Monday, April 16, 2012

The Stars in Our Eyes: Professional Reviews

Are you curious about how the "system" works? How do librarians pick books for their libraries? How does Barnes and Noble decide what books to feature/sell? How do bloggers know which books are "hot" and which ones to review?

For many folks, professional reviews are their biggest source of information. Here's a sneak peek at the inside world of professional reviews.

When I say "professional reviews," I mean those featured in magazines/websites such as School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher's Weekly, Horn Book Magazine, Booklist, Library Journal, and others. Often, folks are paid to review and have had to apply to be a reviewer; they must have some experience in the field, be it bookseller, librarian, etc. These magazines/websites all have editors who review the reviews. Stars get assigned to books based on the reviewer's recommendation and the editor's agreement. Here's something you may not know, though: negative reviews don't appear. Bottom line: if a book doesn't appear in the professional review sources, it's because it didn't measure up in some way. If a book does appear, then someone thought it worthwhile--even if it doesn't have a star.

Folks in charge of buying books for libraries (or other places) will read (skim) these review sources to find out what's getting buzz. Oh--a particular book has a star. Let's read that review more closely. Wow--this book got stars from two sources. Must be worth paying attention. THREE STARS?? (from three different sources) It's at the top of list. If you're curious about this process, there are two great web articles worth checking out: Stars vs. Printz (how the medal committees factor in starred reviews) and HornBook's Stars. If you get the sense that all these folks know one another, you're not far wrong.

It is our hope to review some of these "hot now" titles and offer a critical perspective. I tend to try to sound positive in my reviews, but, unlike the major reviewers out there, if there's a "hot now" book that I don't  like or find offensive, I will tell you. It's worth examining current titles--both for what we can learn from them (great art mirrors life!), and for what the general public is being "instructed" to read by these powerful review sources. Professional reviewers have a lot of clout that people don't think about.

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