Reviews II: Professional Reviews

This post is part of a series:

Reviews I: Why I Don’t Do Book Reviews

Reviews II: Professional Reviews

Reviews III: Reader Reviews

Reviews IV: Alternatives to Reviews

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Last post, I painted a somewhat idyllic picture of professional reviewers as they used to be — graduates of MFA programs usually from Ivy-league institutions, who would gravitate to well-paid (rarely highly paid, alas) jobs in New-York-centric organizations.  They would immerse themselves in the publishing world and begin their literary career as critics, if they hadn’t already begun to establish themselves in college.  And so they would live comfortable lives within a rarified, slowly changing world, their reputations growing.

Even in those halcyon days, the average romance author was quite unlikely to be reviewed by a “professional” reviewer.  The romance genre was a popular fiction genre and generally beneath notice of literary critics.  Only the most popular and best selling authors may occassionally be granted a review and even then, the reviews could sometimes carry a whiff of condescension.

There were genre-specific magazine who specialized in reviews for popular fiction.  Two of the more popular within the romance community were Romantic Times and Affaire de Coeur.  The latter magazine has ceased publication, but Romantic Times broadened its reach to include most popular fiction genres, and include a gigantic annual reader convention.  Reviews are still the heart of the magazine.

The primary difference between these magazine reviewers and the literary critics is that the reviewers are not paid.  They volunteer their services in return for free books, which they get to keep.  However, the reviewers consider themselves professionals.  While many, if not most, of them have had no formal education or training in literary criticism, they take their craft seriously. They study other reviews and the craft of writing, and work at polishing their own writing and reviewing skills.  Their reviews are edited and refined by the magazine, too.

As the Internet exploded on the world in the nineties and into the turn of the twenty-first century, romance review sites and blogs were born.  Abruptly, the world needed romance reviewers.  Hundreds of them.  Readers who simply had a voracious appettite for romance novels suddenly became reviewers overnight.  Anyone with a fancy for the romance novel and a modicum of html knowledge could put up a blog and hang out their shingle as a romance reviewer, and authors desperate for reviews would start sending them free books by the cart load. It was a great scheme…until it came time to write the review.

There were a lot of review sites that came and went very quickly.

But some hung in there and got better at it.

These days there are hundreds of review sites, blogs, facebook groups, Yahoo groups, newsites, magazines and more.  They produce thousands of reviews.  From single one-man operations to huge review organizations that publish dozens of reviews a day, the numbers of romance reviews pumped out by the Internet is staggering.  I don’t think anyone has got around to counting them.  None of these reviewers is paid for their reviews.  Barely any of them have advanced literary education and very few of them receive training from their review organizations before they begin reviewing.  Their usual qualifications are a love of the romance genre and a desire to give back to the industry.  Their intentions are solid-gold genuine and many of these reviewers, like those who volunteer for the genre magazines, do put in time trying to learn their craft.

These are today’s “professional” reviewers — they are legitimized by the name of a reviewing organization, site or publication, whether they are paid for their reviewing skills or not.

Next:  Reader Reviews

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