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Litblog reviews – What you said

June 2, 2012
Help Books Clker.com

Book and Question Mark graphic courtesy OCAL, via clker.com.

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about what readers look for in litblog reviews. There were some wonderful responses with a reasonable consensus, so I thought it would be worth reporting on that. Here goes …

Style and format

Most people prefer a “personal and quirky” (to use Stefanie’s description) style to a more formal academic one. They want to hear the blogger’s “voice”. Some suggested that the style can vary with the type of book reviewed.

Readers want analysis – that is, reasons, literary or otherwise, for the blogger’s opinions – over what Catherine, Laura and others described as unsupported gushiness, cursoriness and venom. DKS at Pykk said she was looking for “discussion” about books rather than reviews per se, and Stu welcomes comparison with other works.

Short reviews are preferred, though a couple of commenters like longer ones.  And everyone wants essay-style rather than dot-points.

Few commented on tags, categories and labels, though one did say “author” and “country” tags were useful. This makes me think that tags (or whatever, depending on the blog platform) may help people find a blog but, once there, readers tend not to use them to navigate around the blog. Then again, perhaps I asked too many questions and this one didn’t really engage the commenters.

In addition to my questions, other ideas were offered, including the need for white space to make reading easier on the eye.

As for the Oxford comma? It was a pretty resounding no – except to avoid ambiguity.

Content

Most of my questions were to do with content and so to keep it short I am going to use dot points. Shock! Horror! But, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they!

  • Plot summary and spoilers. There was an overwhelming “yes” for a plot summary – as long as it’s not too long – and “no” for spoilers (though one or two don’t mind spoilers, particularly with a warning).
  • Background information about the author, etc. Again, most people like the inclusion of some background. But there were qualifications. People only want information that adds context to the work being discussed, otherwise a link to another site (such as Wikipedia or an author site) is the way to go.
  • Quotes. Quotes are generally liked too, but not too many or too long, and accompanied by a reason for their inclusion.
  • Images. Not many seem to care about this but Kim did make a point about including picture credits. Ah, a woman after my own heart.
  • Awards won. Again, this was not a hotly contested issue. Some found awards information useful, some didn’t care, and one didn’t want it.
  • Well-known versus lesser-known or hard-to-get books. There wasn’t a lot of discussion on this topic, either, but those who did, such as Karen Lee and Judith, said they read blogs to discover new-to-them works. They didn’t seem to mind whether those books might turn out hard to get. After all, there are always libraries and on-line second-hand booksellers to help with this, aren’t there?
  • Reading challenges. Only one response to this, and it was a no. This suggests to me that challenges are fine for bloggers to take part in, but they are not important to those who read blogs.
  • Publication details: The few who responded on this were generally in favour but didn’t see it as essential.
  • Links to other reviews: Again, there was minimal response to this question.
  • Information about where to buy the reviewed book: There was minimal response here too, and the two who did respond said “no”.

Some other ideas were offered about content. Justine said she particularly wants to know whether a trusted blogger recommends the book being reviewed. Delia and Tracey like to know why the blogger chose that book to read. And John talked of developing a critical culture part of which involves, he said, relating the reviewed book to other books and identifying its place in the wider culture.

SO, thanks everyone for responding to my post with such enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. You’ve given me much to think about …

Note: I haven’t named every commenter in my response here, but please know that every comment was read and did contribute to this follow-up post.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2012 12:55 am

    Great post! What an interesting and discerning bunch of followers you have. As I have book reviews on my mind this was very useful!

    • June 3, 2012 8:44 am

      Thanks Catherine … I think you’re all a great bunch too. In a way the consensus wasn’t surprising I suppose, and yet it was interesting just how much there was! If that makes sense!

  2. June 3, 2012 6:17 am

    Always amusing to see the depth of feeling about the Oxford comma.

  3. June 3, 2012 8:06 am

    Wow, this post is really interesting. As someone who runs an on-line literary journal, Verity La, I often wonder how to approach the review side of things (I don’t review, but the journal has volunteer reviewiers). This post has really helped in terms of what readers are looking for in an on-line review. Thanks heaps.

    • June 3, 2012 8:47 am

      Oh Nigel … That really makes me feel that this process has been useful as well as fun. I should pop into Verity La more often than I do.

  4. June 3, 2012 1:52 pm

    I loved reading the comments on the original post. It was interesting to see where many of us agreed, as well as where our “tastes” diverged. Nice summary, WG!

  5. June 5, 2012 1:17 am

    Thanks for the summary. I had read all the comments on the original but it is nice to have it winderfully encapsulated :)

  6. June 5, 2012 3:57 am

    Oh I have printed out several posts now – this one and the original questions post as well as the page from the Australian reviewer site you linked in the question post. I do little summary-type things on my blog and although it’s really only for my own use, I’ve managed to attract a couple “followers.” (omg)

    I’d really like to improve my review writing and these posts have been such a help in directing my focus. I don’t know as I’ll ever have a “voice” but most of the other points are doable – (g).

    Btw & fwiw, I only use the Oxford comma in cases of ambiguity.

    • June 5, 2012 6:34 pm

      LOL re answering on the Oxford comma …

      Thanks, Bekah, for joining in and letting us know you found the discussion interesting.

  7. June 6, 2012 2:55 am

    Very interesting – I missed the original post, so it was good to see this summary. Spoilers have never bothered me, because I have a terrible memory and by the time I get around to reading the book, I’ll have forgotten the spoiler long ago. It would only bother me if I read the review while reading the book, which I almost never do. But I know I’m in a minority, so generally I avoid them, or print a big warning if I’m about to divulge something.

    But other than the spoiler thing, I agreed with the other points. I do want a personal view. For me, the best reviews are those where I get a clear picture of whether I’ll like the book, even if I disagree with the blogger’s own opinion – for example, where the blogger gives a bad review that, by clearly articulating what didn’t work for him/her, makes me want to read the book because I think it would work for me. Does that make sense?

    • June 6, 2012 8:28 am

      Thanks for joining in Andrew. I’m pretty much with you and Stefanie on the spoiler thing … But, like you, I’ll give a big warning if I’m going to give anything away.

      And yes, you make perfect sense about knowing you may want to read a book a blogger didn’t like if their reasons are clear and seem to be issues that wouldn’t bother you. Thanks for adding that perspective.

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