Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the founder of Authors' Coalition, an award-winning author and poet, a columnist for My Shelf, and an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. Her books include the popular titles The Frugal Promoter and The Frugal Editor, both USA Book News' Award winners. Carolyn is also the editor of The New Book Review, a book review blog with a different twist: authors may submit reviews which have already been written about their books, thus extending the life of the reviews. In this interview, Johnson discusses the influence and effectiveness of reviews in terms of book promotion, among other things.
Thanks for being here today, Carolyn. How long have you been reviewing?
I've been reviewing for about eight years. Now I really only review movies occasionally for the Glendale News Press and even more infrequently for my series called Reviews for Riters ™. The latter are reviews written for well-known books but rather than recommending a book (or not!) they are examinations of how master authors tackle specific elements of writing. Thus they are directed at writers — really — more than readers. They're really tools for learning our craft.
Please tell us about The New Book Review. How and when did it get started?
The New Book Review is unusual in that it does not offer review services (either free or paid) to authors. Rather it is a place where authors can submit reviews that have already been written for their book, thus extending the life of the review. Readers are welcome to submit, too. The New Book Review is a blog rather than a site and the submission guidelines may be found in the left column. Of course, writers must have permission from their reviewers to republish the review and must give the reviewer full credit for their work.
What makes The New Book Review different?
Probably just that it is simple and easy to remember. THE NEW BOOK REVIEW. Its concept may be more original than the name. The "new" means that I take a the "new' view to books. Reviews for all books (other than pornography) are welcome. If someone loved a book enough to write a review for it, it belongs at The New Book Review. By the way, I will accept critical reviews but not slash and burn critiques. If the reviewer can't recommend a book, then why would my readers want to know about it?
What is the most challenging aspect of running your blog?
As you can see, I make it easy. If people don't submit material in a way that I prescribe in the guidelines, it doesn't get published. That's a good lesson for all. To promote well, authors (and others) must make it easy on the editor.
Do you have staff reviewers?
I suppose every person who submits a review is on my staff. Kind of a neat concept, don't you think?
How should an author contact you about a review request?
Just follow the guidelines on The New Book Review.
How do you determine which reviews to post on your blog?
As long as a review meets the guidelines (found in the left column of the blog), I accept them. When needed, I edit them. Sometimes there is a wait. I try to never post more than one review a day. All those who submit are asked to do a little promotion of the fact that their review has appeared. That helps all the participating authors get more exposure.
Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites?
There was a lot of controversy last year between print publication reviewers and online bloggers. In your opinion, what defines a ‘legitimate’ reviewer?
It is very hard to draw a line, isn't it? Weren't the reviewers for the New York Times at one point beginners. Does one have to have a BA in English Lit or an MFA in writing to be considered an expert. I think the point here is that people should always be aware of where the material they read is coming from. What is the reader's standard for credibility? Apply those standards. No one should believe everything they read. On the other hand, opinions of others should be respected. Just because a reviewer doesn't agree with us, doesn't mean that their opinion is not valid. This is one of those arguments never to be won, one of those problems never to be solved.
What is your stand on paid reviews?
I'm against them. Paying for something undermines its credibility. And, yes, that even applies to the paid reviews that Kirkus does.
Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books they review? What about advance review copies?
No, reviewers should donate their books to libraries. It is a fine point of ethics but an important one.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?
You named it! Facile reviews.
With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?
I think there is a place for shorter, quicker reviews online regardless of what the LA Times does with their pages. Still, one hates to see lovely old review sections in journals and newspapers deteriorate.
Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?
Absolutely. But I also keep the future of her craft in mind.
Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?
Not so far. I did quit reviewing for a newspaper who demanded that I write only good things because it was a "family newspaper." This is a freedom of the press issue. Reviews — once committed — get to say what they want. Only their own standards should affect what they say.
What does your blog offer readers?
The New Book Review offers readers a variety of review for books that they might miss if they only peruse the major journals.
What promotional opportunities does your blog offer authors?
Oh, you know me. All publicity and exposure is good publicity and exposure.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a reviewer?
Well, I am an author's advocate — at least with some of my writing. Therefore I'm always interested in helping authors reach readers with what they are passionate about. That's certainly why they write, right?
Is there anything else you would like to say about you or The New Book Review?
Just please come to The New Book Review. To find new and different material to read. Authors should come to reach new readers, cross-promote, and grow their footprint on the Google search engine.
Thanks, Carolyn! It was a pleasure interviewing you!