Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Improving Book Reviews


Note: THIS BLOG POST IS A POST FROM JULY 2010 WHERE I DISCUSS BOOK REVIEWS AND REVIEWERS AND THE NEED FOR MORE EDITING AT PROFESSIONAL REVIEW HOUSES COUPLED WITH AVOIDING SPOILERS IN REVIEWS. I WANTED TO REPOST THIS BLOG TO CLARIFY THAT I DO APPRECIATE AND UNDERSTAND THE NEED FOR REVIEWS AND REVIEWERS WHO ARE REALLY JUST READERS. I WOULD LIKE TO PERSONALLY THANK EACH AND EVERY REVIEWER WHO HAS TAKEN THE TIME TO READ AND REVIEW ANY OF MY BOOKS. (Please feel free to comment again about this posting and re-read the comments left last year. Interesting topic. Interesting comments.)


Note 2: TO ALL READERS: THANK YOU FOR YOUR LETTERS AND EMAILS. I'LL BE REPOSTING MANY OF MY ORIGINAL OLD BLOGS FROM 2010. COMING SOON: THE INSPIRATIONAL MARIJUANA BLOG I USED AS RESEARCH FOR DRUG USE IN CIRCLE CITY WHEN I WITNESSED THE EFFECTS OF DRUG ABUSE AND SUBSTANCE ADDICTION. (With links to helpful websites and examples of drug addiction found within art history, modern art and literature from yesterday and today.)

Improving Book Reviews
When I first began my writing career, I knew I'd need to develop a thick skin. Quick! Just to handle all the rejections in the beginning. Too bad a writer's career doesn't come with full body armour. Because we need it sometimes.

I hate reviews. Absolutely detest them. Movie reviews, book reviews, etc. I like making my mind up for myself. I really decided this years ago when I was listening to movie reviewers tell me what to watch and what not to watch. Almost every single time, if they said the movie was great, I was thoroughly disappointed and if they said it was terrible, I loved it. I noticed the pattern and started watching the ones they did not recommend. Then I started ignoring movie reviews all together.

I had one really, really bad review and two reviews that weren't great. The reviewers pointed out flaws in the story but by no means did they trash my book. I admit, it does make my day when I get a great review. However, it is one person's opinion. And a bad review can ruin your entire week.

Here's an example of two reviews for the same book. One is a great review by Bitten by Books and the other one is not so great by Night Owl Romance. (Both are great review houses and greatly help to promote my genre, though I shy away from reviews all together. This is not an attack on either house or the reviewers.)

For me, reviews are simply part of the business I shudder at. Besides acting, what other business in the world do you have your work reviewed by total strangers. Not higher up management but by strangers. Strangers you have never spoken to or ever asked to read your work. You might as well strip naked and say, "Here I am. What do you think?" That's what it feels like for me. Yikes!

Reviewers should be reviewed as well. What do you think writers? I can hear the applause growing out there! Admit it! Some reviewers summarize the book very well without giving away key points. Some spoil it for the reader. Read these two reviews, ignoring which is the more positive review. The review's score is usually explained in the last paragraph. But look closely at the paragraphs before the final one. Read how each reviewer discusses the book. What score would you give each reviewer? I find it interesting as I read reviews that some of the nastiest reviews are poorly written, often giving away the entire plot to the reader. I really wish some of the reviewers would have better editors, making sure the reviewer doesn't spoil the book for others by giving away too much. And reviewing is a form of writing. Some reviewers just are not cut out for it. ~Alisha

REVIEW FOR VOODOO MOON BY STORM AT BITTEN BY BOOKS

In 1825, the Rose Hill Plantation was the horror of Jamaica. Annie, the White Witch, had been orphaned as a child and raised in the blackest form of voodoo. As an evil voodoo priestess, she killed her slaves for the smallest slight and the rest lived in terror. She used male slaves as her lovers, and none lived for long. She made a terrible mistake, though, when she called Talon to her bed. Talon had been a white voodoo priest in Africa before being captured and sold into slavery. Slavery, though, had brought him his wife, Daisy, and he was determined to protect her and end the terror of the White Witch. He planned a voodoo ceremony for Daisy to do while he pleasured the witch, but Daisy’s fear and jealousy caused her to do something different, and that difference led to death and tragedy for all of them.

200 years later, Talon was given a second chance. And although the forest guardian told him to use this chance for healing, he was consumed with his need for revenge. He knew that the White Witch’s spirit still roamed Rose Hill, and now one of her descendents, Tammie, was living there. Talon has to decide whether he will take the path of revenge or the path of love and healing.

“Voodoo Moon” is a powerful, intricate story of the worse and best aspects of humanity. Although love does not conquer all, it endures and teaches. The author has created some of the most authentic and interesting characters I’ve ever met. The tale is full of twists, surprises, terror, creepy atmosphere, and passion. They say that good things come in small packages, and this is a whole lot of story skillfully crammed into a novella.
(Rated 5 out of 5)

REVIEW FOR VOODOO MOON BY VEE AT NIGHT OWL ROMANCE
Aside from the time he’d spent with his secret wife, Daisy, Talin, a slave, has led a tortured life. When his master, a cruel voodoo witch, turns on him and Daisy, Talin, a voodoo master himself, calls on a voodoo spirit for help.

He is turned into a wolf, but before he can rip the witch’s throat out, she succeeds in murdering Daisy.

Both Daisy and the voodoo witch dies while Talin is caught between worlds. Stuck in limbo for 200 years, Talin remains trapped until a young couple dabbling in voodoo unwittingly calls forth his spirit.

Talin is dislodged. Hatred and revenge fill his heart. After orientating himself to the new world, he decides to murder, Tammie, the voodoo witche’s descendant. He hopes to use her death to resurrect Daisy.

For her part, Tammie thinks the house her family left her in Jamaica is wonderful. What will happen when Tammie’s world collides with Talin’s need for retribution?

Voodoo Moon packs in a large cast of characters and plot twists into a short book. Characterization suffers, but there is plenty to hold the readers attention. For my tastes, it was too much, too fast and left too many unanswered questions.
(Rated 3.5 out of 5)

23 comments:

Michele Hart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M.Flagg said...

I feel for you Alisha, and I'm one of those authors who was totally trashed by a reviewer who posted the same garbage on three sites, and then let it slip she was judging my first book for a contest! Nothing constructive in her ramblings at all. Odd though, really solid comments from three other reputable review sites.

Don't sweat those who blab all. You're right. They don't have a clue what it takes to write, query, contract, and put our work out there.

Keep writing. Tell great stories in spite of reviewers who lack a certain set of skills.

liana laverentz said...

The first review would definately entice me to read the book. The second left me wondering what the book was about.

There's a fine art to describing a story and not giving its secrets away. I find I can't use any of the reviews that give any secrets away in my promotions, so to me its as if the book wasn't even reviewed.

Authors and review sites are a symbiotic relationship: we provide books for them to review and to bring readers to their site, and they (in theory) provide readers for our books with their reviews. Badly written reviews reflect badly on both the review site and can also be detrimental to the author, as the reader is confused into thinking the story is about something other than what it's about, or worse than it really is.

I'm not sure, though, what editors can do about bad reviews. Unless you're talking about review site editors.

Got to go before I end up writing a blog post of my own, here :)

Alisha Paige said...

Michele~ Thanks for commenting. It is a shame, isn't it?

M. Flagg~ Wow! Nice, posting it on three sites. And she was judging the book for a contest? It makes you wonder doesn't it? Makes us concentrate on the really well written reviews, whether good or bad. Ironically, the well written ones are the generally the more positive reviews. It seems like some reviewers think they have a license for negativity and thrive in that world.

Liana~ Thank you for commenting. I agree. The second reviewer left the reader feeling confused but she also tossed out some real spoilers to the story. The first reviewer summed up the book in a skillful, discreet manner. She actually entices the reader to want to read the book in hopes the reader will have the same good experience. You asked what editors can do. I was referring to the review site editors. I once worked for a very popular review site, editing author interviews. And all the reviews are sent to an editor before publications as well. So, yes, the editors at the review houses should do a better job of making sure the book is described without spoiling it for the reader while also checking for clarity, spelling, etc. I think review sites should give their reviewers writing tests before allowing them to become a reviewer. An avid reader is just not enough of a qualitification.

J.A. Saare said...

Hey Alisha,

I can't really say anything "too" bad about reviewers as I am a one myself, but I've noticed a trend recently with bad reviews being given by people who don't have a decent grasp of grammar and can't seem to string a coherent sentence together, yet think they have what it takes to review a book.

Opinions, as you stated, vary. That is one of the things I always keep in mind when I get a negative review. You can't please everyone, and it really is useless to try. However, the new tendency to be snarky and hateful is really starting to annoy me.

A friend of mine recently directed me to a review for an author I've never met. The reviewer (who is supposedly a devout Christian) SLAMMED the book. She focused entirely on what she didn't like, offered nothing positive, and had a laugh with the commenters when it was all said and done (because, you know -- laughing at the work is totally acceptable).

To make matters worse, the reviewer was the one who contacted the author to request the book to review and got her to answer questions for an interview which went along with the flaming. She knew the author would return for questions and would see -- not only the review -- but the comments.

The waters are definitely shark infested. I'm friends with several reputable reviewers who run independent blogs and can say that we aren’t all bad. It's a shame a few hateful people have to ruin it for so many.

Hope the writing is coming along well!

Alisha Paige said...

Hey, Jaime!

Thanks for stopping by. I wish more of the reviewers were authors like yourself. And I agree, even a negative review can be done with class. No need for such tacky, snarky comments. What a horror story about the one review in your comment! Awful! See, I think some of these reviewers are on a serious power trip. Honesty doesn't have to be so nasty. No reason for it. Makes the reviewer look bad and less credible.
The second review I received, posted in this blog posting, really wasn't too terrible of a negative review. My big complaint is that the reviewer gave way too much away, spoiling it for the reader and as Liana stated, she couldn't even tell what the book was about. So, the editors really need to step in and edit the reviews better. How are your kids, the hubby and your writing going? xxoo

J.A. Saare said...

We're doing okay! Busy as always. And trust me, I get you about revealing too much. The last person on Amazon who reviewed Dead, Undead gave it a 1 b/c she hated the ending and proceeded to give it totally away!

The 1 I can handle, but it sucks that people will know how it ends.

Alisha Paige said...

I wouldn't pay any attention to some reviewer on Amazon. The internet has given anyone the ability to review anything, which I hate. This isn't bathroom cleaner we're talking about here. I think readers should be able to rate a book by clicking on a 1 to 5scale. That's it. By giving them the power to review, readers who don't know the rules of writing a review can ruin the book for others. Sure, let any Joe Blow have the power to review hand tools, kitchen gadgets, baby furniture, whatever, but when it comes to movies, books, art, music; I think a number rating is best.

mazzuc said...

Ok guys wait a minute. I love authors. To me you are the rock stars, not actors or "reality" dorks. However, wait for it…wait for it…as a reviewer (yes I said it). I love reading the reviews too. I never let it stop me from buying a book though. Each book touches people in different ways, and it’s interesting to see how they see things. And yes sometimes it’s just a matter of taste, and they should mention that in their reviews. For instance if a book crosses a line, THEY find distasteful they should mention that they found it not to their likely, and why. For example: if there is a subject that may be sensitive like rape or incest, they should mention that in order to let the reader know if that is a subject a reader might find uncomfortable, and will be glad to have that information. I think also that if a reader is looking at a certain type of genre they shouldn’t be surprised; i.e. BDSM, M/M, Erotica etc. A good reviewer might just add a line for example; contains some material not suitable for sensitive readers. As far as Amazon reviewers and some of their writing skills, or lack thereof, these are the people buying your books. The average Joe, however why they don’t take a minute to write it out on, and use the tools that Microsoft Word has to offer, I have no friggin’ idea.
With that said, there is another side to the coin, sometimes after reading a review for a book that does have a subject that normally a reader would stay away from, they might find from what a reviewer says that this might be something that even though they don’t normally read they might take a chance on. I had a friend tell me once “I don’t normally read that genre, but after reading some of your reviews I started to think maybe I was wrong, and should pick up one or two and give them a try”. She is now very happy she did, and told me she had a preconceived idea about “these” types of books and now has a whole new world that has been opened up to her. See guys it’s not always bad.
A reviewer is different I think too from a critic. If a reviewer doesn’t like a book they are going to write that, and as writers you must realize that not everyone is going to like it. You have put yourself out there and that is the price you pay. That is just a fact, and if enough people are saying they don’t like it, maybe the writer needs to look beyond “they hurt my feelings” and ask the big question, could so many people be wrong? Now don’t get your panties in a knot hold on, reviewers need to realize too that a person took the time to write this, and that they do not in anyway need to be a jerk in the review either. They don’t need to say “mean” things to get that point across. When I read reviews whether from Amazon or a review site, if I see 10 reviews and 9 liked the book and that one loner didn’t, well it doesn’t take a genius to realize that one is the exception to the rule. So remember, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one”.
I like this line in a song, actually it was originally a speech put to music it’s great, the title is The Sunscreen Song; remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Authors fill those pages with mystery and intrigue. Give us your words so that we may travel the stars and take flight on your wings, if only for a moment, so that the life outside our doors can be held at bay for a little while.

Alisha Paige said...

Well said, Barb! Thank you so much for your comments. It is very true that a reviewer can introduce a new genre to a reader who might never have picked up that particular book in the first place. Great point! And you are right, we put ourselves out there as authors. It is part of the business, like it or not. Not! However, my biggest gripe is reviewers who spoil the entire book for the reader. Your reviews do not do this. You're a very skilled reviewer and know how to give your opinion without ugly remarks. In other words, you are a professional. Some reviewers need to learn professionalism in reviewing. :)

mazzuc said...

Thank you Alisha, I really appreciate that. If not for reviewing I would never have met you. And that my dear would have been a tragedy.

Xeranthemum said...

Wow - your post is so needed!

I'm a reviwer as well and your topic has been a concern for me for quite awhile.

I believe that a good review can be a tool for readers to use in helping them decide about a book they might be interested in.
I absolutely abhor a review that is all synopsis. It's a pet peeve for me. Add in spoilers and I grit my teeth. It's not right.

A review should tease, hint, and express how it made the reader feel. What did they like and why? What didn't they and why? - but always keeping in mind that it's an opinion only. It's never meant to be , or shoudn't be anyway, an attack on an author personally. It should be objective and constructive if a reader has to say anything critical at all about a story. (editing, inaccuracies, poor/stilted dialogue, tell vs. show, rampant head-hopping)

Ideally, a review can sell more books for an author. Or,as you've described, hinder sales, because there are readers for whom a review means a lot.

It's for authors just like you that I try to be mindful of what and how I write. I don't pull my punches if something needs to be said but if I feel that strongly against a book, I refuse to even write a review.

Why? Because of why I became a reviewer. I adore gushing about what I loved about a book and I'm enthusiastic about sharing my joy. I always wanted a way to do that and I found a home with my reviewing site I belong to. They have the same philosophy. Respect the author and understand not every book is a flawless diamond. But all diamonds have some worth no matter the quality and the same can be said for books. OH, a comparison: one person's CZ is another's diamond. Opinion - it's an amazing thing.

Another aspect I find annoying is reviewers not even READING the book! I've gotten responses on mine from authors and have been shocked when they say, "and I can tell she read the book" Or she took the time to read and understand what I was trying to say"... um...isn't that what we are supposed to do? READ IT? Why be a reviewer if they can't even do the basic courtesy of reading the work they write about? I think that is one of the most insulting and hurtful things a reviewer can do and for shame that they even call themselves reviewers.

Your post is a great reminder for me on why I write the way I do. Why it's important to put more effort into what I say and be respectful.

I would actually enjoy comments on my review techniques because it is a form of writing. I know that writers have crit partners and editors and beta readers and perhaps reviewers would benefit from having that kind of feedback so they can learn and hone their craft. But who would volunteer for that? And what new reviewer isn't going to take it personally themselves if they don't have the mindset of an author who expects crits from an editor and can handle it?

I'm game for crits. I think they'd make me a better writer. I think it's a great idea...or, I'm just the odd duck in a large pond.
Hear me quack.

Xeranthemum said...

Sorry for the duplicates.
Blogger told me Error 404, that it didn't take, Imagine my shock when I saw three postings. YIKES!

Xeranthemum said...

OK- I put my two cents in about reviewers in general.
I forgot to deal with the task you placed before your blog visitors.

I don't like either review. Only the first one has anything I'd value and that is the final paragraph where the elements of the book itself are discussed.

I didn't see anything mentioned about the hero or heroine - what made them work, what didn't. I didn't see any mention of how any of the book made the reviewer feel. Shocked? Horrified? Amazed?
Telling me what happens in the story isn't a review. What about secondary characters? Helpful or not? Did the dialogue help a reader get a feel for the character's personalities? Did it flow? Was it authentic to the character? Did the plot have enough details? Did the book slow down for the reader at any point or was it a tighly woven tapestry of talent?

Nope. Those reviews have ruffled the feathers of this duck.

Alisha Paige said...

Xeranthemum~ Thank you so very much for your comments. I really appreciate you speaking so candidly about reviews and how seriously you take your job. I admire what you wrote.

Especially this. ~Respect the author and understand not every book is a flawless diamond. But all diamonds have some worth no matter the quality and the same can be said for books. OH, a comparison: one person's CZ is another's diamond. Opinion - it's an amazing thing. ~

Thank you for saying that. If every reviewer was like you, the writing world would be a more beautiful place. And I truly believe reviews would be more informative and honest.

I appreciate you reviewing the reviews I posted. Thank you for taking time to do this. You are right to point out all that was missing from the reviews. As a writer, I've really appreciated when a reviewer notices dialogue, secondary characters, etc.

Hey, I like this duck and I'm happy to know that your feathers were ruffled. Please come back often and comment on my blog. I appreciate you taking the time. Reading your comments gave me new faith in reviewers again. Just like men...the good ones are few and far between..but they are out there!

Have a great week! :)

承王蓁 said...

想別人怎樣對你,你便怎樣對待別人。......................................................

Xeranthemum said...

The irony does not escape me.
On the day I took the plunge to start a blog to discuss my beliefs in what a review should be, a good friend of mine read my post and said, "I think you need to comment on this blog" and sent me to you.

Perhaps it will help. Perhaps it will be ignored. But I sure feel good about expressing myself. If I can help ONE reviewer, I'l be so happy!
and so will any future author whose book will be reviewed by that particular reviewer.
Or so I can only hope.
:-)
Good luck with all your future writing endeavors, Alisha!

雅王任 said...

世界上沒有本來就應該的事,因為老天爺也沒有劇本..................................................

偉曹琬 said...

Poverty tries friends.............................................................

靜詹怡詹詹 said...

人應該做自己認為對的事,而不是一味跟著群眾的建議走。..................................................

偉曹琬 said...

教育的目的,不在應該思考什麼,而是教吾人怎樣思考......................................................................

蘇介蘇介妤妤蘇介妤蘇介妤 said...

喜歡自己的另一層意義是「接納自己」。..................................................

Erin Kern said...

the first review is the better one - and not just because is gives the book a better score. It's a more well thought out review and gives the reader a much better feel for the book. The second one sounds like it was just thrown together