really dropped the ball” or just plain ole “I agree, this book sucked”

    Just my two cents :)

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  • I am of the opinion that author comments stifle discussions. If the review is positive and the author stops by to thank the reviewer, I feel reticent to say I thought the book sucked. In the case of a negative review, author comments rarely place them in a good light.

    I try to avoid spoilers in the reviews I write and put a warning at the top when series spoilers are inevitable. I won’t read reviews at sites where they traditionally give away too much of the plot.

    I would love to see an extra comments thread where we could discuss spoilers. This is one huge advantage AAR has over review blogs because their message boards allow for numerous threads on the same book.

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  • Well, since I’m an author, maybe I shouldn’t comment. But I’m going to, anyway.

    My first thought here was, come on, you guys. Buck up. Say what you think and don’t let some author trying to be gracious scare you away. Honestly, if an author is a hothouse flower who can’t stand to have her feelings hurt, you won’t be hearing from her when a review is bad, anyway. Do you really want to stifle any aspect of an open forum?

    I actually used to stay out of all discussions–good or bad–of my books. Then I started thinking that was silly. To pretend I didn’t know about them when they were happening was like sticking my head in the sand.

    Then again, maybe I should rethink my rethinking. I don’t like to be a discussion-killer, and if that’s what I’m doing, maybe my first take on the situation was the better one…

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  • *cough* ‘scuse me, ladies?

    My question is more on the “wanna have discussion threads of books?” than on the author participation issue…

    Because I like talking about what I’ve read with people who have read it, discuss, explore, explain, disagree, speculate, what have you–but I hesitate to do it in comments to reviews because of the spoiler aspect.

    Personally, I like it when an author comments, particularly when they show the graciousness and cool under fire that Ms Rimmer, Ms Burton or Carla Cassidy have. At the same time, I see how other people may feel intimidated–or perhaps simply consider it “bad manners”–to offer criticism of something when the creator is present.

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  • Okay. Get it now. Naturally, as an author, I just had to focus on the one little author-ish aspect of the question. A little red-faced. But that’s okay, I’ve been red-faced before.

    And I totally agree on the spoiler aspect of too many reviews. As a reader, I want to know if the reviewer loved or hated or “meh”ed the book and why.

    Re the discussion group thing, so…would that be the kind where the author is asked not to comment? Not to even peek? Y’all gotta know that if it happened here, any of the authors who follow this blog would know it was going on.

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  • I love book discussions! Which truthfully, is probably the main reason why I wanted to start blogging in the first place. Since I don’t have any “real life” friends who read the same genres I do, the romance blogging community acts as my weekly (or daily) book club meetings.

    Like you, when I write book reviews, I tend to write them as if I’m addressing a reader who hasn’t read the book, so do try to write without spoilers past the fourth chapter or so. On the other hand, sometimes I’m really itching to discuss a particular book with other readers and simply writing a review of my own or leaving a comment on someone else’s review doesn’t spark the dialog I crave. I think it’s challenging to engage a good book discussion on a blog. I really enjoyed the one we had on orannia’s blog and hope to do something like that again.

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  • I like both (as someone who relies on reviews to help choose, and as a reviewer), so I wouldn’t want to loose the reviews, but I would love to have discussion threads. It’s always a lot of fun when you don’t have to worry about spoilers, and it’s interesting to see the book through other eyes.

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  • This is an issue I have also thought about. I think there are lots of good genre discussions around, but discussions of a particular book are not easy to have in the review context for the reasons you mention in your post. Perhaps it’s also the blog format that’s the problem — maybe better discussions occur on message boards such as AAR or KMont’s The Phade? I wouldn’t know because I don’t have time to visit.

    I agree with you on trying not to spoil readers in reviews. I wonder if providing a link to a second “dummy” post –maybe with just the book title and “Spoiler discussion” would work, allowing spoilers can be discussed in a separate thread? Or will people be too lazy to click over?

    Or … how about a feature like “Return of the Review — Spoiler Discussion” where you revisit an old review — maybe a few months months or more old — linking to the first one?

    ps. I totally could have called the focus on “author comments”. It’s one of those issue that both readers an authors feel strongly about. Not that I mind the linkage!

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  • I’d love to be involved in book discussions. Count me in.

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  • Nora Roberts
    August 13
    7:49 am

    I don’t want to bog down the thread, but on the subject of thanks for the review from the author:

    I’ve read comments on any number of threads on various sites on the topic of author behavior re reviews, and many reviewers and/or commenters have given the opinion that a brief thanks from the author is appreciated, and often somewhat expected if the author’s known for participating on the site.

    I certainly don’t want to hamper discussion re the book or review by posting that brief thanks, but now I’m in a quandry between simple manners and potentially shutting down discussion.

    What’s a girl to do?

    I agree completely that reviews are for readers, and generally stay out of discussions on specific books–esp my own–unless the poster asks a particular question I can answer.

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  • I certainly don’t want to hamper discussion re the book or review by posting that brief thanks, but now I’m in a quandry between simple manners and potentially shutting down discussion.

    What’s a girl to do?

    Echoing this line of thought…

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  • Not sure what the answer is. Of course this comes from my own unscientific findings and observations but I have noticed that when an author pops in immediately the comments for a review don’t reach more than maybe 1 or 2 beyond. Maybe it’s a coincidence and no one had anything to say about the book regardless of the author being present. Conversely the reviews where the author hasn’t commented seem to flow with more discussion and comments. Of course there will always be exceptions as I’m sure someone could point out one w/author participation that was discussed in great detail. As stated these are strictly from threads I’ve read and observed.

    I think as far as thanks, if the author doesn’t want to email, waiting a day or two to let the discussion run its course and then slip in with a hey thanks would solve the dilemma about stanching reader participation?

    I may be the only one who feels this way so it’s entirely possible that I’m a few fruitloops short of a full breakfast. I’d be curious to know if the majority disagree with this thought. Then I can tell myself to shut up and quit thinking about it too hard ;)

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  • I’m still mulling a viable way of having book discussions, but I am one of those people who like it (a lot) when the author posts a “thank you” in the review’s comments.

    But then, again, I don’t think the reviews are for discussion of the book.

    edited to add: I like Ms Banks’ suggestion about the author waiting a day or so before thanking the reviewer.

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  • Well I think you probably hit on a point I wasn’t even considering, aztec :) No surprise there since I tend to have tunnel vision. To me, the best “reviews” are blog reviews and the best blog reviews are when the review is posted and a discussion commences in the comments (hence my distress when discussions are hampered) BUT you’re probably right. A review isn’t a discussion although I think the two combined are most awesome.

    For ME the gold isnt in the review but in the discussion because well, I’m not really that interested in one person’s opinion and a dry recitation of the merits or lack of in a book. I want the juicy stuff, the spoilers, the discussion and the array of opinions, not just one, that pop up in a discussion. But I’m one of those annoying ending peeker, loves spoilers people. It’s those components in a discussion that will persuade me to buy a book so I lament when there is none to be had after a review is posted.

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  • Karenmc
    August 13
    4:57 pm

    I appreciate a comment thread that allows people to really discuss a book or author. AAR is testing the waters this Saturday with a “book club” session on Meredith Duran’s Written on Your Skin. They’ve already posted a joint review and given everyone a couple of weeks to read the book. I’m not sure about the technical aspects (tweeting is involved), but I hope to drop in and see what people have to say.

    As for spoilers in reviews, I’ve always been one of those who would rather know now than later. What I DON’T like is a book report masquerading as a review. Luckily, something like that is mostly confined to Amazon reviews.

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  • The only time I’ll ever comment on a review of any of my books (and I always email privately unless invited to do otherwise) is if the reviewer misspells names or gets a fact absolutely wrong.

    One reviewer at a site spent half the review whining that she hadn’t read the first book in the series, and that her judgments were thus skewed. My publisher and I pointed out that it wasn’t appropriate, and offered to provide the first book. Another time, with the same site, we pointed out that names were misspelled and the review was gramatically bad.

    Pointing out such things doesn’t make me a troublemaker, and yet with that site that’s how I’ve been interpreted. Truth is, 90% of the time I don’t say anything at all, though I do think the people I know.

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