Irene Watson is the award-winning author of The Sitting Swing and The Story Must be Told. She’s also the Managing Editor of Reader Views, a book review site catering to readers, writers, and the publishing community. Started in 2006, Reader Views reviews both adult and children’s books. One innovative aspect of this site is that they have children reviewers reviewing juvenile titles. Although Reader Views charges authors for reviews, Irene clarifies that payment isn’t for the review itself, but for the processing involved in publishing the review. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions about her site and the craft of reviewing.
Thanks for being here today, Irene. How long have you been reviewing?
Our online review service has been operational for 2.5 years.
Please tell us about Reader Views.
In 2005 I had my book published and like most authors found it a challenge to get reviews. Knowing there was a need I put out a call for reviewers and was overwhelmed with the response. Then I put out a call for books to review and was even more overwhelmed with the response. At the same time I realized there was a need for budget-friendly publicity packages that authors could afford. Not every author can hire a publicist for $10,000 three month contract. I added publicity packages within a month and those are going strong.
What makes Reader Views stand out among so many other online review sites?
We offer the personal touch. All emails get answered, we become friends. Once we work with an author we keep promoting them. We are like family – hard to get rid off! Also, our reviews are syndicated and appear in USA Today and Reuters, as well as eight TV stations and several newspapers. No other online review service has this feature. And, our endorsements appear on many books that are found in places like Barnes and Noble. We also have annual literary awards and the books/reviews are listed in the BRI sent to libraries and book buyers.
What is the most challenging aspect of running a review site?
Reviewers that flake out after receiving books to review.
How many books do you review a month?
An average of 120. (This is for Reader Views and Reader Views Kids combined.)
How many staff reviewers do you have?
Our reviewers are volunteers. We have 23 kids and 18 adult reviewers. Of those, there are eight that do express reviews.
Are you currently recruiting more reviewers? If so, what are your guidelines?
No, we aren't. However, I look at all applications. If I see one that would fit into the mold I connect with the person. Our needs are people with very good writing skills.
How should an author contact you about a review request?
Our submission guidelines spell out how to request reviews. They can be found here.
Do you review e-books as well?
Yes, we do.
How do you select the books you review?
If the books meet the criteria we have we accept them for a free review. (We don't review pornography or racist themes.) Once accepted the book goes on a pending list. The reviewers pick the books they want to review. If the book isn't picked within 90 days, it is taken off the list and donated.
How do you determine which reviews to post on your site?
All reviews are posted on our site unless the book has an extremely negative review.
Do you think there s a lot of facile praise among many online review sites?
I think there is. I think many people are afraid to give their opinion of what they read, especially family and friends. They tend to "flower" up the reviews.
What is your policy when it comes to negative reviews?
We take each one on its merit. If the book has a lot of grammatical errors or typos, we suggest the author edit the book before publishing more books. If the storyline is bad, we tell them that too. In most cases these are self-published books where the author didn't have the funds to have the manuscript edited before publishing. We try to work with the author and do what is best for them.
There was a lot of controversy last year between print publication reviewers and online bloggers. In your opinion, what defines a legitimate reviewer?
Credibility is very important. It's important to check out what the reviewer will do for you, the author. If it's just someone who wants free books they will post a brief synopsis on the blog only. If it's serious reviewers, they will post the review on their blog as well as Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and such places. I don't take personal blogs as a good source to read credible reviews.
What is your stand on paid reviews?
Being a review service I know there is huge overhead involved in giving a review. Many people don't realize this. If the review is from a credible source the processing of the review (aside from reading the book and writing the review) takes about 2 hours of work. In our case, it costs us an average of $35.00 to give a free review.
I am for authors paying. However, not for the review itself but for the processing – sort of the shipping/handling aspect. I know many authors and "experts" in the publishing world don't feel reviews should be paid for – however, I don't see these same people ever suggesting how our overhead could be covered.
Do you think it's okay for reviewers to resell the books they review?
Yes, I do. The reviewer took the time and effort to read the book and give a review. The least they could get is a small reimbursement for their time. The books would never sell at the retail price so if the reviewer could get at least $5.00 for the book, good for them! A reviewer gives the service to the author and should be compensated… it's not the author that gives the service to the reviewer by having them read the book.
What about Advance Review Copies (ARCs)?
No, I don't think ARCs should be sold. They are uncorrected books and should only be used for reading purposes for the review.
What are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?
Only give a synopsis of the book and not include their personal opinion. Or, they come from their ego and trash the book in their review.
With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?
Exploding! However, that said, only the credible ones will survive. It takes a lot of time, effort, and funds to have a book review site. There have been many that tried to establish one only to fail.
Do you keep the author's feelings in mind when you review?
No. The reviewers are asked to give their honest, personal opinion of what they read.
Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?
Yes, we sure have. In most cases it's because of editing issues and they are embarrassed. We assess each one and check to see if their response has any merit. We offer another review after the editing issues have been cleared up, or the storyline made more readable.
What does your site offer readers?
Besides reviews and opportunity to buy the book (through Amazon) they can read or listen to interviews with the authors or watch a book video. We also have a monthly book giveaway contest.
What promotional opportunities does your site offer authors?
We have twenty different packages we offer authors. These are things like reviews, interviews, book video production, audiobook production, publicity (pre/post pub), editing, proposal coaching, securing a publishing contact, etc. Full information can be found here.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a reviewer?
Connecting on a personal level with the authors.
Is there anything else you would like to say about you or Reader Views?
We are a one-stop center for authors needs.
Thanks for the interview, Irene!