Introducing Melanie Ting, Book Reviewer

Like most writers, I love to read as well. My reading habits are pretty diverse, but when I first got my Kindle I made the mistake of getting a bunch of free romances. That was a trip to the intersection of Credulity Crescent and Predictability Place. I understand that some readers like to escape the real world, but I think you can escape without completely breaking the gravitational pull of common sense. However I may be wrong, which happened once in 2010.

So when it comes to romance, I stick to ones about hockey. At least if it’s bad, I still get to read about hockey. Sadly though, certain hockey romances seem to have been written by people who don’t know anything about hockey. This is something that mystifies me. Why on earth would you write about something you didn’t have a real enthusiasm for?

Anyway, I’m the world’s pickiest reader when it comes to hockey romances. And I can’t even vent, since reviewing hockey romances would be a conflict of interest for me. Not to mention the possible retaliation. “Oh, so Melanie Ting hated my realistic novel about an orphan from Africa who made his way up to the top line in the NHL and won the love of a beauty queen/sports reporter/trial lawyer/animal rights activist? Well, let me trash her stupid book about…cookies? What the heck?”

Meanwhile, Ali Crean offered to review my book for her fabulous book blog, All the Things Inbetween. And by offered, I mean she put a call out for indie books to review and I applied. She scheduled a review of my book for April, but then she got so sick that she completely stopped posting and reviewing. Desperate, she sent out a message asking if anyone would like to help her out by providing blog content. 

SuperMel to the rescue. I offered to write a couple of book reviews and author interviews. But because I’m lazy busy, I reviewed two books I had already loved and interviewed two authors I already knew. I figured I could kill a whole flock of birds with one stone (with that analogy, I’m clearly not an animal rights activist heroine) by helping out Ali, promoting two authors I admire, and also getting my name out there. And now maybe when Ali finally reads my book, she’ll think, “Well, that Cookie book’s okay, but Mel did me a solid by doing those reviews, so 5 stars!” I know, Machiavelli has nothing on my twisted mind.

My interviews and reviews have already started running. This week I interviewed Kate Willoughby and reviewed her book, On the Surface, is today. Next week, I interview Jaymee Jacobs, and review Play the Man. And do check out the rest of Ali's book blog. Her review style is like a literary cat on crack. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Having no experience at all in book reviewing, I went for the humour, and both Kate and Jaymee were totally hilarious in their interviews. Check them out and see for yourself.

Interview with Kate Willoughby where we play Marry, Date or Dump with members of the Los Angeles Kings. Woot!

Review of Kate Willoughby's hockey romance, On The Surface.

Review of Jaymee Jacob's hockey romance, Play The Man.

Interview with Jaymee Jacobs, where she explains how to tell if you're talking to a puck bunny or a hockey fan. In case you didn't know. Also you can play the Love Triangle Game, invented by me!

Should romance readers rule the world?

Are romance readers the nicest people in the world? Or the smartest?

Lately the subject of book reviews has come up a lot in writing world. The online writing board I visit has writers agonizing over getting more reviews. They buy ads, beg family, offer trades, whine, and cajole. One blog has writers complaining about bad reviews, while another has readers complaining about writers complaining about bad reviews. Is your head spinning yet? Mine is.

On the other hand, a writer friend is worrying about her lack of reviews, but her sales are sky high. She wonders how she can tell if people are enjoying the book or not. I wonder how I get sales like hers.

So what is going on? Are reviews important or not?

I have a theory. (I always have a theory, because I have an out-of-control imagination.) When I used to work in advertising, we had focus groups of consumers to try out product marketing ideas. There were certain consumers who were called heavy users. For example, the beer focus group was shown a new beer, and the guys (yes, they were always guys) said, “I’d try a case of that.” A case meant 24 beers, which they were going to drink over a weekend. By themselves. I leave it to your own out-of-control imagination to visualize what these guys looked like.

Romance is a huge category. In fact, many romance readers may not even consider themselves that since the genre is sometimes belittled. So most readers have subcategory preferences, ones that fit their interests, like suspense, historical, chick lit, vampires, young adult, on and on. I read a lot of hockey romances, because I’m interested in hockey and relationships. And I can usually tell from the sample if I’m going to like it or not. If the sample is not enough, I might look at the reviews, but I usually look at the bad ones first. To paraphrase Tolstoy: all good reviews are alike, but bad reviews are interesting in their own ways. In fact, a bad review may tip me off to something I may like in a book. Like reviews that complain about bad language or an unhappy ending, which are not things that bother me at all. Therefore, the good reviews are not necessary for me to make a purchase.

But let’s get back to those heavy users, but not beer drinkers—romance readers. (Although they may well be doing both at the same time. Personally, I visualize reading a romance with wine and chocolate.) If you’re reading three or more books a week, you are already an expert. You can probably scan a sample in two minutes and decide yay or nay. You have a list of authors whose books you like, and you pick a new one up automatically. You may even download books based on the cover, the subject only (like a hockey romance, pretty please) or because a friend recommended it. Reviews may not be important to those readers.

Really, it’s like anything. If you know about wines, you can pick out a good, low-priced wine by tasting it or even from the label. Similarly, heavy-user romance readers know what they enjoy and can pick out books accordingly. If the books are good, they’ll pick up all the author’s other books as well. They are smart that way, they don’t need reviews, good or bad, because they have self-knowledge.

In addition, romance readers seem to be a lot more tolerant than normal people. I’ve read reviews where readers complained a lot about the book, but then turned around and said they’d read the sequel. It’s the equivalent of having bad service at a restaurant, but being willing to give the place another try, something that nice people do. (Or people who live in a place where there aren’t a lot of restaurants.) And nice readers are also willing to give new/indie authors a chance. They don’t know the writer, but the synopsis looks intriguing enough, so one-click and the book is bought.

So why are all these writers worrying about reviews? I suspect that they write books in other categories where the readers are not so smart or so nice.