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May 16, 2005

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SD

Great post, Sarah, (and David), especially as it ties in to a conversation I was just having with another writer an hour ago re: the unassailable mysteries of cracking big review markets.

I think the important thing to remember about THE CLOSERS is that if you act now, you can get the paperback edition of BURN with it for an astonishing discount price.

David J. Montgomery

Oooh, good thoughts! And you saved me the work of thinking of it and writing about it. :) You're right on, too -- if a book is the 11th entry in a series, what the hell can you say about it?

But still, sometimes I try. In fact, I had intended to cover the new Connelly in my next column, but the Sun-Times gave it separate review treatment, so it's out. But I am including it in the other column (about Beach Books) that I'm working on.

I didn't review the last couple Connelly books, but I liked this one so much, and felt such energy from it, that I wanted to. Granted, I don't think I said anything earth-shattering about it...but it's a damn good book and I like writing about damn good books, even if they are likely bestsellers.

I guess that's what it comes down to -- as a critic, you want to review books that move you in one way or another. True, Patterson, Evanovich, et al don't need the ink, but if you have something to say about 'em, sometimes it can be worth saying.

Now that I'm thinking about it, though, maybe Janet E. doesn't merit the space... Damnit, now I need another book to write about.

Steve Brewer

Well said, Sarah. There absolutely is a limit to how many reviews we can digest about the latest "hot thing." I find that if I read a lot of reviews about a particular book, I'm less likely to buy the book than I would be otherwise. Feels as if I've already read it. Perhaps this is why, these days, I'm waiting and buying Michael Connelly in paperback. Still love his work, but the paperback will come out after all the buzz has died down and will seem new to me.

One more thing, though it probably goes without saying: All those reviewers weighing in on the same bestseller could instead be reviewing books by little-known authors. Me, for instance....

Megan

"There has to be something that separates this book from all the other ones, to crib from the Passover seder."

So you're saying you're more likely to read books written while their authors reclined?

Keith

I figure the main thing reviews are really good for (besides whatever entertainment value is present in the review itself) is getting people to buy books they'll like and wouldn't usually buy.

That may sound glib, but after a decade of occasionally thinking about the possible range of any review's utility, I can't come up with a better thought.

Kevin Wignall

Two thoughts here, and both might be controversial. First, isn't it the case that some reviewers can be prone to self-importance? So when a hot book comes along, they feel "their" take on it is vital to the wider debate. Perhaps they're also hoping to get blurbed on the jacket of the paperback.
Second, considering the amount of review coverage and the number of books, there are precious few reviewers who specialize in "breaking new acts". You know, we had a radio DJ here in the UK, John Peel, who specialized in breaking new bands. Once they'd made it, he didn't keep harping on about them, he moved on to find the next great unknown. People talk up John Peel, but for much of his career his tastes were considered wilfully obscure, and yet wider tastes inevitably caught up with the acts he promoted. I don't see anyone doing the equivalent in the book world, and yet I have no doubt that there are plenty of writers out there whom we have never, but should have, heard of. By the same token, I shared David's disappointment in the first choice from the litblog co-op. Case Histories is hardly an unfound gem. Who's telling me about the unsung writers?

Karen Olson

Even if I see a review of a Big Name Author's Latest, I will pay attention to it. Maybe the author has done something better in this book (ie David's comment about The Closers) or maybe the author has fallen down on the job in some way; it's always interesting to see and may determine whether I seek the book out. But it is disconcerting to see these huge names given so much space when space is limited and there are unknown or lesser known writers who should get equal time for their own quality works.

I have an advantage in that I work at a newspaper and when the book reviews move on the wire on Wednesdays, I read them. But in all honesty, many of the books I've read recently were books noted on various lit blogs, which I believe are changing everything.

Elaine Flinn

For Kevin's eyes only: Dave Montgomery is one of the few on our side of the pond who does indeed give new writers a review. I'm a perfect example - and without Dave, I doubt I'd have gotten as far as I have. Where that is exactly - I'm not sure - but it beats total oblivion!:) And what success I've had, I attribute much of it to Dave for helping a new writer find an audience. He is one of a kind - besides being just a terrific guy.

Guyot

Wonderful post, SW. I equate reviews of Connelly, Grisham, Roberts, etc., with lazy journalism to a certain extent. Not the reviewer's fault always, but somewhere somebody got the narrow-minded idea that book reviews will sell more papers or magazines if they're reviewing BIG NAMES. That has to be it, doesn't it? Give the readers what they want... something familiar, same old thing. I mean why else is it done, and done so extensively across the country?

One of the reasons I got hooked on your blog way back when was because you would talk about books and writers I didn't know.

Now, Mike is friend of mine, and I love Bosch and love Mike. But who cares what anyone thinks of the books? Will a review of a Bosch book having ANY bearing on sales? If every reviewer trashed it, sure, maybe it would only sell 100K copies instead of 140K. But in nine Big-Name-Writer reviews out of ten all the reviewer is saying is this book isn't as good as the last, is better than the last, or is the same as the last. Gee, thanks.

dick adler

Sometimes an editor will make a point of asking me to review a book, but mostly I try to think about the mix -- they can't all be by men (though I have done all-female reviews), they can't all be published by St. Martin's. There are some writers I leave for Tempo section to pick up an AP review -- Robert Parker and (oops) Elmore Leonard don't need me, but Olen Steinhauer or Susan Kandel might be helped by giving them the space. Also, new publishers like Kate's Mystery Books and Akashic deserve some attention.

David J. Montgomery

I was just talking to Gayle Lynds about Dick Adler today and we both agreed that he's one of the true class acts of the reviewing business. Dick is a reviewer who does a great job of helping to push new writers (even if he does write for the Trib), which is something I try to do as well.

I'm fortunate in that the Sun-Times doesn't try to influence me much (really, "more women" is about the strongest thing I've heard), but there is definitely pressure to include writers that people "have heard of."

I have a great editor there who shields me from that pressure. But the reality of it is, if we don't get people to read the damn book reviews they're going to go away all together. So if I put Mike Connelly or Lee Child or Janet E or someone like that in there, and that helps boost our readership, then I will gladly do it.

I typically review 6 books per column. If I do 1 biggie and 2 or 3 semi-biggies per month, that still leaves me room for 2 or 3 people you've never heard of. I consider that a victory, and a great opportunity to help support new writers.

And Paul... I think the printing for Connelly's new one is 500k. He's gonna need help selling all those books! :)

John Kenyon

I reviewed at the second largest paper in Iowa for a few years, and wrote up a few of Connelly's books. I agree that the books are usually everywhere by the time I take a crack at them, but I always felt that "everywhere" to me was much different than for my readers. Does the average newspaper reader who might pick up 10 books in a year read all of the magazines, blogs, websites and other papers that might have a review? Some, of course, given the presence of teh Iowa Writers' Workshop down the road, but not everyone. So, my review may well have been the only one they read; in the very least, seeing a local guy whose opinion they trust (or at least know to disagree with) might tip the scales.

Another review-proof writer is Lawrence Block. No matter the series, the books always are good to great, and there is little to be said critically to alter one's opinion of them. The Scudder series has taken a dark turn over the past few installments, which has at least upped the interest factor among fans, but without the emotional investment in the character afforded by having read most or all of the rest of the series, those shadings are likely lost on the reader.

Mike

An interesting argument here, Sarah, but take it to its logical conclusion: are you suggesting something like a conspiracy of silence among reviewers regarding writers as popular as Connelly? Just asking. And how would it be implemented?

Jon Jordan

I have to say this.

I read a lot of books for reviews. A lot of them are pretty good, but a lot are also really bad.

Being sent a review copy of Michael Connelly's latest is always a joy. I do try to turn people on to new books and authors, but for me getting to review someone I love is like a thank you to me. I will always review new authors in Crimespree and try to turn people on to new things, but I will always review authors I just love as well.

And the fact is, Connelly is writing great damn books, THE CLOSERS is no exception.

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