May 4 2007
When I spoke with Carol Stacy on Wednesday, she educated me about the Romantic Times reviews. I came away with a sense that RT does the best that they can to ensure that their reviews reflect an unbiased opinion of their reader reviewers. While some reader reviewers have favorite authors, like we do here, that may account for high marks for a book that might not be to the subscriber’s tastes, it does appear that the reviews are no more “biased” than one you might read on a reader blog.
I asked Ms. Stacy if she wouldn’t be willing to share this information with the readers and she complied. She knew that even if she did provide the guidelines that there will always be some detractors and she encourages anyone to email her. She’ll respond. But she won’t engage in a public banter back and forth and so I hope that you can respect that. I encourage you to email her if you have an issue about RT.
We can certainly have debate, if you like, about the quality/credibility of the reviews, policy changes that you think should be implemented to make a better magazine, but any comment that is a personal attack will be deleted.
Dear Readers and Authors,
When Jane called to confirm that Kathryn wrote the letter, I brought up a comment she made on her site, questioning the credibility of Romantic Times’ reviews.
I explained how books are reviewed and the process we have in place, which all reviewers must adhere to. She was surprised to learn just how involved the protocols are and invited me to share this information with the visitors to her site because she felt few were aware of them.
I know there is a misconception that our reviews are connected to advertising and I can emphatically say that NO they are not for mainstream publishers.
Before I get to the small press policy I would like to address our mainstream publisher policy, which includes publishers like Harlequin, Dorchester, Kensington, Penguin/Putnam, HarperCollins/Avon, Warner Books, Random House/Ballantine, Bantam/Dell, Simon & Schuster/Pocket, St. Martin's Press, Tor/Forge and ALL of their relevant imprints.
We review (or at least try to get the galley and/or manuscript for) EVERY book that appears in a publisher's sales kit that we feel is appropriate for our audience REGARDLESS of whether it is being advertised.
Case in point is Nora Roberts. By her own admission on this web site, she severed her relationship with the Romantic Times organization more than a decade ago. No contact with her at all. No ads from her. No ads from her publisher.
In those same 10 years, we have reviewed EVERY Nora Roberts book and EVERY J.D. Robb book.
Here is how we select the mainstream women's fiction books that we review:
- We have a column in the magazine called Publishers Previews that lists books coming out two months BEFORE the issue in hand, i.e., the June issue forecasts books being published in August. To compile the Publishers Previews list, we receive either a sales catalog from the publisher (which we go through and select the relevant books for our readers) OR we receive faxes from the publisher (which contain pages from the publisher's catalog) that highlight those books they deem relevant for our readership.
- It is the Publishers Previews listing that we use to track down all of the books we want to have represented in our magazine for that month. And WE DO track them down because some publishers do not just automatically send them out.
- This is all independent of whether or not a book it being advertised. PERIOD. END OF STORY.
Jane raised the question about whether or not our reviewers know which books are being advertised and the answer is NO. I think a few years ago someone from RWA correlated the advertised books in RT with ratings and found that there is no correlation. I am sure RWA has the archives of this article and findings for those who may be interested. But if they do not, it is easy for you to check out on our web site. Go to our search page and look up the advertised book and compare it to the rating.
We are working so far in advance to get books to the reviewers for the appropriate issue that our advertising list is far from complete when the reviews are assigned.
SMALL PRESS AND E-BOOKS AD/REVIEW POLICY:
Since we receive thousands of requests a month (this includes e-mails and actual manuscripts –" piles of manuscripts) from people who want us to review their small press and/or e-books, we realized we had to come up with a policy. Since many small press/e-book authors were already advertising with us, we felt it was fair to include reviews of their books. THIS IN NO WAY GUARANTEES THEM A GOOD REVIEW. In fact many of these books receive less than favorable reviews. Again you can check this out on our web site. As more small press and e-book authors began to advertise we extended the review option to them as well. Thus began the policy that we would review all small press/e-books advertised.
I also came up with an inexpensive way for small press/e-book authors to advertise so that their books would be guaranteed a review –" group advertorials. This is where several authors (typically five or more) share an ad for half the cost of a full-page ad. This has worked very well for small press/e-book authors who, for a few hundred dollars, can get their name in front of our readers and have a review of their book in the
This may explain why there are so many Ellora's Cave books reviewed in our magazine. It's because their authors do many group ads and in turn they get reviewed.
I want to reiterate that this small press/e-book review policy IN NO WAY AFFECTS THE RATING of a book. It only ensures a review. I also want say that we have established a policy that regardless of advertising we will not review m/m books at this time, which is why even though Laura Baumbach participates in advertorials her m/m books are not reviewed. The author agrees to be a part of the advertorials even though she understands her book will not be reviewed.
Also I want to reiterate this policy of ad/reviews DOES NOT APPLY to the mainstream publishers' books as explained earlier.
EVERY REVIEWER is given a ratings guideline, which I have included below along with a letter from me explaining what their goal should be when writing the review. Reviews are subjective and although we keep our reviewers in check, i.e. we will question too many 4s and 4 1/2s etc., we respect our reviewers' opinions since they all are readers.
I hope this information will be helpful in helping you understand more about Romantic Times BOOKreviews and our policies.
- 4 1/2 Gold — Phenomenal. In a class by itself.
- 4 1/2 — Fantastic. A Keeper.
- 4 — Compelling. Page Turner.
- 3 — Enjoyable. Pleasant Read.
- 2 — Problematic. May Struggle to Finish.
- 1 — Severely Flawed. Pass on this one.
Here is the REVIEWERS’ Guide to rating descriptions.
- 4 1/2 Gold– In a class by itself. Reserved ONLY for those books that have a WOW factor. A book that blows you away. One that you want to immediately spread the word about to all your reader friends. One you will not part with so you buy another to give to a friend because you are so excited about it. Does not have to be groundbreaking like a 5 was but has to be beyond a keeper. Please be sure to ONLY give this rating to books that are extremely special or it will diminish the impact. “In a class by itself” because that is how a Gold should be perceived by our readers.
- 4 1/2–Fantastic. A Keeper. (and please be sure it is a keeper). A book you COULD NOT put down. Perhaps it kept you up all night or you found yourself stealing time to get back to it. A book you would HIGHLY recommend without hesitation. A book that stays with you even after you have finished it. A book that is set apart from just a very good book.
- 4–Compelling. Page Turner– Not a keeper but a very enjoyable book. Completely entertaining and satisfying. One you did not want to put down. One you looked forward to getting back to. One you won’t get rid of but not one that will go up on your keeper shelf.
- 3–Enjoyable. Pleasant Read…Average. No great shakes but not bad. A so so book that can range from being average to good (note NOT very good book). Not a book you would recommend but if someone asked you about it you could say it was OK. Not compelling but one you will eventually finish.
- 2–Problematic. May Struggle to Finish. Does not engage. Boring. Hard to finish OR has serious technical problems that made it hard to finish. A 2 is a book you probably would not have finished if you did not have to review it. Problematic says it is flawed but not unredeeming even if you are not recommending it.
- 1–Severely Flawed. Pass on this one. Should never have been published without major editing. A BAD book. OR it can be a book you would never support because of offensive or objectionable content but if you use this you MUST state the reason. Absolutely would not have finished if you did not have to review it. This says lots and lots of problems. Unredeeming. Don’t waste your money.
(This is the letter I send to the reviewers)
ABOUT THE REVIEWS:
The book reviews are the heart and soul of RT BOOKreviews magazine and it is imperative that we make every effort to strengthen the reviews and make hard decisions when rating the books. If you look through any issue of RT BOOKreviews magazine as an objective reader you would raise an eyebrow as to how many books are rated 4 and 4 1/2 in each issue.
I am not saying that you should give a great book a lesser rating or a bad book a higher rating. I am only asking that you take a minute to reflect on each rating to determine what number it should receive and in MOST CASES I think you will determine it should be lower.
With the “critical–? paragraph as the lead, it is very important to convey what is good (or bad) about a book in specific terms. Phrases like “will keep you on the edge of your seat,–? or “beautiful prose,–? or “a page-turner,–? or “a book to snuggle up with on a cold winter's night,–? or even “will keep you up all night,–? does not say anything specifically about the book. What readers want to know is WHY it will keep them up all night, WHY it's a page-turner or WHY the prose is beautiful, etc.
Your critical paragraph must convey the tone of the book, i.e., suspenseful, humorous, very sensual, etc., and also substantiate why it is getting the rating you've chosen.
It's important to note that although we are asking you to consider giving more ratings on the low end of the scale, we will not accept mean-spirited descriptions that can be construed as a personal attack on an author. For instance, it is not acceptable to say something like, “this author should keep her day job because she can't put two sentences together.–? Or “about the only thing this book is good for is a doorstop.–? You get the idea.
We want to take the high road and explain to readers why the book didn't work without a personal attack or a mean-spirited opinion.
The book summary should be kept to TWO SHORT paragraphs. This is just a summary, and is not intended to give readers a blow-by-blow description of the entire book. Readers just want the gist of the story to see if it is something they would be interested in reading.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE be sure to check the spelling of characters' names, places and also the title of the book and the author's name. We have been embarrassed on a number of occasions where the publisher and/or author have contacted us with corrections.
Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication, for your commitment to the deadlines and most of all for your loyal support. It is you, the readers, that make RT BOOKreviews so special!