A Dip Into the Reader Query Mailbag
I don’t usually pull out reader comments and make them into full-blown blog pieces, but I found this question posed by Hope yesterday particularly interesting. As she said:
Betsy, it seems like your blog focus has shifted somewhat since landing under the SLJ banner. I used to find more titles I hadn’t already heard of in your reviews at the old site. Now it seems like many of the books you choose to highlight are already being buzzed. Do you think your selections have become more mainstream? Also, I’m wondering: have you ever kept track of how many of the titles you highlight are books you saw at publisher previews or events? It used to appear that you went and found great little books and now it seems they are finding you. Do you think that’s true? Maybe it’s just the insider-y asides that give me that impression. For example — I agree that many Candlewick books are phenomenal. But it seems odd to hear a reviewer so predisposed to adore a particular publisher’s books. Perhaps I am the naive one — maybe this is always how it works and you are just telling it like it is. My questions are in no way meant to cast aspersions on your assessment of the books you review. I’m just curious about book clout — how it’s earned, how it’s used.
This is a fascinating series of questions, not to say points, because it’s not something that anyone has sat down and asked me before. So right off the bat here was my response:
Hi Hope. It’s a legitimate question, so here’s the deal. I used to have a lot more time to review books in the course of a given week. Usually I could work in 4-5 reviews, and during my peak I was able to do one every single day. These days I’m too swamped to maintain that level of reviewing. What with my reviews, my Fusenews, the continual reporting I have to do, and then my other work like professional reviewing, the book I’m working on, reading, and my email… well, I’m lucky to get 3 in a week. Since that’s the case I have to be pickier and just do the books that I think are particularly good. Often they have been buzzed elsewhere but since I refuse to read reviews before I’ve written my own I’m not always aware of this fact. I work off of friend and co-worker recommendations (to say nothing of Goodreads). Be that as it may be, I do try to make a conscious effort to read titles from smaller presses and lesser known authors. You will note that one of my books reviewed recently was a Marshall Cavendish title about Yoga. Not exactly well known. And my attendance at librarian previews actually hurts the books’ chances of being reviewed on my site since if I mention the book here I feel as if I’ve already covered that ground and I move on. I make exceptions in this case for titles that are potential award winners. And now with the end of the year coming up I’m trying to work in more potential Newbery/Caldecott winners before 2009 comes and I no longer allow myself to review 08 titles. As for the Candlewick example, I sure do like their books but how many have I reviewed this year? 2-3 tops. If I’m cooing about an author/illustrator/publisher it’s usually because I don’t want to bother reviewing them but I still like their work. But you make some very good points and my insidery nature is something I have to constantly fight against. I don’t want to become the rah-rah whooptie-doo "reviewer" who adores every tom, dick, and harry title to cross my plate. More books are being sent to me by big publishers, it is true, but more books are also being sent to me by small presses, independent authors, and individual marketing folks who need a leg up. Keeping an eye on myself is all that I can do, and sometimes it isn’t enough. That’s why I have sharp-eyed readers like you to keep me on my toes. Great question. I should probably turn it into a blog post at some point.
So that’s a good start, but after sitting there staring at my response I felt I should say more.
Oh! One more thing. I work off of this crazy algorithm that goes popular book/lesser known book/popular book/lesser known book. This applies to the picture book category, the middle grade category, and the graphic novel/non-fiction/poetry category. Problem is, these individual categories sometimes overlap in odd ways, which leaves me with a bunch of well-known titles on my site for a week, depending on where they fall. It’s not an excuse, but it’s part of the reason you’ll sometimes read me and find that you recognize everything I’m talking about. Plus, at the end of the year I’m playing catch-up with all the books I missed reviewing earlier. Weird how we work, eh?
Yeah, I’m aware that this comment doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m attempting to explain my reviewing process and the pattern I follow that allows me to figure out what to post next. Unfortunately the pattern may be comprehensible only to my own mind.
But let’s get back to the original question here: Has working under the "SLJ banner" hurt this blog? I’m certainly more busy than I was before, but Hope didn’t ask "how has your daily schedule been affected by the move?" She wanted to know if my new location was affecting my focus. And I don’t think so, but maybe it has. Maybe I didn’t notice it because I’m too close to the site.
Faithful readers (she said cowering behind her chair) what do you think? Are my reviews all ah-skewed?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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