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.


Wendi Zwaduk said...

Hear, hear!

Stormy said...

I'll second Wendi's "Hear, hear!" So happy to see you blogging again, Xer! :D You make some really great points. Deducting points for things that should be obvious up front (short stories are not going to be long on detail) doesn't make sense to me.

Shari said...

Thanks for the tips, as a new reviewer I appreciate and welcome them. I would also like to point out that the spelling notes you referred to are not only across the pond but also with the northern neighbours, Canada. Due to the American influence on Canadians I think this line may be blurred somewhat and Canadian authors may have both spellings in their writing which could a confuse a reader, but I also think this something to be overlooked when reviewing as well. That is just my opinion though.

Jenna said...

Excellent post! I've been hearing a lot of writers complain that the reviewer loved the book but thought it should have been longer and marked it down because of that. I think reviewers must, as you say, be objectively subjective about givens such as length and genre. Now we just need to spread the word!

Sherry Gloag said...

I am so glad you mentioned the difference in spelling. In the UK we have had to accept American spelling in many books for 'yonks' and it is dispointing when a reviewer does not take the time to check oout the authenticity of the spelling.
As ever, another interesting and enlightening post Xer, thanks.

Daryl Devore said...

now just email this to all the reviewers!

This is such a touchy topic - but it was extremely well covered here.

Leslie Wright said...

Love this post!

Brenda said...

Excellent post!

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Wendi!!!

Xeranthemum said...

LOL- yeah, it's been awhile, Stormy. Then again, there's not been much that's hit me with inspiration lately, until this subject.

And you're right. There's a reason they are called "shorts"...because they're...short. :-)

Xeranthemum said...

Shari! Thanks for commenting..and really? Canada too? That's an awesome fact to know. And I got a kick that you spelt :-), neighbors with the "ou" .. how fun.

And opinions is what it's all about. I appreciate it.

From my standpoint and IF I wanted to be a stickler, the editor should keep to spelling in the, for this instance the Candadian way - mixing both Canadian and American in the same paragraph or page isn't good form. It can actually affect the flavor of the storytelling.

It'd almost be akin to speaking with a sexy Italian accent and midsentence start talking like Larry, the Cable Guy - kind of jarring, you know?

Actually, that'd be kind of funny.

Xeranthemum said...

I agree, Jenna. Completely.
Thanks for stopping by!
thanks for the compliment. :-)

Xeranthemum said...

We're "yonks"? -- that's fascinating! :-)

Thanks for stopping by, Sherry! And I'm happy to hear that my two cents has some value to both both reviewers and authors.

Xeranthemum said...

LOL- thanks, Daryl!

And you're right, it IS a touchy subject. I never know what kind of feedback I'll get when I venture forth and write these posts.

The next one might not have such glowing feedback. But sometimes things just need to be said.

Anyway, Thank you SO much for stopping by and leaving a comment!

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Leslie!
I appreciate the support. :-)

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you for the compliment, Brenda.
It's greatly appreciated.
For me, the best thing is that you stopped by.

Anonymous said...

I would very much like to add something about the heat level. I've had reviewers request my novels and then lament because my books don't show graphic sex. I write for a well-known "clean read" publisher - it's kind of a given that I write with clean language and less heat. But I've had reviewers say they thought the couple should have had sex. Again, check the heat level before you read it so if you're looking for smexy you don't end up with sweet and vice versa. I've gotten in the habit of telling reviewers "this is a sweet romance," and I'm really sorry to have to say this because it feels like I'm apologizing for my work somehow.

Xeranthemum said...

Wow, Kayspringsteen, I hope those same reviewers didn't mark down the story! That'd be so wrong!

Thank you for bringing up a very valid and important addition to the post. I'm glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts. It does go back to that one bolded statement in my post Know your Publishers - if they had, there'd be no need for you to make that disclaimer.

Sometimes, a sensual story is more powerful because an author is focusing on the emotions of her characters and what drives them. Sex is not a prerequisite to a good story, it's icing on the cake. If the cake itself isn't good, no amount of sugary sweetness is going to save it. Right?

Again, thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm honored.