Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dude, I Ain't Got No Writing Talent

I hope the subject line made you cringe.

My brain hurt having to write it. It's a wonderful example of poor English. However, it might be considered real dialogue. It might even give flavor to a character in a scene, for good or ill, in a book.

Current vernacular is appropriate for dialogue in novels, screenplays or in verbal exchanges. Mangled English can give hints as to a protagonist's or antagonist's background, history or culture, or intent. Nothing like injecting a little relatable reality to a story to capture a reader's interest.

Writing as you speak or converse should not be the method used for writing a thesis for college, or a cover letter to go with a resume. There's a certain expectation for correct grammar, punctuation and spelling aptitude that a professor or hiring HR director looks for. No professional report, grant or article, or anything that strives to be professional, will be taken seriously if it is riddled with sloppy grammar/spelling and pop culture colloquialisms.

Readers have the same expectations of a novel - good grammar/spelling but with realistic dialogue. Grammar mash-ups aren't out of place in that venue.

The same cannot be said of a review.

Reviewers need to avoid sloppy writing, especially if you want to be taken seriously.

Please avoid:

Should of (should have)
Could of (could have)
Sayin' (saying)
Nothin' (nothing)
Gotta (got to)
Sista or Sistah (sister)
supposably (supposedly)
definately or defiantely (definitely)

Issues with:

Your vs. You're
Its vs. It's
Too vs To vs Two (it's happened)
Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique (a common, too common, issue)
Alot - no no no - A. Lot. It's two words. Two separate words. A lot

Be alert for:

Pluralizing words with apostrophe S (throwing pies is load's of fun, his chicken's are breakdancing)
Being too familiar - (Dude, this book knocked my socks off, Sista, you gotta read this! )
Using profanity (This book scared the shit out of me!)

Don’t make nouns into verbs.
Starting a sentence with and/but/or - those go in the middle of a sentence connecting two related sentences, because they are conjunctions.

Forgetting to capitalize the proper nouns in a book title.
Forgetting to capitalize the beginning letters of a sentence.
Forgetting to check the spelling of an author's name, character's name or book title.

I know there are more examples. In fact, I'd appreciate it if visitors contribute their own examples of "sloppy writing" pet peeves. Highlighting them might make mistakes quicker to spot and easier to avoid.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Write Lower-Rated Reviews

Please welcome my fellow reviewer, Astilbe.

Though a skilled reviewer of books in all ratings, she has honed writing reviews of lower rated books into an art form. When asked how she did it so well and so consistently, and if she could share her insights with other reviewers, she responded with writing this post. I'm very grateful and honored to share this with you, with permission.

How to Write Lower-Rated Reviews

When I use the phrase “lower-rated reviews,” I’m talking about the books that land in the 2.5 to 3.5 star rating range.

Aside from technical criticisms about the use of inconsistent tenses or grammatical errors, writing reviews is a highly subjective experience. You and I could read the same story and come away with very different opinions of it based on just about anything: pet peeves, whether or not this is a genre you regularly read, your expertise on something the author might not know as much about, etc., etc. It’s important to keep this in mind as you’re writing because there’s no way to know if the people who read your review share your point of view. What I consider to be an overused trope in, say, the mystery genre might be something that you think is vital for a truly satisfying ending. (And vice versa!)

There are definitely still things to like about stories that earn lower ratings: descriptive settings, interesting characters, strong pacing, unique plot twists, etc. The list is endless, but these tend to be the types of potential compliments I look for first when I’m figuring out what to say about them. Feel free to pick out anything you enjoyed about it, though, as long as it’s an honest compliment.

I always jot down my impressions about a tale as I’m reading it. It’s especially easy to overlook the good stuff when you’re in the middle of something you don’t immediately love, so these phrases or very short sentences jog my memory later on when I’m writing the review.

Of course, there will also be issues that you as the reviewer feel compelled to bring up. This is where the sandwich rule comes in. (Link to Sandwich Rule)  Here is the basic template I use for my reviews:






If I have a lot to say, I’ll repeat the positive and negative feedback as often as is necessary, but I always end with something positive.

Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses, and constructive criticism is much easier to swallow if you’re also told what you’re doing right. Helping authors get better at their craft is a huge part of why we write reviews after all!

On the very rare occasion that I can’t find enough positive things to say about a book, I’ll return it. About half of the time another reviewer has later requested those stories. It made me happy to see that someone else enjoyed them, and it’s never a good idea to force the issue if you truly don’t like a particular novel.

As an author I know how hard it is to hear that someone didn’t like your work. One of the reasons why I decided to volunteer at LASR is that I loved their strict “No Snark!” policy. Consider these two (completely hypothetical) criticisms: “This story sucks! How can something that’s only 60 pages long be so slow? And who the heck is Darren, again? What a waste of time.”


“The pacing was uneven from beginning to end. While I understand the author’s urge to include so much backstory in the first two chapters, it would have been helpful to jump into the action sooner given that this is a short story instead of a full-length novel. Anna’s blossoming relationship with Darren was fascinating, and I think that exploring that further while they were on the run would have provided more than enough clues about why she was so eager to protect him despite the horrible danger they were in. It also would have given the author more time to explain the ending in better detail.”

The first criticism is basically just a rant. We know the reviewer didn’t like this story, but we don’t know anything specific about why they feel that way. As a potential new fan, I wouldn’t put much stock into this review because it’s so vague and negative. It could have been written about just about any romantic mystery out there, and that doesn’t make it helpful for me while I’m deciding whether or not to find out what happens to these particular characters.

The second criticism explains why the reviewer felt this way in detail without cursing or insulting all of the author’s hard work. If the author writes a sequel to Anna and Darren’s adventures, he or she will know that this reviewer loved seeing these characters get to know each other but wishes the exciting stuff had started a few chapters sooner. This is specific information that can be used to make real adjustments in how he or she writes future stories.

(Or maybe the author will decide that they like this hypothetical series just the way it is! But at least now they know WHY their book only earned 2.5 stars in this particular review).

This brings me to the other reason why we write reviews: to help readers find great new books! As I mentioned earlier, there’s no possible way for me to know ahead of time if my audience will agree with my perspective.

Luckily, precognition isn’t a requirement for putting together a good review.

While I definitely keep the author in mind while I'm writing, I also think of the review as a conversation with a friend who wants to know what I’ve been reading. If he or she asked me what I really thought of book X, I’d be completely honest with him or her.

If I really loved Anna’s character development, I’m going to gush about it. This is something that’s extremely important to me when I’m deciding what to read next, so when I find a great protagonist I’ll tell everyone about him or her.

If the ending made me say, “Huh?” I’ll bring it up diplomatically (without giving away spoilers, of course). They might not agree with my dismay, but at least they’ll know ahead of time that the last 10% of the plot wasn’t as fun for me as the first 90%.

My final piece of advice might sound kind of silly at first, but it really helps me figure out where to go next when I’m stuck.

Read what you have so far out loud.

Pause for a moment.

What’s missing?

What would you say next if you were talking about this story instead of writing about it?

This isn’t a foolproof trick, of course, but it has helped me figure out where to go next by getting my mind back into the tone of the story I’m thinking about. A lighthearted romance is going to require a completely different mindset than would a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller or a hard-boiled mystery, after all.

Happy reviewing!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When is Great the Best?

A couple of posts back, in "What a Three Rating Means to Me", one of my commenters suggested a post. I've since had someone second that request. Cool!

It was a very good observation. What is the real difference between great and The Best?

Merriam Webster has the dictionary explanation for GREAT: #3: remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness or #4: full of emotion or #10a: remarkably skilled or #10b: marked by enthusiasm : keen and of course #11: used as a generalized term of approval

Then there is the definition of BEST: better than all others in quality or value, excelling all others

For reviewing purposes, I'll use LASR's explanation of great and best when it comes to books:

5 Stars — Great! You would definitely buy this book. You would definitely recommend it to your friends. You really loved the characters and the plot and would consider looking for this authors back list or making her an autobuy. The writing and editing were superb.

A LASR Best Book - For a book or story that is truly exceptional. You think about it when you're not reading it. You wonder what happens to the characters when you finish. You would absolutely buy everything else this author had to offer. The highest praise - and reserved for only a few.

The first thing I need to remind readers is that a review is an opinion. One person's Best Book is another's Great. There are technical issues that can be rated objectively, like punctuation, spelling/grammar and consistency in tenses, and narrative/telling verses showing. But how a book makes a person feel is purely subjective. That is where things can become a sticky wicket.

Both categories share the buying of the book, recommendations to friends, excellent editing and the consideration of making the author an auto-buy and/or getting all the books on the author's backlist.

For the great rating a reader will connect and be thrilled with the characters. No two ways around it.

For the BEST rating a reader will also connect and be thrilled but that 'liking' takes a step further. There's a certain level that the author's characters have reached inside a reader that a great book simply does not do.

Extreme examples are fans of Sherrilyn Kenyon. Her characters have struck a chord to the point that fans have named their children after them. Readers and fans have had tattoos applied on various parts of their bodies of the symbols that are found in, and related to, the books.

Just stop for a moment and think about that.

The power of one book to, even for just for a moment, make you want to do something tangible to show the world how deeply you were affected. Create fan fiction, do graphic art, anything to live with the characters for that little while longer are all examples of how some people express what a BEST Book can inspire them to do. Even if a reader does none of those things in real life, the feeling that is created after reading such a book is profound.

A GREAT book can make you feel good, but it's fleeting. You write your review, you've spread the word, checked out other books by the author and you continue on. The book is great, yes, but it doesn't turn into a pleasant brain worm on your psyche. It doesn't have the staying power of a Best book.

A BEST book won't be fleeting. Let me give you an example.

Years ago I read and reviewed The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley. It has to be three years ago since I've read it and I still am affected. Whenever I read one of the later MacKenzie family stories and Ian's in it, I am thrown back to that first book, his story, and how profoundly it affected me. How it continues to affect me. I won't go and tattoo Ian's name on my body anywhere, but I certainly have bought every book in the series. They are on my keeper shelf.

I recently read the MacKenzie family Christmas story Ms. Ashley wrote and lo! Ian was there playing a very significant role in delivering the meaning of Christmas to his family. I fell in love with him all over again. I simply cannot put into words how I feel. The FEELING I get. It's indescribable. I get lost in his eyes whenever he graces me with full on eye contact. If you've read the book, you know how special, how intense that can be.

Another way to explain what a Best Book is like is comparing a movie.

Let's use the 2007 movie, Titanic. Scores of people say it's a great movie. And it probably is. A great movie. The scene with Kate Winslet on the bow of the ship is memorable. But how far does that movie weave its effect on the populace?

Now, think about The Princess Bride. Hey! Don't laugh. Seriously, think about it.

How many quotable lines do you hear repeated? A few days ago I read a paranormal romance where the hero replies to the heroine, "As you wish". The heroine didn't get it because she never saw the movie but the secondary characters did and they snickered and rolled their eyes. And yes, I laughed too. I got the joke. How many people do you know can say, "My name is Inigo Montoya..." How many people do you know that can apply "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." in an every day conversation, and then laugh like a loon. The movie, its quotes and characters follow you.

That is what a Best Book rating is like. A book that follows you. And that is why LASR's criteria adds the line "- and reserved for only a few." There are many books that are great. Completely great. But only a few weave their way into your life, your heart, your vocabulary and your passion. Lord Ian MacKenzie's story was my Best Book.

What's yours?

Making it Personal

I'm guilty of not doing this.
However, I recognize the value of doing it.
It's easier to see what a difference it can make by seeing it in action.
What am I referring to? Reviewers commenting on the comments others leave on their reviews.

It sounds so simple, right?
It is.
And isn't.

I never gave it much thought to be quite honest. But I'm learning from a fellow reviewer that taking the time to respond to comments can make a huge impression, especially for readers who make the effort to comment on a review. If they are like most people, they'd appreciate some feedback, some form of recognition, even if it's only a simple 'thank you'.

It's practicing common courtesy. It's also showing gratitude to the person who took the time to read your review. I'm embarrassed to admit that I hardly ever check for comments. It wasn't until one of our newer reviewers started replying to comments that I saw how making it personal was making a difference. She was getting responses from other readers and even the authors of the books. She generated short conversational threads that promoted a positive feeling for those that came to visit the site and left comments. She even has had promises made by authors that they'd make sure LASR would be included in review requests for any upcoming books they'd publish. That's pretty powerful stuff, all stemming from taking a few moments to leave a one or two sentence reply. By being gracious, amiable and yes, practicing simple common courtesy, she showed me a better way.

She made it personal.

And I learned from her a valuable lesson.
It doesn't matter that I've been reviewing for six years. I still have a lot to learn, and when I do, I want to make sure others learn too. It's a wonderful lesson and well worth sharing.

Thank you, Astilbe.
You make LASR's garden even better.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Proof of the Thrill

Recognition. It's what we all strive for at some points in our lives.

For a reviewer there are three types of recognition: from our reviewing peers, from the author, and from the publisher.

Recognition from our reviewing peers can either be a direct comment on the review itself, posted in the comments section, or an entry on the reviewer's group (Yahoo or Google Groups) or a direct email. It can also come from an author commenting directly on the post in the comments section. That's always a thrill.

The most exciting of recognitions stem from the publisher. Your review can be used in two ways by a publisher. It's awesome to see a pull quote from your review listed on the back cover with the blurb and amongst other pull quotes from notable review sites like RT Book Reviews. But the cream of the crop comes from a publisher using a pull quote from your review and it gets the Star Treatment - it's on the FRONT cover of the book!!

See, in the upper right corner? It can happen! It's marvelous and thrilling and stupendous. And I can assure you, that kind of recognition sent me over the moon in giddy glee.

Certainly, getting quoted is not my goal when I review. I enjoy sharing what I loved about a book when it's thoroughly entertaining. I want other readers to have fun too. But I don't sneeze at this kind of recognition either. It inspires me.

Reviewing is fun. I enjoy what I do. And I do it for me. But sometimes, recognition makes reviewing so much sweeter, it can become an addiction. And for me, that's one addiction I don't want to be cured of. :)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fear: The Roadblock of Life

There are many types of fear that plague humans throughout their lifespan.
It comes in so many forms and at times when we least expect it.

What is fear? Merriam-Webster has a cut and dried answer.
To be afraid of (something or someone)
To expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant)
To be afraid and worried

Whether it's because the lights flared then snapped off and you find yourself alone in a big, dark office building, or you're jogging through the woods and something is keeping pace with you. How do you know that? The detritus and debris of the forest is rustling in time with your footsteps. Or, you had a nightmare that you were back in school wearing your P.J.'s and are woefully unprepared to take a test that if you fail all your classmates would turn into zombies. We've all had exposure to fear.

The most human of fears comes from our own minds and it stymies us, stops us and dissuades us from trying new things - the fear of the unknown. The feeling of inadequacy and the fear of failure.

Fear is powerful and yet, fear is only as powerful as you let it be. If you feed it.

Now, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this. We all know about some great minds who have explored this topic with much success: Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, Bram Stoker - the list is quite long. However, I'm talking about regular people like me and readers of this blog.

Reviewers. Potential reviewers. Want-to-be reviewers.

I wrote about my first review here, My First Review.
Then I explained HOW I became a reviewer here: The Road of Being a Reviewer.

When I was first approached, all I felt was fear. "I can't write a review.", "I don't know what to say.", "I'm not a professional writer", "I'm not good with words.", or, "I wouldn't know where to start."

Only some of those reasons for fear have elements of validity - "I don't know what to say" or "I don't know where to start".

Writing anything, from a school essay, to a cover letter for a job, or a review, all require exercising a mental muscle. It's the one we use for writing Thank You cards, writing notes to teachers, or writing to a best friend far away, whether by snail mail or email. The point being, you CAN write.

Why are readers afraid to take the next step and become a writer of reviews? To share their opinions with other fans of the same author or series or genre?

Some take the urge to share to their own blogs. In that way, they can't be told by anyone that they are doing it 'wrong', they write the way they want to and express how they feel. If they want to be profane, use a ton of current vernacular and explore the dark side of snark, they can. It's their blog, they can do and say whatever they want. And, they're right.

However, in doing so, and I'm focusing on those readers who WANT to review but balk at joining an official review site, they are not facing their fears. They are still hiding. They are not being challenged to be what they could be. Oftentimes they become defensive when they DO try to join because they figure, "I've written reviews for Amazon, Goodreads and my blog. I know how to write a review so don't tell me what to do." And they quit.


That's what it is. Fear of rejection, of not being good enough. And while that underlying anxiety continues to lurk in a potential reviewer's mind, they will oftentimes react with anger or defensiveness and may even be close-minded to guidance, suggestions or tips.

In a way, it's sad. True, not all react negatively, but I'm focusing on the ones that do. They're holding themselves back.

Understand this. Most, if not all, review sites are started by avid readers and fans of the written word. They love their romance or mystery or young adult books and want to share that love, passion and joy with the world. If they're lucky, they have business savvy on top of it and can set up a site that develops a solid reputation that is recognized by publishers and authors alike.

That brings me to the benefits of joining such a site. Books. Lots and lots of books. Free books. The price is reading a book that will provide you an hour of two of joy, then maybe another hour's worth of time to write about the things that affected you, both good, awesome or bad. Another benefit of writing for an established review site is the thrill. There are two kinds of thrills that come with reviewing for a professional site: contact from the author in response to what you have written, and seeing your words, YOUR WORDS quoted in or on a book cover.

I've recently had my words quoted ON a book cover. And I mean, where usually other famous author's quotes go, there were MY words. On. The. Cover. Knock me over with a feather! Yes, it was credited to the review site, Long and Short Reviews, but they were my words from my review. It was a major SQUEEE! moment.

Reviews written on a personal blog won't get that kind of exposure and fame.

Another benefit to reviewing for an organized review site are comments from readers of your reviews. True, you can get that on your personal blog. But the reach of a professional review site is exponentially larger. Who doesn't like feedback? Who doesn't like to get compliments?

As far as learning how to write a review? Most good sites offer classes, tips, and assure novice reviewers that no question is considered silly and in fact they encourage questions. If the site has a good rapport amongst its reviewer base, they will usually be very happy, willing and enthusiastic helpers to the newbies. Plus, I humbly present this blog. I started it because there was no place for me to go to learn about writing reviews. There was no place that addressed the kinds of questions a reviewer might have and no place to go to ask questions. That is why the Chrysanthemum Connection was born. To help, to demystify writing a review and to give people the chance to spread their writing wings and fly.

What about if you are a bad speller? Is that stopping you? It shouldn't. First, as I'm sure you are aware of, there are Spell Check programs out there. Second, many quality review sites have editors. It's what they do, polish reviews. And the more you write, the more you become aware of how to correct yourself eventually having less need to be edited. Why do you think the old adage Practice Makes Perfect has been used for decades? It's wisdom. It's true. The more you exercise your writing muscle, the easier it gets. It's not your lack of writing skill that is stopping you, it's fear.

Seriously think about kicking fear to the curb.

Become a reviewer. Be open to tips, guidance and trying new things. Enjoy the thrill of picking out ANY book you want, for free, reading it and shouting out your opinions to the world. Someone somewhere will agree with you. Someone is going to love that book like you do.

Which brings me to another thrill moment - someone will buy the book based upon what YOU wrote. Your enthusiasm can make a difference to a reader - instead of passing on the book, they become intrigued enough to try it out for themselves. That is the power of the written word. And each and every person who is reading this post has the power to do that.

If you love books. If you have the urge to shout to the roof tops about a book that wowed you and you don't have anyone to share that excitement with - become a reviewer. Share what you felt with all of us. That's really all reviewing is. Sharing using words.

If your excuse is "All I can say is I liked it." You are selling yourself short. That statement is only the beginning. It's the reason why you want to write a review.

Do you know what you do next? You interview yourself.
Why did you like it? Was it the characters that were special? Was it the plot? What touched you that gave you the feeling that you couldn't put the book down? Was the villain really nasty? Did you hate him or her as much as the author intended you to? Did you get affected by the love scenes? Were they that good or were they sweet and tender?

When you start interviewing yourself, you are writing the review. Think about what YOU want to know about a book that gets you to read it or buy it. You know what you like, what you expect. That is what you share. That is what you write.

You can be a reviewer. I have every confidence in you. Forget what Nora Roberts would say. I want to know what YOU say!

Friday, October 11, 2013

What a Three Rating Means to Me

Poor Three.
Three is looked at askance.
Three carries a burden of shame.
Three is the loneliest number out there.


Because a rating of three tends to cause a myriad of emotions - none of them seem to be good.

Why is that?

I have no idea. Books that are rated a three can be quite entertaining. I call them many things: summer reads, a good time, a great way to pass an evening on a snowy or rainy evening.

For a book to be rated a three, there HAS to be some good qualities. I KNOW I've covered a Three Rating before. In fact, I wrote a post that had quite a few links within it pointing the way to those other posts. Here .. I'll make it easy. Go HERE for the back story on THREE.

In the post, Revisit Me, Screams Number Three, I was covering the writing of a review that screams HIGH SCORE, but the reviewer gives it a three rating. The words in the review did not match what the reviewer ultimately rated it and that's what that particular blog post was addressing. It's the links within that post that I want to draw your attention to.

I guess the question that should be asked then is, "HOW do I write a real three rated review?"

It's a very good question.
Some questions need to be answered not so much with words but with examples. Have I got a treat for you.

First, more words.
Just because a review of a book isn't rated high on a scale does not mean the review has no value. It does not mean that the book should be ignored. Far from it.

A well written three rated review is incredibly helpful to a future reader.

It translates to this: Yes, this book has issues. Yes, a reader is going to find some things that aren't smooth or perfect or logical.

But a well written three rated review is going to give you what makes it good. It will cover what makes it fun, interesting, entertaining, WORTH the time to read and worth checking out.


Because the story will grab you back; it CAN make you laugh, or gasp, or squirm with delight or ::facepalm:: from a bad or corny pun. That despite and in spite of all that might be wrong with the technical side of the book, the STORY is worth it.
The characters might be worth it.
The Romance might worth it.
The world building might be worth it.

The book might have SO much going for it that it seems a shame to rate it a three, but some things like: plot holes, overdone head hopping or changes of a hero's name within the book, all conspire to undermine what truly would have been a great book.

It ends up being, a GOOD book.

There is nothing wrong with a good book.

The following are links I invite you to check out.
Investigate why these reviews are considered solid examples of three rated books.

Here's a challenge for a reviewer. What happens when a book has even MORE things wrong with it that it is impossible to even reach a three rating. HOW in the world does a reviewer write a review without sounding snarky? Without insulting the author's baby? Or even, and this is a major no-no, insulting the author his/her self? Seriously? Some books with issues inspire people with no professional minded filters between brain and fingers to spout off in self-righteous indignation which in turn comes across as being mean and nasty. Can a review be written for even lower than a three and still be respectful, honest and informative yet positive?

Glad you asked that. YES. Yes, it can be done.

Voila. More examples.

Now, since no reviewer is the same. I'm not going to say another word.

It's your turn.
After going through the examples, I would enjoy hearing your questions or comments. No one is going to find the same example as the one that "speaks" to someone else, but I hope one of them does. I'd like to hear which one you found helpful and why. It would be awesome if an actual formal "HOW-TO" format could be developed from this and I think feedback from you is key.

So, what do you say?
Do you now see why I say that a three rating is a good rating?
Because it is. Even if you end up going to the library and checking the book out. It's worth it.