Saturday, January 21, 2012

Are Edits Really Worse Than a Root Canal?

Here's my latest observation.

If reviewers use "poor editing" as a criteria for marking down a book rating, why do they think they're the exception to that same standard?

Answer: They’re not. We’re not. I am not.

Bear in mind that I am making reference to those reviewers who contribute to organized review sites, not personal bloggers. Although they might find value in this, who knows?

How closely do reviewers follow their favorite authors? How much do they pay attention to the words the writer uses that touch base on what they do? You know, when they talk about not just their characters but the behind-the-scenes goings on?

If readers follow authors on Facebook or Twitter or any of the Yahoo Groups they’re a part of, or the authors’ own blogs, they'll notice discussions about galleys, edits and other components that make up their day beyond the initial creative process. It’s not glorious or fun – it’s hard work, time consuming and exacting. The payoff for readers is a finished product that will inspire imagination and enjoyment.

A review is a cousin of that process. Sure, some might say it’s a distant cousin but it’s related through the written word. We share our opinions of that final product; how it affected us, what worked or didn’t work and what our favorite parts were, or least favorite.  We even point out the things that got missed, like editing.

Reviewers are writers too. We use words to explain and share our opinions and, like authors, we also make mistakes. We know what we want to say but sometimes our fingers just don’t make the connection. From our head to our fingers or pen, weird things can happen. The brain is amazing. It can take words that should be there and insert them for us to see when we are reading it back to ourselves. But those words are actually missing! Therefore, we think it’s perfect and submit it. We never notice, we never question our perfection. Imagine the shock of being told to fix errors!

We know what we want to say but perhaps don’t know the right word, or, perhaps it’s a word not used often and we mess up the spelling. We are fallible. We are human.

I have to ask:

Why don't they use the many and varied tools that writers have access to? Such as: a spell checker, a thesaurus, even the humble dictionary. Why do they resist using them? Why do reviewers get their panties in a twist when their review comes back for edits? Why are they taking it personally when told that their review needs to be tweaked? Why do they think they’re above the process that authors are expected to deal with every day?

Does anyone have some answers for me?
Don't they want their reviews to be respected?

And please don’t respond with, “Well, I am not an writer/author. I‘m just a reviewer.” That is a cop out. You ARE a writer – you’re not reading this because you are singing or a tap dancing. You. Are. Writing! Ergo: a writer.

Edits - a necessary component for anyone who takes what they write seriously. You can even call it a necessary evil. Embrace them – they’re actually good for you.

Taking it a step further – if a reviewer wants to review for multiple sites, realize they can’t take the cookie-cutter approach. Nor can they expect one format to be accepted by all of the sites they belong to. Not only that, but they can’t re-use the same review because of intellectual property rights.

Did you know that?

In addition, some sites have an attitude of laissez faire while others require a level of professionalism and are more proactive. Most are willing to work with their reviewers and help them grow, and others don’t put in that kind of investment. Ask yourself – What kind of site do I review for?

If you don’t want to put in much effort - the thrill is just getting to share your opinion, then go with the sites that aren’t picky- they’ll be a good fit.

However, if that is your modus operandi and you start to review for a site that requires attention to detail, with the burden  falling on the reviewer for submitting a decent review the first time, then it might not be a good match at all. A reviewer will be faced with their lack and their review will come back for edits. For some it’s a hard pill to swallow. For some reviewers, it’s so insulting that they just up and quit.


That kind of reaction isn’t very professional. And even if you don’t review for an organized site, certainly it comes across as very high school-ish and thin-skinned. You can’t tell me that a job in the corporate world doesn’t have moments of criticism, correction and instruction. If a person can survive that, then certainly a little editing request shouldn’t be the end of the world. Suck it up and do what you do with pride and honor.

You are worth it. Your opinion is worth it. The story is worth it. Edits help you learn, grow and create a better final product. What can a reviewer possibly find objectionable about that?

Someone, please tell me.
Because I think edits are much better than a root canal. Any day.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Know Your Publishers

In my previous post about Keeping the Negatives in the Closet - an author replied and added a very good piece to the reviewing tableau that I missed.

Yes, I said to "know your publishers", but that was referring to book size and style: shorts and serials.

She contributed a valid observation.  Be aware of the HEAT LEVELS of the books published by the publisher. 

If a reader/reviewer is requesting from, for instance, White Rose Publishing - then expect sweet romances only, with inspirational themes.

If a reader/reviewer is requesting from Ellora's Cave  , then you can expect romances that turn the sheets to ashes from the intense passion and heat in the bedroom.

For a reviewer to mark a book down because they wanted an erotic romance and received instead a book with sensual nuances, happiness and the ending is only a kiss of celebration and commitment, then that's totally wrong on the reviewer's part.  For shame!

Don't make the book pay for your mistake. Again, if you are lucky enough to belong to a review site, (assuming the book is not a print) where you can easily say, "Please put this book back up for grabs", do so.

No review should have a negative comment about heat levels when it's the nature of the publisher to be sweet or nice and have no bedroom action.  Conversely, if a reader is of a delicate sensibility and they find the book has some BDSM and are shocked...return the book, don't mark it down.  You shouldn't punish the author with a bad review because the elements weren't your cup of tea. 

Know Your Publishers!

Friday, January 13, 2012

This Is Not A Test- So Why Are You Asking Me Questions?

I like to be teased.
I like to be intrigued.
I like to have my interest piqued.
I like to read a review and get informed.

I don't like to be bombarded with questions I have no way of answering.
I don't like being asked so many of the darned things that I feel like I'm being tested instead of learning anything of value about the book I might want to read.

And that's the latest bugaboo. The question. The sentence that ends with a (?) aimed at getting a reader to wonder, to get interested and to want to know more. I believe the intent is to leave them dangling, curious and clamoring for what comes next.

Instead, I want to walk away.
Why? It's a great technique.

Yes, in moderation and in context.

Reviewing is an art. Like all artists we experiment with different mediums and techniques but for us, it's not oil paints vs. watercolors,or marble vs. wood, it's the written word.

Sometimes a bit too much of one color can overwhelm a painting and instead of a masterpiece it becomes a dartboard. If you chip off that one extra piece of the sculpture and more comes off than intended, the art is ruined. So too with the technique of teasing with a question. Use too many and it loses effect.

How is it done? How or when is it used? When should it not be used?

Good questions. How it is being used and in what way makes a huge difference on the effect it will have on a reader.

The answer to when it should NOT be used has partially been addressed before, believe it or not. The first part is my pet peeve, No Synopsis

Why do you think I'm bringing up my pet peeve, the evil synopsis? Because there are times a reviewer thinks that by writing a synopsis-style paragraph with a hook at the end, and in this case, it's the use of a question, they've made the reader interested in the story. And that might work - once. Maybe even twice.

When it doesn't work for certain is when the "review" isn't a review at all but a different style of a synopsis.

It would have been better if they'd just taken out a few sentences and wrote about their own observations about what works in the story because that is what readers are really searching for.

If the entire review has four or five paragraphs, and every one ends in a leading question but every one of those four or five paragraphs retells the blurb or narrates the progression of the story, then no matter how clever the question, the 'review' isn't giving a reader the information that makes a review, a review.

Warning: This next paragraph is harsh with a caveat.  It's only for those who review for sites that include the blurb from the book with the review.

Writing reviews like that is a waste of both a reader's and the reviewer's time. The review should be sent back for edits. Why? Because it's not a review. Asking leading questions after rehashing the blurb is not a review. Reciting narrative about what the book is about is not a review. Simple. There is no actual investment by the reviewer. Yes, it took time to write four or five paragraphs but there is nothing from the reviewer herself/himself in the review. There isn't anything in the way of personal opinion or observation about the contents. And the only thing that they contribute in their own words is the final paragraph that basically says, "I liked it."  It's copy. It's lazy. It's slothful.

Harsh enough? Perhaps not for those that have to edit that drivel.

What does a question that can hook a reader look like? Well, first, it's going to follow some information that comes from the reviewer's own influence. It's fluid, individual to the review and situation and is probably a question the reader will find value in the asking. It doesn't have to be clever, just real.

Ecstasy Untamed "...What is even better is the hint that another warrior is about to find true love and I knew it was coming. I knew it! This book confirmed it and it’s going to be so exciting. I’m sure it’s also going to be equally dark and challenging to read. The thing I’m almost afraid to ask Ms. Palmer is: “What dastardly conflict is she going to come up with to curl my hair this time?”

The Norse King's Daughter "...She comes across as a woman who knows what’s going on but even when she’s hit by the figurative wall of bricks, she remains inured from the thought of possible harm to her. She’s a king’s daughter, what could possibly happen?"

Queen of the Sylphs ..."
Speaking of which, will you think less of me if I say the ending made me cry? It was beautiful, passionate and sentimental. It was true to the story; it was emotionally powerful and humbling and it made everything that went on before have meaning and relevance. If I could, I would have wanted to give them all a group hug, but I bet one of the battlers would have growled at me."

Once Upon a Groom ..."I just wished it didn’t come across like a broken record for me. As for Jenny’s dad, he’s an idiot. I don’t care how hurt he was when Jenny’s mother died. His neglect doesn’t deserve the level of tolerance and forgiveness that the heroine allowed him. Why didn’t she ever get angry? Why did she wait until the point in the book where she finally, sort of, expressed her feelings? As far as I’m concerned, the author didn’t have her character go far enough."

In the Hay ..."My absolute favorite part in this whole book, when it comes to choosing something off of the heroine’s wish list, is the slip and slide. I adored how the author wrote that scene. It was zany, fun and totally off the wall. And, it was romantic and sweet and made me laugh. In fact that is something I did frequently throughout this story – laugh. And the cutest part about that scene? The hero wanted to do it again."

The Man With the Money ..."Jack is bored. See Jack perk up. Watch Jack think he’s getting his cake and eating it too. Enjoy the cake, in this case, Cara, the heroine, as it bites back. Marvel at how much Jack is clueless as to what it means to dream about a person when they aren’t with him. Poor Jack. He’s about to get a reality check and a mirror thrust into his face – and he doesn’t like what he sees. But what to do?"

After going through my own reviews for examples, I was stunned to see that I hardly ever use the technique. None truly matched the criteria of using a question as the last line on a paragraph as a hook. Using questions in a review certainly has a place, my examples clearly illustrated that.

What I need from you, visitors and fellow reviewers, are examples of a non-synopsis review that uses a question as the last line of the paragraph with the purpose of 'hooking' a reader's interest. Obviously, I can't provide that. I wonder what that says about me?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Keep The Negative in the Closet

Happy New Year!  It's been awhile but reviewing goes on. Thank goodness for that.

In previous posts, I've mentioned how a review is subjective. It's an opinion and everyone has different tastes or expectations. That has not changed.

What needs to change and what reviewers need to be aware of, are the kinds of personal opinions that should not be in a review.

I'm talking about making the decision for a reader that a book isn't worth the money because of its size. I've mentioned before that a reviewer should not rate a review lower just because the formatting is wonky on their electronic reading device - Kindle or NOOK. (Pinned Down to the Mat)

Today, I'm adding another "AVOID THIS".

Please, do not make negative or disparaging comments about a book because of its size. Or because it was a part of a series and you 'felt lost', or because you checked the publisher website and felt the price was too much for such a short story. A tale can be told well in as little as twenty pages. Does that mean that people should not buy it because of its length and miss out on a well crafted tale? No.

A reviewer's role is to comment on the content of a book. What is inside that makes it the story it is. The characters, plot, dialogue, setting, personal interaction between protagonist and antagonist are all topics that readers expect to see discussed. Do not anticipate that a reader is going to be disappointed at the length or the price of the book. Do not let personal feelings distract you from the contents. Don't presume that you can speak for all readers.

Speaking of speaking, be alert to tales from across the pond. What do I mean?: "spelled" is "spelt", color is "colour", a 'dustman' is a garbage collector, tire is "tyre", check is "cheque", and humor is "humour".

If your book takes place in England or Australia, or more likely, the publisher is based there, then words spelled in that manner will pepper the story. Do NOT take points off the rating for these. They are not evidence of bad editing or typographical errors. They are geographically and culturally correct. If the British spelling bothers you bad enough to want to drag down the rating, return it. Or better yet, learn to enjoy the unique flavor reading books from other countries can provide and expand your trivia for Jeopardy.

Another thing that I've noticed - reviews being written about a type or genre never before attempted. On the whole, that is a very good thing. It shows the reviewer is expanding their reading base. The downside is a review riddled with negatives because the parameters of this new sub-genre are not only foreign to them, but perhaps outside their comfort zone. They inadvertently try to paint it with the same brush as the comfortable "old shoe" genres they already read. By doing that, of course, it won't rate high - hence a negative review.

If such is the case, don't review it. If you are lucky enough to be a part of a review site that lets reviewers pick and chose the books they’ll read, return it.

I have a suggestion for you. Instead, before choosing a book in a new kind of story technique or subject, investigate how the genre reads before attempting to review it. Find out what is normal and typical for style. Read other reviews to get an idea of what it's all about. You'd be doing yourself and readers of your reviews a huge favor.

Another aspect to keep in mind - a reader may very well have been following a series or a reader may be buying from a site that specializes in short stories of fifty pages or less because that fits their needs. You know what that means, right? That they find treasure in something you want to trash. You see, a reader is as variable as the books that get published. Their reading needs are fluid so some days a short eighteen page erotic romp between a were-wolf, a were-mink and the farmer's widow is just right. The next week that same reader will crave a high-brow murder mystery with emotional elements even Oprah would swoon over.

A reviewer needs to be objectively subjective. If a reviewer is concerned that they might accidentally request a book that is part of a series and they usually avoid those because they don't like feeling left out, check the publisher website before asking for the title. Quite a few list all the books in a series. Some author's sites do the same.

Additionally, there are many books out there that are part of a series and yet are complete unto themselves. But don't assume. If a reviewer does end up with a soap opera type tale where you really do need to understand what went on before, but there was enough to entertain you and keep you because it was that good - then resist making it a negative. Just give a reader a heads-up. Like this:

"This book totally kept my interest and it had a lot going for it. I had fun and I enjoyed the snappy dialogue between the hero and heroine. However, I need to give readers a heads up that this isn't a standalone read. I could tell there were pieces missing and I also realized that my reading experience could have been richer had I read some of the previous books in the series. As it is, it's definitely worth checking out. It has certainly whetted my appetite for more and I can't wait to find out!"

This example lets a reader know that it is enjoyable while giving voice to something positive. It also gives the information that it's a part of a series and while not a standalone, that the reviewer was able to enjoy the story as is. For first time readers, they'll understand what the book offers and what it lacks. In no way does it allow a reviewer's disappointment to color the review with a negative flavor. And remember, for followers of the series, they are going to want to know what works in the story as it is. They know what’s going on, so please avoid trashing it just because you didn’t.

Taking this one step further – I agree that a really super awesome book will not leave a reader feeling like they missed one of the main courses in their five course meal. I also know that books in a series can and do give you a complete tale while leaving cookie crumbs about the overall story arc. Be aware that there are publishers that excel at and promote short stories in a serial manner, much like the old T.V. cliff hangers. Once all the installments are revealed, they’ll then publish a “collection” which condenses them all into one giant volume.

Know your publishers.

If that is the style they are known for and you’re not a serial reader, then avoid reviewing the installments. Wait for the collection. Or read tales from a different publisher. But don’t paint a story in a negative light for things outside of the actual contents in a book (book length, cost, unfamiliar genre).

There are enough reasons to rate a book lower, from plot holes an elephant can fall through, lazy editing (let's call the hero different names), alpha men who wail and squeal and waffle, heroines who aren’t assertive but abrasive and unlikable (you want to make her go down those squeaky stairs into that dark musty cellar with the creepy scratchy  noises when the lightbulb pops), and dialogue that doesn’t match the characters’ personalities (A regal queen talking like a punk rocker on steroids), just to name a few.

Please remember: review the book, the story, the part that people read. Everything else is up to them.