Wednesday , December 6 2023
"We do write negative reviews when called for, but try to always end on a positive note," says Williamson.

Interview with Hilary Williamson of BookLoons

Founded in 2002 by Hilary Williamson, BookLoons now offers readers close to 10,000 reviews on various genres — from children's to teens to most adult categories. Williamson is very selective when recruiting reviewers and edits all reviews herself before they appear on the site.  On average, between 100-150 reviews are added to BookLoons each month. If you're interested in becoming a BookLoons reviewer or would like to submit your book for review, contact Williamson at [email protected].

Thanks for stopping by at Blogcritics today, Hilary. Please tell us about your book review site. How and when did it get started?

I launched BookLoons in Fall 2000 as a place for people to connect to books that interest them, in a broad range of genres, covering mainly new releases but also old favorites that site visitors might have missed over the years …

What makes BookLoons stand out among so many other online review sites?

That question might better be addressed to our site visitors :-).

But we do aim for a consistent quality of review. I pick reviewers carefully and edit all our reviews. We also cover a broad range of genres, which some might see as an advantage or the converse. 30-40 new reviews are added weekly. Also reviews (we have close to 10,000 now) remain online permanently and are available through a variety of search paths.

What is the most challenging aspect of running a review site?

Time. I write a significant percentage of our reviews myself, do all the site updates, and also spend a great deal of time communicating via email with publicists and reviewers.

How many books do you review a month?

We post somewhere between 100 and 150 new reviews every month on BookLoons.

How many staff reviewers do you have?

We have close to thirty, about a quarter Canadian and the majority from the United States. However, some are much more active than others, and some are quite specialized in what they review, while others (including myself) read broadly.

How should an author contact you about a review request? Do you review e-books as well?

We obtain most review copies directly from publishers and publicists. We don't review e-books yet as most of our reviewers don't have good e-book devices. Authors also occasionally contact us directly ([email protected]) in which case I ask for a summary, publishing details, and a link to an online excerpt so that reviewers can assess whether or not the book interests them.

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?

There is certainly a fair amount of "facile praise," not only among review sites (and on bookseller sites) but also on book jackets from other authors – as a reader, I find the latter most disappointing, when an author I trust leads me astray.

I believe that an objective review should let someone else know what the reviewer liked or disliked about a book, so the site visitor can get a sense of whether or not it would appeal to them.

We do write negative reviews when called for, but try to always end on a positive note.

Over the years, I have had a few authors email to say they were very unhappy about reviews. My policy in that case is never to modify the review, but rather to take it off the site if the author wants that. (I've done it 2 or 3 times in the last 8 years).

There was a lot of controversy last year between print publication reviewers and online bloggers. In your opinion, what defines a "legitimate" reviewer?

That's an interesting one! We actually wrote an article ("What's in a Review?") on the subject last year with input from all BookLoons reviewers – and they had a lot to say.

My bottom line (quoted from the article): "First and foremost, surely it's a wonderful thing to have this powerful grass-roots resource (the Internet, bloggers and review sites) spreading the word about good books and authors?" and in conclusion, "While I hope that literary reviewers will continue to remind us of what makes great 'writing', I – along with fellow readers and reader reviewers – feel perfectly free, ready and willing to comment on what makes great 'reading'."

What is your stand on paid reviews?

They're not reviews; they're part of book marketing, which is fine as long as you don't call them reviews and are above board with site visitors. I do not accept paid reviews on BookLoons, nor do I accept fees for featuring books on the site (as I understand some sites do). I do run ads to cover hosting fees, but they're clearly labeled as such.

Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books they review? What about advance review copies (ARCs)?

ARCs should not be sold – that's clearly indicated on the covers. But I think it's fine for reviewers to sell final copies if they want to do so, as the books are generally their only payment for reviews. I give my copies away (those I don't keep for my ever expanding personal library :-)).

Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?

When I write (or edit) reviews, I try to be tactful. But the review is not for the author (aside from helping give his or her book exposure), it's for the reader wondering if that book is to their taste. So I try to focus on that.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a reviewer?

Reading of course (and getting new releases of favorite authors early!) But also, the excitement (that all readers have) of discovering an excellent new author, and being able to play a small part in sharing that discovery with the reading world. One of our reviewers (Josephine Locke) put it well in "What's in a Review?", saying "My hope is that something in any review, even minutely, plays a note, reaching out and touching potential readers." That's why all of us read and review after all.

Thanks for this interview, Hilary!

About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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