There is a difference between a book review and a book recommendation. (Publishers Weekly blogger Bethanne Patrick)
As I’ve been writing this blog for a few months now, it’s probably about time I wrote a review policy. My policy doesn’t differ much from those of other bloggers (to whom I am grateful for support, encouragement and help, including Lisa at ANZLitLovers, Kimbofo at Reading Matters, and Tom at A Common Reader) but I guess it is still worth putting my own stamp on it here!
The books I review come from various sources. Many are mine – or have been lent to me or been borrowed from a library – but many others are review copies sent to me by publishers and/or authors. It is mainly for this reason that I decided to go a bit more formal, policy-wise that is, not style-wise! First off, a bit about my background:
- I am not a professional reviewer, but I have been reading for as long as I can remember
- I have been a member of various bookgroups (in person and online) for nearly 30 years, and so have thought long on what makes a book tick (for me), why I read, and what I look for in my reading
- I am a (retired) librarian/archivist, though I spent most of my career working with audiovisual media, not books
- My degree – albeit completed over 30 years ago – was in English Literature
When it comes to reviewing, I see myself as an analytical critic rather than a critical (in the modern negative connotation of the word) analyst. In other words, I like to explore, understand and describe what makes a work tick rather than look for things to “criticise”. I like most of what I read. This is partly because I try to choose books that I think I will like – I can’t see the point of wasting my precious time on reading something that is clearly not my cup-of-tea. It is also because once I commit to a work I look to understand and appreciate it. I might find things to “fault”, things I don’t like, but I also tend to always find things to enjoy, to approve. My goal is to come away from a book having gained something from it. Why else would I have read it? (In other words, if I mistakenly start a book that doesn’t appeal to me, I don’t finish it – and I don’t review books I don’t finish.)
That said, my reviews are my honest opinion – I am not going to enthuse where it is not warranted. I honour and respect authors but I also honour and respect readers. I aim to be fair to both – after all, my opinions are just that, my opinions and are framed by my specific likes, dislikes, preferences and, I suppose if I’m honest, biases. All my reviews should be read in the light of this fact…and, probably, the more of them you read the more you will discern my preferences and biases! I would call my reviewing style semi-formal – it’s personalised but essentially traditional in structure, and is sometimes supported by a little research.
I am happy to accept books for review, on the following basis:
- they are the sorts of books I like to read (that I would normally buy or borrow)
- they will be read within reasonable time but their priority will be depend on other commitments at the time
- their source will be acknowledged
- they will be retained in my library, or passed on to others (by my choice)
Publishers who would like to contact me regarding sending books for review can email me at wg1775(at)gmail(dot)com
The sorts of books I read are:
- Australian literature – classic and contemporary
- Literary fiction, in English language, of any nationality
- Literary classics, from the 18th century on
- Biography and autobiography, including travel literature
- General, not academic, history and theory of literature
- Social commentary and history, particularly relating to Australia
It would be rare for me to read outside this group. I rarely read crime (true or otherwise), science fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure, thrillers, sagas, or books in series. Neither, I’m afraid, do I read self-published works, proof copies or unpublished manuscripts.
17 thoughts on “Review policy”
I’m intrigued as to why you have a blanket ban on self-published books Sue.
Good question, Louise. To be bald about it, it’s because I don’t have time to read books that I have no notion of whether they are likely to appeal to me. It sounds ungenerous I suppose but a book that is “formally” published has gone through some external (to the author) selection and editing process which implies that some sort of standard has been met – and if it is published by a publisher I respect, I have a good idea of just what that standard is. Does that make sense?
Here is a short excerpt from my new book aimed at helping students negotiate the difficult passage from high school to college. If after reading it you would like a copy for review, you will find contact information below.
Editor-in-Chief, UCLA Daily Bruin (1964-65)
The Wall Street Journal
During my senior year, I tutored writing to make a bit of much-needed cash. I remember one case in particular. A girl came to me with a note from a professor: “Young lady, I advise you either to drop my class immediately or prepare to fail it.” Obviously she was bright enough; after all she was a student at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). So where was the problem?
I read a couple of her essays that had gotten such poor marks. There was no question that she had a lot of interesting things to say. Equally, there was no question that she was saying them badly.
It very quickly became apparent where the problem lay. She simply was not fully using one of the fundamental principles of good writing, because she thought that consistently applying it was just too much trouble. It took a couple of sessions to convince her that it wasn’t too much trouble — in fact it was crucial. Her writing immediately began to improve. At the end of the term, not only didn’t she fail the class, she had pulled her grade all the way up from a certain “F” to a gratifying “B”.
This was not an isolated case. When students were having writing difficulties, it was generally because they were: 1) unfamiliar with a fundamental principle, 2) inconsistently applying it, 3) improperly applying it, or 4) not applying it at all.
I am not saying that to be a good writer, you should first study journalism. However, because it was the antithesis of the poor writing I had been doing previously, journalism gave me a flying start. Over the past four decades I think I have added some insights into good writing that I didn’t learn from journalism. Or at least I have made explicit certain key ideas which previously were implicit, and therefore poorly applied.
The title of the book is The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional. To request a review copy, please contact me at: email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org.
It strikes me that having read “The Bush” by Don Watson, that book and my own new book, “Fire in the Afternoon” (Halstead Press, 2014) would be interesting to you for review. My book (of mainly poetry) is especially local to you; I think you have heard me read at “The Gods” in Canberra. Can I post one of my books to you?
Hi John, Nice to hear from you. I’m not sure I have heard you at The Gods, though I’ve read you in The Invisible Thread. I have only got to The Gods a very few times due to the fact that Tuesday clashes with other regular commitments. I would be interested to read your book, though you need to know that I’m way behind with my reviewing – I have books here that I received in early October! If a delay doesn’t concern you, then please contact me at email@example.com.
Hi, I stumbled upon your blog and an entry on Ernestine Hill. I would like to let you know that a biography about her was published by Allen&Unwin on Australia Day. The writer is Marianne van Velzen. Being a Dutchie myself the name caught my attention. Just wanted to let you know because its the first biography written about this particular journalist/writer.
Thanks Bob, I’m very pleased to hear about this and appreciate your telling me. Will check it out if I can.
You might be interested in borrowing Black Cockatoo (Magabala 2018) from your library to read and review. Although a YA novella, it fits with your interests- Australian literature and Social commentary and history, particularly relating to Australia.
The novella is written by Aboriginal man, Carl Merrison, and explores life and culture of an Aboriginal girl in a remote Australian town.
Black Cockatoo is a vignette that follows Mia, a young Aboriginal girl as she explores the fragile connections of family and culture.
Mia is a 13-year-old girl from a remote community in the Kimberley. She is saddened by the loss of her brother as he distances himself from the family. She feels powerless to change the things she sees around her… until one day she rescues her totem animal, the dirran black cockatoo, and soon discovers her own inner strength.
Black Cockatoo is a wonderful small tale on the power of standing up for yourself, culture and ever-present family ties.
Thanks very much Hakea Hustler. I hadn’t heard of this one. Will add it to my list. (BTW I deleted your repeat comment as I suspect you made it thinking this one had been lost, but it was because the first comment by someone here has to be “approved”. In future any comments you make should publish immediately.)
Probably a long shot but I thought i’d ask….
I’m a writer based in Alice Springs, my first book “The Last Free Man and Other Stories” has recently been published by Truth Serum Press, a small indie publisher based in Adelaide. It’s a collection of short stories loosely based on my experiences living and working in remote roadhouses on the Nullarbor and in the NT. If you’ve read the short stories of W. Somerset Maugham and Henry Lawson that’s the sort of vibe I was aiming for. My publisher is only a small indie outfit and doesn’t have the huge publicity budgets that the big corporate publishers have so I was wondering if you’d be interested in reviewing my book?
Thanks so much for contacting me, Lewis. I understand your challenge in being reviewed but right now I’m snowed under with review copies. I am currently reading books sent to me last September – and am struggling to find time to read some of my own choices. So, I’m so sorry, but I don’t feel I can take on another book right now. I do wish you well.
Hi – I am the Publisher of Clan Destine Press and am wondering if you might be interesting in reviewing our new historical novel – Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie by Fin J Ross – set in colonial Melbourne.
Hi Lindy. Thanks for contacting me. The best way to offer books for review is to use my contact email … as given on this page. wg1775[at]gmail.com. This novel sounds really interesting but I have to say that due to challenging personal circumstances I am really oversubscribed with books to read right now and am loth to accept more.
It was the new template (21st November ’21) that saw me discovering areas I’d not perused before, even though I’ve been following you for 7 or 8 years now, ST.
Looking at your stated criteria I’m ever so pleased to’ve fitted in to them .. 🙂
Wow, M-R. All these were in the old menu bar … But I guess they’d just become part of the furniture! An Australian woman writer (unless self-published) was always going to fit my review policy! I love that you’ve gone exploring.
Whereas I am ashamed that after all this time I needed to.
PS I love love love that you’ve dated this!