Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When is Great the Best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just stop for a moment and think about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's yours?

Making it Personal

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

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

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

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

She made it personal.

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

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Proof of the Thrill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fear: The Roadblock of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously think about kicking fear to the curb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

What a Three Rating Means to Me

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


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

Why is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

It ends up being, a GOOD book.

There is nothing wrong with a good book.

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






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

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

Voila. More examples.




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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

I'm Conflicted

Have you ever felt that way?

I have. More than once.

Conflicts come in many forms but in this case it's regarding the making of a decision. Do I or don't I? Should I or shouldn't I? Can I or Can't I? Will I or won't I?

Doesn't matter how you ask it, the important fact is, the question has to be asked and answered.

In my last post, Everyone's a Critic, I mentioned about conflict of interest and how it can compromise your review.

This post explores a different aspect of the same beast.

When you review because you feel as though you ought, because of friend, crit partner or any other emotional bent, the previous post explained why you should say 'no'.

I want to touch upon those folks that review for more than one site, or those that like to post their review of the same book on multiple venues like Amazon, Goodreads, etc.

Writing a review for those places is fine.

What this post is hoping to achieve is to create in a reviewer an awareness of consequences.

First, I understand the emotional satisfaction of being accepted as a preferred reader for such places as NetGalley or Edelweiss. Being able to read books long before the general public has access is a natural high for any fan of the written word. It's wonderful.

When isn't it wonderful?

When it skews statistics. When it divides your loyalties. When it causes conflict. When it inadvertently leads to accusations of plagiarism. When intellectual property is threatened. All of this is possible.

Once again I need to clarify that this post is geared to those reviewers who review for a professional site. To sharpen the focus further, this is targeted to those sites who also, in their professional capacity, have contracts with those same NetGalley kinds of sites.

The question should be: Who do I review for?

The answer: One or the other, NOT BOTH.

I repeat: You can not review the Same book for BOTH sites - or a multiple of sites.

But you ask: Why not, especially if I write a completely different review?

First - and the obvious: Unless your opinion of the book (like vs dislike) has changed drastically (which it shouldn't), you are sharing the same opinion. As such, and which brings me to the second point, you are skewing the statistics. If you share reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, the review site you belong to, and anywhere else where statistics matter, then you are not allowing an honest and fair assessment of the book to occur.

It's almost like being a shill at an auction - driving the price up so the item will sell for a higher price than is warranted, than it otherwise would.

I realize that's not what most people intend. I say 'most' because there ARE unscrupulous people out there. But the effect is the same. If you share your review with four sites, it looks as though four different people are liking the book for the same reasons, but in actuality, the number is one - you. Multiply you by 100 doing the same thing and think about how that affects the book. If the publisher thinks that many great reviews are out there, they equate that to sales. But take away the You Effect and what is the reality? Three HUNDRED of those reviews are invalid.

Did you ever think about that?

Another conflict is this.

If you take a book from NetGalley under your own name, you can NOT review the book for anyone else or anywhere else. It has to be your own personal blog. That is what NetGalley expects from you because that's the agreement. By the same token, if you review for a site that also contracts with NetGalley, they can't use the book that YOU personally took from NetGalley.

Only books that THEY request from NetGalley can be reviewed on THEIR site.

In other words: NetGalley and Edelweiss expect you to post the review on your own website or blog, and don't mind that you do it on Goodreads. You'd be linking back to your own personal blog anyway. The problem arises when a professional website, like LASR, (not a personal review blog) has their own account, but their reviewers are posting the NetGalley reviews on their personal NetGalley account and not the professional website.

Do you see the conflict? Do you understand where I'm going with this?

Intellectual property is serious business. Whether you get paid or not - monetarily, in books, or you do it out of the sheer joy of sharing, when you submit a review that will reflect the site, the reputation of the site, and will be credited to the site, it becomes the property of the site.

What is NetGalley is NetGalley's. What is Edelweiss is Edelweiss'. What is a professional review site is the professional review site's. What is LASR is LASR's.

The goal of this post was to enlighten, guide and teach reviewers about another aspect of reviewing. The business side. And how every review you write has greater worth than the apparent.

You matter.
What you think, matters.
What you say, matters.
Where and how you share it, matters.

End the conflict.
Make the right decision.
Because your decision, matters.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Everyone's a Critic, Right?

That's right; everyone has an opinion about something.
Some folks criticize to correct someone and challenges them to help them grow.
Some folks criticize to demean and destroy.  Cue: Snark

But, there is a flip side to criticism - both good and bad.

But what IS criticism?

For reviewing purposes, I chose this explanation: The analysis or evaluation of a work of art, literature, etc.

That's a basic definition and it applies to reviewing. It's the part that takes a story to task for failing a reader at certain points. I admit, it can be incredibly hard to be a constructive critic. Human nature has a tendency to go overboard sometimes.

But the hardest part about being a critic and exercising critical thinking is when a reviewer is conflicted.

What puts a reviewer in such a position? To feel torn, or obligated? When they are asked to crit a friend's work - doesn't matter if it's about a book, a screenplay or a poem.

When a person is emotionally vested in a relationship, whether personal or professional, the ability of a person to be objectively critical is compromised and feelings oftentimes are in the driver's seat.

If you are asked to review a friend's book, do you? As a rule, the answer should be no. I'm not talking about a situation where you really don't want to read and review their book, but when you do want to. And along with that wanting to read their story and offer up your opinions, you run the risk of getting on your own emotional roller coaster - and it's not a pleasant ride.

Guilt will plague you.
Worry will haunt you.
Second guessing yourself will torment you.

Are you being too harsh? Will whatever you point out as 'wrong' hurt your friend's feelings? How accurate can your crit be if you are constantly trying to couch your suggestions so as to not hurt someone, or worse, make them angry? How fair are you being? No wait, are you being unfair? I think you can get an idea as to where this is going.

I guess a lot depends on the kind of relationship you have with the person whose work you are critting. If you are lucky, there's an established trust where the author has a thick skin and understands the vein in which the crits are presented thereby allowing you to honestly share how the book really affected you - the good, the bad, and the hilarious.

But, I believe one of the worst case scenarios is of a reviewer taking on a book to review for someone, and by virtue of feelings of obligation, duty, friendship or hero-worship, gives a glowing, gushing high-five write-up that whitewashes the whole book into a shining example of perfection, when it's possibly anything but.

That does an author a huge disservice.

I repeat, giving a carte blanche glowing review no matter what does not benefit the author in any way, except perhaps, ego. But that's ephemeral at best.

Another point about that practice, and let me be clear, is that it hurts a reviewer's credibility. The damage doesn't necessarily stop there either. If you review for a professional review site, it could compromise their reputation. If you give a book a top rating whereas all the other ones are much less, it calls into question the veracity of the review, and by association, the review site as a whole.
Now, before you jump all over that last sentence and remind me about reviews being opinions, let me explore that difference.

If a book is riddled with errors and blatant plot holes and objective points of criticism that would always and everywhere lower a rating in a review and THAT book still gets a glowing gushy top rating from you with absolutely no acknowledgement of the well known issues that have come to light in other reviews, then it stands out like Jeff Foxworthy at a mime convention.

Another compromising position for a reviewer is one who is a diehard, devout fan of an author or series.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with following a series. Nothing at all. If, and that's a big IF, the reviewer can step back from his or her fandom and view the book objectively. That means being willing and able to point out any inconsistencies or plot issues like they would have for any other book and not only mention them, but rate it accordingly.

As long as a reviewer can do that, then review away. Because let's face it. There is no way an author can consistently have top ratings or best book ratings for every single book in a fifteen book series without at least once or twice dropping the ball and falling through a plot hole, get confused on a head hop or create a character so flat, they don't even warrant the title of pancake. Authors are human too.
The bottom line?

Review with honesty.
Review with a pragmatic approach.
Review without guilt or pressure or perceived expectations.
Be willing to give constructive criticism.
Be willing to say no.

And if you can't say 'no', or are totally crushing on wanting to read that story, then do yourself and the author a favor.

Rate the book on how it really is, and NOT on how you think they'd want you to rate it.

All authors want to hear their baby is great. It's human nature. But as kids need braces to fix oral misalignment, so too do authors need to hear what doesn't work, so they can correct it and write a better scene the next time.

Yes, everyone can try be a critic. But not everyone knows how to, or when not to. And that's the difference.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fanning the Flames and When to Douse Them

Actors have fans.
Movies have fans.
Games of sport have fans.
Sometimes, fans of sports are rather rabid in their enthusiasm. Same goes for bands and other music groups. Fans at concerts can be so wild as to rival sports buffs.

Authors and books have fans too, although I'm not aware of riots being caused by a favorite author speaking at a Barnes and Noble.
That would be something to see.

Then again, I guess fans of movies made from books do tend to exhibit things a bit ... different than most.

Fans of a book or book series have taken it a step further and it's more in an intellectual vein.

Fan Fiction

Fan Fiction has its place. It is one of the highest of praises for an author. It means that the world the author has built has made such an impact on its readers that they want to stay immersed in that world. And they go so far as to write stories within that imaginary place with all its rules and wonders, and share it with others. That can be a very good thing.

It does not, however, have a place in writing a review.

What do I mean?

It means that a reviewer should not ever ever do any of these things:

Rewrite parts of the book by offering examples of how it "should" have been done.
Rate the book down because the author didn't write it the way you felt she/he should have.

That is not, has not nor ever should be part of writing a review. Period.
A review is an opinion of what is written. Anything else falls into the realm of Fan Fiction.

I realize that it may be hard to resist.

I also realize that a reviewer who does so on their own personal blog, Facebook journal, Live Journal or Word Press account has the right to do anything they want.

This blog is dedicated to the reviewer that contributes to professional review sites. Those sites usually have a reputation, style and format that does not accept shades of Fan Fiction. Remember what I wrote in my past post, Be Good To Me,
"My advice? Before you review for a site, check with the site owners or, if they have it, the list of criteria or FAQs that might provide information about the tone or style of their reviews and what they look for.
Read some of their published reviews and get a feel for what they typically accept."

If the review site lends itself to adventures in mixed reviewing - mashing opinion with fan fiction- then you've found a home for your review. However, most sites I'm aware of do not accept that style.

I realize it's human nature to want to correct a percieved wrong, and that includes the wording or direction in a story. But the only person that can re-write a story is the person who wrote it in the first place - the author.

Please keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to think, "I can do it better."
You can't in your review.
But you can if you wrote your own fan fiction.
Or, better yet, your OWN book, complete with your own rules, wonders and characters.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Be Good To Me

I loved that song by Tina Turner back in the day. Better Be Good To Me

It reminded me about something.
It reminded me about professionalism.
It reinforced that respect has its place and is a necessary component in every aspect of our lives.
It made me remember that T.V. has a strong influence on our opinions and it's not always a positive outcome.

I see it in sitcoms, Reality T.V. and children's cartoons. It's rubbing off on society as a whole. Sure, it has its place and some instances, it's needed and to the point. But if we aren't careful, it could become a habit, a way of interacting that spills over into aspects of our lives we don't intend it to. And that absolutely includes writing a review.

What am I referring to? It goes by many names because it's considered a gray area. Snark. I.E.: Sarcasm. Causticity. Derision. Disparagement. Scorn. Contempt. Disrespect. Sneering.

Let me put it like this, and it's a quote from a respected author regarding a scathing review that appeared on Amazon.

"...have this Simon Cowell mentality that you have to be cruel in order to get your point across as to how much you hate the book or the performance or in this case, the romance genre in general."

In a nut shell - it comes across as a lack of respect.

Some review sites channel their inner Simon Cowell. They don't call him Judge Dread for nothing. He might be entertaining on television, but his style does not translate well to writing reviews for romance books. Some people need to be reminded of that. Despite and in spite of the review blogs that are out there that cater to that mind set, it's not what everyone looks for.

My advice? Before you review for a site, check with the site owners or, if they have it, the list of criteria or FAQs that might provide information about the tone or style of their reviews and what they look for.

Read some of their published reviews and get a feel for what they typically accept. And that includes whether they care to edit their reviews or leave them as they are. If they leave them as submitted, that means the onus is on the reviewer to edit and present a coherent review. If the review site cares, that is.

If your writing is cutting edge with clever quips and snark and they love that type of writing, then you've found a home.

By the same token, if they are more about information, fairness, respect and articulate coverage of what works and objective comments on what doesn't without resorting to flaming prose, and that's what you prefer to share, then that's the review site to join.

Long and Short Reviews' readers don't get snark at all. They don't get the flamboyant and/or the exaggerated. Nor the mean, the cutting or the brutal type of opinions that can turn off reader and author alike.

Usually readers look for solid, well written, professional and trustworthy reviews. They want someone who can articulate without resorting to flashy verbiage or the current fad lexicon of the moment, certainly they don't want a review that makes them cringe from the harshness of the comments.

And that's where the title, Be Good To Me, comes in.
Respect yourself as a reviewer.
Respect the author's work.

Please don't make any criticism personal by making disparaging comments that allude to a negative reflection of the author. The author is not being reviewed, the book is. The story is. The technique is. The dialogue is. The plot is.

Please don't confuse enthusiasm with outlandish vocabulary: gonna, wanna, yo', bitchin', any profanity, slang spelling and slang vernacular.

Please treat the literary work, short or long, with respect.
Especially short stories.

Don't get angry because you felt it wasn't long enough. If it's a short story, it's a short story. It focuses on ONE aspect, ONE development thread and if that is not enough? Don't read short stories.

Know your personal expectations and choose books accordingly.
It's not a fault if the book is short.
It's wrong to use that reason to lower a book's rating.
Do you know what that is like?
It's like ordering one scoop of ice cream and getting upset because it didn't fill you up like two scoops.
One scoop of ice cream is like a short story. Remember that.

I tried to find an example of snark that insults not only the author but the book. I tried to find something that incorporated the don'ts - like swearing, while also providing what those other review blogs have, entertaining snark. I stumbled upon this video regarding a series that I actually enjoy. I overlook a lot of stuff that drives many readers wonky. I don't know what it is, but I have enjoyed every book in the series for what it gives me in that book alone.

Obviously, this particular Vlog has made video snarking an artform.
If a reviewer was to put in writing for LASR what is in this clip: synopsis, a bit of spoiler, profanity and yes, snark, it would never see the light of day. SNARK THEATER for one of the Anita Blake books.

I think it makes the point.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Stay in the Race

The first thing a reviewer needs to do to reach the checkered flag at the end is make a good start at the beginning.  If we're talking horses, I'd say you have to shoot out of the starting gate as soon as it goes down.   If we're talking the Olympics at the sprinter's race, it is the sound of the starting pistol that gets everyone to move forward.  You can't stay in the race if you never get your best foot forward.  You can't stay in the race if there's no incentive to do so.  Your race = being read.

In all instances, an effective start puts a competitor in a better position to perhaps keep the lead and cross the finish line first.  That's the hope of every competitor.

The checkered flag in the end  = a reader who sticks around to read your entire review.

For a reviewer, their starting gate is the first paragraph. Their start signal is the first sentence.  I've covered this before but it's nice to have a reminder every now and again.  First, I'll give a link to the first time I touched base on this.

The Beginning of the Same Difference

The reason I believe it's good to visit this again is to remind reviewers that stating the obvious is boring.  Making it your first sentence is a buzz-kill.  Rehashing  - This is # such and such in the LaLa series and it's great - doesn't do a thing for me.  Not as a reviewer and certainly not as a reader.

Why should you avoid stating a book is whatever number it is in a series in your first sentence and paragraph? Because you'll lose a reader immediately.  The only ones that will keep reading your review is someone already a fan of the series. Readers unfamiliar with the series or the author and his/her works will say - "Oh, forget this.  I'll have no idea what's going on, so I'm not going to read anymore.  There are other books out there."

Right after identifying the number in the series, some reviewers will rehash the blurb - a major no-no and another boring addition.  Why?  Many review sites post the blurb first.  It's after reading the blurb that a reader will then continue onto the review.  Telling them what it's all about after they just read what it's all about is a waste of their time for reading, and a waste of a reviewer's time for writing. The only time giving a brief overview has value is when a review site does not include a book's blurb with the review and reviewers have to give a reader some insight.  For this post, I'm specifically addressing reviewing for sites that do provide the blurb up front. 

What you put in your first paragraph is key.  I like variety so, here are some examples to peruse for Bite Me, Your Grace by Brooklyn Ann.

Terrific, a wonderful bland of historical, romance and paranormal.

Of course, the typo in the first sentence doesn't inspire confidence much.*grin*

A fearless virgin and a reclusive duke sound interesting when paired together but throw in a vampire duke and a young woman determined to remain unmarried and willing to do anything to ensure she won’t, makes this book unique and fascinating.

The intro sentence compares the usual Regency fare to that same scenario with a twist, thereby teasing the reader to read more. Okay, so I wrote that particular review, but still, that is the result I was aiming for. How'd I do compared to the other examples? I enjoy feedback.

When I chose this book to review, I was intrigued by both the title and the premise. “Bite Me, Your Grace” as the title had me imagining a story using a clever double entendre. A clever title shows an author with a clever mind, right? In some ways the book was clever and there was evidence of that double entendre.

Even though I liked how it started and because I did, I read more - with this review (it's from a site that does not provide a blurb) I found the tone quite negative in the extreme even though it was well written.

Merging the humor of a Regency romp with the darkness of a vampire novel, Ann has come up with a charming debut that captures the light and dark of the era.

Although I liked this sentence, using an author's first name is unprofessional.  I covered this no-no in my post That Familiar Touch.

I included the above because they showcase how a good first sentence lures a reader to continue reading.

Next, I tried to find a book in a series, I chose, Lion's Heat by Lora Leigh:

This was another hot episode in the Breeds series. (ho-hum)

FULL of Spoilers!  Readers of this blog know how I feel about spoilers. 

Gives a wolf whistle and pumps fist in the air: She’s baaaaaaaaaaaaack! Oh Em Gee everyone, Ms. Leigh hit it out of the park with this long awaited story, Lion’s Heat.

I liked this because of the sheer enthusiasm of the reviewer.  Her comment about "died hard fans" had me laughing, which I'm sure was not her intent.  See?  Editing IS important!  And ::sigh:: spoilers again. What is it with spoilers in reviews??

This volume in Lora Leigh's Breeds series is a pretty good entrant -- unlike many of the other books in the series she published around the time of this one, it doesn't feel totally phoned in, maybe because the character of Jonas had received a lot of fleshing out in earlier volumes, or because of the build-up from the volumes.

Wow- nothing like bringing out the negative. Really makes me want to read the rest of the review. NOT!

Expectations can be too high sometimes. I was really looking forward to this book by Lora Leigh, Lion’s Heat. This is the 21st book in the breeds series and Jonas’s story which is a breed who has figured prominently in many of the breed stories to date.

Here we go, the # of the book, and negative to boot. I don't think this horse should have gotten out of the starting gate, do you? And, because I found two reviews back to back with prevalent negativity, it's the perfect segue for you to check out the The Sandwich Rule for Reviewing. There's a place for, and a way of, mentioning what didn't work for you in a review. It's worth referring to, believe me.

Director of the Bureau of Breed Affairs Lion Breed Jonas Wyatt knows the only person who could bring him to his knees is his assistant, Rachel Broen. -

I don't call this a review. It's a synopsis, pure and simple - and disappointing.  The first sentence starts as it went on.  In a race, it would have been disqualified. 

So, do you see what I mean? Initial presentation is important in writing a review. You want to be read, not passed over.

From an editing standpoint, many of these would have given an editor a headache due to content. Ouch.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Don't Let Inspiration Cloud Your Judgment

I appreciate being inspired. It propels me to do great things - or at least attempt mediocre things with flair. 

A painter spies a glorious multi-hued  rainbow of colors bathing the sunset with its spectacular display.  He's inspired to try to capture on canvas what he saw so he could share it with the world. 

A musician hears a chorus of birdsong and realizes the melody fits with some lyrics that have been plaguing his brain for months. He's inspired to write a song. 

A soldier returned from war finds himself beset by injuries of mind and body and somehow perseveres to heal and find love and a brighter future.  

A fireman rescues a puppy from a burning house and the young man whose dog was saved, is inspired to become a fire fighter when he grows up. 

To be inspired is a wonderful thing.  It's how many of our culture's masterpieces got created in the first place. 

When a reviewer reads a book that moves them, touches them emotionally and makes them feel powerful feelings, it's quite natural to say that the book inspired them.  The urge to buy all the back list books of that author, the quest to seek other books in that series, or the impulse to contact that author to express appreciation, all of those actions stem from being inspired.   

Being inspired, or a book being an inspiration to you, is not the same as a book being an Inspirational.  An Inspirational is a noun.  A genre, or as some view it, a sub-genre.   

In researching for this post I found a lot of jibber-jabber and conjecture but ultimately, when I read far enough, I found the common ground that they all eventually came to. 

Inspirationals, whether they be romance, mystery, westerns or contemporary fiction all have one thing in common:

They usually do not allow profanity or explicit sex - the bedroom door is firmly closed. They are books that have a specific religious background, portraying characters who are part of a particular religious tradition, usually Catholic, Jewish or Christian and oftentimes portray a hero or heroine struggling with issues of faith within that tradition and working through those issues of faith and belief to a hopefully happily ever after, or happy for now. God is a part of their lives and is their guiding force.  It's very clear. Wikipedia has their own definition

I also learned that there is a next step to Inspirationals which is Evangelicals.  I never knew nor was aware that they existed and what the difference was.  Author Kaye Dacus had some great definitions between Inspirationals and Evangelicals.  Click Here to see all sorts of genres explained.   I found it helpful.  For reviewing purposes, Evangelicals would still fall under the title, Inspirational. 

Another good write up on Inspirational or Christian romance comes from Karen Witemeyer - I liked what she had to say so I thought I'd share the link here too.  The bottom line for this whole post is to show that there is a difference between being inspired and reading an Inspirational. 

When labeling your review, be aware of the difference. It's best not to mislead a reader who only reads Christian romances or fiction.  They're kind of sensitive about content.