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L.T. Suzuki

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An Interview with Author & Book Reviewer Caroline Leavitt
9/1/2009 6:09:54 AM

Get the inside scoop on how author Caroline Leavitt became a professional book reviewer and what makes a novel get rave reviews!
I know some of you have become accustomed to reading interviews about inspiring and talented authors on my Authorsden.com blog page, but this week, I’ve decided on something a little different. I’ve chosen to feature a talented lady, Caroline Leavitt as today’s guest blogger. Although Caroline is an accomplished author with eight published novels to her credit, she is also a columnist for the Boston Globe where you can read her book reviews. Caroline is here to share in her thoughts and experiences as a professional book reviewer; information I am confident all authors and aspiring writers will find relevant and fascinating.
Thank you, Caroline. Can you begin with a little personal information about your writing career and how you became a book reviewer?

CL: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I started sending out short stories when I was 16, and had enough rejections to paper my apartment when I was 25. Then two amazing things happened. I sold a short story (for $50!) to The Michigan Quarterly Review and I won First Prize in Redbook Magazine’s Young Writers’ Contest. I got a letter from a New York literary agent asking if I had an agent—and suddenly I had one and she sold my first novel to a publisher on the basis of the prize-winning story! I had no idea how to write a novel, but I fell in love with the whole process, and later went on to write scripts.
I had a friend who was reviewing for the Boston Globe and I asked her if they needed any reviewers. Because the Globe had already reviewed my past novels, they knew who I was and they gave me some books to review as a try-out. That led to my reviewing for the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. After a while, the Globe asked me I would like to do a column for them, and of course-I jumped at the chance. Once one door opens, many others do. I was then able to get a book column at Cookie for a while, and then at Dame, and then I was hired to review for People.

LS: Has your role as a professional book reviewer played havoc with you as an author?

CL: The great thing about being a reviewer is it changed the way I look at my own reviews. I used to panic at reviews and go over and over every word. A bad review would send me into a tailspin, and a good review would make me anxious, because how could my next novel ever live up to that review? But now I realize reviews are really just one person’s opinion, and just one part of what makes a book get into the hands of readers. I always tell people the story of one particular day when I got a full-page rave in The Washington Post and full-page pan in the Philadelphia Inquirer! The Inquirer hated everything the Post loved. So who was right? It was just two very different opinions.

LS: Wow! I’m sure I will not be the only one to find your comment very enlightening! And as far as your position goes, to me, I have always assumed there was a difference between a reviewer and a critic. Am I wrong?

CL: Hmm, I tend to think of them as one in the same, but I think the tone of the words suggests that a critic tends to analyze more while a reviewer gives an overview. I call myself both.

LS: What is your favorite genre and can you tell our readers who some of your favorite authors are and why?

CL: I love literary fiction. I tend to love books that are dark, thorny, and about human relationships. I love Dan Chaon because I think he writes about the dark heart of people. I worship Elizabeth Strout because her books are so full of humanity. Anne Tyler is great because she makes it seem effortless. I also have a huge soft spot for Ray Bradbury. My father brought home The Martian Chronicles for me when I was ten and I was hypnotized by it. I love the books of Leora Skolkin-Smith, Masha Hamilton, Rochelle Jewell Shapiro, Katharine Weber, Scott Spencer, Richard Price—the list goes on and on.

LS: What is the best part of your job as a book reviewer? What is the worst?

CL: The best part is that I get to discover writers I never knew about. I get to help debut writers get some press. I try not to review books that everyone else is doing. I choose the books for my Boston Globe column and for Dame Magazine, but my reviews for People are all assigned, and that’s great fun because it gets me reading widely. They assign books that I probably never would have picked up myself and I end up loving them. The worst? I don’t think there is a worst! I feel so lucky to be able to get paid to read books and write about them.

LS: With the release of Christopher Paolini’s debut novel, Eragon, in particular his self-published version prior to Knopf’s edition, I could not help but notice on the internet that many adult readers were harsh, in some cases cruelly harsh, with their reviews. Some went as far as mocking the novel as being basically a rip-off of Star Wars, and yet, the target audience of young readers loved the story. How much influence do you believe professional reviews have on the popularity/sales of a title?

CL: Great question. With Eragon, I frankly think there was some jealousy going on there. People just wanted to snipe at a young kid getting such a book deal.
There are two kinds of reviews, the professional ones that come from newspapers and magazines and radio, and the reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and other sites. I’ve noticed that the reader reviews tend toward the vicious at times, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to criticize than to write a thoughtful evaluation of a book’s strengths. While I don’t think the nasty reviews here really hurt a book (most readers can tell that the author of a really ugly review has a bone to pick), I do think that a lot of great reader reviews on a place like Amazon can help. I had a friend who self-published her book (she couldn’t find a traditional publisher) and she had so many reader reviews on Amazon, Doubleday saw them and offered her a contract.
Newspaper and magazine reviews certainly help. A rave in People or The New York Times can skyrocket sales, and the interesting thing is sometimes a pan can, too. Readers tend to remember that they saw a book reviewed, and even a negative review can sometimes make the plot seem intriguing enough to go and get the book.
Ultimately, though, I think word of mouth sells books. One person loves a book and tells another person, who tells another, and so on and so on.

LS: There’s been the rare occasion a movie had received such bad reviews, in fact, “so bad that it’s good” type reviews that it develops a cult following. Just out of curiosity, have you ever witnessed this phenomenon with a book?

CL: Hmmm, No, I really haven’t, but I have seen books get atrocious reviews (not so bad that it’s good, just “this is awful”) that have developed a following. The Bridges of Madison County got horrific reviews, but people loved the book and it became a mega-seller. Again, word of mouth is everything.

LS: Thank you, Caroline. Just when things are getting real interesting, I’m going to ask our readers to join us on Thursday when you return for Part Two of this interview! We look forward to learning how books are chosen for reviews, what writers should be aware of to avoid the dreaded negative review, what it really means to judge a book by its cover and more!

In the meantime, if you’d like more information about Caroline Leavitt check out:
Website link: http://www.carolineleavitt.com
Blog: http://carolineleavittville.blospot.com
Where to buy the books: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Twitter: Leavittnovelist.twitter
Facebook: Caroline Leavitt


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Alter your life Now -More Twice Born Men by Tuchy (Carl) Palmieri

Narratives of People who had life Altering Experiences,found God and changed their lives. People who truly were lost and found their Way with the Help of a man Named Frank Buchman ..  
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