The Huffington Post books section isn’t going to do reviews, according to Amy Hertz:
#1. This is NOT a book review section. Let me say that again, because I know about 72,000 publicists just plotzed because they have no idea what to do other than ask for a review. Huffington Post Books is not a review — there’s a reason those sections in newspapers are dropping like flies.[…]
And now you’re thinking, If I can’t send you books to review, how does anyone get attention for them on your site?
I thought you’d never ask.
#2. Blog, blog, blog, blog, blog. You, your authors, your authors’ friends. And especially editors. Yes, you can come and blog about the books you love, the ones you are publishing, just make it clear to the reader who you are and what your relationship to the book is.
Book reviews tend to be conversation enders, and when you’re living in the age of engagement, a time when people are looking for conversation starters, that stance gets you nowhere.
In the comments to Martini’s post, Russell Letson argues:
Of course it’s a conversation, and the fact that in its traditional mode it is nearly always one-sided doesn’t mean that it stops communication. I’ve been addresssing imagined audiences via Locus and other periodicals for going on thirty years, and when a (perhaps non-representative) sample of readers gets to talk back, say, during a convention panel, it seems to me that I haven’t even slowed down the conversation. But then, I’ve never had to write the thumbs-up/thumbs-down buying-guide kind of review and never needed to do a killer review. Those might indeed be conversation-stoppers. Instead, I get to read what I think I’ll enjoy, describe what’s in front of me, and account for it–think out loud about why it’s enjoyable or interesting or new or comfy-familiar and where it came from and what other books it reminds me of, and anything else that pops into my tiny mind while my fingers are on the keyboard.
Obviously, I find the concept of the Huffington Post Books section as soul-shrivelling as the next good LRB/Locus/etc reader, and Letson is right that reviewing is a kind of conversation. But it’s not the kind of conversation Hertz wants. I wonder whether it isn’t precisely the argued judgement that Hertz sees as blocking the kind of conversation she does want, more than, as Letson speculates, buying-guide reviews. A well-written review of that kind, after all, covers off a lot of potential rebuttals, because the reviewer has already thought of them when composing their argument, so there’s a bar that anyone reading the review has to cross before they can enter into discussion with it. It’s not universally true, but reviews that get the most comments, particularly on blogs, tend to be those that are open-ended in some way.
However, it’s clearly not the kind of conversation that Hertz thinks is most effective at selling books. She thinks promos along the lines of Scalzi’s “Big Idea” slot are more effective. io9’s book group would probably meet with some approval, too. (Speaking of which, Paul McAuley answers questions about The Quiet War here.) Maybe she’s even right, on average. But personally, I’m glad the internet has many other places for me to get my books coverage.