Letter of the Moment

For the week of December 28, 2001 from reader Karen Staley:
What the heck is Blythe doing reviewing? It's so obvious that she either (A) hates reading, and is anti illiteracy, or (B) really a man and a member of the taliban. What's up with that?Or is she just mentally challenged?


LLB:
Before we pack Blythe off to a military tribunal to be tried and condemned, I'll try to respond to your question. . Those of us who criticize books are often accused of hating them, but the reverse is actually true. Consider the number of hours a day/week that Blythe spends reading, reviewing, and editing - all for free. Would she really do that if she hated reading and/or reading romance? Let's face it. There are a lot of average to crummy to horrendous books out there for sale. We believe we're doing a service to readers like you by letting you know when we think your money would be better spent elsewhere. Similarly, when we think a book is good, we'll practically shout out to you to buy it. This site is successful because we do that, and Blythe is a big part of doing that, not only as a reviewer, but as an editor and the person who spends countless hours at her computer and the postoffice. As Managing Editor, she works w/reviewers on book assignments, mails the books out, and keeps a database going of who's got what, and how long they've had it. Again, I repeat, she does this for no pay.

Of the more than 250 AAR and AAR/DIK reviews Blythe has written, nearly 40% have been grades of B- through A and another 35% were given grades of C- through C+ (technically passing grades). There are another 10 or so reviews strictly on the DIK page that Blythe wrote. All of which is pretty good proof, if you ask me, that Blythe, though a tough taskmaster, is doing her job very well. She and I have fairly differing tastes, and yet I know when I read her reviews exactly why she liked or didn't like a book, which is what I believe is the purpose of a review.

If your tastes differ from Blythe's, if you love the books she detests, if you abhor the books she loves, feel free to discuss them on the Reviews Message Board. As for our other readers, if you'd care to respond to Karen's email, please do so on our Reviews Message Board as well.

For the week of July 15th, 2001 from reader Cindy Wiser:
I loved your bookaholic list and had to share a quick story. When I was in college, my family took my roommate and me out to the movie. There was a long line (The Empire Strikes Back, I think it was). My roommate Denise still tells people how her mouth dropped open in shock when my parents, siblings, and I each took an resigned look at the length of the line, shrugged philosophically, and pulled books from purses, pockets, or bags. We leaned against the wall and prepared to wait. I think the thing that most amazed poor Denise was how surprised we were that she was amazed!


LLB:
I've often taken a book with me to the movies as well and I'm glad to know I'm not the only one! Several months ago there was a children's film festival that my husband and I took our daughter to. We planned to stay for most of the day, seeing classics such as The Red Balloon as well as more recent fare. As we shuttled back and forth between films, and sat waiting for each of them to start, I pulled out my book, along w/my nifty reading light. My daughter nearly died of embarassment, even though she's a big reader herself.

I've already copped to sometimes reading at stoplights, and others are proud to say they read in the bath, the pool - even the shower! Where have you read that might seem odd to the non-bookaholic? And, when without something to read, what's the lowest you've sunk to in order to appease your "readism?" Is it an air freshener container in the john, a cereal box, or something even more esoteric? Please post your responses to our Potpourri Message Board.

For the week of June 29th, 2001 from inspirational romance author Staci Stallings:
(This is an excerpt from a Write Byte entitled "What Women Really Want")
Why do romance books sell mostly to women? The answer, of course, is that women are more captivated by romance. Not that men don't benefit from relationships, it's just that many of them do not understand the importance of romance in a long-term relationship. And so, craving romance, women turn to the pages of Harlequin or Silhouette to fill the void. Because of this, romance is often equated with the sex portrayed in these novels. This is simply not the case, and the more we buy into this myth, the farther we drift from being able to clearly recognize real romance. We being to think that the feelings of safety and companionship must end in a hot, under-the-covers tete-a-tete for it to be considered "romantic." Nothing could be further from the truth.

Has Staci Stallings painted an accurate picture of the romance industry today? Read responses from readers and authors on this adjunct page, compiled by archiving messages from our Potpourri Message Board.

For the week of April 11, 2001 from reader Ruth:
I've visited your site daily since it's debut. I think it's a well run and very organized site. Now for my question. I've read Midnight Honor and also Rules Of Attraction...let me rephrase that. I started ROA and maybe got through four or five chapters. I did not like this book. It didn't even read like a Dodd book. ( I love her writing) . I have no problem with a reviewer giving a high rating to a book I disliked, or a low one to a book I liked. To me it's all subjective. My problem is trying to understand why MH was not given DIK rating (B+ is darn close) when ROA did receive this status. It's possible that reading these reviews back to back, one book I thought was an exceptional piece of writing and the other I thought awful, might be influencing my curiosity. You may have explained this on the bbs and I just missed it but...is a DIK rating based solely on how the reviewer perceives a book? Or is there a criteria that must be met?

One last thought...if I were a reader that purchased books based solely on reviews I would have been very cranky. But I'm not, so that isn't an issue.


LLB:
As you may or may not know, every review at AAR is the reviewer's subjective opinion about the book. DIK status is reserved for the very best reads, according to each reviewer. The tastes among our review staff are quite broad, reflective of the wide variety of tastes among our readers. What is a DIK for one reviewer may not be for another, which is why we sometimes post dual reviews.

Considering all the flack we get over negative reviews in general, it is our DIK reviews where our reviewers feel the most vulnerable - it's a rare book indeed that receives DIK status that doesn't come under flack by some segment of our readership. Two different reviewers read the two books you mentioned, and each has differing tastes. We encourage readers to not only look at the grades given to books we review, but to carefully read the reviews themselves; what excites one reviewer about a book may be a turn-off to the reader, and vice versa.

I've already heard from Christina Dodd that this newest release has received many reviews. Our review was the most positive she'd received and many were not at all favorable. I can recall reviewing her 1997 release - A Well Pleasured Lady - and awarding it DIK status. That book, as well as my review, were so controversial, we were able to start an entire section at AAR devoted to Rifs in Political Correctness.

I'm sorry you did not enjoy Dodd's book, but am very happy that you did enjoy the Marsha Canham release. I read the book as well and would not have granted it DIK status either. For me it would not even have been a B+, but a B or B-; any level of B from any one of us at AAR is considered a recommended read, with varying levels of qualification. As for the Dodd, Mary's review made me move it closer to the top of my enormous TBR pile.

Please comment on Ruth's email (or my response) on our Potpourri Message Board.

For the week of March 31, 2001 from reader Sue Wavers:
Thank you for taking the time to compile the reading lists (Special Title Listings). I have found them very helpful. Here is my suggestion for a special title listing......Oh Please, You Call Them Heroes.

I know all your lists are "positive", but someone really needs to put together a list of Romances better labeled Fiction. The ones that really stick out for me are the Coulter books, Warrior's Song aka Chandra, and Fire Song. Some of Connie Mason's books would be in there too. I would also put BD Joyce's first book on the list too not for his treatment of the heroine, but for his participation in the book's story line.

When I pick up a book labeled ROMANCE, I am not expecting abusive heroes or heroines for that matter. It's disappointing to buy a book and find out the hero is not star quality. It amazes me the author can make a woman so needy she sticks with the hero regardless of any prior poor treatment of her.


LLB:
Although we do not plan to add negative categories in our Special Title Listings, we think Sue's discussion of unheroic heroes deserves more reader input - I'd actually love to create an At the Back Fence segment on it.

Please comment on Sue's email on our Potpourri Message Board.

For the week of March 15, 2001 from author Julia Quinn regarding the difference between romance novels and romantic novels in response to an author who posted about his novel on aarlist:
There's a big difference between a romance novel and a romantic novel. A romance novel is actually a very specific type of novel, and the genre has certain parameters that you must stay within if your book is to be published as a romance novel. Your story has to revolve around a man and a woman, and there has to be a happy ending. How you get from the first meet to the happy ending is up to you, but the ending must be happy.

When you think about it, it's not so different from a mystery novel. In a mystery, there must be a crime (usually murder) and it must be solved. Think how angry you'd be if you picked up an Agatha Christie novel and at the end, Hercule Poirot stratched his head and said, "Well, that's a stumper."

When you pick up a mystery you have certain expectations, and if they're not met, you'll be pretty ticked off. The same goes for romance. Romance readers tend to be pretty widely read - they read all sorts of fiction in addition to romance. But they generally want to know what they're reading. So if they hear about (a book being touted to romance readers), they want to know - is it a Romance? That's really all anyone means when they ask if there is a happy ending. Once people on this list know that your book is not a romance novel, some won't want to buy it, and some will - but the people who do buy it will know what sort of book they're getting - general fiction with a romantic element.

The fact that you'd be peeved that someone wants to know the ending of your book means, quite clearly, that you're not writing Romances! But the question itself is not a silly one. It's like if you said you'd written a book with a mystery in it, and someone asked you, "Does the mystery get solved?" If it doesn't get solved, then you haven't written a Mystery, you've written general fiction with a mystery sub-plot.

Note from JQ: I can't take credit for the above mystery analogy; another author said it first, and said it better. Unfortunately (and to my complete mortification) I can't remember who it was!


LLB:
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this, and on the HEA ending in particular on our Potpourri Message Board.
Feel free to use our internal search engine for more on the HEA ending
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For the week of December 4, 2000, from Karen P. concerning amazon.com's new used book policy:
Are you aware of the current controversy regarding Amazon's used book sales as exemplified in the infamous Amazon blue boxes ?

Many authors and readers are upset because Amazon is offering used copies of books on the same section as the new book - often when books are newly out. Authors are upset at the loss of royalties and the potential for damaging their sell-throughs and contracts. Many of these authors have removed Amazon links from their sites.

Readers are trying to support authors, particularly romance authors, by not buying from Amazon. They are letting Amazon know, in a variety of ways, of their actions.

Do you have any plans for cutting off the AAR relationship with Amazon? If not, I am sure you have good reasons why. I am just curious if you know the extent of the upset in the romance community ?


LLB:
I am aware of amazon.com's change in policy and the controversy surrounding it. The day I saw the change I wrote them; though I did receive a fairly prompt response, I am not satisfied with it, albeit for reasons you may not have considered.

The costs associated for running this site have to be paid for through various sources of revenue, including commissions from amazon.com. We have managed to cobble together a few different sources of revenue that allow me to cover the costs associated with AAR, and though our CPA tells me that if I can't show a real profit soon, we won't continue to be able to take business deductions. Although it would be nice for me to actually earn a living from the 60 hours a week I spend running this site, I live with the fact that I'll probably never do much more than cover our out-of-pocket costs, which include yearly domain fees, monthly site fees, software and consulting fees, fees for our paid message boards, bookmark creation and printing fees, and postage fees. The cost of postage is now our single largest continuing expense; books are not light, and manuscripts and hardcovers weigh (and cost) considerably more. Since we get most books close to their release date, we cannot mail them to reviewers at the cheap book rate; we most often have to mail them first class or priority mail. Most months, the cost of mailing books to reviewers and books to winners of our weekly contests comes is fairly substantial.

Our largest individual source of revenue is our commission stream from amazon.com, and the chances are good that their change in policy will hurt AAR as well - if a reader links to a book via one of our reviews and buys a used copy rather than a new one, AAR does not receive a commission, although they arrived at that page at amazon.com through us.

Unfortunately, neither the online stores for Barnes & Noble or Borders pay a commission rate as high as amazon.com pays, and the difference is not negligible. At this point, my options are limited. If our revenue from amazon.com commissions drops to what I consider an unacceptable level, I will have to weigh those losses against the commission rate offered by its competitors. Unfortunately, it looks to be a lose-lose situation regardless, and I'll be faced with whether we can continue such features as our weekly give-away contests.

If AAR had a commitment from a certain number of readers that they would place their monthly book orders through us, thus guaranteeing a steady revenue stream, I would be more inclined to consider a move. But because, for now, amazon.com's commissions contribute roughly half of our overall revenues, I'm stuck in a bind.

I think amazon.com has made a mistake and I've told them they are being unfair to not only authors, but to their thousands of associates. I feel I'm between a rock and a hard place. What do you suggest we do?

December 15, 2000:
Based on posts to our message board, it appears as though most of our readers were not aware that we received amazon.com commissions. Since learning we do, many have posted they will now order online through our links.

For the first week in October, 2000, please take this link for our letter of the moment:

Keeping It In Perspective: Author vs. Reviewer vs. Reader

This is an article by author Adele Ashworth, and follow-up by LLB and our readers.

For the week of July 28, 2000, from our interview with Connie Brockway:
"My former editor tried to gently tell me that readers dislike being jerked around (my words, not hers) tonally and appreciate knowing what to expect from an author. Do you think thatís true?"

LLB responds: I think it depends on the author. Some authors I fall in love with because they write in a certain style. Others - and I think it honestly takes more talent to do this - can write light and fluffy and dark and edgy. I may prefer one over the other, but I often love both. Had you written six books in one style and then started to mix them up, I can see your former editor's point more.

On the other hand, I can also see where it would be difficult for a publisher to market an author who changes so much from book to book.

Please feel free to post your response to Connie's question on our Potpourri Message Board.

For the week of July 1, 2000, from Jennifer R:
"I happened across an old column which was discussing the absorbion of many lines by one parent company coupled with the advent of the superstores that seem to gobble up their smaller competition.

"While I believe that fairly recently there was a discussion about bookshelves full of reprints, and the short shelf life for mid-list authors I was wondering what expectations there were for books of the future.

"The old article was comparing the romance novel industry to that of the action movie industry. I think I'm beginning to see the parallels. Many studios (Publishers) throw money at Tom Cruise (Nora Roberts) and sit back to rake in the dough. Now, the nice thing about these two is that, by and large, they tend to be a cut above everyone else. Unfortunately, the success of this prompts studios in turn to throw the same type of money to Adam Sandler (Name your author ) which succeeds in lowering the bar for both industries when these are successful. In attempts to copy this success, other similar characters are in turn given comparably large sums of money for even worse product. These things may make a limited amount of money, but more often then not they bomb big.

"This, in turn, has taken money away from the other movies (books) atempting to get made. Things that are more controversial, that vere from the established norm and don't have a proven track record, or even worse, have one like it that did poorly, have almost an insurmountable time getting made.

"However, the movie industry does have one thing that the publishing industry lacks, independent producers. These people go off and make the movies that the big studios won't touch, and if they're good, they may get a distributor and be brought to the general public.

"The publishing industry is currently lacking this alternative, at least insofar in the realm of print. However, I think that all of us readers need to take a harder look at the world of e-books. I know that my opinion, without ever having read one, is that they are comprised of writers who couldn't get published and so are substandard. (Especially considering some of the books that I've seen published) However, I think I'm going to read one now because it may not be that they are poorly written, but that their content didn't fit the constraints placed on authors who are not A-list."

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