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On Book Reviews & Reviewers

> I'm writing to ask for advice, please, on how to address two factual errors that were pointed out by a less than cordial book reviewer.

While I'm all in favor of producing the best and most error-free book possible:

Beware of taking book reviews too seriously as critiques. Particularly unprofessional book reviews, which are often what appears on the net and in amateur "zines." (I have, BTW, been a professional book reviewer for several well-regarded magazines.) Unprofessional book reviewers make many errors of their own, including:

* Judging a book entirely by whether they personally like it, and/or whether it is tailored to their own level of interest, knowledge, or skill; instead of judging the book by whether the publication's readers will like it. Reviewers are assigned quite a few books they don't actually like much. They should be able to still realize and state that these are good books of their kind.

* Indulging in personal emotional agendas, such as competitiveness. Reviewers are writers; some may feel they could have written a better book, or maybe they are currently writing a competitive book, or maybe they even published one. A professional reviewer (or writer of any kind) has to realize that there is competitive material on the market, and to acknowledge its good points as well as its bad ones. (BTW: If you don't recognize your competition's good points it's a lot harder to beat them on the market.) Another (less common) emotional agenda is personal like or dislike of the book's author, or a competitive author.

* Not reading the book thoroughly--just skimming, or just reading the first chapter, or reading the press release and jacket copy, but none of the book. Although I never reviewed a book I had not thoroughly read, and would not dream of doing so, I'm afraid many professional reviewers don't read all books thoroughly either. Reviews don't pay well for the time you put into them. One of the reasons reviewers need a press release with the book is to crib from it. But at least professional reviewers who have not read a book thoroughly know better than to publish a detailed negative review. In fact, since they're largely rephrasing your marketing copy, the review is most likely to be positive or at least neutral. By neutral, I mean things like spending most of the review listing facts like the titles of all the short stories in the book, without much pretense of evaluation.

If you get a review (or for that matter, an attempt at editing your work) that's mostly nitpicking, actively looking to find things wrong, then the reviewer (probably for reasons you'll never know) is indulging in some kind of personal agenda. Frankly, I just ignore reviews like that. So the reviewer found two errors in your book? Big deal. If anyone's agenda is to find something wrong (or that's not done the way they would have done it), then they can always do so. If the "errors" are few, tiny, and/or complaints that you chose one way to do things from among several good ways--you have a good book.

However, if these errors will be important to a large enough portion of your readers (not just that you personally feel bad about imperfections hardly anyone will notice), you can run off an errata sheet on a copier and tuck the sheet into each book as you send it out. I've bought books like that (almost all scholarly ones), and it seems more common than pasting an errata sheet in. If you find any more errors, you can just expand the errata sheet. Do use a whole sheet of paper even for two errors; in my experience tiny errata slips with one sentence on them just get lost. For high-volume sales, though, inserting an errata sheet could be very time consuming.

If you think the reviewer made errors in his or her review, and these are definitely errors and not questions of opinion, you can write a polite letter to the publication. Thank them heartily for reviewing your book, but mention that the reviewer somehow made a few errors (important ones, don't nitpick) that you'd like to correct in the interests of your readers. Word it in a way that promotes your book. The publication may well print the letter, so it will be an additional piece of publicity for you.

As for review quotes, with judicious extractions you can usually get some very nice statements from even a backhanded review, and use those for your ongoing publicity.

Think of the review as a tool for whatever positive things you can get out of it. Ignore the reviewer's personal agendas.

Lavolta Press

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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