Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Romantic Times' new review format

My monthly Romantic Times e-newsletter just arrived, and Carol Stacy, the publisher, refers readers to the RT blog to see the new review format they're adopting as of the September issue. The reviewers will be putting their opinion up front, in bold, with the plot summary provided afterward. I suppose it's good for consistency's sake, and it forces reviewers to provide adequate amounts of both plot and commentary, but the format looks weird to me - almost like it's backwards. The plot summary feels like an afterthought, even though it's longer. It doesn't allow for much creativity on the reviewer's part, either.

When you're reading reviews, do you scan the entire review first to see what the reviewer's opinion was, or do you read the whole thing through as written? What do you think of this format?

7 comments:

  1. I usually read reviews straight through (unless they're very long, in which case I might look at the end first).

    I don't really like the new RT format. Looks as if reviewers are being pressured to give either totally positive reviews or totally negative ones, instead of considering different aspects of the novel in turn and weighing the good against the bad.

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  2. Usually as written, but very occasionally I'll zip to the end first.

    The new RT format is odd. I'd prefer that blurb-worthy content to come last. Tell me something about the book first, please.

    I suspect the first part of the review will be a convenience to authors and publicists. The second part, presumably, is to assist readers who want background on the plot and characters.

    I seldom see RT, so don't rely on them for buying info. Back when I did read the mag regularly, I found their reviews somewhat predictable.

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  3. I'm another who usually reads reviews through as written. The format wouldn't attract me, but I don't think it would especially annoy me either, as the example is so short that it's a matter of seconds to read the whole thing anyway. It reminds me of 'call-outs' in marketing material, or the 'hook' paragraph you get in bold text at the top of some newspaper articles.

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  4. I get RT mostly to read the articles and to stay informed about new books, since there are many that I know I'll never see in the local Borders/B&N. I read the reviews mostly for details on the storyline and setting... I often don't agree with their opinions. Historical accuracy seems not to matter at all.

    Once the Sept issue comes out, I'll be interested to see if what Susan wrote is true. And Carla, you're right, the reviews are very short. And with the new format, it makes them seem even shorter. I am wondering if they believe people find it easier to read reviews in this sound-bite format.

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  5. Hi Sarah,

    I realize the new format will seem odd at first—new things always do when you are used to the old way.

    The full summary will always be there. We are not compromising the plot in any way. The summary will still be as long as it always was and reviewers are not limited in any way to describe the plot. They still have the same liberties to be creative.

    The "opinion" paragraph, however, will change in that our reviewers will now have to pinpoint for the reader WHY they liked or disliked the book not just that they liked it or didn't.

    It is our hope that readers will have more information than before from the reviewers to help guide readers through the hundreds of reviews.

    I sincerely hope you will give the new format a chance before passing judgment.

    Keep in mind that you can STILL read the summary first if you choose to then read the opinion.

    I would love your feedback after a few issues. You can email me at cstacy@romantictimes.com.

    Hope you are enjoying ALL of the changes we have implemented in the last year. After all you are the one we want to please.

    Sincerely,
    Carol Stacy

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  6. Hi Margaret,
    Regarding your comment:
    "I seldom see RT, so don't rely on them for buying info. Back when I did read the mag regularly, I found their reviews somewhat predictable."

    I do hope you will pick up a current copy of RT BOOKreviews to see that our editorial has changed dramatically in the last several years--especially our reviews.

    We have been working very hard with the reviewers (we now have over 40!) to make sure the reviews are not predictable but give insight about the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

    I would love to hear from you because, since you have not seen a copy in a while, you would be a good judge as to weather or not we are hitting the mark.

    Sincerely,
    Carol

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  7. Hi Carol,

    Thanks for stopping by and replying to my comments.

    I think my biggest concern was that the new format gives the appearance that the plot summary is less important than it used to be. (You're right that I'll probably read it first! Looking at the comments on the RT blog, I may be unusual in this respect.) But I'll see how it works in the magazine when there are more reviews to judge by.

    I do like that reviewers will be obliged to say exactly why they liked/didn't like certain parts of the novel - that will be helpful. This is something we've been discussing here recently, in a general sense (not specific to RT). I started subscribing to RT again several years ago, when the reviews became more critical, and the magazine started covering a wider variety of novels.

    I'll be sure to email you my thoughts after I've seen a few issues in the new format!

    Sarah

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