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Guest Post: Read, Reflect, Review by Cathy Speight

In Guest Blogger, Reviewing on December 9, 2012 at 12:01 am

I am absolutely thrilled to introduce my latest Guest Blogger, book reviewer Cathy Speight. In this wonderfully informative post, Cathy shares some very constructive tips, and much of her own wisdom, on the criteria which make for a good review and a good reviewer. A very big welcome to you, Cathy!  And thank you so much for accepting my invitation to be my guest here.

Hello everyone!

Well, I won’t bore you with a long and dreary bio, but just so that you know a little about me, my name is Cathy Speight, I live in Bristol, UK, am married, have twin daughters, and three (nearly four) grandchildren.  I opted for retirement four Cathy Speight Reviewer Guest Blogging on aecurzon.wordpress.comyears ago when the company I worked for relocated to London and then last year, I did two things:  I signed up to Facebook (I’m a late developer), and I bought myself a Kindle.  Those two things are actually how I find myself here.  Thank you, Amelia, very much indeed for inviting me along.

The Kindle revolutionised my reading.  After only one eBook  I was well and truly hooked, and I joined a number of Facebook book groups where I met a hitherto unknown (to me) group of people:  indie authors.  I discovered an Aladdin’s Cave of indie books, got chatting to lots of authors and—long story short—I found myself creating my own review blog.  For me, clicking the last page of the book wasn’t quite The End. Complete closure was writing about what I thought of the book.  And lo, Cath ‘n’ Kindle Book Reviews was born—an album or an anthology of all my Kindle books.

Having reviewed for a couple of book-reviewing sites, I picked up some very useful hints about writing reviews, and together with what I personally like to see, I’d like to share those elements I believe make a good review and offer some ‘tips and wrinkles’ (where did that expression come from?) about becoming a reviewer:

  • Read the book from beginning to end (not as obvious as it sounds!) and carefully. (I have been known to read a page three times if I thought I hadn’t read every word).
  • Were the characters well-conceived, varied enough, did you like the heroes/heroines?
  • The plot—was it well-structured? Were there any loose threads?
  • Did you like the author’s style—was it suited to the genre?
  • The pace of the story—too fast, too slow?
  • Did it evoke any emotions? Did you cry or laugh?
  • Was the dialogue natural?
  • Was it well edited?
  • Would you recommend the book?
  • Would you read another book by the author?
  • A detailed synopsis of the story isn’t too important as there is always one at the point of purchase—but of course, it’s difficult to talk about the book without reference to the story, so keep it short with no spoilers—please, no  spoilers.
  • Try and be sensible about the length of your review—too short, and there are too many unanswered questions for the potential reader: ‘this was a good book, couldn’t put it down, I could relate to the heroine, and loved the ending’ isn’t going to influence a reader very much.  By the same token, if your review is too long—you will lose a reader’s interest—not just in the review, but maybe even in the book.
  • Most importantly, if you expect a well-edited, well-presented book from an author, I feel the very least you can do is give the same in return, so there should be no typos, spelling mistakes, etc.

Finally:

  • What didn’t you like and why?  This is the most ‘delicate’ part of reviewing. Don’t be afraid to say if you didn’t like a book—but be constructive, try to be helpful, and above all, don’t be nasty or abusive.  Not liking the book because you didn’t like the subject matter is, well, a bit of a non-starter.  Don’t read a book in a genre you know you don’t like or deals with a subject in which you have no interest or would prefer not to read about;  you just won’t be able to give an objective review

Try to take a bigger-picture view.  Not long ago, I posted a review on Amazon of what I thought was an excellent book. I discovered nearly 60 reviews, most of them good. I don’t often read reviews after I’ve read a book, but I was intrigued (and surprised) by the one- and two-star reviews. I thought it was a very good book, how could it possibly be worth only one or two stars? Had these readers put their reviews on the wrong page? Of course, we all have different tastes, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but when I looked at these reviews more closely I thought they were a tad harsh.

The review was for a detective thriller. Amongst others, there were comments about certain issues that would never have happened in real life. Well, no, quite possibly that was true, but this is fiction. Isn’t that part of why we read? To escape from an ordinary real life? Isn’t that true of all entertainment, films, and drama shows? How many times have you said to yourself, yeah, like that really happens. But it’s drama, so we cut a little slack. Because it’s all good fun. Poetic licence is allowed.

Every book that lands in my lap for review is to me an extraordinary achievement by another human being and one I could never accomplish.

So before slapping one star on a book you didn’t like, it’s worth taking a moment to step back and reflect how that book got to be on your Kindle/eReader. It didn’t just happen. It may have taken years of hard work and dedication, first by the author and then a team of people doing their best, both parties keen to continue to improve in their respective crafts.  A little encouragement is one of the things that helps this process along.

A very handy tip for authors when they self-edit, is to step back from their potential bestselling masterpiece for a few weeks, even months, before rereading it.  A little break before writing a review is something I also advise.  Not weeks, though:  if you’re anything like me, I’ve forgotten characters’ names almost as soon as I’ve dived into the next book.  But after a few days, it’s surprising how differently you feel about a book.  I have sometimes upgraded from a two-star rating to a four-star rating after having had a few days to ‘digest’.

Judging by the number of books I have waiting to be read and reviewed, it would appear that there can never be enough reviewers!  Your to-be-reviewed list will grow rapidly to almost daunting proportions. Authors—especially indie authors—surf the ‘net searching for book reviewers and their blogs, and if their searches find you, you’ll be overwhelmed by requests.  Keeping to the genres you like (but don’t be afraid to try one you think you might) will keep your review list to a manageable level (says she whose TBR is quite off the radar).

Finally and most importantly, enjoy yourself: have fun writing your reviews, start a review blog, and share them!

Cath ‘n’ Kindle Book Reviews

Book Junkies’ Journal

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Writer by Gary Gauthier

In Guest Blogger, publishers, writing on May 27, 2012 at 12:01 am

Yesterday, while walking in the park, I watched a little boy as he picked the ball of a dandelion seed head. He held it up at the level of his nose and blew into it. The seeds gently floated away.  The scene inspired me to write this blog post.

Dandelion Seeds

Floating Adrift

All writers, at some point in their career, contemplate the fact that ours is a lonely lot. We don’t report to work anywhere. Our fellow writers are busy doing their own thing. We work alone. It’s a little less lonely now that we have Twitter and Facebook; but when it’s time to write, there’s no one around. Writing is a solitary pursuit.

Journalists may have to report to a desk and they do have deadlines to meet, but we’re not talking about them. They have anchors to keep them grounded.

There is no external, real-world grounding for writers like there is for most other professions. Like all true artists, we are vessels without moorings. There are no weekly meetings. We don’t turn in progress reports and there are no yearly evaluations. We just have to make time to write and keep writing.

Setting goals certainly helps. Did you hear the joke about the writer who was always busy writing but never could finish whatever it was he was working on?

Rejection, Humility and the Ego

It used to be the case that if you couldn’t handle rejection by the gatekeepers, your work didn’t get published. If you gave up after the first handful of rejections, you were effectively silenced—forever. You could, of course, continue to write anyway; but there was no easy method to get people to read what you wrote.

That’s all changed now. Writers, today, can easily maintain a blog or publish an entire book from a laptop. Gatekeepers can’t keep us silent anymore. We can bypass literary agents and publishing houses and go straight to the readers. Sure we have to deal with a retailer who acts as an intermediary, but it’s not a gatekeeper. They don’t pass judgment. Their job is mainly to run the marketplace and make our writing available to the readers.

We may have good reason to distrust the judgment of a skeptical (or clueless) agent. We may also have good reason to question the decisions an aloof publisher. The judgment of the reader, on the other hand, now, that’s a different matter altogether.

The biggest satisfaction for a writer is to be read and to elicit a positive reaction from the readers.  A writer can never be a success without a supportive readership that recognizes value in the writer’s work.  It’s for our readers we write and it’s their opinions and preferences that ultimately matter.

The reader is the Final Arbiter to whom writers must submit in humility. How talented we think we are has nothing to do with it.

On the flip side of the same coin, how talented we think we are has everything to do with it. A writer must be confident enough to know that her writing is worthy of publication and that an audience exists for it. Otherwise, what’s the point of calling yourself a writer?

Falling Into Fertile Ground

One book, or one writer, can’t please everybody.  Some readers appreciate a good historical romance; others won’t touch one even if they receive it as a gift. I have a friend who only reads murder mysteries. We all understand why many don’t appreciate the full measure of Herman Melville’s talent or why some don’t see the beauty in Moby Dick.

No author wants his genius to be discovered long after he’s dead. That was Herman Melville’s lot. Moby Dick, the story of the whale, cleared the first of two hurdles in Melville’s lifetime. The novel was published while he was alive. The second hurdle, critical acclaim, proved more elusive. It came 25 years after Melville’s death. He was talented, but he wasn’t lucky.

There are many similar stories and the more you hear, the more it seems that a writer’s success, talent aside, is subject to whims like the direction of a gentle breeze, or the roll of a die, or the disposition of a planet in relation to constellations of the zodiac. One author died and never saw his book in print, but his talent was “discovered” posthumously after his mother continued the quest to get the manuscript published.  The book won a Pulitzer.

The story becomes more poignant when we learn the author became depressed and committed suicide, in part, because he couldn’t capture the attention of a publisher. His name is John Kennedy Toole. The book is A Confederacy of Dunces.

Bloomsbury, the publisher of the Harry Potter series literally hit the jackpot with nary a clue. It owes its successful relationship with J.K. Rowling to the judgment of a perspicacious eight year old. She read a chapter from a manuscript and wanted to see more. It’s a good thing she was the daughter of the chief executive at the small publishing house. Wouldn’t you love to hear the rationalizations of the twelve publishers who rejected the same manuscript?

Publishers would like everyone to believe they excel at finding good books. But it seems to me that it’s the persistent authors—along with some good books—that find the publishers.  If they truly excel at judging the quality of books, the question to ponder is in comparison to whom? After all, until very recently, the publishing houses were the only ones who had access to the printing presses.

Creating Your Own Luck

Writers, nowadays, have more opportunities to be discovered even as the market becomes more competitive. Everything else being equal, writers can improve their chances of being successful if they have business savvy, take their work seriously, know how to market their talent, are able to create a following or can find a way to generate buzz.

Are you feeling lucky today?

See also: Rejection Letters: The Publishers Who Got It Embarrassingly Wrong

Dandelion Photograph: Lawrence Lu

Gary Gauthier - Guest Blogger on Amelia Curzon's Blog - "Carte Blanche"

Gary Gauthier is working on his first novel, a crime thriller set in New Orleans, just before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. In real life, he works for a small publishing company no one’s ever heard of and that publishes books no one reads.

His blog, Gary Gauthier’s author blog, Literary Snippets, gives him an opportunity to express and share his appreciation for art and literature. He occasionally posts articles as well. Some of his favorite writers are Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. But this changes from time to time. Stay tuned! Follow him on gary gauthier on Twitter, gary gauthier on facebook, and gary gauthier on google plus.

Guest Blogger Gary Gauthier – First posted May 27th, 2012

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