Bev Walton-Porter is an author, reviewer, freelancer, editor and publisher. She's the lady behind the succesful ezine, Scribe & Quill. Her books include Sun Signs for Writers, The Complete Writer: A Guide to Tapping Your Full Potential, and Mending Fences. Her work has appeared in many publications, both print and online. In this interview, Porter talks about her e-zine and about various aspects of book reviewing. She welcomes e-books for review and is currently looking for more reviewers to join her staff.
How long have you been reviewing?
Wow…let me think! About 11 years, when I first became a full-time professional with my writing. I have reviewed books for Inkspot (the awesome site run by Debbie Ridpath Ohi many years ago), The Charlotte Austin Review website (now defunct), Bridges (based out of B.C. Canada), Suite101, Inscriptions, and, of course, Scribe & Quill.
Please tell us about Scribe & Quill.
My site isn't just for book reviews. Scribe & Quill covers many areas related to writing, reading and publishing – including book reviews. I first launched Scribe & Quill as a small e-zine on ListBot in the late 90s and it has evolved into a larger e-zine with 6,000+ subscribers, plus a web site, editing services and online professional writing courses that dovetail with and complement the zine. I think longevity is our greatest hallmark. Scribe & Quill has been around in some form or another for over a decade, and in the online world (especially for small-size e-zines), that's a long time!
What is the most challenging aspect of running a review site?
Finding reliable reviewers who are also willing to review both print and electronically published books. We also like our reviewers to be willing to review any type of book, and sometimes that can be a challenge as well.
How many books do you review a month?
Since we no longer publish monthly, but rather quarterly, we publish five to ten reviews per issue. Due to the influx of review books, it's likely we'll publish additional ones on the site in between issues of the zine.
How many staff reviewers do you have?
Ten, but we are looking for more.
Are you currently recruiting more reviewers? If so, what are your guidelines?
How should an author contact you about a review request? Do you review e-books as well?
Have them send an e-mail to [email protected] with REVIEW REQUEST in the subject line. We welcome e-books and actually prefer electronic copies of review books.
How do you select the books you review? How do you determine which reviews to post on your site?
If you send us a book, unrequested, we may or may not review it, depending on our current queue. It's best to send a query first, then we'll let you know how to submit your book for review. We receive countless books per year for review and most are suitable for review. However, if your book includes questonable or perhaps illegal content, we may choose not to review it. In all cases, we reserve the right not to review any particular book due to a variety of reasons. However, we publish reviews of all books we select for review.
Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites? What is your policy when it comes to negative reviews?
First and foremost, we want honest reviews. That means that while we are always pleased to find books that get an excellent review from us, we are aware that some books won't always hit that top mark. Therefore, while we will run a review about a book that may not be completely positive, we try to be tactful about our criticisms and comments about a book. There's usually something constructive that can be said in the face of a not-so-good book. For instance, there's a tactful, yet honest way of mentioning that a book's characters could be fleshed out, and then offering suggestions for how the author might have done that more successfully.
There was a lot of controversy last year between print publication reviewers and online bloggers. In your opinion, what defines a "legitimate" reviewer?
If you review a book, whether in print or online, you're "legitimate." I think it's a silly argument that is a waste of time and breath. Just review books and stop with the silly in-fighting over such things. We have better tasks to accomplish and can better use our energies.
What is your stand on paid reviews?
I believe if a publication pays for reviews, that's obviously a good thing. However, if you're asking if I think it's legitimate for authors or publishers to pay for people to review their books, I would have to say I believe that's unethical. If you pay someone to review a book and you're an author or a publisher, then it seems you're 'buying' a positive review. In addition, I believe if you have a personal or professional 'axe to grind' against an author or publisher, I believe you should not review any books related to said author or publisher. I've seen reviewers and others try to inflict damage on an author's reputation and work by posting less-than-positive reviews that were based on a personal vendetta rather than an objective view of the book itself.
Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books or advance review copies they review?
If a reviewer has many books and needs, for whatever reason, to thin out his/her previously read and reviewed books, then I think donating them to the library would be the first recommended action. I don't believe advance review copies should be sold or donated under any circumstance, though.
What are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?
Going over or under the word count. This is because they either haven't been detailed enough with their review, or they haven't imparted the necessary information and criticism in a succinct and cogent manner.
With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?
I believe online review sites will continue to grow, and if there's a shortage of reviews in print papers, that void will be filled by online reviews and reviewers.
Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?
Yes, in that comments or criticism about a book and its author should always be constructive, as well as honest. I believe a criticism or a comment should be constructive rather than just mean or intentionally nit-picky. Authors put their hearts and souls into their books.
Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?
Yes, on occasion. I respond to the author and/or publisher and explain that we strive for honest reviews of books, but realize that reviews are subjective. While one reader or reviewer may love a book, another one may not for various reasons. My stance is if you don't want an honest review of your book by a reviewer, then perhaps you shouldn't send us a copy for review. Also, keep in mind that one reviewer's take on a book does not necessarily reflect how I personally would view that book, nor is it the end-all, be-all review of the book.
What does your site offer readers?
We offer articles, interviews, columns and book reviews about all aspects of writing, authors and publishing. We also occasionally publish fiction and poetry, so there's a smorgasbord of available 'treats' for people who love to read.
What promotional opportunities does your site offer authors?
Authors may send us press releases about their upcoming book releases and we'll run them in our e-zine for no charge. In addition, if an author is launching a promotional tour, we'll run announcements on that as well. Finally, we do offer paid text ads and banners for more lengthy and concentrated exposure.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a reviewer? The most challenging?
The most rewarding is, of course, discovering new authors and books that you may not have otherwise discovered. The most challenging is balancing the commitment to both readers and authors/publishers when it comes to a fair and honest assessment of a book.
Is there anything else you would like to say about you or Scribe & Quill?
I'd also like to invite readers to also visit a couple of my other sites they may find of interest: Sun Signs for Writers, Int'l Order of Horror Professionals site and my own website with links and information on my nonfiction and fiction books. Thanks for giving me this opportunity!
Thank you, Bev!