Friday, October 14, 2011

A Person of Influence

Going through some old notes this week, I came across a statement that made me consider my role as a blogger and a member of various online communities: “Whether posting reviews on, participating in book groups, or developing a web page devoted to his or her own opinions, today’s reader of . . . fiction possesses an unparalleled opportunity to influence the tastes and buying habits of others” (Botshot and Goldsmith, Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women Writers of the 1920s). That statement reminded me of an unrelated report that showed negative reviews have increased since Web reviewing began and that negative reviews are nearly twice as likely to influence reader purchases as are positive reviews.

Many readers of romance fiction are not part of online communities, but the number of such communities and the activity on these sites offer evidence that the web plays a big part in the reading lives of many romance fans. All About Romance boasts “millions of readers.” The Romance Reader has been reviewing romances online for more than a dozen years, and Smart Bitches and Dear Author seem to become more popular by the day. This month USA Today inaugurated Happy Ever After, a site hosted by romantic suspense author Joyce Lamb with the stated purpose “to celebrate romance novels, the readers who read them and the writers who write them.”  

When I google “romance novel blogs,” I get almost nine million hits; “romance novel message boards” adds another million plus.  In addition to reviews, the romance forum at Amazon has over a thousand threads, and B &N offers Heart to Heart (a romance blog), Romantic Reads (a message board),  and Reading Romance (a monthly column by Eloisa James). Then, there are publisher-sponsored sites such as Heroes and Heartbreakers (Macmillan), Pocket After Dark, Avon Romance, Romance at Random, and Harlequin Blog.  And in all these places--and more--readers and writers are talking good and bad about romance novels—and exerting influence.

I never intended Just Janga to be a review site. I wanted to share my ideas about what I was reading or rereading, my struggles as a yet-to-be-published writer of romance fiction, and topics related, sometimes loosely, to these activities. But I find myself doing more reviews, so many that several months ago I began posting twice a week with Tuesdays devoted to reviews. I also serve as a frequent guest reviewer at The Romance Dish, post reviews on GoodReads, and sometimes blog at Heroes and Heartbreakers. I find Facebook overwhelming, but I tweet almost every day.  I talk about books—a lot. I choose to talk only about books I like.

I respect bloggers who choose to review books that fail to meet their criteria for good books, but I prefer talking about books I’m glad I read. Not every book I review is a five star read, but those I review or include in lists on special topics are all books that I believe are worth the time and dollars I’ve invested in them. I may address disappointments or weaknesses that I see in a book, but my overall take will be positive. So call me a Pollyanna if you will. I have been called worse things. :) But if I talk about a book and give you the title and author, be prepared for me to recommend the book. I reserve my negative comments for private discussions. When someone comments here or elsewhere that he or she has read and enjoyed a book I recommended, I am delighted. I don't think I'd experience the same pleasure if someone said he or she had avoided a book to which I'd given one or two stars.

You are persons of influence too. Some of the books I have most enjoyed over recent years have been recommendations from some of you. Do you glow or glower when you talk about books on the web? Does snark make you grin or grimace? Are you influenced by reviews?



Anonymous said...

I definitely consider you a person of influence when it comes to books. I enjoy and respect your reviews. They are thoughtful and thorough, and I am confident I'll feel the same way about a book you've just reviewed.

The problem is trying to find time to read all of the wonderful books you recommend!


MsHellion said...

I think I used to enjoy more snarky stuff--and I still do to a degree--but not publicly. I think it's venting and I think there is a time and place for venting, and on the internet where it sits forever is not it.

It's not from reviews though. I think EVERYTHING has gotten darker and snider, like it's just only cool to be cynical (and I'm a cool cynic, mind you) and if you do anything else, you're either in that person's pocket OR your head's in the clouds. It's like news isn't news if it's not something horrific. A review isn't a review if you don't skewer the writer, the director, the actors, and the subject matter itself.

It's like we've become a society of Beatnik Voltaires. *LOL*

And it's all subjective...I mean, there are books many of us have agreed are less than worth reading, there are things to be objective about (characterization, story, etc), but there is almost always someone who likes it. And will like it anyway. Sometimes I feel some of this browbeating is a bit like yelling into the wind. Exactly what did it prove? If you didn't like it, go read something else.

I think with as much news that is dark and dismal, I'd like to read something occasionally that is happy. I am more than capable of finding books that didn't meet my high ideals. What I want is to discover a book that WAS GOOD, that you WOULD RECOMMEND and WHY. That is different. And many times I will read the book and I did enjoy it, so it was a positive experience all the way around. Books should be joyful.

Maybe we're not writing book reviews so much as giving recommendations. Maybe that's the difference.

PJ said...

I'm definitely more glowing than glowering. I enjoy sharing my love of books with others which is why I only publish reviews/recommendations of books that I enjoy. That doesn't mean they're all 5 star books. Some are 3 stars and a few have even been 2.5 stars but I've been able to find something positive to say about them and I never, ever trash the book or the author. That's just not my style.

I'm not a big fan of snark so I tend to steer clear of sites that specialize in it. Too many people (in my opinion) skate over the line into meanness and personal attacks, something I want no part of. That's not the type of person I am nor is it the type I aspire to be. I'm more than content to live here in my little happy corner of the world where people are treated with kindness and respect.

Reviews in general don't influence my book buying but reviews/recommendations from trusted sources do. Some of my favorite authors and books have come into my life through Janga. A book recommendation from her is always one I follow!

Janga said...

Thanks, Donna. I hope my reviews always impress those who read them as thoughtful and free of unsupported claims. I think the time problem is one we all can relate to. As much as I read, I still never seem to get my TBR books to a manageable group.

Janga said...

Oh, I like the review-recommendation distinction, Hellie. You nailed it. Recommending is what I really enjoy. I love saying to friends, "I love this book because . . ." and having them say, "I read it and you're right." LOL

I'm not a cynic, and I suspect that's why I am sometimes out of step with what's most popular. I'm as opposed to sentimentality as anyone because I think it cheapens deep emotions, but genuine sentiment is different. I hope I am able always to make a distinction between the two, to reject the former and champion the place of the latter.

Janga said...

You think there's a generational difference at work, PJ? We belong to a generation that really believed we could change the world, and maybe some of that idealism still lingers. Or maybe we're just nice people naturally. :)

I remember one book by an author we both like immensely that you decided the Dishes would not review since I was troubled about choosing between a negative review and a less than honest one. But most books that I would give one or two stars are DNFs for me, and I'd never review a book that I had not completed.

irisheyes said...

I have to admit that I am influenced by reviews, but over the years I've decided which reviews to be influenced by. :) I like reviews that are informed and state why they liked or didn't like a specific book. The reasoning can make all the difference. Sometimes I'll pick it up anyway because I know the things that bothered the reviewer would not bother me. On the other hand, something that made a book a 5 star review for one person would be a wall banger for me. Different strokes for different folks!

I'm not into the snark and the nasty either. I can rant and rave with the best of them and have, but I've learned to do my ranting and raving in person and not on the interent. As Hellie says, it's there forever and ever, Amen! I remember when I first started posting to blogs a certain book came up that I absolutely hate! I thought it was my chance to go off on everything wrong with the book in question. I spent a good day trying to get the wording right and in the end it was very, very tame (probably due to my staunch Catholic upbringing! LOL) and I still felt guilty for days and days. For me, it just doesn't feel right or kind, especially considering I now know a lot of aspiring writers.

The way I get around not being a Pollyanna, as you put it, or someone who "likes everything" is just keeping the opinions on the books I didn't like to myself. If someone I know asks my opinion I can always e-mail - that way I wouldn't feel bad giving a glowing review to a friend who may go out and spend hard earned money on my recommendation.

You give awesome reviews. they tell a little about the story, a little about the trope, the relationship and then a little about what worked or didn't for you. Always very informative and always very helpful.

quantum said...

Janga, Where do you find all the TIME needed to follow all those blogs, review all those books and also read them so that you can pick the best to recommend!

I'm primarily looking for recommendations from people that interest me, particularly for new-to-me authors.

When I'm considering buying a book, then I may check out a few reviews, and usually look at reader ratings, though if its an author that I know and trust then I will just buy it.

If the book is very expensive I will try and download a sample or look at it in a book shop before buying.

I don't have time to scour many blogs and really just stick to a few that I particularly like.

Just Janga is tops for my recommendations! *smile*

I used to review technical books (because I could keep the review copy!) and did review a few romances on-line when I started on the genre, but rarely do so now unless I'm really over the moon about a book or author.

Just finished audio versions of the first two of Balogh's mistress series with Rosalind Landor reading. An accomplished actress can really add value to a romance. I might start raving about romance in audio if I had more time.

I don't think that you have ever recommended an audio romance Janga. Must I conclude that you don't like them?

Only kidding!
I think I already know that you prefer your own voice and imagination. *smile*

Amanda said...

I am with Irish--if I did not have something nice to say about a book, I would likely say nothing at all.

I appreciate when you make recommendations, too. Some of your "old favorites" became new favorites to me when you recommended them on the EJ bulletin board. Lord of Scoundrels comes to mind--I glommed all of Chase's books after I read LOS.
It is likely because of you that I tried Miranda Neville and I know I read Jennifer Ashley's book about Lord Ian McKenzie because it was one of your top books for the year it was published. Loved the Neville books and loved the Ashley book. These are just a couple of examples of many--Deborah Smith, the Lucy Hatch books, Pamela Morsi, Carr, Vanessa Kelly, etc.

I don't care much for snark in the public forum. It seems more mean spirited than funny mostly.

Your recommendations are greatly appreciated--I'll certainly echo the sentiment of all of the commenters!


Janga said...

Irish, I agree with you about finding the right reviewers. At the review sites I visit regularly, I have learned which reviewers reading preferences are most like mine, and I pay much more attention to their reviews than to others.

The reviews that bother me most are those that just come across as totally illogical. Just in the past week I've read reviews that
(1)faulted a 1980s romance for love scenes that were too mild, (2)attacked an author known for her high sizzle factor for love scenes that were too graphic, and (3)called a romance novel "too romancey." Such criticism is based not on the book an author has written but on what the reader thinks the author should have written instead. No logic there.

Janga said...

Q, you note that my reviewing is fairly recent. Most of the reviews I posted when I was teaching full time were informal ones on the EJ/JQ bb or an occasional one for my weekly post with the Vagabonds. I have a lot more time now that I'm not commuting two hours a day, holding forth in the classroom for three, and spending another five or six hours conferencing students, grading papers, planning lessons, etc.

I know audio books are popular, but I tried them when I was commuting. They don't work for me because I'm the kind of reader who likes to turn back and reread scenes and who is likely to drift off into reflecting upon a character or a scene and miss fifteen minutes or more of the audio. I did listen to several of Georgette Heyer novels recorded by Richard Armitage. If he recorded more, he might make an audio fan of me. :)

Janga said...

Amanda, you made my day letting me know that I introduced you to some of my favorite authors and you loved their books. It is the chance to do exactly that that keeps me blogging about books. Thank you for letting me know. I hope you passed your enthusiasm for them on to other readers.