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June 15th, 2012

On Book Blogging

Liz Burns of School Library Journal wrote an interesting commentary this morning about book blogging entitled "The Importance of Being Nice" (http://bit.ly/M9ZeWv). In it, Burns discusses Jennifer Weiner's speech at BEA, in which Weiner says she appreciates the opportunity to share the love for debut novels she is passionate about with thousands of her fans--so much so that she now reviews only the books she loves, rather than posting negative reviews of the books she isn't crazy about.

Weiner hosts contests where she offers free copies of her own books to fans who purchase the debut novels she promotes via Twitter (twitter.com/jenniferweiner) and on her blog (jenniferweiner.blogspot.com). At BEA, she said she enjoys the opportunity to "be the one sprinkling the fairy dust."

"I’m not saying never write bad reviews, or that there’s no place in the world for some well-deserved snark. I’m not saying not to be honest. But there’s something to be said for talking up the things you love instead of talking down the things you hate," Weiner said in her speech. (You can read the speech on her blog under the June 4 heading: http://bit.ly/5OVuCt.)

Should all book bloggers take this approach? Burns says no--and her stance is one of respect for "the work that went into making that book."

"It takes time and effort to write a review, even a negative one. It takes no effort at all to say nothing. So really, which response is less respectful?" she says in her commentary (http://bit.ly/M9ZeWv).

I find the discussion interesting for a number of reasons. Weiner is a best-selling author, and her praise for books like "Heft" by Liz Moore and "I Couldn't Love You More" by Jillian Medoff (which I read based on her recommendation, and loved) has dramatically increased book sales for these authors and introduced a number of new readers to their work. Burns is an excellent reviewer who provides thoughtful and intelligent commentary about the latest children's books (I particularly enjoyed her review of "Inside Out & Back Again"). But Burns is a professional reviewer, and one could argue that she has an obligation to write both positive and negative reviews.

But what if you're not a professional reviewer?

What if you're an aspiring author, and you know that if you publicly criticize a book by a beloved author, you could potentially destroy your chances of working with an agent or an editor before you've even had a chance try to build a relationship with that person?

I think if you're going to take the stance of only writing reviews of books that you truly love, it's important to take the time to craft a review that gives readers a solid look at what the book is about; why it's special (providing examples from the book to support that opinion); and thoughts on which readers might be drawn to the story (for example, if it's a dark paranormal novel, is it the type of story that fans of realist fiction would enjoy, too? Why?).

As a reader of authors' blogs, the types of reviews I dislike are the ones that seem to say "You have to read this book! It's so incredible!" without telling me, specifically, why. The reviews I love best are the ones that have the potential to make me consider a story in a new light--even a story I've already read--or that pull me in with their passion while providing enough highlights from the book that I can judge whether it's one that I might truly enjoy as well.

What qualities do you appreciate most in a book review?

Happy Friday! Happy writing (and reading)!

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Jeni Bell

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