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.