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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

Book Junkies Group on Facebook      

Find Cathy on Facebook

Follow Cathy on Twitter

Indies Unlimited

Guest Post: Take Aim and Target Your Children’s Writing by Valerie Allen

In Guest Blogger, writing on November 25, 2012 at 12:01 am

As a children’s author myself, I am particularly pleased to welcome this week’s Guest Blogger, Valerie Allen. Valerie, who also presents workshops on the same subject, shares her philosophies on targeting specific audiences, and what to take into account when doing so. Welcome, Valerie, and thank you for being my guest.

To successfully reach their target audience, children’s writers must keep in mind four basic considerations: the child’s age, grade, reading level, and interests.

Age Level                                                                                                                             Most children enjoy reading about characters who are a few years older than they are. Children want to reach beyond their peers and experience possible future events in the here and now as they read. Most children’s books are written within an age range, for example, 6 to 9 years or 10 to 12 years.

Grade Level                                                                                                                       Grade level is usually an indication of a child’s reading skills, such as phonics, sight words, and comprehension. Books do not have to be written at an exact grade level, but within a grade range, such as preschool through Kindergarten, or sixth through eighth grade. Most computers can easily provide the reading level by grade. This is often written as 3.2 meaning third grade second month or 7.9, which means seventh grade ninth month. Keep in mind grade levels are based on the school year with September as the first month. A reading level of 4.5 would indicate the youngster is in January of the fourth grade.

Reading Level
A child’s reading level is not always the same as his or her grade level. Reading is based on comprehension as well as word attack skills.

There are 250 basic sight words, which make up approximately 70% of all reading. Most children have mastered these words by the end of third grade. Basic sight words are typically one, two, or three-letter words. An informal way to check your sight words is to highlight all of the little words on a given page of writing.
                                                                                                                                            Interests
Books based on hobbies and interests are varied and must be written within the youngster’s age, grade, and reading level. Vocabulary is critical in these books and the author often includes an index of terms and definitions, with or without diagrams. Both fiction and nonfiction can be used to engage youngsters in reading about their hobby or interest. Using the solar system as an example, you can write a book that:

1.  Describes the solar system and encourages learning and understanding
2. Provides facts, greatest moments, or important figures in space exploration
3.  Tells a story involving a child who wants to walk on the moon.

As adults we can make an instant connection with others when we mention Dick and Jane, Nancy Drew, or The Hardy Boys. Today’s young readers will connect with Hop on Pop, Harry Potter, and Pippy Longstocking. Helping children read for pleasure and information is the primary goal for an author of a children’s book. Creating those enjoyable memories that last a life time is the reward of writing for children.

Valerie Allen, psychologist, author, and speaker writes fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. Her two books for children in grades three to five are, Summer School for Smarties and Bad Hair, Good Hat, New Friends. She presents writing workshops for authors based on her book,Write, Publish, Sell! Quick, Easy, Inexpensive Ideas for the Marketing Challenged.

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Write, Publish, Sell! by Valerie Allen - Book cover
 

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