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!