Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Low-Down from a Genuine Reviewer

My guest today is someone who spends time doing a great service to authors--reviewing.  As someone who worked in that capacity for a time, I'm well aware of the time-consuming effort that goes into what I often considered a pretty thankless job.  The compensation is getting to read books, and lots of them.  There are some who review with kid-gloves and others who chew you up and spit you out.  As Laurie points out so succinctly, it's all in the reviewer's POV and style.

Laurie has been kind enough to allow me to interview her and ask some of those burning questions I think most authors would like to ask if they had a chance.  If I skipped over something, feel free leave your query in comments.  Laurie's very candid  and thoughtful answers appear below, and I'm so impressed with her as a person and a reviewer:

Laurie, your blog has become a favorite of mine, and I have to admit that getting a four-star review from someone I've never met for Sister's in Time, (taking advantage of promo opp) thrilled me more than I can say. Thank you for your kind words, and even more for agreeing to appear on Dishin' It Out. Let's get to those questions.  :)

1. Besides considering paranormal a favorite genre, what else about a book that's submitted for review grabs your attention and makes you want to read it?

First let me say thanks for giving me this opportunity to talk about myself.  I will do my best to respond as candidly and honestly as possible, but like everything else in life, there are always exceptions, for example, Memoirs are not generally a favorite genre of mine, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some wonderful memoirs during the years.  Also, I am speaking only for myself.  Other reviewers may disagree or place a higher value on attributes much differently than I do.

First, I rarely pick a book if the genre isn’t appealing to me personally. The blurb is extremely important to me in deciding whether or not I want to read the book.  I love a pretty cover, and it may entice me to read the blurb, but if the blurb bores me, or is too long, or is too short, or simply doesn’t grab me, then I move on to the next selection. It’s highly unlikely I will read a book if I don’t connect via the blurb.

Next, I’ll read at least a few paragraphs or pages from the Kindle free sample.  The story generally must grab me quickly.  This is so difficult to quantify because I notice that I may think a story starts off wonderfully, whereas, some other reviewer will claim it was slow and dragged for her.  I guess there’s no accounting for taste.  LOL

I almost forgot to mention another big consideration for me.  I have to constantly take into account how many other books I’ve promised reviews for and how loaded up my reading schedule already is before I promise another book review. I feel terrible when I’ve promised a review by a certain date and I am not able to meet that commitment on time.  Right now, for example, I’m behind schedule and feeling the pressure. Mostly, it’s pressure I put on myself, but I know I’m disappointing authors waiting for reviews, and I hate being in that position.

One of my resolutions this year is to be more discerning about promising reviews. Unfortunately, I am seeing quite a few books that I truly would love to read that I am saying “No” to. The really good ones should stay on my radar screen for later.

Gosh, Ginger!  This is almost a full guest post in itself!  I guess you can just delete all that follows!!   Haha!!  

2. How much attention do you pay to cover art in making your selections?

Actually, very little.  I love reading books by new authors or small publishers.  They may not have the resources to put into a snazzy cover.  I like to see beautiful cover work when it’s there, but my review never takes the cover graphics into consideration. It’s just not that important me, personally.

3. You may or may not realize how many rules we face as authors, and often times we have to pick and choose which alter our writing styles and which do not.  How closely do you pay to "rules" such as avoiding passive voice, head-hopping, or excessive tags.  Does it bother you when someone uses a tag to describe dialogue before it's spoken?  And since we're on the topic, what sort of problem areas do you find that drive you absolutely bonkers?  Do you care how many times we use "was" or "it"?

I pay very little attention to writing rules, as such.  I want to read a story that flows easily - that is not choppy or disjointed. Passive voice can have its place, but used excessively can make for a very boring story. As a general rule, I don’t care for a book that incorporates lots of changes in the point of view.  I enjoy stories written in 3rd person, and I enjoy many that are written in 1st person.  In conversations, I like to know definitively who’s saying what – I hate having to guess.  I’m not quite sure what you mean by tagging a dialogue so I’ll pass on commenting about that. 

I certainly don’t count how many times a small word is used. I’ve never had occasion to think about “it” or “was”, until now <evil grin>.  “And” can drive me crazy sometimes when it’s overused or improperly used.  I fall into that trap all too often, myself.

Sometimes words just pop out at me as I am reading. For example, I just finished reading a book I enjoyed but the author often referred to the creature’s “appendages” when she was talking about its “wings”.  It got old quickly for me.  Sure, wings are appendages, but not all appendages are wings.  Another, favorite author of mine actually, tends to have folks “skittering” around a lot.  That just rankles - mice skitter, people generally don’t. I also often see authors using the word “chortle” when they mean “choke”. That’s just wrong, a chortle is a kind of laugh.

Poorly constructed sentences drive me bonkers, as well as common grammatical problems.  That said, I’m not an English major, and I know I make more than my fair share of mistakes, too.  I read to be entertained, but I do set the bar rather high when it comes to line editing.  I realize it can be expensive for independents to get their book professionally edited, but I do feel a well-edited story is just as important as the story itself when it comes time to peddle it to readers.  One sure way to get slammed in reviews is to publish a poorly edited book – corrections can be made after the fact, but your reputation will have still taken a beating.

I often see one paranormal reviewer complain in many of her reviews that the heroine is so blas√© about all the strange new powers she gets, or whatever. “How can she just shrug it off and move on?” is her oft-repeated reframe.  I am just the opposite, I hate whiny “why me” heroines.  I prefer strong females. Suck it up, accept your new circumstances, and let’s move on to the action and saving the world.  <grin>   Though I suppose I’d be pretty doggone whiny too, if it were me.  So there you have it.  I relate to characters who are strong and courageous in the face of adversity, and who are loyal to their friends. I love authors who find interesting, relevant, and creative ways in which to torture their characters.

4. How soon into a book can you tell whether or not you've made a good choice?

Hopefully very early on.  I don’t have the patience to spend time reading something that just isn’t doing it for me.

5. Have you ever picked a book that you just couldn't finish and had to return?  

Yes, especially when I have multiple reviews due around the same time.  I don’t have time to get bogged down for too long.  I’ll set the book aside and move onto something that is more entertaining.  Sometimes too, it isn’t the book; it’s just that I’m in the mood for something lighter or darker, as the case may be.  It’s not that uncommon for me to be reading two or three books simultaneously.  That was especially the case before I became addicted to my Kindle.  I had a book at home, one for the car, and another in my purse.  Now, I just make sure I have my Kindle (and my backup Kindle) always with me.

6. Do you ever find yourself basing your review on what you expected the book to be rather than what it truly turned out to be?

I really do make an effort to get a good feel for whether or not the book is one I think I will enjoy reading before agreeing to read it.  Truth is, I absolutely don’t want to read a book that’s not interesting to me, so I think I am pretty picky about which ones I select to read. Sometimes a book will surprise me by turning out better or worse than I expected.  I try my darnedest to keep the bad surprises to a minimum.

I dislike writing bad reviews.  I think there is little purpose to it.  Just because it’s not for me, doesn’t mean a whole slew of other readers might find it wonderfully original, or creative, or whatever. Also, I try to have empathy for the authors’, who have (in most cases) put their heart and soul into the story.  It’s their baby, who am I to tell them they have an ugly baby?  The old adage “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” comes to mind.

7. Reviewers, like people who are purely readers, are most important in the role we as authors play.  The wait time to get a review has increased dramatically over the years, so what tip can you share that might hasten someone's book in being picked sooner rather than later?

Write the best blurb you possibly can.  Make sure your book is well-edited.  With the barrage of self-published books, and the explosion of new writers, readers and reviewers can afford to be selective about their reading choices.  Never turn down the opportunity to promote your book via interviews or guest blog spots.

I also think a book tour can be a really good investment.  Shop for BEST VALUE not simply lowest price or you will most likely not get the results you hope for.

8. Considering that I'm an ebook author and care little for mainstream, I appreciate that most of the authors you feature are from my same industry.  Care to share who might be a few of your favorites?

I’m so fickle. My favorite is often the one whose book I’m currently reading.  I cherish those of you who write to entertain me, and I am always thankful when I get an opportunity to feature well-written books and terrific authors on my blog.

9. I'm sure you read the reviews others have written.  Have there been some that left you cold and made you think they were unfair to the author?  If so, can you give an example?

I despise reviews that sound like personal attacks.  I heartily dislike reviews that contain major spoilers or read more like book reports. I don’t want to read a synopsis of the book, I want to know what feelings the author was able to invoke in the reviewer.  I dislike reviews that nitpick every little thing – it just seems harsh and inappropriate to me.  Sometimes, if there are specific things that bothered me, I prefer to email the author directly and privately about it. Most are gracious and seem to appreciate the insights.  Stuff like that, imo, has no place in a public review.  I know others will disagree and that’s OK, but I prefer not to participate.

 Unless I am required to, I will not post a 1 or 2 star review – I just don’t feel that my opinion really matters all that much in the big scheme of things.  I understand the flip view, but I want my efforts to be geared toward helping talented authors improve name recognition, and not embarrass those who may not make the cut – there are plenty of others who will handle that; I have no desire to join those ranks.  

10. What words of advice would you give to authors who want to write that five-star novel?

Easier said than done. Write your story so it flows energetically and smoothly. Make it entertaining to read.  Never publish a first draft. Edit for content, edit for grammar, edit for little typos and misused or missed words.  From what I’ve heard from many authors, belonging to a writer’s group and having critique partners is very important.  I also think beta readers can help, but only if you are willing to incorporate some of the suggestions.

I know that getting those first few glowing reviews is all important, but be wary of getting too many of your friends to write a review for your new book.  Reader backlash against that practice can really hurt new authors, imo.

And finally, if I didn't cover everything in my questions, feel free to use this time to share anything you'd like us to know about you, your blog site, your reviewing experiences, or even ask us to respond in comments to some questions you might have for us as authors.

You asked some great questions, Ginger.  I just hope my opinionated responses don’t totally alienate some wonderful authors.  I love finding new stories and new authors and helping them spread the word about their creations.  Unfortunately, I haven’t the hours needed to read every book that appeals to me – I wish I did.

 Thank you again Laurie, for being my guest. I usually prefer free-style blogging, but I have to say, I truly enjoyed interviewing you.  Your answers were candid and to the point, and I look forward to having you back again.  :)


Jacquie Rogers said...

Thanks to Laurie and Ginger for such an insightful peek into the reviewers' world.

Laurie, I know you work hard at maintaining your two blogs and reviewing books, as well as interviewing authors. It's a joy to work with you, for sure. :)


Regan Black said...

Wow, Laurie and Ginger! What a wonderful interview! The two of you did an excellent job and it was such a pleasure to hear from the reviewer's perspective.
I have to second what Jacquie said about it being a joy to work with you, Laurie!

Francine Howarth: UK said...

Hi Laurie,

Couldn't agree with you more! There's a moral code to professional book reviewing as opposed to self-professed reviewer/book critic: the latter more predominant on-line.

Many moons ago I became a paid reviewer for a posh magazine supplement. All my reviews consisted of brief summary of overall story and no personal input on like or dislike. After all, one woman's meat another's poison! ;)


James L. Hatch said...

This information was quite useful. Thank you. I have begun reviewing on and was extremely interested to hear from someone who has been doing it longer than me. I especially liked your comment about reviews not being a book report ... and about the need for good editing. If the editing is bad, I also consider that a problem.

Thanks again. I'm saving this one.

Jannine said...

Great questions, Ginger. And great answers, Laurie. It's good to know how a reviewer thinks and to realize they're human. Each interprets a story differently, just as editors and agents do.

I love the fact that you contact the author privately if there is something in her book you don't care for or that bothers you. That's class.

Very worthwhile interview.

Christine Ashworth said...

Excellent post, ladies! One thing I'm realizing is the huge value review sites/review bloggers give to the writer - and the bloggers/reviewers aren't getting paid a dime, they do it out of love for the written word.

So a huge "thank you", Laurie. I am now off to check out your site!

Vicki Batman said...

Ladies, this is wonderful! Thank you so much for shedding insight into being a reviewer.

How do you feel about short fiction?

Cynthia said...

Very informative and insiteful. Thanks

Pat Dale said...

Thanks, Ginger, for a revealing interview. And thanks, Laurie, for sharing your insight into the world of the book reviewer. I appreciate the reminder of how important a good blurb is for the reviewer. That also goes for the potential reader. Good advice!

Laurie said...

Hi ya'll! Thanks for the comments! Hi Vicki, I like it, generally, especially novella length. I've also read some very enjoyable short stories recently. One, particularly stands out - 8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown Eighth Dwarf by Michael Mullin - it is written in verse, barely 2000 words long and wacky. But thought provoking and sad, too. It's a genre I NEVER pay any attention to but it is just an amazing little quirky baby. Here's my review on Goodreads. I would love to hear from others who have read 8 and hear your opinions.

Amy Gallow said...

Thank you for being a reviewer. I've always found them useful, even when I disagreed (or didn't understand.) All feedback is good because writing is a lonely profession and not for the faint-hearted, but I wouldn't be anything else (and I have been man things in the past seventy-four years.)

Maggie Dove said...

Great interview! Really enjoyed it, Ginger and Laurie. I'm sad that Laurie is so busy that she is having to give up reading some books that interest her. I can see where that could happen.


Laurie said...

Hey everybody...Thanks so much for the comments! Vicki, Yes I enjoy short fiction sometimes, especially Novellas, and some short stories. They offer a nice break from the longer reads - that I appreciate. :-)

I totally went way out of my preferred genres and read a short piece by Michael Mullin called 8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown Eighth Dwarf. It is wacky, written in verse, and disturbing - around 2000 words is all. I loved it and thought about it for days. 8

~Jane~ said...

Hi Ginger and Laurie~

Wow! Awesome questions and answers! Thanx to you both! :)


Karen Cote said...

I think every writer should read this. Great information, great questions.

Thanks for sharing Ging and Laurie. Invaluable.

See Ging? This is why I feel so strongly about your generosity in sharing what you can to help others. You, dear friend, are a giver and I am grateful.

Love ya!

Jojo P. said...

Thanks to both of you,for sharing your interview with us. We know little things about you guys.


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