Monday, August 30, 2010
For reviewers whose English is not their primary language, that can be daunting and quite a challenge. Kudos to them because I'm only a one language person. Even so, writing in the English language can still cause moments of mayhem for those who have used it all their lives. So grammar and spelling issues affect everyone no matter the expertise. Thank goodness for dictionaries in paper and online. But they do fall short sometimes. They can't catch every word because our language is fluid and evolving all the time with advancements in technology and discoveries in nature.
The basics remain the same however and as reviewers we should be conversant in them or at least I believe we should be. That's why I love the Internet - so much information at our fingertips.
I mentioned the use of Spell Check in a previous post and how important it is. But I'm going to explore it further here because there are other issues besides spelling that can make an editor of reviews want to stick his/her head in a vat of chocolate to escape the insanity.
Words out of context. Like "She defiantly agreed" Or "What she feels takes presidents over anything else". Those words are spelled correctly so Spell Checker is going to give it a green light.
Definitely and precedence are the words they SHOULD have been and it's easy to see how it can happen. However, if a reviewer has a propensity to repeat the same thing over and over again, that's just not nice. If it's a matter of habit, I believe it takes making the correction over twenty times to break the cycle and I think it's worth the doing. Refusing to learn or self-correct after repeated editing requests is a red-flag to an editor. What do you think it says?
We are on a learning curve all of our lives because each day brings us experiences we learn from. The same can be said for writing. Authors get better at their craft over time because they learn from their mistakes and editing suggestions. Why shouldn't reviewers??
I found this nifty online gadget that might help with that context thing.
Or if grammar poses questions no one can answer, this site seems to offer a variety of options: Grammar Tools
I tried out the Spell Check Plus and it actually highlighted the part where it made no sense because the word wasn't used in context. It doesn't offer options to correct it but it can alert a reviewer to its misuse. And even this site isn't perfect. It caught the president but blew by defiant. Yeah, it's a conundrum but still, this and others like it are the kind of tools a reviewer needs to have in his/her repertoire if they have a hard time remembering from review to review.
If you enjoy reviewing, isn't it worth doing well? Knowing your favorite author may be reading your review, don't you want to put your best foot forward? An editor can help, sure, but not all review sites have editors. So arm yourself with the tools you need to do the job right then you can hold up your head with pride in a job well done.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Why do I think they have a more challenging task? I've touched upon it before in previous posts. The fact that many reviewers are readers and many do not work in an industry where writing is part of their job description is the reason I say that. If creative word use is required on the job, a person gets used to being aware of a level of perfectionism required to produce an acceptable product. That includes: editing, rewrites, grammar and punctuation, format, and proper spelling.
There are those of us whose writing challenges in day to day life are no more than writing checks, filling out forms and maybe a "Please excuse BobbyJohn for the day" note to a teacher. All the practicing and demands of school work are long past having any relevancy to your day to day survival. The basics are there but there is no need to stretch your writing muscles any longer.
Unless you are an avid reader. Unless you have a passion of talking about favorite books to your friends with like interests. That can translate into wanting to share more in a different kind of way and you take the next step into a brand new world - reviewing. Reviewing is sharing in written form your love and/or your opinions about a book with others. And that form has almost as many rules as a short essay in high school or college. But this time, you want to do it. This time it's about the subject that you chose. This time, you are in control-but, there are still rules. And that is where editors come in, if a review site is fortunate enough to have them.
Reviews editors have to deal with many issues yet remain polite, firm, professional and have a thick skin. They have to deal with book readers who come from every walk of life that might have no actual training on what writing a review actually looks like. Through disuse, readers turned reviewers have spelling and grammar issues; they're rusty. So,on top of format and content, an editor has to do double duty. Some reviewers are sensitive to any type of suggestion of correction and they sometimes take it personally, so that thick skin comes in handy for an editor.
New reviewers need to understand that they're on a new learning curve.
How can a new reviewing relationship work? First, be open to being corrected. Don't take it personally. Make sure you understand the format. If there is a template provided to write the review, use it. If you have any questions, ask, ask, ask! Don't guess and don't assume. The site Admin and/or editor(s) will be happy to answer questions because they know that helping you helps them in the long run.
New reviewers also need to do one more important thing. LEARN. Oh, wait. Make that two things. Learn and APPLY. Being corrected is no fun the first time around but being asked by an editor to correct the same thing over and over and over? Well, that's just plain frustrating. And silly. I mean really! If that attitude of refusing to learn and improve was adopted by an author, their books would never get published. What a bleak place our world would be! By the same token, the same thing applies to your reviews - eventually they might not be able to use your reviews if they constantly require repeat editing -- not to mention that it takes time away from your ability to continue reading and reviewing other books. Where's the fun in that? So save time for YOU and your editor by LEARNING and APPLYING. And keep the fun and excitement of being a reviewer alive and kicking.
No one expects Pulitzer-type writing-- just genuine feelings about the effect the book had on you. And use the tools that come with most word processing programs. The all important (link) SPELL CHECKER
Spell Checkers are found easily enough on the Web if your computer doesn't have it already. The thing is - writing reviews is similar to writing a book. How? If an author submits a poorly edited manuscript with spelling errors, it either gets tossed out immediately (doomed to fail), or if there were only a few, it may not tank it but the book will absolutely be returned to the author for corrections of every single error. In light of that, reviewers need to understand that they too will have to expect editing requests and they have to take them as they are meant - to make your good review better, to make it shine and to insure your point gets across to other readers of your review.
Are spell check programs perfect? Heck No! Refer to the spell checker link and look at that paragraph to the right. It's a silly poem but it shows the imperfections in the program. It suggests using a language model but I've never come across one to use. In fact, until I read that, I had no clue that even existed! I love learning new stuff. Anyway, that's another reason why an editor is vital. Sometimes the human eye and brain is best. But it starts with YOUR eyes and brain first. Check for those words that look right but are not. Check for the spelling of the author's name and/or the character's names because Spell Checker has no clue about things in Gaelic or Sci-Fi names like Raptalina Argriptos Minor and the Piper Pirates. It's team work even if we only work together through the Internet.
So, Hats off
to editors everywhere. And cut them some slack. Their job is to buff your work and make it sparkle and shine. But you, the reviewer, have to put the figurative wax on your review first. When you make that effort there's a good chance you may not even NEED an editor's input. Or if you do work with one, eventually you'll get the idea of what you have to do and will no longer get emails from that editor. When that happens, you've graduated and become a professional. And I still say that looks great on a job resume.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
An author asked me a question the other day and I thought it good enough to explore it here.
How does a book get reviewed?
What grabs a reviewers attention and why do some books get reviewed before others. I know authors who've waited years for a book to be reviewed and gotten nothing while books that come out a week or two ago get a review out like the day after the book is put on sale.
I think those are legitimate questions. On what do we reviewers base our decisions?
I can only respond from the vantage point of whom I review for so it is only one viewpoint or perspective. I'm curious to hear from other reviewers after I've said my piece.
How does a book get reviewed? It gets chosen. At The Long and Short of It Reviews, we reviewers get to chose what books we want to read and review. I find that books reviewed by someone who likes what they are reading are more enthusiastic but at the same time, a reviewer may be more difficult to please because they know what they are looking for and have certain expectations.
What grabs a reviewer's attention? How does it get chosen? I'm sure that there are more factors I can list but I'm going to concentrate on two. First - some authors actually have a fan base. If a reviewer, through working for a review site, discovered a new-to-her/him author and they absolutely adored what they read, then they will grab whatever book that comes through by that author. That's an ideal situation.
The second, and I believe the most prevalent reason, is the blurb. The only thing the reviewers get to see is the blurb sent by the publisher (or sometimes by the author herself/himself).
The blurb's job is a critical one for a review site. In it will include the basic information that will hopefully appeal to a reader. If it's a well written blurb then it will spark interest. If it contains information that pushes a reader's happy buttons, then it will get chosen.
However, if it is a poorly written blurb, then it might be passed over. Which is a sad thing. Why? Because, and correct me if I'm wrong, I believe it's the authors themselves who have to write their own blurbs. How do you condense an entire book into one little paragraph? How do they know what information to put in? What is too little or too much? *Addendum* I've sinced learned that there are some authors who are lucky enough to have editors for blurbs and some who actually write for a publishing house that has official "blurbers" for the authors. How awesome! And how excruciating when a blurb still comes out less than ideal. **
I will be honest. There have been books that I've passed on simply because the blurb turned me off. I'm not talking about it being on a subject I personally don't like. I'm talking a very poorly written, rambling and uninteresting blurb.
I am not going to give actual examples because I'm not putting anybody's hard work in the limelight for others to look askance at. What I am going to do is give an idea what didn't work for me.
A Stressful blurb. Hard to believe that a reader could actually get stressed from a blurb but it's happened to me. I guess there was a tad too much conflict packed into the tiny thing. It didn't generate excitement; more like making me question if I was in the mood for that much angst and drama. Instead of thrilling to the potential suspense, I felt like I might need aromatherapy after reading it. Or chocolate.
The Rambling Rose blurb. This is the worst and thank goodness there's not too many of them. Seen this too. This type does what the name implies; it rambles. It gives a whole outline of the book. So much so that I would sit back and ask myself why I'd even want to read the book after all that? It tries to fit so much in it gets confusing and instead of sounding epic, like the Thornbirds mini-series, it just...turns me off.
The Sex Romp blurb: Ok..this is not objective and I'll admit it. But when I read a blurb and all it touts is the sex without mentioning much of a plot or other bits to challenge my curiosity, or doesn't engage interest in learning what happens to the hero and heroine, or the hero, hero hero, heroine, hero, then I just pass it right over. It doesn't matter if the book is erotic romance. To me, the main word is romance. If the blurb makes it sound like the plot is only a thin fibrous thread to connect the reasons for having sex, then I'm out of there. Romance means emotion and if there is no conflict - I don't mean which man to boing - then I won't want to look further. Of course, if that IS what a reader is looking for on that day, at that moment, because they are 'in the mood' then that blurb just might do its job.
The news is that lately, I've seen less of the Sex Romp blurbs. For that I am thankful.
But, see the dilemma authors face? It's subjective. Readers have various tastes and what works for most will not work for all. It's daunting. There is no science that can explain it all in black and white. It's pretty much heavy in the gray zone called 'opinion'. Books and blurbs seem to get chosen by the same roll of the dice. So, how do we load them? *wink*
So, did I help? Probably not. I'd really like to hear from other reviewers and get their take on what makes a good blurb/bad blurb. I'd also like other reviewers to share why they pick the books they do.
As to why books get reviewed before others? Whoa. Well, that is another many answered thing.
First, I think if it's a book that totally wowed a reader or is one they were waiting for and it's got them jumping out of their skin in excitement, that review is going to get written post-haste. It's like a shout out to the world.
Or, the book was chosen by a Super Reviewer. Those are people who read fast and write faster and sites probably wish they could clone them - if the reviews are well written anyway. ;-)
Then there is the rest of us. Those who read for the joy of reading and will get the review written within the parameters of the site's rules. Ours is: get a book, write the review within 30 days of receipt.
The other way a book can have the review done in a timely fashion is the carrot approach. What is that tantalizing offer? To write something with a pull line that the author/publisher likes so much, it gets quoted and ends up being seen by every reader who picks up that book. I know that I've personally taken the bait more than once and what a thrill when I actually saw my words in print!
How does this happen? Well, there are some sites that will send the blurb long in advance, an ARC is what it ends up being (advanced readers copy) and they'll indicate the publish date. They'll include the publish date because, and this is what I'm thinking they are looking for, they hope to get a review in early enough so they can get a sound bite. Remember my post? If not click SOUND BITE. Anyway, they want the review as soon as possible so they stipulate the "review by" date. Sure works for me. :-)
Then again, if the blurb is sent to us for our picking pleasure only a week before it's published, that doesn't seem like enough time, does it? Especially when reviewers have thirty days with which to get it done. That places it long past the publish date. Not only that, but do authors realize that sometimes publishers send us those all important blurbs long after the initial release date? That sometimes they don't even do it the week before but merely days before? Now that I understand that writers really do appreciate a review being timely, the fact that review requests can come in one week prior to the publish date or even weeks after its release makes me sad. Since that's the case, I feel for the author of the book about to come out because there they are, hoping for reviews right around their publishing date, and they're not there. How bummed they must be! And how much extra pressure on we reviewers.
Obviously, just writing this post isn't going to affect changes anywhere. It is only being written to alert reviewers about how important it is to get their reviews done. It reflects on the review site if it goes beyond thirty days. I wrote this in response to that very nice author who sought answers about how and why books get reviewed. And I explored a few possible answers but by no means are they the only ones so I'm counting on you, my visitors, to offer other reasons reviews happen they way they do.
Meanwhile, I have a review to write. ;-)
Friday, August 13, 2010
Ever hear of a Sound Bite? It's a literary term meaning: a short catchy comment or saying; basically it's a quotable statement. It's a term that's only been around about thirty years but it's very relevant to authors. Perhaps even to readers if you stop and think about it. And I do. Want you think about it.
One of my reviewing buddies and partner in crime polled some authors for me and one of them called it a "pull line". Whatever it's called, it's the same thing - a quotable phrase that can appear on the cover a book. OR on an author's website/blog/promo page.
You see them all the time. Find a book in your room or pick up one at random from your library and you'll see one. It's not only the romance industry that uses them. Check out your favorite author's site and you'll find she/he's posted sound bites to augment their book info. Don't have access? Let me help you.
See these two book covers?
There's a quote by Maggie Shayne on Desire Untamed and a quote from Stella Cameron on Causing Havoc. Those are examples of sound bites or pull lines.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I wonder how many reviewers out there realize that they too can be quoted? Well, technically the name of their review site will show up but it will be the reviewers' own words on those books or on those dedication pages/websites. Can you imagine the thrill of seeing your words out there for millions of book readers to see? It's happened to me and I have to tell you, it was a major sqeeeee! moment.
Believe it or not, authors who read reviews actively look for those quotable pieces. I'm not too sure how it gets to their publishers but whatever happens in the background, the first thing that needs to happen is for a reviewer to write something worthy of a sound bite.
I hope knowing this doesn't put too much additional pressure on reviewers to be extra clever or creative. This information isn't being shared to stress anyone out, but all of us need to be aware. I actually think it'd be pretty easy to accomplish for the reviewers who already put more of themselves into their reviews. (personal opinions) I think the placement of the sentence(s) might be expressed in the wrap up recommendation paragraph.
In just doing what comes naturally, a quip about the story can smoothly translate from keystrokes to words in your review. Especially if you absolutely loved the story, then you know it's not going to be what to say but where to stop. Enthusiasm has a way of making the writing of a review easy. Have you noticed that?
And here's my revelation. In preparing for this post, my fellow reviewer and silent partner Googled 'romance review sites' and both of us were absolutely astounded by how many she found that had no sound bite material in any shape or form.
She waded through review after review, mentally cataloging issues and observations while searching in vain for anything that an author or publisher could use as a one sentence sound bite.
So I joined the search. Finally I found one that can be considered coming close to what we were looking for. It's a short little review but despite its size, I found the reviewer put a lot of her opinions in it, which was refreshing. In doing the research I saw a lot of fuller ones, but again, long on synopsis, short on personal opinion. Click this title: Her Dark Dragon . See the very last line in the review? That is as close to a sound bite as I've been able to find.
I will share one of my own reviews as a possible sound bite. I'm not sure if it's accurate or not; only an author can tell me yea or nay: Check this link: Ambushed! Look at the last paragraph and the part where I say: "I laughed, I sighed..." What do you think?
Well, fellow reviewers, authors and book readers, now I understand why that polled author pounced on this subject and requested a usable sound bite to quote as the very first answer to our questions. I believe she thought this query had the most importance, "What is your wish list of things you'd like to see in a review?" After doing the research, I can understand her frustration. I wonder if other authors out there have the same issue?
I know I've learned something new. I had no idea it was this bad out there. I think we have a new challenge to tackle, don't you?
When you drop by, can you share with me your thoughts on how to address this? I think we'd all benefit.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I decided to look back at my very first review; the one I wrote that prompted the invitation to become a reviewer.
Oh dear. I guess I have learned a few things since then. Can you spot the big boo-boo?
*** My First Review***
I had the honor of reviewing Now That We've Found You by Marianne Arkins
Blurb: For three years, the memory of Sarah Kirkman's dead husband has kept other men at bay. Her heart only has room for her six-year-old daughter, Melinda. On a vacation to the Smithsonian, the Kirkmans run into Doctor Duncan MacPherson, a paleontologist who befriends her dinosaur-obsessed daughter. Sarah's attraction to Duncan is undeniable but pointless-- he must leave for his home in Scotland the very next morning. But Sarah has forgotten one important thing: Christmas really is for miracles.
My very first impression of Now That We've Found You came from the cover art. I started smiling immediately, and my mood lifted with positive anticipation. Sometimes the message from a cover is a good indication of what you are about to experience, sometimes not. I'm thrilled to say that this particular cover delivers the right message to the reader.
In this story there is a delightful child, Melinda, who exhibits the single-minded enthusiasm that six year-olds possess when they latch onto something that excites them; in this case, paleontology. Marianne captures that focus perfectly. I could "see" Melinda's personality, especially when she voiced her understanding of herbivores. That had me cracking a smile.
Melinda's acceptance of Dr. MacPherson flowed naturally and believably. The angst of guilt that the heroine, Sarah, deals with because of her attraction to the handsome Scottish doctor is not burdensome to the story. The conflict is delivered in just the right amount for the reader to understand Sarah as a person. Her dilemmas and choices could be our own. I liked the fact that at all times, Marianne remembers that Sarah is foremost a mother and handles her first kiss with Duncan with that in mind. The restrained passion resonated in that scene. It was quite hot!
The hero, Duncan MacPherson, is a yummy Scottish paleontologist guest speaking at the museum. I enjoyed the fact that he was written as a very male, caring man with a healthy dose of humor and yet acted like a ... quiet alpha. He knew he wanted Sarah, pursued her with classy and determined maneuvers and didn't fight making a commitment or admitting what he felt, as some alphas are wont to do.
The characters were a delight to watch as they fell in love. At no point did I feel this romance needed to be fleshed out more. Marianne tugged and stroked all the major emotional heartstrings that make this a must read for all romance readers who want an HEA that makes them feel good all over. Once you've read the sigh-inducing ending you'll realize Now That We've Found You delivers romance! I can attest to that.
Okay then. What did I do wrong in my first review? I did it more than once too. Ready?
I used the author's FIRST name! I used familiarity! Remember my earlier post, That Familiar Touch? Well, this is the perfect example. Bad, bad Xeranthemum. At least I didn't use synopsis, at least from the get go I talked about how the book affected me, so that was good. Perhaps that is why I was invited?
The other thing I've since learned is: Don't mention the cover art. Why? Because sometimes Ebook sites use the same exact cover over and over to denote a type of series or shorts or something they have in common. Many times the book covers have nothing on them in relation to what's in the actual book. Book says "hero's full mustache tickled her breast" and the book cover has a man totally denuded of body hair glistening with so much baby oil, I need sunglasses to cut the glare. I don't mention book covers any more.
I like to think that my reviews have become a bit more polished over the years but by no means are they perfect. I'm sure there is plenty of room for improvement and I hope doing this blog, and eventually having visiters, will help as we trade ideas, thoughts and formulas.
Have you looked at your own first review lately? How does it compare to how you do it now? I'd love to hear from you. ;-)
Monday, August 9, 2010
What I'm referring to is actually an outline of a review. A sandwich if you will, with layers that make up a pretty good format to follow if you're new at reviewing. It's pretty simple, really.
I'm not sure if the synopsis/blurb-only people will be open to this but it's a rule I've followed and it's never steered me wrong.
The Sandwich Rule: Positive, Negative, Positive.
First piece of bread: The hook (which is the second piece of bread in the loaf that you reach for because it's always freshest behind the first slice) which can be a teasing introduction sentence or a paragraph. (always positive)
The condiment: (It's too early for spicy mustard so use some mayo) An overall feeling for the book can be expressed here. What ever goes into this paragraph will be positive. Good stuff.
The fixings: Here are the meats, the cheeses and the lettuce. Oh, can't forget the tomato. This is where a reviewer will discuss the H/H, the effectiveness of plot, dialogue and other aspects they liked, what moved them, made them laugh or sniffle, or hint or tease about favorite scenes without revealing anything that would spoil the fun and adventure for a reader experiencing it for her/himself. Were there any secondary characters you'd like to meet again? This is the heart of the review and sharing with readers how it made a reviewer feel at times is a big bonus. On average, this can be two to three paragraphs, although if the book is a novel plus, it could be many more paragraphs.
The spicy condiment: I split my condiments when I make a sandwich. Here is where I use mustard and freshly ground pepper. This is also where I usually mention the things that didn't work for me in a book. You know, the negatives? Again, it's done with respect but here a reader will find the tartness of a review. Issues I'll mention might be: being thrown out of the story because of too much head-hopping, hard to follow dialogue, editing/misspelling and how much or little it affected the rating of the story, show versus tell (too much telling is NOT good writing) or basically anything that either made you stop reading, or made it slow to read. However if it recaptured your interest at some point, and it really redeemed itself you can end this paragraph by mentioning that too because....
The bottom piece of bread: This is the wrap up paragraph. This is the place that reiterates the good stuff. It's positive and it's where a reviewer recommends reading this book and why. It will mention if the reviewer is excited about finding more from this author or if this is a series, that they're eagerly anticipating the next installment because of reading this book. No negative references go in this final paragraph. Why? Because if you end it with , "It's a must read" the recommendation is deflated and undermined. Also, your wording here must reflect your stance in the spicy condiment section. If you rate it a five - a top rate, yet your spicy condiment let it be known that you were thrown off by a character's name being misspelled all over the place and the macho hero practically sucking his thumb at one point in the book, then the high marked endorsement won't make much sense. It would be more in line with a 3 1/2 -- 4 1/2 mark with the positive recommend being toned down some, "If a reader is looking for a satisfying happily ever after, this book delivers. Ms. Author has a delightful tale that readers of such and such will enjoy. It was worth the read." ... see? It's positive but it's not gush-gush glowy and fan-girl squee.
That's the Sandwich.
I realize that not a lot of reviewers follow this example but this can be tweaked. How? By putting the negative in the middle instead of closer to the end. It's still following the basic format of:
And that's all there is to it.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to eat. ;-)
Sunday, August 8, 2010
I've gone over what should be in a review, what authors are hoping to see and what readers need to see. Now it's time to take a look at the real thing.
This is an example of a short review with no information for a reader or author.
Click on title to see review: Learning How to Bend. First, I liked the opening line. It can grab a reader's interest if they like those kinds of stories. The second paragraph is synopsis. The third doesn't even qualify as a pargraph as it is only three sentences. Short sentences. Where does it give a reader or author the information of what worked or didn't to give it the 3.5 rating? Was it the dialogue? Why was the menage only fairly good? What the heck does that mean anyway? Was an arm in the wrong place? Not enough sex? Why is the book only rated as decent? Was it the descriptions? Motivation? What worked for the reviewer? What appealed to her about the characters and their relationship? If I wanted to decide to buy a book based upon the blurb, I would have done so. Why bother to look at this when I can't find out more than what the blurb would have initially given me? This is an example of a Missing Link.(Not sure what I'm referring to? Click the previous Missing Link and it'll take you to the post)
Phantom Corps #1/Federation Chronicles #3. (same thing, Click the title to see it)
No opening line on this review. Not a big issue but there are three rather large informational paragraphs that the reviewer took time to write. My issue? SYNOPSIS.(Need to see the post? click Synopsis) It's all about telling a reader what goes on in the book, not necessarily giving spoilers but it certainly is saying, "This is this and that is that" throughout the three paragraphs.
The final paragraph ends up being the actual review and of that the only line that jumped out at me was, "I felt it didn’t live up to the depth of emotion of the first two books" Okay, that is a valid observation and she's finally talking about how the book affected her. But if the author sees it, what is she going to get out of it? What exactly did the reviewer expect? What was missing? How can the author tweak it in the next book or her writing in general if the reviewer didn't give anyone an idea of what she expected and what didn't get delivered? As for the reader of the review .... what does that mean anyway? Are they shallow characters after all or will they still be able to connect with the H/H and care about what happens to them?
The kicker for me came when I scrolled down to the bottom of the page. They posted the BLURB and yet I still had to read all about it again? And this part in the review here, "Enter Daniel Haws, operative extraordinaire of the Phantom Corps, and unbeknownst to many, the man who commands it". The actual blurb 'hints' but the review reveals. Is that a spoiler????
My final example is this one: (definitely click this title to see what I'm gushing over) Verifiable Intelligence. This review started off with a good hook. I lost count after eight paragraphs and none of them involved reciting the blurb. There was information both the reader and the author can use, great examples of what worked and even what didn't. It backed up the rating it was given and it came across that the reviewer/reader really got into the book because the words flowed and the detail was intimate - meaning that could only happen if the reviewer actually read the book. I cannot fault this review at all but instead hold it up to the light for all to see. This is what I've been talking about and all the elements are here.
What more needs to be said?
Saturday, August 7, 2010
I'd like to take a moment and thank reviewers. Yes, even the ones that do the dreaded synopsis type. Why? Because they cared enough and loved the romance genre enough to want to do reviewing in the first place. Because even though there might be issues, they're still taking the time to read and write and belong to the reviewing community. I also wonder where we all come from? And what impact that may have on reviews in general?
This is my blog, so I'll talk about me. Why did I become a reviewer? Wow, can I think back to three years ago? Yes, actually, I can. I was blog hopping and came upon a plea for someone to read this author's book. I ignored it. Yes. I really did. I thought to myself, there is no way I'm qualified to do that. What would I have to say? And I don't know this person. How am I to know they're legit? So, I continued blog hopping and forgot all about it.
She was persistent, this author. She posted again! She really really needed a review for her book. And there were no takers! So, skeered little me decides it can't hurt to ask her what it's about and where can I buy it? And she says something like..."I'll give you the book if you'll write a review." Like I said, she was persistent. I thought about it.
That's right, I did not jump at the chance to be a reviewer. I thought that you had to be trained or needed to have some sort of course or needed to be a real writer to be a reviewer. But a FREE BOOK? What a nice carrot! So yeah, I bit. I read the book, liked it and wrote a little review.
The next thing I know, I get this note: Want to be a reviewer? Um....
The rest is history still being written.
So I ask you, why aren't there written guidelines out there for reviewers? Has someone somewhere written up a gold standard for reviews and we just haven't been clued in? Even brick and mortar stores have How-To books on writing; writing screenplays, poetry, biographies, you name it. Why isn't there one for reviewers? It's just as much an art. Some authors rely on reviews to spread the word about their books. It's written word of mouth. Links can be shared all over the Web and ideally, a groundswell of enthusiasm for a book could generate many sales therefore making a good review a valuable marketing tool. So where's our How-To info?
A lot of us are fans. That's where we come from. We. LOVE. Romance novels. And some are outgoing enough to put themselves out there and talk up their favorite parts and well-loved characters and they figure that is what reviewing is. Easy, right?
It's not so simple. Good grammar and basic sentence structure notwithstanding, Spell Checker is one of the tools of the trade. You'd think everyone would use it but they don't. Heck, even if they did, that program can't catch what another pair of human eyes can. That's why a review site should have some editors on hand just for reviews. Heaven forbid that an author's name is spelled wrong. ::raises hand:: I'm guilty. I have ADD so it's especially challenging for me. I found that if I copy/paste right from the PDF, then I can't make a mistake. It works perfectly, unless the PDF itself is wrong, and wouldn't that be embarrassing!
I also think there is a huge difference in reaction to the suggestion of edits between authors and reviewers. Authors know that edits and crits come with the deal. A thick skin is needed and a Can-Do attitude that values learning and honing their craft. Many reviewers are regular moms, college students, professionals in their chosen careers, and a few published authors who actually have time to read - for fun! Many non-authors don't have a thick skin. If they've not immersed themselves in Yahoo groups, author chats or author blogs, they may not know just how common edits are and exactly what it's like to be told it's not up to par so rewrite an entire chapter or two and resubmit. Or, they get one shot and if the manuscript isn't up to the publisher's standards, they outright reject it. That hurts.
Sometimes I hear about reviewers getting upset and even quitting over edit requests. I can empathize. There are no standardized manuals of reviewing out there to help them. Some sites actually have helpful files they can visit to refer to, but it can be overwhelming. So what's a reviewer to do? I don't think they should take it personally that's what.
I believe that reviewers who review for more than one site need to follow the expectations of each individual site. I think it's unfair to a reviewer if sites don't make it clear exactly what form their reviews need to be in. One review does not fit all sites, and shouldn't. Oh, man that's an understatement. And another SOAP box moment for another post. I would ask that reviewers find out the requirements of writing reviews for the site they want to be a part of. It will save hurt feelings in the long run.
If synopsis style reviews is all a reviewer wants to write, stick with review sites that are okay with that. If you try that same format with a review site that expects a more personal and in depth commentary on what worked in a book from their reviewers, they'll return your review for edits again and again until it meets their standards. If not expected, that can really steam a reviewer. And give an editor an eye twitch. So, my advice is to find your happy fit. It's out there.
Being a reviewer is a rewarding road to travel. I'm still traveling on mine; its curvy, twisted and never boring. I think becoming a reviewer is one of the most exciting things I've done in my life and it challenges me at every turn. I find it helps on a resume too. **wink**
Friday, August 6, 2010
Ironically, or not, there were some common themes from authors. She had eight respond and seven had some really awesome input. What they had in common was interesting and it actually ties into the previous posts.
Remember the synopsis post? Part of what is missing from a short review or a synopsis masquerading as a review is the reason a reviewer marked it the way they did.
Turns out that authors look at reviews not only as a marketing mechanism, but a learning tool! How cool is that? And how frustrating.
What my friend was told basically follows this theme: How can an author improve her work if reviewers don't tell them what made them rate it a 3 1/2 instead of a 4? Or a 4 1/2 instead of that golden five? (Assuming that rate scales are based on 1-5, five being the best).
I reiterate that I'm not advocating snark or mean and cutting tear-downs of a writer's work. Nor do I mean reviews written by a person who is forced to read a book they'd never read in the first place and it colors their perception from the get-go. I'm talking about true issues that made it less than what it could have been. Some examples could be: unsympathetic or one dimensional characters, meandering plot, a villain that was more Wile E. Coyote instead of Hannibal Lector, a heroine that was whiny or so stubborn she did stupid things that put everyone in danger and instead of wanting to save her, you wanted the villain to win; or a heroine that just grated on your nerves because of how she reacted to everything (War of the Worlds and that screaming banshee child); or even a hero that was supposed to be an alpha tough dude and came across as a combination of Elmer Fudd and Monk.
If their characters didn't work for you, why? Or maybe it was only a part of the story? At some point something clicked and the book got really good so what would have been a 2 1/2 on the scale ended up with that extra half point to a solid three. I think that means if the book had never regained your interest it would have been rated low, but it did grab you back, so it made it a good book afterall. However, if it hadn't had those issues of disconnect in the first place, it would have had a solid higher rating, maybe even a five -who knows?
For those authors that really do read reviews and still find value in the doing, us reviewers need to be more aware. What we do matters. What we say and obviously, what we don't say.
If you write that you liked the book and recommend it, did you tell the reader why? If a certain part of the book didn't jive with you, did you tell the reader why? Please don't say, "Because I don't usually read these kinds so I don't like it anyway", that's so insulting.
Here's an example: Imagine baking a seven layer chocolate cake and working so hard on all the frosting and decorations until you believe it's close to perfection. You slice into it and delicately place that piece of that amazing masterpiece on a plate and present it to your friend for a taste test. Just think how'd you feel as you eagerly awaited the reaction of your friend when she ate some of that tasty goodness. And then, all she did was shrug and say, "Eh, it's OK. But I don't like cake so it's not that impressive. Nice design though."
CRUSHED! Hurt, and insulted. Then the mad might set in. I think the friendship would've taken a gut punch on that one.
Sure a review isn't like a cake, but still, a review that doesn't say anything to justify the rating leaves a reader and an author hanging. And like the baker of that cake, her 'friend's' comment never told her anything about HER cake. Now she's going to have to cut another slice for someone else and hope that they can actually give her a better review of it's texture and taste.
Ergo, if there's nothing to explain why you liked the book or didn't, how can the review have worth? An author finds value in being informed about what works for her readers just as much as what doesn't. So, to have nothing in the review at all leaves a reader with an incomplete impression. A rate that is not backed up with information is one of the missing links that is all too common. I am hoping to raise other reviewers' awareness of this because I don't think I ever gave it a conscious thought. Now I am and I hope to be a better reviewer because of it.
Which is why I'm doing this blog. Have you found your missing link lately?
Thursday, August 5, 2010
"Whatcha doing today, Nora? Can I have one of your books? What do ya say?" - Would you saunter up to Nora Roberts and shoulder bump her to get her attention?
"Oh, my gosh, Gena, can I have your gnome? I just know it'll look great in my garden!" Would you steal Gena Showalter's garden gnome just because you liked her book series?
Sounds tacky, doesn't it? A bit uncouth? I'd think any of the authors would be stunned and taken aback at the familiarity these people showed - if it were to really happen. Familiarity has its place in life - and it takes time to develop trust and a comfort zone before people allow others to invade their personal space with back slapping and shoulder bumping. The one place familiarity should never be found is in a review. Did you know that?
The interesting thing about writers is that they are more accessible than say, Elizabeth Taylor. If you comment on an author's blog, they'll usually reply. If you friend an author on Facebook, most times they'll accept. If you gush about their books during a chat, you might even inspire an author to gift you with a free book. All these events can engender a feeling of closeness, of connection and dare I say it, possessiveness in a fan for an author. When they go to a book store it's not unheard of for someone to glance at the author's names and say, "I have her, read that one...Oh! There's so and so! That's right, she told me this one was coming out..."
"She told me so". Sure sounds personal, doesn't it? Familiar?
Now, if a fan writes a review of a book by their absolute favorite author, they might be lulled into using familiarity in the review. How would that look? Let's use a fictional author - Shasta LaDixon.
"Esme the heroine was a wonderful and sensitive character and Shasta did a great job of describing her fear of fish." or " Shasta has another winner on her hands with Phin and his Slavic Gills and I'd recommend it to every reader of erotic romantic suspense."
First off, a review is not a personal fan letter to an author. Secondly, a review is not for a private venue but for a public showing. Thirdly, once it's published, it becomes part of a professional marketing tool for authors. Being familiar, using the first name of an author, is unprofessional and shows disrespect. Not intentional to be sure, but the fact remains that there is protocol in the business world. Meeting Bill Gates for the first time? "Hello Mr. Gates." Having lunch and Warren Buffet asks if he can borrow the extra chair at your table, "Absolutely, please, go ahead, Mr. Buffet."
OK... I admit, more than likely Mr. Buffet will have someone else snag a chair for him. But you get the picture. Professionalism in the business world is expressed in many varied ways. First name basis is taboo on initial acquaintance. When a reader reads your review, they are 'meeting' the book/author for the first time and first names are to be avoided. Always. No exceptions.
"Esme the heroine was a wonderful and sensitive character and Ms. LaDixon did a great job of describing her character's fear of fish." or "Ms. LaDixon has another winner on her hands with Phin and His Slavic Gills..."
Do you see what I mean? I believe it makes a world of difference but I'd like feedback on this.
Can anyone come up with a valid reason for authors to be referred to as anything other than Ms. or Mr. in reviews? I'm very interested in your answers.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I believe that some sites put reviewers at a disadvantage. How? By dictating to reviewers what books they'll read and review. No choice, no preferences just here you go and perhaps even give them a deadline. I wonder, do they even allow them to 'opt out'?
I prefer to fish for books. I prefer having the opportunity to say, "nope, not my thing" and toss it back into the water for another reviewer's fishing line.
I've read about an author's experience with a reviewer that concentrated solely on what they didn't like about the book and totally trashed it. I sat back and wondered, "Did that reviewer even have a choice? Was she forced to read something that wasn't even in her area of interest?" That could be one explanation for such a diatribe. Perhaps a passive-aggressive response? If so, totally not fair to the author!
I am of the opinion that review sites who dictate to their reviewers do the reviewer and the author a grave disservice. I believe this is especially true for those that are sent print books. It's also why I think Ebooks are so wonderful - another post for another time.
The site I belong to has a policy to never dictate to a reviewer. Nor do they insist that a reviewer write the review even if the reviewer has indicated a dislike for the book just because they requested the book in the first place. It's a personal preference and reviewing is basically opinions. If you go fishing for bass to eat and catch an eel, you're going to throw it back. Perhaps screech a bit before you do, but it's going back where it came from, right? So too, a book that doesn't resonate with a person. Send it back. Reviewing is supposed to be FUN!
Why should reviewers be allowed to send it back? It's logical. Think about it. A great review will throb with enthusiasm and positive vibes when it's written by an excited reviewer. It's unlikely to be a short one either. It will flow and the reviewer's voice will come through leaving a reader of the review in no doubt as to where the writer stands. Like this REVIEW. Or, this REVIEW
On the other hand, a reviewer who gets the willies from reading about zombies and vampires and avoids them in her personal buying choices will not enjoy reading and then having to write about it. It will ALWAYS show.
OK, you might ask why'd she request the book in the first place? Why wouldn't she write a review? If it's a site that allows for picking then perhaps the blurb was misleading OR she read a review about the topic and wanted to give it a try. (must have been a good review then, eh? ) Or she closed her eyes, spun around four times and then pointed. In any event, she tries it and finds that this book doesn't change her mind. She can't get into it. She discovered it deals with issues that are on her "never buy" list. She doesn't like the characters and can't even get past the first three chapters. Any number of reasons and all are valid. A good review site will allow her to send it back (Ebook) and put it out there for other reviewers to grab. They recognize (or should) that one person's opinion does not signal the end of the road for that book. It's better to have a review written by a person who enjoyed themselves and was entertained.
If a reviewer does request to return the book, they should provide the site's admin people the reasons why. Sometimes it's that personal preference thing and sometimes, whoa, it's major issues that can be objectively identified: poor editing, misuse of vernacular for the time period, objectionable content outside the boundaries of the site's protocols, TSTL heroine, no plot or the book didn't live up to the blurb or expectations. The review site I belong to actually gives a book two chances before notifying the sender why it couldn't be reviewed.
I give kudos to a review site that resists snark. I respect a review site that doesn't publish reviews that are negative to that extreme. If the points being made are valid and greatly affect the rating of the book (read low to zilch rating), then it's more professional to write to the publisher with the feedback, or to the author if it's an author submitted book. I don't have high a regard for a review site who posts all reviews just to have the numbers or to generate sensational feedback and visit hits. It reminds me too much of the National Enquirer or other sensationalist tabloids. ::shudder::
Poorly written, snarky and insulting and/or lazy synopsis style reviews should not have a place on a review site if they value integrity, takes pride in itself or cares about professionalism or how it translates to authors and an industry as a whole. Remember that not all synopsis reviews are bad if they include extra paragraphs that actually review the book. I only refer to the ones that don't. You know, those one-liners at the end. "I liked Dick and Jane. I liked how they ran. You should read it." ::rolls eyes::
So, have you caught any good fish lately?
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I'm talking about the size of a book; the length and the differences for reviewers when it comes to shorts, novellas, plus novels and anthologies.
What do you think is the easiest book to read? What do you think reviewers think is easiest to review?
If you said shorts, I'd have to agree. However, I disagree with it being easy to review. I think it's one of the harder type of books to write about. Why? Simple. What kind of depth can an author get into with only fifty pages? Twenty-five pages? Eleven pages? How can a reviewer write a review without spoilers?
It's possible. Absolutely, but it makes the brain work a bit harder to come up with four paragraphs, especially if a reviewer is staying away from the dreaded synopsis review.
For novellas, novels and plus novels, I think it's a bit easier but it has its own challenges - basically, where to stop. *gg* I will admit that my own reviews are verbose and wordy especially when I'm very excited about what I've read. I think the bigger they are, the easier to review. So, yes, size does help.
Anthologies can be a nightmare for reviewers. Great for readers. I know from personal experience that many authors I now read came from my being introduced to them via anthologies. However, writing a review for those same books can be daunting. I've done it and I think I've done well, but that is a different post. If there is interest. ;-)
Short stories are what get many reviewers in a pickle. Believe it or not it isn't as difficult as you'd think. Challenging? Oh yeah. Remember the previous post and some of the suggestions? They hold true here.
But where to start? The following are just a few lures to your reviewing muse. Maybe she'll bite:
The female lead - What was her character like? Spunky? Argumentative? Soft personality? Weak? Aggressive? Did her character work in and for the story the author placed her in? Was she a klutz? Did she make you laugh? Did she make you roll your eyes? Did you feel sympathy or interest in her? Did you respect her? Was her character fleshed out to the point you felt you've met someone like her?
The male lead(s)- Alpha or Beta? Did his dialogue fit his character? Did you wish he spoke more and acted less? Was he the kind of man you'd personally like to meet? Did you feel empathy for him? Was his technique with the female lead hot and smooth or jerky and unrealistic? Did he have something quirky about him that made you smile? Was he arrogant? Commanding? Was his character one you'd anticipate or fear meeting in a dark alley?
Are there any secondary characters? Did they provide insight into the main characters? Provide movement or motivation in the plot? Were they window dressing? Did you like how the H/H interacted with them? Were they respectful to the H/H? Were they problematic? Did they provide comic relief or drama? Were any of the secondary characters family and if so, did you get a sense of a loving family or a dysfunctional one? Were there pets? Window dressing or did the author remain cognizant of what it's like to have a pet in someone's life?
A reviewer can hint about things, lead a reader into wondering about this or that without using spoilers. You don't have to tell anything specific in the review but you can mention a tease. ("Just wait until you get to the scene with the dish washer. It cracked me up. Or It made me hot. I'll never look at mine the same again") See? Tease. You're letting the reader know that this author is using unique situations in the story that made an impression on you but you're not telling. *neener neener neener*
Then a reviewer can touch base on writing style. How were the descriptions? Was it true to the setting, i.e. historical, sci-fi, western. Was it first person POV or third person POV. Was there head hopping? Too much, none? If there were some head hops, was it effective, did you mind it? What about the dialogue in general. Did a man sound like a man or was he feminized. Did the woman speak like a woman you could call a friend or did you want to B-slap her?
No matter how short a story is, there has to be some personality to the characters for a reader to connect. Even if the book is erotic romance and there are a lot of sex scenes, there still has to be dialogue, descriptions, showing versus telling and a plot, even if it's only to get a best friend into bed to show her she means more and the guy has to physically show her because he just doesn't have the words. That would be an internal conflict, sort of.
I'd love feedback on successful reviews for short stories. Yes, I've been stymied. Yes, it's a challenge but it can be done. I just end up with a lot of conversations in my head.
Monday, August 2, 2010
I've come to the understanding that some review sites do not do what ours does. We put the back cover blurb before the review and I think it is a smart and prudent move on the site's owners. Think about it.
What does a reader do when he/she goes to a brick and mortar book store, or an Ebook site? They read the blurb. A blurb is the synopsis of what the book is about and identifies who the main characters are and gives a reader the idea of what time period and/or genre it's about. Right there at that moment, for some readers, the decision is made whether to buy the book or not. That's pretty powerful and a daunting amount of pressure for an author because a bad blurb can tank a sale. And, unless I'm mistaken, the author themselves have to write their own blurbs. As if dealing with exacting editors isn't enough. Sheesh!
There is power and beauty in a review attached to a blurb. And this is what reviewers should be mindful of, ideally. If a reviewer adored a book, if it resonated with them and if they write the review well, by that I mean their enthusiasm comes through, then they could potentially save the sale.
With a blurb attached to the review, a synopsis of the book should not be even considered as part of the actual review. Not only is it redundant but it undermines a review's worth and effectiveness. In short, it's a non-review. Add in the affront to an author by adding spoilers and the review and reviewer have lost credibility. But that's another post.
What is a review anyway? What is being a reviewer all about? Certainly not to retell the story. Certainly not to reword the blurb. Absolutely it's not a synopsis! Unless, and in all fairness, a reviewer works for one of those sites that does not provide the blurb and a reviewer is forced to include a short recap along the storylines of the actual blurb. However, that is NOT to say that reciting the story and plot is the ENTIRE review! And therein lies the problem, IMHO. A reviewer from those sites has to spend so much time writing a capsule of the book they then end up using only the last paragraph for sharing anything of value that actually helps a reader. And retelling about the book makes it much easier for a reviewer to fall into the trap of using spoilers.
A review is a sharing. A reviewer is a person that shares with the world what they liked about a book(or even a movie) and what, if anything, affected them or moved them or turned them off. It can mention certain parts of the story but never the outcome or any series of events, i.e. spoilers. A review is an expression of how the book and elements of the plot/characters/dialogue made a reviewer feel. Reviewers from those other kinds of sites end their review right were is should actually be starting. That last paragraph should be the first, or second of quite a few. And doesn't that sound like hard work and a time investment?
If a reader has a passion for romance books, of which I am one, then it will not seem like hard work. I find pleasure in sharing what I like and I became a reviewer because I had no one else to talk to and gush with about a particular book that really hit my happy buttons. Being a reviewer gives me that opportunity but with it comes responsibility. It's a job. It's a real position of importance and is worth doing well.
A well written review is not one that glosses over and ignores issues like poor editing or stilted and/or unrealistic dialogue (A medieval knight saying, "Come here babe, I'm gonna rock your world") but neither does it attack an author ("obviously the author was too lazy to do research and clearly has no concept of her genre"). A review mentions issues in a constructive, objective manner and avoids like the plague the last example. That's hurtful and unprofessional and has no place on a respected review site.
A better way to address it is varied and options abound for a creative reviewer.
"I have to warn fellow readers that they'll find some inconsistencies in the dialogue for the time period but the relationship between the main characters makes it easy to tolerate."
"This review had the potential to have a higher score but the editing department let the author down by not catching some glaring misspelling of too many words to count. Even with that issue, the plot of the book is tight and the creative use of ....."
These are examples of how to approach writing a review about a book that wasn't up to par. If all a reviewer does is write a synopsis then there'll be no room for this type of information for a reader to see. If a reviewer glosses over any major issues, and parrots the blurb, then a reader is going to get riled up and annoyed because they spent money on a book that let them down. Yes, a review is an opinion. But where are the opinions if it's all synopsis? It's a slippery slope.
In closing, yes I hear that sigh of relief, I will state that for those reviewers who write for sites that include the blurb they have it easier and harder. They don't have to recap the book but they do then have the challenge of sharing more of themselves and their reactions about the book. They are talking reader to reader and putting more of themselves out there. But isn't that what they'd do amongst their friends anyway?
For those that write reviews for sites that do not include the blurb I believe their job is twofold and lengthy. Recap and then that last paragraph where they finally share the components that had meaning will and should be the first of at least three more paragraphs. They should go on to discuss if the relationship worked between the hero/heroine, if the secondary characters helped or hindered the story, was there a balance between showing and telling, was the villain(s) effective and truly diabolical and did the reviewer sympathize with the hero/heroine and did it make them laugh or tear up. If all reviewers took those questions and answered them within a review, (without spoilers) then we all could wave synopsis reviews a heartfelt goodbye and good riddance.
I bet I'm going to get flack for taking this stand but again, these are my opinions and I feel strongly enough to put it out there. I believe in what I do as a reviewer and it's worth doing well.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
It's amazing how an author can weave such an intricate tale and incorporate characters from books past while already thinking of how to incorporate them into future books with more new characters. What must their office be like?
Karen Marie Moning writes books that stand the test of time. As least this series does and even though it's been out for awhile To Tame a Highland Warrior it's as romantic and entertaining as the first time I read it years ago.
A well written review is Saving Emma. because there wasn't a plethora of synopsis. There was teasing, hinting, and a lot of good information that a reader would need to help them discover whether or not this book is the kind of book they are looking for. A review is supposed to be a tool readers use to figure out if it's what they are in the mood for at that moment, if it's reaching the reviewer like they themselves would want to be reached. I think this review does that.
Those are my three picks for today. And where am I finding all this goodness? In my own backyard of course. LASR
This is a place where I explore more of what I like best. I'm a reviewer. I sometimes wish I could comment on what others have said about my reviews. I've been most fortunate because most of it has been good. Then again, when I like a book, I gush, am verbose and leave no doubt as to my feelings.
I believe there will be a lot of links back to what I've done as well as other reviews that I think are well written and should be noted as such. There are many sites who accept a cookie cutter style - without imagination or without in depth thought. I want to showcase those that put effort into writing about their love of books. I want to share that with you.