Below is the transcript to our last SLJ Reviewer Chat, which focused on fine-tuning review verdicts, and was held on March 30 via a new platform. To access a cleaner, and prettier version, feel free to log in to your Slack account and check out the SLJ Reviewer Chat channel.
Plus, check out a recent example of a pretty awesome verdict:
Some of our recent reviewers have done some truly excellent work when it comes to crafting a verdict that’s enlightening and fun to read. In a recent review of a YA book on cults, Suzanne Gordon wrote, “This attempt at gritty outsider realistic fiction is unlikely to draw converts.”
2:57 PM Hello everyone! our reviewer chat is starting in a few minutes! Feel free to say hello and say where you’re from!
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2:58 PM Hi! I’m Jennie from Arlington, VA
2:58 PM Hi from Chicago where March is going out like a lion.
2:58 PM Hi I’m Erin from TN
2:58 PM hi!
2:59 PM Hi, I’m Marybeth Kozikowski, from Long Island in NY State, on a gorgeous sunny afternoon.
2:59 PM I’m Shelley Diaz, SLJ reviews manager
3:00 PM :wave: Hi everyone. I’m Kiera, reviews director.
3:00 PM Hi. I’m Kent Turner. I edit the DVD reviews
3:00 PM I edit YA reviews and bilingual
3:00 PM I’m on the reference desk during this so I apologize in advance if some answers sound disjointed (darn patrons!)
3:00 PM Hello! I am Della Farrell, nonfiction editor
3:00 PM Ditto Marybeth’s circumstance.
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3:01 PM Welcome to first-ever slj reviewer chat via Slack. I hope you’re finding the new platform fun to use.
3:01 PM I’m Luann Toth. I assign and edit picture books.
3:01 PM I really like that you can download as an app as well!
3:01 PM Hello. This is Hilary from Lexington.
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3:01 PM Hi! I’m Miriam in Baltimore.
3:01 PM Slack just an app or can u use it on the computer too?
3:01 PM I’m Mahnaz Dar, I assign adult bks 4 teens and graphic novels!
3:01 PM Liz from Frisco, Texas.
3:02 PM Sarah in Cleveland OH
3:02 PM Here’s a link to the full transcript of our previous reviewer chat on Middle School vs. high School: https://contributors.slj.com/2016/03/middle-school-vs-high-school-transcript-from-february-24-reviewer-chat/
3:03 PM Hi there! I’m Natalie in Denver, CO
3:03 PM Welcome, welcome!
3:03 PM So, what’s the verdict on verdicts? Do you as users like them and find them useful?
3:03 PM Today, we’re discussing VERDICTs: How to craft them, why they are so important, and what makes a strong VERDICT. SLJ has incorporated VERDICTs in our reviews for over a year now, and we could all use a refresher.
Have you as librarians found them useful?
3:04 PM I think they crystallize the reviewers thoughts; I look forward to them
3:04 PM As a selector, I love verdicts
3:04 PM Yes, I find them helpful, however, I’m still learning how to write them.
@hwrittsljatsullivan: Yes, I think it has been a learning process for us editors as well
3:05 PM This verdict element is new since I’ve been away.
3:05 PM I love them when I’m doing collection development. Less when I’m writing the review!
3:05 PM I find them useful when I read book reviews; however, I am still learning how to incorporate them into my own reviews.
3:06 PM I’m new at this, so looking forward to hearing what others have to say
3:06 PM Looking back at some of the examples we provided, I noticed that there are some verdicts that are stronger than others. One in particular, is an example of a sentence that makes a good intro to the review, but doesn’t necessarily tell the audience “Buy this book” or “Skip this book.”
A standout science fiction title with an action-packed storyline.
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3:06 PM I love the verdicts
3:06 PM Hello All!
3:07 PM Essentially, Verdicts should answer these two questions: Should I buy this buy? If so, for whom?
3:07 PM But, ya live, ya learn.
3:07 PM when I think about other librarians deciding whether or not to purchase the book for their collections, they aren’t so hard to write…at least that’s the bottom line criteria I use when writing verdicts
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3:07 PM I also love the verdicts!
3:07 PM I
3:07 PM :simple_smile:
3:08 PM Sometimes, I think of it as “if I only had 1 tweet to review this book, what would I say”
3:08 PM Ideally, a verdict should have some sort of evaluative statement that builds upon what your review articulated in more detail.
3:08 PM And sometimes I start with the verdict, and then write the rest of review
3:08 PM One thing I try to think about, especially as a children’s librarian who does storytime on a regular basis, is whether or not the book is a good choice for storytime/read-aloud. However, it’s still a challenge for me to communicate that in my reviews without saying “buy this!”
3:09 PM Exactly! And it isn’t just a summary of the book. It’s whether a librarian should buy. If so, for whom?
3:09 PM So, if I were to redo that bad verdict Shelley mentioned, I’d change from “A standout science fiction title with an action-packed storyline.” to something like “A standout science fiction title with an action-packed storyline, perfect for younger middle grade readers not quite ready for the Hunger Games.”
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3:10 PM The way I would tweak “A standout science fiction title with an action-packed storyline.” is as follows: A standout title for YA sci-fi collections; or “Recommended for collections seeking standout sci-fi titles”
3:10 PM Sorry I’m late! Brittany from Chicagoland :0)
3:10 PM What about those gray areas when its goods for when its only good for schools or large collections.
3:11 PM The Verdict should consider the larger context of the collection, it might be a good title but how does it fair against other books in that subject area
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3:11 PM How do you differentiate between what to say as your opening sentence of the review, and what to have as the verdict? I don’t want to be redundant.
3:11 PM Hello, sorry I am late. Still figuring out the new app.
3:11 PM As a purchaser I also like if a review gives me a sense of if a book is “nice to have for larger collections” or “a must buy for all libraries of your type across the universe.” Many books are good on their own terms, which is a fair way to review them, but might not make the cut for a collection like mine which is small.
3:12 PM When I was a librarian, if I read that a title was “good for larger collections”, to me that was code for, don’t waste your money on this–it’s okay but not essential.
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3:13 PM kparrott, I agree :simple_smile:
3:13 PM They can often be a phrase even: “A standout sci-fi title”
3:13 PM I think it is also valuable to note what area the title is suited for, an example of this would be, “This excellent title is recommended for any collection in need of quality creative nonfiction in the area of natural history.”
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3:14 PM And the verdict would in turn be: A must-have work for teen collections.
3:14 PM In my verdicts, I try to sum up the book genre and merit-wise and place it, a lot like the revised verdict @kparrott posted above. Even if I loved a book a thought it was great (or, alternatively, hated it…), I know some books will work for some communities and not for others and try to make that the point instead of and overall “buy!” or “do not buy!”.
Unless of course I think ALL libraries should or shouldn’t buy something, then I’ll say that :0)
3:14 PM I appreciate a verdict that adds a broader point about the book’s use or audience i.e. ‘larger format for storytelling’ or ‘ideal as a read-aloud’.
3:14 PM @jenna_friebel: So an intro sentence might be something like “A rip-roaring, laugh-out-loud sci-fi adventure set in a futuristic Cincinnati.” The verdict for that review might be “This funny new sci-fi series starter is a solid purchase, especially where readers can’t get enough Douglas Adams.” Or something like that.
3:15 PM yes, helping readers figure out how to use the bk is really key, too
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3:15 PM Clarifying the genre makes a lot sense.
3:16 PM It’s important for us to remember how diverse SLJ reviews readers are: collection dev librarians for a big system to a lone school librarian in the middle of nowhere
3:16 PM The verdicts I find hard to write are negative ones. How do you more creatively say “not recommended for purchase” or “an additional purchase” given that your review already covered all the problems with the title?
3:16 PM @bstaszak: I agree. Reviewed a book recently on a Native American woman. I stated it was good for larger collections or for collections that want a more in-depth native american collection. We are surrounded by reservations out here, so in my state it might be added just because of that.
3:18 PM No one can possibly afford to buy all of the picture books that we review. Readers should come away knowing if its a fit for their readers and has programming potential.
3:18 PM We try to be more creative than “An additional purchase” or “Not Recommended” It’s hard, I know
For a super cheesy paranormal romance, I would say: “Only for avid paranormal romance fans”
3:20 PM other reviews use the “additional purchase” message but it seems confusing to me…what library can afford an additional purchase?
3:20 PM Something like “for die-hard fans of the author/genre/etc.” is a nice way of letting folks know that it’s really not for everyone
3:20 PM “additional purchase” to me is a polite “kiss of death”…similar to “for larger collections” but harsher.
Here’s an example of verdict for a series title: “This title doesn’t stand alone, but is a must-read for fans of the first book.”
3:21 PM Or you could say, “Purchase where the previous volume flies of the shelf.” :simple_smile:
3:21 PM Sorry all…playing a little catch up real fast
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3:22 PM Is a two sentence VERDICT OK?
A verdict that is half the size of the review is a no-no
3:23 PM Did we get answer if the verdict counts in our overall word count for the review? I have been counting it
3:23 PM Thanks!
3:24 PM I struggled with the 2 sentence verdict too…glad to see that’s acceptable
3:24 PM Yes, Verdicts do count as part of the final 250 word count
3:24 PM Thx
3:24 PM Thank you for the word on verdicts and word count!
3:24 PM Though…and this may be a topic for another chat…I’m a fan of short and sweet. There may come a time in the near future where we tighten up word counts a bit.
3:24 PM But if you run over, the editors can help cut it down
3:25 PM that’s what we’re here for :simple_smile:
3:25 PM Yeah LJ word counts are 175-200
3:25 PM I struggle with that oo :wink:
3:25 PM So 250 feels long lol
3:25 PM Let’s try our best to be succint; I’m also a fan of semi colons (;) !!!
3:25 PM I go over my count too lol
3:26 PM There’s a word count? LOL, I’ve been writing SLJ reviews so long, maybe I got here before word counts and nobody ever told me. But since no one has told me my reviews are too long, I guess it’s ok.
3:26 PM Bless the editors. I once submitted a review and in the notes field wrote ” I know this is way too long. I don’t know what to cut. HELP!”
3:26 PM yes hurray for semicolons
3:26 PM It’s better to say more than less. And then the editors can step in and tweak where needed
3:26 PM I usually start w/ 300 to 350 word reviews, and have to edit like crazy before sending it in.
3:26 PM When reading reviews, I look at the verdict first, then the second part, then the summary at the beginning if I have time.
3:27 PM I’m notorious for writing a novella in the notes section ha
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3:27 PM Thanks for the word count reminder! I too LOVE the VERDICT when reading reviews.
3:27 PM Another piece of advice on Verdicts: I always like to say that they shouldn’t come as a surprise. The review itself should function as evidence for the Verdict.
3:27 PM We read all of the notes avidly. Thanks.
3:27 PM It’s the sad truth of the amount of work librarians have to do in short amount of time
So that’s why verdicts should be useful and help our readers do their jobs as quickly as possible.
3:28 PM I :heart: notes!
3:28 PM Yes, no twist endings here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
3:28 PM I really appreciate the verdicts that reference read alikes
3:29 PM esp when there are so many books on a given topic
3:29 PM Yes, readalikes can tell me exactly who this book is for, and even how many copies I should purchase
3:29 PM there are a lot of bks on say sports…what makes this one different from the rest? and if it’s not terribly diff, readers need to know that
3:30 PM What about “meets” verdicts? Superman v. Batman meets The Fault in our Stars? (edited)
3:30 PM will we offer verdicts for professional titles too?
I want to read that one @wadhambooks !
3:30 PM Wouldn’t “meets” be better in the opening or summary?
3:30 PM I think super thoughtful readalikes are also helpful. Not every book is Eleanor & Park
3:31 PM Have to leave to meet with a student who is starting her own book blog. Thanks for the great insights – very helpful!
3:31 PM :simple_smile:
3:31 PM :simple_smile:
3:32 PM “meets” is a great attention grabber
3:32 PM Not sure I’m a fan of “meets” comparisons; I may not get what connection you see.
3:33 PM It says that the book is not terribly original to me.
3:33 PM they are admittedly a bit overdone
3:33 PM It got me to buy Jackaby…Sherlock meets Doctor Who
3:33 PM I think “meets” works best in the body of the review
3:33 PM For editors: are there any practices you see a lot of/frequently that you think reviewers should steer clear of with verdicts?
3:33 PM I think as long as the rest of the review provides context, then the “meets” comparison can work
3:34 PM sometimes “meets” feels gimmicky to me– too much what the publishers use to sell books.
3:34 PM I think it depends on the book–and the ‘what’ meets ‘what.’ Sometimes they can be very original and a truly unique mashup. But I do here a lot of library marketing folks overusing the “meets” phrase. I was once as a preview where someone used 3 (3!). As in X meets X meets X. :face_with_rolling_eyes:
3:34 PM I feel like the meets is subjective to the reader.
3:34 PM Yes, we want to be wary of sounding too much like publisher marketing copy
3:34 PM *hear
3:34 PM agreed, jenna
3:35 PM also words to steer clear of in verdicts (and everywhere)…unique and interesting
3:35 PM @alea_p: going back to what @kparrott mentioned earlier the verdict should reflect the content and tone of the review. if the review mentions problematic elements of a book the verdict needs to reflect that
3:35 PM Sighing off – I have bus duty ….thanks for the chat
3:36 PM I’m always nervous when I write less than glowing reviews, especially in the verdit
3:36 PM I just don’t want a “nasty” email from a publisher or somethin
something*…gosh I think my keyboard is on strike
3:36 PM Signing out. Need to go into work. Thanks for all the tips. . .
3:36 PM I know it’s difficult because your byline is there, but readers are counting on your “verdict” :wink:
If you get any nasty emails from publishers, feel free to direct them to me
3:37 PM This is a great time to remind everyone that if you do ever get a nasty email, tweet, etc. from an author or publisher, don’t respond. Immediately let your editor know.
3:37 PM Here’s a really helpful post that kparrott wrote about writing “bad” reviews: https://contributors.slj.com/2015/05/writing-a-bad-review/
3:37 PM Another verdict that is more a summary: “Viewers are likely to be motivated to listen to the natural world around them, and to protect it.”
3:38 PM That said, I hesitate to think of reviews as good or bad–but rather, honest. If it’s a bad book, as long as you describe why and give a few concrete examples, publishers can be as mad as they want. But we have a right–and obligation–to be honest in our reviews. And us editors will stand behind you 100%.
3:39 PM Yes, and think about the reader who this book is for, maybe not necessarily your students or patrons, but the one kid that this book would make a different to
3:39 PM here’s a good verdict a reviewer turned in recently: Fans of Margo Lanagan and Adam Rapp will be entranced by Tempest’s brutally modern prose and her tender understanding of young people coming of age in an unforgiving world.
3:40 PM Ooo. That’s is a good one.
3:40 PM wow
3:40 PM so much there!
3:40 PM and a good example of a two-sentence verdict that i think works: Teens looking for graphic details would do better with titles such as Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter. But those seeking to understand how life continues after a grave loss will love Kushner’s eloquent words and personal viewpoint.
3:40 PM NICE
3:41 PM Our adult bks 4 teens columnists really hit it out of the park this week :simple_smile:
3:41 PM And another! This series may appeal to reluctant readers, particularly fans of Tom Angleberger’s “Origami Yoda” books.
3:41 PM shoutout to mark and sarah!!!!
3:41 PM :clap::clap:
3:41 PM Have to log-off. Didn’t get time to really participate b/c of these pesky patrons… Thanks! Love these interactive chats!
3:41 PM Thanks!!!
3:42 PM Going to have to work on my verdicts much harder after reading those…
3:42 PM We’re all learning!
3:42 PM Hey, and feel free to use Slack to chat with your fellow reviewers. For advice, etc
3:43 PM Logging off, thank you!
3:43 PM They are new for us editors, too. Remember–SLJ only started them about a year or so ago.
Thanks for coming, @meganm
3:43 PM We have different channels on the left for specific reviewing areas, so feel free to join the ones that make the most sense for your!
3:44 PM And you can always email your editor.
3:44 PM And, if you’re ever struggling with a VERDICT, the editors are here to help
3:44 PM Absolutely!
3:45 PM I think people are slowly signing off, but if you ever have an idea for a future chat, please feel free to mention it here or email me directly
Or you can DM me via Slack as well
Unless anyone has some burning questions, we’ll be signing off!
3:46 PM Thank you for a very useful discussion, love Slack. Busy w/patron
3:46 PM Thank you! I love this platform, by the way.
3:46 PM thank you!
3:46 PM Thanks for all the suggestions!
3:46 PM Thanks, everyone. Hugs and happy reading to all!
3:47 PM Thank you all for joining!
3:47 PM Really enjoyed this…very helpful
3:47 PM bye gang
3:47 PM Thanks! This was very useful.
3:47 PM Bye all
3:47 PM Thank you all for the examples of stellar verdicts. Thanks again for these chats too.
3:48 PM bye all! Have a good afternoon!
3:49 PM Thanks everyone. VERDICT Good, inspirational, and practical session for all audiences!
3:50 PM Thanks to all of you SLJ folks!