Picking Review Books One Book at a Time

stack-of-books2-300x214AAR receives scores of print and digital books a month. In addition, reviewers are constantly buying or borrowing books above and beyond their AAR allotments. How do AAR reviewers choose the books which make it to final review?
Across the board, most AAR reviewers choose first by author, seeking writers they have enjoyed before or who have garnered positive buzz, especially here at AAR or on Goodreads. Many reviewers sneak peeks at excerpts from Amazon, Google Books, or author web sites, to rule out authors whose voice they dislike or who seem utterly unacquainted with the fundamentals of the English language. One exception is Heather, who deliberately eliminates all authors she’s reviewed before.

Audio reviewers emphasize narrators the way print readers emphasize authors. Lea “simply won’t listen to even a fair narrator – they need a good amount of training/talent for me to spend my time listening rather than reading.” She might try a new author read by a trusted narrator, but she will “shy away from trying new narrators (high chance of failure) or self produced audiobooks, as the quality (hum in the background and noisy intakes of breath) is very common with those releases.” Fellow audio reviewer Shannon has some favorite narrators, but she’s also “not opposed to trying a new narrator if the plot is intriguing enough.”

After author/narrator, the next most common selection criterion is subgenre. Some reviewers look for works in their preferred subgenres; for instance, Caz only reviews historicals and Pat reads m/m). Other reviewers read around types they don’t like. Maggie reviews no historicals and has “been on the paranormal ride for so long I’ve gotten motion sickness and can only read them now if I really love the writer.” Reviewers who avoid subgenres do so to ensure that the author gets a fair trial. Shannon explains, “Reading something I know I’ll hate (something featuring zombies or ghosts, for example) feels like setting the book up to fail.” Jenna agrees. She considers “’his mistress’s baby’ books” to be “eye-roll inducing,” so she’s “already predisposed to hate the book… it wouldn’t be fair for me to review one.”

What other factors figure in? Some reviewers share their thoughts:

Caroline: I try to pick diverse reads – unusual settings, nonwhite protagonists, neglected subgenres like westerns, etc. I gripe about the homogenization of big publishing, so I feel a responsibility to highlight non-mainstream books. I also try to take Harlequins, since I think it’s very easy for a great Harlequin to be lost in the sheer volume of releases.

For my graphic novel reviews, it’s different. Graphic novels aren’t marketed as “romance,” so it can be hard to tell which books have central love stories and HEAs. I turn to blogs, forums, Amazon lists, and my library for title ideas. I obtain copies on my own, not through AAR.

Lea: Although I still read print books, I listen to far more. I find that my print reads are usually those that I want to experience but refuse to try in audio format due to the choice of narrator. I’ll also read my favorite authors if the book is unavailable in audio format.

Blythe: I don’t think I choose like most people in that I genuinely don’t expect most of what I read to be awesome, and I’m mostly okay if it’s not. The primary way I choose is to look for authors I’ve never read before that suit my fancy at the time. If I feel burned out on romance, I’ll pick up something more chick-litish. I also have the benefit of having all the books physically in front of me, so that makes the research portion easier.

Pat: Since I’ve been reviewing m/m romances I’ve been looking at the “Coming Soon” lists from Dreamspinner, Riptide, Loose ID, Carina, and Samhain then going to NetGalley and Edelweiss to see if review copies are available. I also look at the AAR ebook list and choose from there. Before I started m/m (which we don’t usually get physical copies of), I would automatically exclude historical, fantasy, and paranormal titles and go for the Westerns and contemporary books. Then I’d go to Amazon or the publisher’s or author’s website for sample chapters. My philosophy of reviewing is that I’d like to recommend the best books I can so that readers who like my tastes in books can find something enjoyable to read.

Lynn: I have to admit that I don’t research it all that much. I tend to pick books by authors I’ve liked in the past or authors I’ve been meaning to try. I’ll also read some by new-to-me authors that sound promising to me on the list. Oh, and if it’s a historical that sounds like it might be set somewhere other than the Regency, I’ll probably go for it.

Jean: I’ve had such awful luck in the past few years (or maybe I just got jaded reeeeaaal fast) that now I might request the authors that I know I have a very good chance of not hating, then just asking Blythe to give me books at random, her choice

Alex: Usually I begin by looking through the list for any authors I recognize and/or like. After that, I check out different books that interest me — either their titles intrigue me, or the author has gotten good reviews from AAR. I generally look those books up on Amazon or Goodreads to see if the actual stories seem like something I’d want to read.

Sometimes, though, I’m lazy and I just choose a random group of books whose titles seem good. This method has brought mixed results for me. Sometimes I stumble across good books I never would have read otherwise, and sometimes I end up with bad ones that I would have avoided had I read their summaries. It’s sort of like Russian roulette, which is why I don’t do this every time.

Mary: It depends on my mood. I generally look first for books/authors I really want to read. If I am in the mood for a contemporary, historical, paranormal, etc., I will choose books based on the synopsis first. I then look at reviews for previous books by a certain author if that author is new to me. If they are generally favorable, I will give them a try.

Maggie: I feel like a real slacker when it comes to picking my review books! Basically I look at what is available and narrow it down by type Then I check out what the titles are about if they aren’t familiar to me. If they have an interesting plot and I feel they work with my schedule, I read them. This seems to have worked pretty well for me. If you look at my reviewer scorecard from 2012 http://www.likesbooks.com/scorecard.html over 70% of my books are A or B. only 6% D’s or F’s.

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18 Responses to Picking Review Books One Book at a Time

  1. Kayne says:

    Thank you all for your reviews. I appreciate the time you take to read the books and write the reviews. I have had great reading experiences because of your reviews.

  2. LeeF says:

    No matter how you pick them, the reviews on AAR are a fabulous resource. Thanks for all your work.

  3. Blackjack1 says:

    I too appreciate the reviews here and go right to them first every morning when I log in. I think having a process for yourselves to select books is helpful, and I think being able to select books that are of interest to each individual reviewer is an auspicious way to begin the reviewing process, as people do tend to write best when they can write about that which is of interest to them. Finally, I do agree with Blythe about the rarity of a really good book. They are few and far between, which is another reason why I read reviews carefully to assist me in my reading selection process. Interesting blog this Friday morning!

    • CarolineAAR says:

      I didn’t realize how many mediocre books there were until I started reviewing, because using reviews shielded me from much of that.

  4. Maria says:

    I love this site and appreciate all the hard work you guys do. May I politely suggest you link reviewers to their reviews or make book reviews filter-able by lname of reviewer. There are some reviewers whose tastes I do not share (as evidenced by this list) and it would help in site navigation. Thank you very much for all your effort.

  5. Maria says:

    Also it would be great to filter by type…ie “westerns” or “historical”

  6. Dolores says:

    I call myself lucky to have found AAR several years ago as I have since come to depend on your particular brand of incisive and intelligent reviews. I know that no matter who the reviewer is, I can count on a thoughtful and balanced analysis of the book, and I head here first to decide if I want to buy or find a library copy of a book that sounds appealing at first glance. Thank you for your hard work. You all are appreciated!

  7. lauren says:

    I so enjoy this site, its easy to navigate and your reviews are terrific. Not only do you keep my current reading full my TBR stash has grown and will soon outgrow its closet. OH, poor me! ;)

  8. GayLauren says:

    Thank you to all your reviewers for the hard work you put in. I, like many others, really appreciate your thoughtful reviews and find them an excellent way to discover new authors. As well, when I come across a new author on someone’s blog/review, my immediate action is to flick across to AAR and check them out. For those of us who don’t have access to review copy “freebies” it is very frustrating to spend money on a book and then find it is definitely not a keeper and probably not even a maybe keeper.
    Thank you also for the “if you like author X , you might also like authors Y and Z…” section as well as the information about reviewers favourite authors and top 10 books. Both these sections help we readers sort through all the possibilities to find books to read and authors to follow. One of the challenges for the reading public is the huge number of new books available so I wonder if AAR would consider starting a discussion on two topics, one ” the best of category romance” and ” the best of self-published romance”. In terms of category romance I am down to one author who is an autobuy for me (Janice Jay Johnson). There must be other authors who write interesting stories where the heroine is not TSTL, the hero is not an impossibly rich and handsome superstud and the whole story relies on a big misunderstanding to keep them apart. I am not suggesting all other category authors write such stories but so many new titles come out and cover prices have risen so I am hesitant to spend money downloading a book that turns out to be a dud. I have no wish to throw my IPAD against the wall in frustration and unfortunately one cannot trade an electronic copy in to a UBS to get a small amount of money back. In respect of self published books, I realise many authors offer books free and provide excerpts to build an audience but I would love a discussion/forum where readers can alert each other (and AAR reviewers) to discovered gems. My auto buy authors are J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts, Ilona Andrews, Jayne Ann Krentz, Janice Kay Johnson, Sue Grafton, Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly, Patricia Briggs and I will probably add Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas and Carrie Vaughn to the list. Are there any authors who readers/ reviewers with similar tastes to mine can recommend?

  9. Alexia says:

    T was there with you at RWA 2014. it was a blast and I learned a ton about writing and the business of being a writer. Thanks!

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