Thursday, April 23, 2009

Which American Idol Judge Are You? (Book Reviewing)

I really enjoy watching American Idol. Oh the drama! Oh the bad singing! Oh the snark! And oh the star moments.

American Idol has three true judges. (and this season a fourth sort of one)

There are three judges....but it seems that there's only one judges opinion who really matters.

Let's discuss.

Randy Jackson
Randy is a bit of an unpredictable judge. While never outright harsh, he's not afraid to say a performance didn't really do anything for him. He will let a singer know if their vocals are off. But he usually doesn't say anything that can be interpreted as hurtful.

Then we have, Paula Abdul...
Paula is by far the softest judge. She always finds something positive to say, though it may not always be coherent. "You look amazing," she'll say...and that's it. The singer may have forgotten the words. Maybe they went stunningly off key. But Paula can't crush them..."I'm so proud of all you've done." We think of Paula as the nice judge..supportive to the young singers.

But then we have Simon Cowell...
Simon often seems harsh, cruel, and unkind. "Sounded like karaoke" is one of his nicer assessments. "That was a complete mess," or "Are you drunk?" The audience boos. But you know what? Secretly, the majority of Americans agree with Simon's judgements.

And it's obvious when you watch the show, that there is one judge whose opinion matters. Simon. The contestants nod and smile through Randy's enthusiastic judge, and Paula's babbling. But they hold their breath and wait for the one they know matters. Why? Because Simon doesn't like everyone. When he says it's really believe that he thinks that it's good. about you?

There's been a lot of talk about the professionalism of blogger reviews. I have a lot of opinions on this subject that aren't popular.

But I think I'm a Paula/Randy mix. I do try to find balance in my reviews. I do look for the positive things I can say. (what a gorgeous cover) This is very consistent with my non-confrontational personality and my desire for harmony. It's my personality.

Do I have influence? I honestly don't know. I know people have said they added books to their wish list after reading my reviews, but I don't know if anyone thinks..."oh my gosh Amy loved that book, I will, too!" Or if authors think, "I got a positive review on My Friend Amy, that's a score!"

Why? Because I'm a Randy/Paula mix. What I'm trying to say is...that's my role and my personality. But I'd venture to say, for the love of books, for the passion of the written word and its survival, we NEED some Simon Cowells. We need a mix of voices and reviewers. And if publishers are smart, they will realize this.

We are on very shaky ground when we accept review copies and allow publishers to dictate any part of how that review will be written. Do they have to send us review copies? No, of course not! But if there are publishers who tell reviewers how reviews should be written in any way, I want to know who they are because I won't trust any reviews for their books. It's really that simple.

You may think I'm going off the deep end. I believe in book blogs, and I believe in book bloggers. I believe that we have a chance right now to be a voice of integrity in the book reviewing world. But if we say, "it's okay for a publisher to set guidelines on what can be said in a review (yes even in exchange for a review copy)" than we are selling a little part of our souls and trading in a bit of our integrity.

We need Randys, Paulas, Simons, and yeah, okay, even Karas. If books are to have a chance and book blogs are to have any influence, I really think we need to stand together on this. If this becomes something publishers can't live with, fine. But right now we are navigating these waters and learning how to do all of this and we could be wiped out the second it becomes obvious our reviews are anything less than our own reviews.

"What about the rude reviews?" Well obviously, a publisher can check out a blog and see if the tone of the blogger is agreeable to them. But more than the publishers, let's trust our readers. Readers will be drawn to the reviews that work for them. Book blog readers are highly intelligent and can think for themselves. Trustworthy reviewers will get more traffic. They will help drive sales. And publishers will risk their snarky reviews for the possibility of a positive one. It's how book reviewing has always worked.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. If you are a reader with no blog, I am very interested in how you feel about bloggers altering even just their tone for publishers. If you are a book reviewer yourself, I am interested in which judge you think you are!



Stephanie said...

Since I'm just coming from Trish's blog, I can certainly see where this is coming from!!

And the funny thing is, the Simon Cowell analogy really works! I totally agree with you. For the most part, Simon's is the only opinion that really seems to count.

Of course, blogging is a little different. And I'm more of a Randy style blogger. I do try to be nicer than Simon would be. Does that make my reviews any less credible? I certainly hope not.

I don't think publishers have the right to dictate to us what we can and can not say in our reviews. But I do think they should have some expectations about what we say. I think they have a right to expect professional type reviews. We put ourselves out there by accepting books for review. I don't feel like we have to lose our integrity and say a book is good if we don't feel like it is. But I also don't think we should be overly nasty in our reviews. You can be honest....and not attack an author personally. I don't like reading those type of reviews. But that' me. And it's just my humble little opinion!!

Meghan said...

Your post made me think of a question. First, though, I think I'm a Randy-type blogger. Simon is insulting and I'm not really like that at all, although you're definitely right about his influence. I do try to point out the good about a book but I'll say if I don't like something.

The question is how much value we place on "professional" reviewers who can be and are cruel. In my case, virtually no value. I still go see movies, watch TV shows, and most importantly buy books that they say are trash if I think that I will enjoy them. On the other hand, I will avoid a book because a book blogger didn't like it, even if they're polite about that dislike. In your analogy, the pros who do it for money are Simon, but I for one don't trust them completely. So I think it depends on the actual reviewer. We need people we can trust but I don't think that cruelty and insults are the way to build trust. Honesty is key, but nothing wrong with saying that a book sucks in a nice way. People still understand your point.

Jennifer C. said...

I am a combination of Randy and Paula. I try to find something positive before I say what was missing and what could have been better. I have had people add books to their list due to my reviews.

However, when a review users their review as a personal attack on an author's skills as a writer, saying things such as: ...should never pick up a pen, or ...I wanted to gouge out my eyes, I think that is wrong. Sometimes I feel the same way, but who am I to steal someone's dreams. I simple point out the flaws in the story and say that at the moment I cannot recommend the book in its current condition.

Reviewers still need to have a decent way of letting an author down without outright being rude.

Julie P. said...

I have no doubt I'm Paula! I occasionally say something negative (which may mean I have a little Randy) but I always look for reason why someone would like the book -- sometimes I think that's even harder than trashing a book. Maybe I'm more like Kara -- who knows? I just feel that when someone writes a book (or performs for that matter) that the critiques are personal -- it can't be helped. I would like to think that every piece of art has something that is good. And I definitely know that what I like or dislike won't be true for everyone else.

Chrisbookarama said...

Another Randy here. Btw, I loved your analogy!

Having read about the Emmy thing on Trish's blog, I don't think either party was outright wrong but both have to share the blame for what happened.

If publishers start to get pushy and that 'no snark' line keeps moving up to 'no negatives' I will no longer accept ARCs. I can get books elsewhere and review how I choose. The unknown authors will lose out if publishers do this and bloggers start refusing to review. Even a negative review gets the author's name out there.

Adele said...

I try to point out the difference between me hating a book and a book being bad, but I also try not to think about where the book came from. I'm probably more harsh with books I read for Book Group because the whole point is to try something different and read it with a critical eye.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Yo, dog! I'm a Randy mixed with a little Paula (you look great!)

Really, I think Simon works great with the audience on AI, but he IS harsh, and that's not my style!

I think Randy is gentle in his criticism (for the most part), and he doesn't tear people apart. Paula ONLY states the positive, which is also a disservice (IMHO).

I think you can state a negative without tearing people apart. Some books that didn't work for me might work for a different audience (age, stage of life, etc.). I loved the message in Three Cups of Tea, but the poor writing distracted me; I made sure to mention both points (The Randy/Paula approach ... but not a Simon in sight!)

Great analogy, Amy!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I'm totally Randy all the way. There really isn't much more that I can add to Stephanie's comment above. She said everything that I would have said in regards to what publishers can expect from us. They give. We give. It's a two way street.

Amy said...

Meghan...I don't know. I mean I wish I could say that if a harder reviewer (I don't think Paula or Randy are all that hard and yes Simon can be cruel) likes something I don't take notice, but I DO. And sometimes harder reviewers are crueler. But the point is, it's my choice as a reader to decide who to listen to, right?

Jennifer...and the great thing about thinking it's wrong is that it's YOUR choice who to listen to. No one has stepped in and said you have to listen to a cruel reviewer.

Julie...I agree with you and that's definitely our personalities. But I think it's okay for other people to have different personalities. Readers don't all read the same way we think.

Chris...I'm seeing a shift in the treatment of bloggers and this is about more than that situation. I see I'm in the minority on this though. Interesting.

I agree Dawn. :) But sometimes I don't really understand why Randy feels the way he does.

Natasha, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I think publishers have the right to choose where they send they books, but that's about where it ends. I think any other influence we allow them to have is the reason people are still wary of blog reviews..and that is starting to make more sense to me now.

Beth F said...

Great post idea and I'm enjoying the comments. Since I don't watch the show, I'm probably missing some of the subtleties here. That said, I guess I'm a Randy: someone who tries to tell it like it is but tempered with kindness.

I don't "need" free books, and I'll keep reviewing even without them. So I wouldn't succumb to a publisher's or publicist's demands if I thought them unreasonable or in some way preventing me from giving my honest opinion. I have my own mind and my own style. Neither has hurt me . . . yet.

I do think we influence readers and buyers -- maybe not enough to send sales skyrocketing or plummeting but I'm sure more than one person has said, "If Amy likes the book I will too."

I have lots and lots to say on this subject, and I am still formulating my thoughts. I've left some comments on Trish's post, and I will talk about these issues at BEA.

Meghan said...

Okay, I see what you're saying. By having all types of reviews, the reader can access all types of opinions, so publishers shouldn't limit them. I agree with that. It's not my reviewing style and I don't necessarily think meaner = better always, but I definitely see your point.

Amee said...

I think I'm also a Randy/Paula mix. I tried to be a Simon on past blogs but it never worked. I hated those reviews and glad that they are mostly deleted (some are still on one website's database). So being a Simon didn't work for me, but I enjoy reading some Simon-esque reviews. I don't like it when they are just bashing to be bashing or bash the author in any way. That's when it turns me off. Otherwise a little snark doesn't hurt anyone.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think I'm a Randy, but I probably have more Paula in me than I want to admit.

But I want to point out: Simon never attacks the individual. He never says "You're really stupid," for instance. He attacks the song choice, he attacks the delivery or the artistic merit, etc., but it's always directed at the performance not the person. And even his strongest statements ("That was a mess" or "That was atrocious") don't come close to "Gouge my eyes out," at least not in my opinion.

Darlene said...

I love Idol-always have. I'm a combination of Paula and Randy-more Paula though. SEcretly though, I love Simon and I like that he puts it out there although a lot of the time he's too mean.

That being said it's not in my personality to be outright mean whether it be in real life or a book review. I always take what I'm reading and look for the positive. If a book is that bad that I could not say something positive on it, then usually I haven't even finished reading it and it'll never make it on my blog. That being said though, I don't want anyone dictating to me how I should write a review. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but for me I won't gravitate towards blogs who are outwardly mean in a review. I just don't think it's necessary in order to get your point across.

Renee said...

I don't think I'm harsh like Simon but I'm not afraid to say if I don't like something. but my opinion is just that and there are times when it might not match with others.... which is why it's good to read more than one review of a book for different perspectives

RAnn said...

When I review book, I do try to say something nice. I'm not stupid; I know the reason the publishers send out those books is for publicity, so that they will sell more books. That being said, I also think it is bad for the publisher (and me) if you read my review, buy the book and then find it isn't what you expected. I try to determine if the book just isn't for me, or if it is BAD. If it looks like my middle-schooler wrote it, I'm going to mention that in my review, but I'll probably also compliment the cover, or say that the story line had potential or something to keep the review from being all negative. If it is full of gratuitous sex or filled with religion, I'll tell you; you can decide if that's a good thing or not. I've also been known to say "I can't think of a particular thing wrong with the book, I just didn't like it" because sometimes that is true. If you read my reviews regularly, you can probably figure out if I liked a book or not, simply because I'm a lot more likely to say I liked it than to say I hated it.

As far as publishers not sending books to reviewers they don't like; frankly, I don't have a problem with that. If they do it too often, they won't have any reviewers left. If they only send books to people who only give good reviews, then it won't take long for people to consider those reviews meaningless.

Janet said...

I am a Simon, at least inside. And I will unleash my Simon snark on well-established authors. Of course, then there's usually something good that can be said anyway. But I hesitate to do it with new authors. They're so vulnerable. So if I can't find something good to say, I usually avoid reviewing them altogether. Those Simon thoughts run around inside my head and never get into print.

I don't mind writing a balanced review, with some good and bad points. I don't get insulting, but I will talk about what didn't work for me. And I respect other reviewers who will do that. Sometimes what doesn't work for them is not an issue for me.

Where I have trouble is with reviewers who do nothing but gush. I don't even pay attention. They've led me astray before, by praising pulpy substandard fiction (or movies). I don't trust their judgement.

Of course, it's easier for me to duck out of doing a bad review. Book reviews are only a small part of my blog, so I can just go on about something else altogether.

Marie Cloutier said...

I'm generally pretty positive- I have good luck picking out and getting offers for books I'll enjoy, but every once in a while there's a mediocre/bad one. I feel free to say what I want, but I do try not to make the criticism personal. Yesterday I called a book "a four star turkey" but I didn't say "So-and-so is a bad writer." I try to keep it on the level and hopefully mature. As you say, it's about balance. Every time I review a book I didn't like, someone will comment with "thank you for your honesty"- *all* my reviews are honest, even the positive ones!

Florinda said...

The books I review are a mix of those offered to me by publicists/authors and those I purchase myself - and I'll be honest, I may be a little more free in my expression with my own books. And if I stopped getting review offers - which I don't get in nearly the quantities that some bloggers do, and which I almost never solicit - I'd still blog about my own books anyway, since that's why I started the blog in the first place.

As far as review offers go, I only take books that I WILL read and review. I make no promises about what the review will say or how soon it will be done. I do try to write fair reviews and not be disparaging, even if it's "This isn't what I usually read and it might appeal more to someone who likes X" - the "it's not you, it's me" defense :-). Even if I really disliked a book, I'd try not to be mean about it.

If a publisher or author tried to set conditions about the content or tone of my review, I wouldn't accept the book. I don't tell them what to write, so vice versa. If that meant we didn't deal with each other in the future, I'd live, and they'd find someone else. I'll still be buying books anyway.

As for the AI question, I'm probably a more coherent Randy mixed with a nicer Simon. But I have to say that I think Paula has been surprisingly insightful at times this season :-).

avisannschild said...

Ha, Marie, I was one of those folks who thanked you for your honesty! (I wasn't, of course, implying that your other reviews are not honest, just appreciating the fact that you are willing to review a book you didn't like.)

In terms of my reviewing style, I think I'm fairly middle of the road: I do write negative reviews, but hopefully they are neither snarky nor hurtful. I do find that I'm usually one of the very few (if not the only one) to be writing a negative review of whatever book it may be (and in several cases these have been books that lots of bloggers reviewed), and I'll admit I find it hard to believe that I'm the only one who didn't like the book. It's not that I think that just because I really didn't like a book that means everyone else should have disliked it too (obviously not!), but I do find it surprising when everyone else loved it and had NOTHING negative to say about it. Does that make sense?

I totally agree with you, Amy, when you say "we NEED some Simon Cowells. We need a mix of voices and reviewers." And I also agree with Janet, who said "Where I have trouble is with reviewers who do nothing but gush." I think unfortunately some reviewers equate not being snarky or hurtful with being so careful about not hurting authors' feelings that it's hard to tell if they liked the book or not.

I also agree that we are on shaky grounds when publishers start to dictate how we write our reviews, but frankly I think that that is very much the exception rather than the rule. Whereas self-censorship (if I may use such a loaded term) is undoubtedly WAY more prevalent. I know I have been guilty of toning down my issues with a certain book because the author mailed it to me directly and I felt bad that I didn't like it more (although I still stated my major issue with the book in my review).

Nari said...

I'd say I'm more of a Randy/Paula mix. There have been a few posts where I talk about why I didn't like a book, but most of the books I read that are sent to me by publishers are books out of my normal reading scene. I feel that just because I didn't like a book doesn't necessarily make it a bad book (until I read other reviews confirming my opinions). When I don't like a book, then I try to figure out what kind of audience would like it. I try to include that disclaimer in my posts also. If you like xyz in a book, then this is for you, just to give readers a head's up on what to expect.

King Rat said...

Yeah, I'm Simon. (Well, based on this description I am. I've never watched American Idol.)

My reviews can be very harsh sometimes. I've called works morally indefensible. I've ripped the editing. I've even sometimes said the names of characters are bad.

I don't rate books on the blog, cause rating numbers are fuzzy at best. But I do use the stars on LibraryThing to so that their recommendation algorithms can use em. If you look at my average rating, it's 2.95. That's far lower than most reviewers.

I've had friends criticize me for not liking anything. I think though that they don't pay as much attention. Because I like a good third of the stuff I read. But those reviews don't stick in their minds.

Around January I started linking to other blogged reviews of books with each review. I purposefully look for a variety of other styles and personalities of reviews so that folks can compare what I write.

avisannschild said...

Oh and I just want to point out that I have no objection to bloggers who decide they are only going to review books they enjoyed (and not write reviews of the others); that's not the same as posting a toned-down review of a book you hated, obviously.

Jenn M. said...

I like Meghans point. I think most of us will fall into the "Randy" category and only the true literary critics will fall into the Simon category.

With books, I dispise being completely negative. I do always try to find SOMETHING positive. I'm not sure that I have ever read a book I outright hated. I guess thats not totally true. There are some children's selections that I cannot seem to find much, if anything positive to say about them.

By the way, I think of Kara as a female Randy. Does anyone notice Paula seems to be taking her medication this season? She isn't as incoherent as last season. Maybe she's laid off the booze and tranquilizers.

p.s. I agree with Simon 98% of the time. :)

Krista said...

I didn't read all the comments, but I pretty much agree with the first three. Obviously I'm not going to post a review on my blog with the publisher telling me what to write. I ALWAYS take out the "praise" in the CFBA reviews I get because I think that's just tacky.
I've also found books I don't like and said so. I try to find a positive while also just stating why it didn't work for me. Who knows, someone else might like that.
Oh, and I think you'll like the Reluctant Cowgirl, it wasn't as flaky as I was expecting! ;)

Shelly B said...

I'm not going to leave a long comment b/c I think it's been said, but I just wanted to say that I think I'm the Randy type reviewer. I always want to be honest in my reviews.

The reason I like book blogs is because they do allow you to be yourself, whether you are Randy, Paula, or even Simon.

The Book Resort said...

I'm not one of those ppl who watch AI ~ hate it. I only watch the finale.

If I had a drink, I'd be Paula = o. lol. I'm Simon in "real" life. lol.

Actually,I'm Nancy Grace ; }.

Beth Kephart said...

Um, my apologies to all others here, since this relates to something Amy just left on my blog.

But: Really? You found me on Twitter? I did not realize that I'd been Twittered!

Oh, the things I still have to learn.

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

I think I'm a Simon/Randy combo. I have high expectations, and I'm tough, but I think I'm also fair. I might occasionally veer into snarkitude, but I really endeavor not to be cruel. If a book were so bad that it merited being cruel, I probably wouldn't want to waste the time it would take to finish it, so I'd never review it anyway.

Most of my reviews are relatively positive because I've gotten pretty good at selecting books I'm likely to connect with and enjoy, but if the writing is bad or the ending is a dud or the characters are poorly developed, I'm going to tell it to you straight. I will point out redeeming qualities, but I'm not going to go out of my way to find them just to make my review happier.

And I wholeheartedly second the emotion that I'd like to know which, if any, publishers/publicists are dictating how they want reviews done so that I can avoid them and the reviews of their books.

Jenners said...

Loved this post and the discussion! Love the American Idol analogy -- and it is true that people relate and respect Simon -- because he tells the truth. And when he does say something positive, it means more because he doesn't always say positive things.

As far as book reviewing, I have struggled with this a bit as far as how I review books I did get from publishers. I don't feel I have to NOT tell what I really thought but I do think I owe them a very thorough and more "professional" review than I might do for a book that I bought myself. But I do try and present both sides --such as "this book might be best if you like this ... I didn't like it but you might if this is your cup of tea." I think it helps to have a wide variety of opinions out there and I think most bloggers know that they will make up their own minds. More than anything, I like to be exposed to books I might not come across otherwise -- since I started blogging, the quality of my reading has increased! : )

Great post. I hope to link to it in my next "collection of interesting links."

Elizabeth said...

I think I'm a Randy, although secretly I wish I was a Simon - I'm just not clever enough to be that snarky. =) And, generally if I am reading a book that makes me want to "gouge my eyes out", I don't finish it, so I wouldn't have a review to write anyway.

I don't have a problem with publishers being selective about who they send books to - their job, after all, is to get people to buy the books, so obviously they should be trying to find favorable reviews. However, I would never tailor my review to fit a publicists demands. Luckily, I've never been asked to do so, but that sort of request would forever turn me off from that book.

Melissa said...

I don't watch AI regularly, but on the occasions I have, I would say I am a Randy. I consider myself a fair reviewer, by no means "professional" but one who will say honestly what I think of the book. Hopefully my reviews come across that way. There was one recent review that I really struggled with, as the book wasn't all that to my liking. But I felt as if I had to be as honest as possible (without resorting to insults like "the writer should never pick up a pen again" - that's just cruel). Otherwise, what would be the point of reviewing books, if my readers (all 29 of them!) knew that I could be swayed by an author or publisher?

That being said, I do agree that this is an issue that book bloggers need to stand together on, for the good of our community.

3m said...

'We are on very shaky ground when we accept review copies and allow publishers to dictate any part of how that review will be written'

I agree 100%!!

Jen said...

I have been approached by a few people to review books and I haven't yet taken them up on their offers to review just yet. I think it is because I have a little Simon in me. If I didn't enjoy a book, I would have a really hard time writing a positive review.

Jen said...

Btw, I finally figured out how to do the "subscribe to comments" thing on my blog. Thanks for suggesting it. :)

Anonymous said...

i don't watch AI but am familiar with the judges. simon does his thing for ratings. as people (and book bloggers), we have to learn to be a bit diplomatic about things in life--we can't just rant and rave and expect to be taken seriously. there's a difference between expressing an opinion and castigating an author (or his work) on a personal level.

Amy said...

Thanks for all your thoughts everyone!'s not just about ratings. Maybe the over the top stuff is, but if it was solely about ratings most Americans wouldn't agree with him. He does offer some helpful criticism as well. I don't think anywhere in my post am I suggesting we should rant and rave, but rather that we should be honest and accept that we need different kinds of voices in the reviewing community.

Jen..too funny! :) If you were to be honest, I'd welcome your reviews! I think you would be fantastic.

Melissa..I agree. It does seem to be an ongoing tension, though based on the comments the last couple of weeks.

Thanks is a complex issue, huh? write great reviews. I dream of being a reviewer like you when I grow up. :)

Beth..yes you were and are...even just today!

The Book Resort...too funny! true!

Krista...I know, I hate it when the blurbs have that added stuff!

Jenn...98% is a high percentage! surprises there. :)'s true...sometimes I can see a book's merit even if I didn't like it.

Florinda...true and me too. I'm thinking I may have to sever a relationship I've previously enjoyed which does make me sad. The thing turns me off to the publisher as a whole which only hurts the authors. Another thing for publishers to think about.

Marie...yeah, I generally like something about everything I read. that's interesting and I've had a similar experience. When I first started reading book blogs I was so excited to find reader reviews but then I bought the books and found them mediocre. It's a big reason I believe we should be honest.

RAnn..I agree that publishers have a choice of who to send their books too...and that's the end of their control. true! It is good to get different perspectives.

Dar..well me neither. I'm nice. :)

Katrina..well actually he does sometimes, and that's usually when he comes under fire.

Amee..well I wholeheartedly support Randy/Paula mixes. :)

Beth..seriously our panel needs to be three hours long!

Meghan..I don't think meaner equals better, but I do think that "sometimes negative" equals more trustworthy

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