Over at Writer’s Beware, Abigail Goben has an interesting post about the process she goes through into determining which books make it onto the shelves of her library. I’ve pulled out some of the most relevant points, but the whole post is certainly worth reading.

Where I find books:

* Professional Reviews: I spend time diligently going through Library Journal, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and other professional review journals. The majority of my selections come from there, and that’s probably what you’ll catch me perusing at the reference desk.

* Librarian Blogs: We’re a chatty bunch and love recommending things to each other. There are certainly better or worse blogs, but when it’s a review coming from someone whose blog I respect, I’m more inclined to consider a purchase. Librarians working with patrons every day know what goes well with their audience and what might go well with mine.

* Patron Requests: I’m fortunate enough to have a big enough budget that if a patron requests it, we can usually get it. I do verify that the requester belongs to my library system.

I guess us bloggers don’t have as much pull as we like to think. To people in the industry, are fluffy Kirkus reviews really more useful than some of the in-depth reviews written by non-professional reviewers?

What sinks a book:

* A bad review followed by only ho hum reviews. If there is one bad review in four and the others are pretty positive, it stays on my list. If there is only one review and it’s bad, or the other reviews don’t make me believe–I’m not buying it.

* Bad cover art Cover appeal is huge both with both children and adults. There is an extremely decorated and celebrated children’s author who prefers very stylized art on his covers. The majority of the kids I’ve attempted to booktalk/handsell it to didn’t like it, and so whether they were interested in the story or not, they didn’t take the book. You may not have a lot of input into your cover, but keep in mind that abstract doesn’t tend to go over well with the 12-and-under crowd, and that I, as a librarian, do consider cover : art.

* Proclamations of the book being the next whatever–HP, Twilight, Grisham, Patterson, Kellerman…you name it, we’ve seen it.

Ahh, well… that one sort of throws a kink in my whole let-the-cover-stand-out-and-forsake-cliche/trends argument. This librarian is speaking of children’s books, but I’d be curious to hear similar first-hand experience from somebody working with adult Speculative Fiction novels. Also, the next time your librarian tells you not to judge a book by its cover… just remember that they might have when deciding whether it deserved a place on their shelves.

Let’s be realistic:

* It is extremely rare that I will purchase anything from a vanity press. It’s not impossible, but the items purchased tend to be of the local history, local celebrity nature rather than a pedantic children’s chapter book, poorly self-illustrated picture book, or a church collection of recipes.

* Everyone writes WWII books. Please, if you’re interested in writing historical fiction, choose another time period. I see an average of 4 “escaping the Nazis” books a month and while we certainly don’t discount Holocaust literature, there is so much more out there that would also benefit from time in the limelight, and it’s more likely to catch my eye for not being WWII.

I suppose every genre has its kitchen-boy-saving-the-world-from-a-dark-lord-type story. Remember, kiddos: generic cover art = good, generic stories = bad.

You can read the whole article HERE, where Goben goes into more detailing pertaining to authors and their role in getting their novels into libraries. In all, it’s an interesting look into a side of the industry that isn’t well represented online (we have lots of pundits, marketers and authors, but few booksellers/buyers or librarians, despite how much influence they have on the industry.) I’d love to hear more tales from people on the buying side of the industry.

  • Ben April 16, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for linking to this article. Goben makes a lot of interesting points. I am curious, however, about your reaction to her reliance on professional reviews. You write:

    “I guess us bloggers don’t have as much pull as we like to think. To people in the industry, are fluffy Kirkus reviews really more useful than some of the in-depth reviews written by non-professional reviewers?”

    The answer to your question seems like a no-brainer to me. Yes, obviously Kirkus, PW and LJ reviews are more useful to book buyers and librarians than blog reviews. Those magazines contain capsule reviews of a huge number of books in one place. How many blogs would one need to find and read to get the same exposure to coming releases? Especially when one considers that the librarian isn’t looking at the release horizon for one genre, but across genres?

    Also, let’s say there is a book that got panned in Kirkus, PW and LJ, but it picked up some heat in the online world. Isn’t that where “Patron Requests” would come in? I don’t think you should look at it as bloggers not having pull, but rather than you exert your pull through your readers.

    Finally, Mark Athitakis, an American blogger and book critic, wrote a great piece about writing for Kirkus last year when it looked like the publication was going under. It’s a wonderful piece. You can find it here:


  • aidan April 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    @Ben I just find it cute that capsule reviews, as you put it, which are mostly useless as critical, thoughtful analyses of novels, are more important in the bookbuying market than some of the lucid, thoughtful reviews being posted by ‘non-professional’ reviewers.

    I certainly understand that librarians can’t wade through full reviews of hundreds of books, but those capsule reviews don’t really give anyone a proper grasp on the strengths or weaknesses of the novels. I accept the reasoning, I just lament (with tongue somewhat in cheek) that it must be that way.

    That said, as the article illustrates, that’s just one piece to the puzzle and can certainly be overridden by other factors.

    Thanks for the link.

  • Ben April 16, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I agree with everything you write in your reply. I’d only add that while capsule reviews are indeed “mostly useless as critical, thoughtful analyses of novels,” they are also not intended to be “critical, thoughtful analyses of novels.” They aim only to give a proverbial thumbs up or down to industry insiders. But, as you note, “it must be that way.”

  • The Evil Hat/Nat April 16, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Well, the librarians aren’t looking to gain a personal feel for each novel, but rather to know whether or not the average reader might be interested. A capsule review is utterly worthless when it comes to knowing whether YOU might like a novel, but it can give you a good idea about what your average person might think. I doubt that librarians choosing books want, or need, indepth analysis, and, as Ben pointed out, convenience probably rules here.

  • aidan April 16, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    @Nat – Which brings us right back around to my original statement that bloggers don’t have as much pull/influence as we like to think.

  • Kendall April 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Ben and Nat beat me to it. Librarians’ purposes are different. And be honest–your reviews aren’t aimed at library buyers–they’re aimed at genre fans, no? ;-) So you can’t be surprised by what she wrote.

    I wonder what fraction of book-buying libraries really comprise. With limited space and inter-library loans, I’d’ve thought not a large fraction…..???

    Also–despite what she said, no doubt some librarians do read book review blogs like yours (probably just in genres they personally love, not across the board). So there’s probably a small influence on some of them from review blogs like this. :-)

    BTW, the cover thing–regarding adults, really–surprised me a bit. ;-(

  • Stormy70 April 17, 2010 at 6:42 am

    My library has an online “Suggest a Purchase” section, which also asks where you saw the book. So far, my suggestions have all been purchased, and I usually list Fantasy blogs as the source. I hope they are now paying attention to these blogs.

  • hapax April 18, 2010 at 7:52 am

    “I wonder what fraction of book-buying libraries really comprise. With limited space and inter-library loans, I’d’ve thought not a large fraction…..???”

    I am the fiction selector at one medium-sized stand alone public library. I purchase twenty thousand dollars worth of hardcover fiction (not counting paperbacks, audiobooks, digital books, etc) a year – and that’s with my huge distributor discounts.

    “I certainly understand that librarians can’t wade through full reviews of hundreds of books, but those capsule reviews don’t really give anyone a proper grasp on the strengths or weaknesses of the novels.”

    As a reviewer for Kirkus, I spend approximately one month on each review, reading the book at least three times, and revising, revising, revising that review to give the salient strengths and weaknesses of each title in less than two hundred words.

    Although I do rely heavily on blog reviews (particularly in the genres which are NOT my favorites) to get a feeling of what the hardcore fans care about, I do not find them particularly useful for individual purchases.

    Basically, the unlimited space encourages sloppiness, carelessness, irrelevant tangents, and personal rants. “Capsule reviews” are the exact opposite of “fluffy”, since they have no room for such self-indulgent flourishes.

    One librarian’s perspective.

    P.S. If this sounds too harsh, I really do like this site, and have added it to my (already hefty) review blogroll. I just think that you have no clue about what librarians actually do and care about — and why should you? You’re not writing for us, after all…)

    Think again.

  • aidan April 18, 2010 at 9:05 am

    @hapax – Cheers for that.

    Though we’ll agree to disagree about your perception of online reviews, that’s the exact sort of insight I was hoping this blog post would provide. Clearly, it’s a serious business from both sides of the matter. As you say, I will freely admit to not having a clue how libraries work (though I tried my damnedest to work in my local library, they’d always hire women over men, which is a another issue altogether), which is what drew me to this article in the first place.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  • Jan April 19, 2010 at 8:39 am

    I’m a lifelong sf reader and fan AND a librarian these past 35 years. I found this blog through sf signal, which I read regularly.

    Even in my school library I spend about $10,000 annually on books – mostly fiction. Libraries are major purchasers of fiction, especially hardbacks, as evidenced by all the time and attention the publishers pay to us.

    Librarians are professionals who make serious decisions on spending tax payer money. Of course we are going to look for professional reviews – anything else would be unacceptable. But to that we add the reader requests, what we know about our readers and what they like, and read read LOTS of blogs. We also go to ALA and other major book trade shows, read publisher blogs and email announcements, and go to publisher/editor booktalks.

    I’m always disappointed in how little sf is at ALA. Get your publishers out there interacting with librarians and giving out ARCs, etc. Wizards of the Coast has done such a bang-up job at ALA for years and there stuff is now in most school libraries. There was one great, huge sf/fantasy author panel discussion at ALA last summer and the room was packed! We got got a sack full of books and introductions to new authors.

    Make friends – not enemies!

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