Tag Archives: reviews

How do you like FREE?

Silver Nights With You is available for FREE through the Choosy Bookworms website. Just go here:

http://choosybookworm.com/product/silver-nights-with-you/

Join the program by selecting the book. I’ll send you a free copy (I have it in any format – not just PDF like it says) in exchange for an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads if you have a Goodreads account. Please help an indie author get some exposure.

Thanks and ta-ta ’til my next download of wisdom.

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The Courtesy of a Review

Every writer, and especially an Indie writer, knows the value of reviews. As Indie authors, it is our job to market our work, and one of the best ways is to get our work reviewed. Oftentimes, we trade out free copies in exchange for honest reviews, a win-win. But it wasn’t until I accepted a free copy of a book in exchange for an honest review that I really understood the anxiety on the part of the reviewer. And the reason for that is because I didn’t enjoy the book.

Not only did I not enjoy it, but it was just awash with so many errors and obvious needs of improvement that I seriously wondered how I could review it without dropping a huge sledgehammer on some writer’s dreams. I had never struggled with this before when writing reviews of either Indie authors or large house authors, and it occurred to me just why. When writing an unsolicited review of a book, the author is still somewhat anonymous, disconnected and unconcerned with my opinion (or so I can believe). But when an author seeks me out for a review, there is a bit of a correspondence before I actually receive the book, and in that correspondence the author becomes real to me.

There is a tangible excitement on the other end of my email inbox. I can sense it from the writer. I know she is biting her nails in her anxiety, plodding through each long, laborious day, waiting for me to post my review so she can read how much I loved the fruits of her labors, how much I appreciated the amount of effort and work it took her to write her book, how much I recognized her talent and admired her storytelling brilliance. I know she is waiting just this way. I know it deeply because I have been her.

And what if one of my reviewers had responded just the way I want to and said: This is just not good?

The problem is that I know how that would affect her and I can’t do that to her. I have struggled so much with this that I even discussed it at-length with my husband. I suggested that I should forego writing a review and just write her personally with some helpful tips and constructive criticism, but what is the point? The book is already published and has been for more than a year. Should I offer to be a critical reader or a beta reader for her on future works? How can I be honest without being damaging? How can I be helpful without being patronizing? After all, I may be no better writer than she.

And what if she handles it badly and turns around to write negative reviews of my books? It is a petty fear, I know, but this industry has some petty people in it. There seems to be an unspoken agreement in the Indie world, a sort of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours in effect. I have seen it where Indie authors are reviewing each other’s work and rating each other exactly the same. If one author rates a book four stars, you can be assured that that author will, in turn, rate the other’s four stars. Am I breaking with some code if I rate less than three stars? Am I moving myself toward some black list? Am I overthinking it all?

Back in the olden days when I was in college, I took a course that was entirely devoted to writing reviews. That was all we did all semester long. So, I got fairly good at it and the test then became how to write them funnier, how to make them stand out, and in a lot of ways that meant finding ways to be more insulting. I was inconsiderate of the person(s) I was annihilating with my criticisms back then and I began to wonder if and how I had matured in my reviewing.

I like to think that my reviews now are less insulting and more constructive, but I know that I have written some stuff that has probably offended some authors out there. I realized that there are two sides of a review, an emotional and a mechanical, and it is still, at the end of the day, my opinion. I started wondering if maybe I should endeavor to write each review as though the author personally sought me out, to always be mindful of the author’s feelings and to keep my criticisms as free of emotion as possible, and to keep my emotions as respectful as possible.

And, I decided that I will give each author exactly what I would want from my reviewers: honesty.

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Four-Star Funk

For the last half year (or maybe even longer than that?) I cannot seem to find a book or story that just absolutely blows me away; something that I’d call amazing; something that sticks with me long after I’ve finished; something I want to tell everyone about and buy copies for. I’ve read a string of really good books in many different genres, but nothing amazing. I was talking to my book club gals about it last night and one of them suggested that I might have just grown to be a more critical reader, or have started judging more harshly. I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and I’ve really been trying to figure out how I judge a book. What matters the most to me? So I thought it best to break down my grading criteria, and what it takes to get me to that five-star mark with a book.

  1. Writing – I cannot stress how distracting poor writing is to me. Obviously, the odd typo, misspelling or grammatical error can be forgiven. I am often horrified by things I’ve missed in my own published works so I know how even the most critical writer can make mistakes and the best editors can miss things, but poor writing goes beyond mechanical errors. Parroted clichés, poor organization of plot and dialogue, weakly-drawn characters, stretching believability to the breaking point, inconsistent characterizations, obvious filler crap, poorly-disguised preaching and hastily buttoned-up endings (one of my biggest pet peeves) can all ruin a story for me. If I am so distracted by the poor writing, it wouldn’t matter if the story was the best yarn ever spun. Imagination without talent is lost on me.
  2. Predictability  – On the flipside of poor writing, if a book is written well but has a lumpy, listless plot with an ending I can see from chapter one, I cannot get behind it. This is a most frustrating scenario because when I find a witty writer, someone who colors scenes a bit differently, I get excited. I think Yes! This is finally it – what I’ve been looking for! Then…the buzzkill. It’s easy for writers to jump on the bandwagon of whatever is trending out there. It’s also a copout. For someone who reads an inordinate amount of stories, I can spot a knockoff a mile away. I don’t want the same plot sequences regurgitated in a different setting. I’ve been there, done that. Take me somewhere new!
  3. Emoting – Folks, I gotta care about the characters. I have to feel for them, even the villains. I have to care enough to dislike the bad guys and cheer for their downfalls. I have to cry when the heroes and heroines cry. My heart has to break for their sorrows and whoop for their triumphs. I guess this ties back to number one on this list. If the characters are well-developed and thoroughly written, this will naturally happen. If it doesn’t? Bye-bye five stars.
  4. Depth – Please don’t insult me by assuming I don’t care about the details. Because I do. I realize this is a matter of personal preference, but hey, we’re talking about my personal preferences, here. I want the details. Sure, titillate my senses, but take me beneath the skin as well. The dedication of the writer is found in the details. I can tell how much he/she has researched, how much he/she’s devoted to fleshing out a person or a storyline, even how much he/she cares about delivering something epic versus delivering something mainstream by what he/she puts into the details. If a writer doesn’t care enough to pour his/her heart and soul into the story, why should I? Good storyline and dialogue are like the pretty petals of a flower. The details are the rich soil. If there’s not much there, that flower’s going to wither away pretty quickly.
  5. The WOW – I know this is different for everyone. Some people are easily impressed. I don’t happen to be one of them. If an author manages to “wow” me in any way, I’ll be running to rate it five stars, but as I’ve said before, I’ve read a ton. There’s not a lot I haven’t read already. I want to be “wowed” but in a way that is realistic. Don’t come out of left-field with something that doesn’t make any sense. Be smart. I’m smart, so I want a writer to write smart. The truth is, if a writer can get 1-4 right, then that will take care of number five.

Is any of this too much to ask? I’m always eager for recommendations. Trust me, I want to read that five-star book. I need to read it. I need to know that amazing writing still exists. I’m getting a little tired of my four-star funk!

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I Know It’s Coming, But How Will I Fare?

I’ve read and heard that to be an author you have to have thick skin. Well, I call BS on that. How in the heck is that even possible when you pour so much of yourself into writing? Writing is difficult, and wonderfully-fun and fulfilling, and exposing and nerve-wracking. I know I can only speak for myself, but I find it very hard to believe that I’m the only author out there who labors for years on a book, who struggles to find confidence that others will see the value in my work, who constantly struggles with self-doubt.

When I write, my characters are alive to me. They are in my head constantly, sparring with each other, working their way toward an epic HEA, and they demand that I take time from my husband and kids, time from the comfort of my own bed well into the night (even though I’ve got a nine-hour work day ahead of me). They demand that I steal every possible second away in order to write their story.

Then, come the reviews.

So far, so good, I’d say, but I know it’s gotta be coming. And that is, the bad review, the scathing appraisal of my years of work, sacrifice, and agonizing over details and editing. It’s got to come because not everyone’s tastes are the same. Someone’s gotta dislike my book(s). And when that bad review comes, I wonder how it will affect me. I get the idea behind the whole “thick skin” comment, but it is far easier said than done. I care about my stories, and I want people to LOVE them. If someone says they didn’t, I’m afraid that I will feel like I failed. Intellectually, I know that’s crap. In business, and in life, I have learned that you absolutely cannot please everyone. Why can’t I let that sink in with my writing?

Now, constructive criticism I can handle. When I entered Love of a Lioness into the Amazon contest and made it to the quarter-finals I considered it a huge win, even though I didn’t move on to the semi-finals. But then I received my review from Publishers Weekly and I got upset. The reason I got upset was because it was a good review! According to the contest rules, it was the PW editors who determined which books moved onto the semi-finals. When my book didn’t move on, I was upset, sure, but I was anxious for that PW review to find out what I could improve on, to find out what went wrong to boot me out of the contest. So, to find a good review was unacceptable to me. I wanted to know why and that review didn’t tell me. If it was that good, why didn’t it move on? Well, the only other logical conclusion would be that it just wasn’t as good as the other stories, or not good enough. To feel like everything you did was good, but not good enough is…nauseating. I’m more of a tell-me-how-to-make-it-better gal. So, helpful criticim I can handle, but for someone to just not “like” my story – that will be hard for me. I just know it.

If there are any authors out there who can give some tips on how to bounce back from a bad review, I’d love to hear it…because I know it’s coming.

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