A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

What Makes for a Good Book Review: A Publisher's Perspective

I asked Henry Neufeld, the founder and owner of Energion Publications out of Florida to write a guest post on what makes for a good book review, particularly on a blog. Today, I post part one. Part two will be published on Thursday.

Full Disclosure: Henry has published two of my books-- The Character of Our Discontent and The Politics of Witness. I am also a co-editor of The Areopagus Critical Christian Issues Series.

Craig L. Adams recently wrote a post titled Why I Never Write Book Reviews. He followed this up with a vigorous critique of a recent book review he read. In the light of these posts, Allan thought it might be valuable to hear about book reviews from a publisher who seeks them. I'm the owner of Energion Publications and also editor-in-chief. I do have some thoughts about book reviews from the perspective of a publisher, but I'm going to write more from the perspective of a reader. I'll explain why shortly.

There are two types of reviews a company will seek out. The first is from established outlets. These are people who regularly review books (or other products) and publish those reviews. They have an established reputation. Companies are likely to inundate them with unsolicited books and products in the hope that they'll get a little bit of good publicity.

Unlike many people, including the FTC, I don't distinguish these reviewers based on the way their content is delivered. There is good journalism on blogs, in print, and on more formal web sites. If it's good journalism, it's good, irrespective of delivery. If it's bad … well, you get the point.

The important distinction is whether this is an occasional review in the flow of other information, or whether it's part of the trade of the site. The only way to determine what type of reviewer you're reading is by the content.

The FTC now requires bloggers and other informal reviewers to indicate in their review whether they received a free product in exchange for the review. While I find this particular regulation useless--liars will lie regardless of regulations-- it does respond to a real problem. As a business owner, I understand this process. Businesses need people to talk about their products. When someone goes to Google or Bing to check those products out, they want them to see lots results about it on the search results page. Pages of results make it look like their products and company are significant. Whether the people who wrote those reviews, Tweets, or Facebook status messages actually know anything about the product is largely immaterial. People will see all that discussion and they'll decide this is something important. But even if they don't, they'll know about it.

Even before the FTC got involved I asked my reviewers to indicate they received a free product. As a businessman I consider it unethical to do otherwise. People need to know possible motivations for a favorable review. I think this is more of a problem with household appliances, for example, than for books, but full disclosure is a protection. In addition, my policy is to continue to provide free books to any reviewer who does write a review, irrespective of the nature of that review. Thus they don't have to write something I like in order to maintain a good relationship with my company. At the same time, this means I can't specify in detail what sort of things they must include.

What I want from reviewers is for them to write what their blog readers want to hear, but to do so engaged in some way with the book I provide. Whether as a writer (I've written a few books myself) or as a publisher, I want the same thing. How do you, as a blogger, engage with your readers on the topic of a book?
Part two will be posted on Thursday.

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