I’m reviewing…

If all bloggers are writers, and many writers are bloggers, how many of us are reviewers? I started reviewing 30 years ago and got paid for it. Just to add a little context.

Reviews are a thorny topic in the blogging authoring world.

I’ve been prowling around reading different views about reviews. And it’s not just authors. Book tour organisers have differing policies too.

It’s easy to see what an author wants. A great review, and if it’s star-rated, all five of them.

Good reviews, in theory, should sell books.

Let’s return to this later.

What does a reviewer want?

A free book? In return for a review? There is no obligation on anyone who buys a book to write a review. Nor, is there an obligation on someone who takes a free book on a promotional offer to write one, although courtesy would suggest it would be polite to do so.

From a reader’s perspective, I’ll write a review of say, a library book if I think it merits one, whether that is a good or bad review. A bad review is interesting to write because it needs far more thought.

On this post I wrote a bad review for an Ellen Schreiber book. Plus a few other reviews. In the early comments, Cotton Boll and I discuss ‘bad’ reviews (good ones too).

And with my journalist hat on, if you are asking for reviews, especially to coincide with publication or a promotion, it is standard practice to provide a free copy. In olden days, this meant a paperback or hardback sent to the office and shared out at random. And if the editor didn’t want a review, you got to keep the book anyway. I’ve still got a few freebies kicking around.

At least ebooks/PDF mean that authors aren’t incurring the same costs when they send out Internet review copies.

What does a reviewer do?

If I say I’ll review your book, I will. No timescale guaranteed because I’m not getting paid. If you do have a particular date in mind for publication, I’ll try and meet it.

I try and be sympathetic to indie/self-pub/new authors. I admire them, it takes a lot to write a book and self-publish, plus there is one hell of a lot of competition out there.

However please do not expect five stars. I dish those out very, very, rarely. Dostoyevsky, Anne and Emily Bronte, and Oscar Wilde, for example get five stars on my goodreads page. If you think your work is as good as them please challenge my ratings, but four stars is normally as good as it gets. Think yourself lucky you don’t get one star like J K Rowling. Jane Austen doesn’t do well either.

The other issue though, is taking into account different genres. So if you write fantasy, you need to be on a par with Tolkien or Pullman to get five stars. Although clearly it doesn’t take much for you to beat Rowling. If you write satire, please consider whether you are more witty than Oscar Wilde.

But it’s impossible to compare a young adult book with a fantasy book with a romance novel with an espionage thriller with a mystery story with an absolute classic with… etc

So if you get four stars within your genre, count your four lucky stars.

I’ll normally review on my blog and then post a tidy version to goodreads. This does take time. So I’m reading a free book, which may or may not be good, and then taking the time to review it and post elsewhere. It’s a fair exchange. Maybe.

I do find books that end with ‘if you have enjoyed this book please write a review…’ slightly annoying though. It sounds whiney and almost desperate.

A selection of books I’ve featured on this blog (captions included)

Good reviews and bad reviews

Here is the contentious part.

Two issues.

1) What if I genuinely don’t like a book? Badly written, poor plot, weak characters. Lousy style. Am I genuinely expected to write a wonderful review? Because I won’t.

2) Badly proofed/edited books are a nightmare. Simple as that. Does lack of editing deserve a down-grading, or at the least a mention in a review?

I have a professional issue at stake here. If I recommended a book that is badly written, poorly constructed, and unedited, it doesn’t exactly enhance my reputation or credibility.

Many authors, unsurprisingly, think errors shouldn’t detract from the review. If the plot is basically good, and it is well written, who cares about spelling mistakes, missing/incorrect punctuation, inconsistencies and faulty facts?

Well me, quite frankly. That does not for a good book make. It is not a good read if something jars every few pages.

So, I have two options. I write a review and point out the errors in public. Or I don’t write a review, and send an email. If I’ve received a free review copy I’ll usually take that road.

In terms of reviews, as a journalist I was being paid not just for book reviews, but concerts, plays, musicals, am-drams, anything. So we were expected to be honest. And, as with anything we wrote, we always had the chief reporter/news editor, subs, assistant ed/editor perusing our work and invariably criticising it. We weren’t just writing what we thought, we had to make sure our review was interesting enough for people to read.

I’m not changing my spots in gratitude for a free book. Nor am I prepared to write a one liner that says, ‘great book, really enjoyed this’. Where is the value in that? Seriously that is not a review.

You want an honest review or just promotional blurb? That’s called advertising.

Here are a couple of good reviews, not written by me, I hastily add.

Almost Dead in Suburbia

Miedo

image

Book tours

Which brings me onto these. A blogger signs up to take part in a book tour. This is a marketing/publicity tool where bloggers agree to review a book and publish on a certain day. Or they interview the author. Or give the author a guest post. Or participate in giveaways. Or something.

The author pays the company for the tour. Bloggers may or may not get a token reward, not cash, after they have written a certain number of posts, but they basically provide free publicity to an author for which someone else gets paid for doing a few emails. Neat huh?

I looked at one. It didn’t allow negative reviews. Now from the perspective of promotion and PR I can understand that. But it griped me, so I opted for one that allows honest reviews. At least that is vaguely ethical.

The question is why do authors pay for book tours, when you can get reviews and interviews for free? Different market? Or maybe no-one will review your book? Or they take it and don’t review it. In which case, an author might ask, why haven’t people reviewed my book?

What does an author want?

Back to square one. Good reviews and sales.

What an author doesn’t want is a poor review. So if you don’t like their book, and say so, some authors get most cantankerous. I’m sure I would.

But there are valid negative reviews. If someone thinks the plot is poor, style is dull, they struggled to get past page 50 or 100, what is wrong with saying that? Authors seem to think the reader should plough through pages of dull mediocrity, because there is suddenly a riveting twist on page 252. I don’t think so.

I read one recently. I was bored with the banality, trivia, and generally poor execution. I wasn’t sure how much further I would go. I don’t see any advantage to an author in saying that.

So authors need to decide. Instead of moaning at buyers, or even worse, people who take advantage of cheap or free offers, for not posting reviews, do they really want a review at all costs?

I read a lot of books. I also don’t need to download free books that quite frankly, might be sheer garbage, when I have a perfectly good library across the road. But, as with anyone working in any field, it’s important to keep up with developments. And indie publishing – good and bad – is here to stay. All the world’s an author.

Let me give an example of an honest review for the above book.

I found X’s first novel appalling. To describe it as a novel is misleading. Even Woman’s Own or True Romance would have rejected it.

Firstly, do not ever publish something littered with so many grammatical errors. Punctuation was abysmal. In fact, it became more interesting looking for the next mistake rather than concentrating on the storyline.

Secondly, top tip, it is not a good idea to get the names of the main characters mixed up. Or to repeat phrases within consecutive paragraphs. Or to get timelines skewed. Or to use American words in a British novel because you have watched too much CSI. Or to include factual errors regarding criminal justice procedures

Thirdly, when even I can anticipate the plot, it is a no-win situation. I am slower on the uptake than a snail.

Some editors, me included, will not accept every commission. This isn’t about being precious. I would have agreed to proof this writing. But it didn’t just need editing, or even developmental editing, it needed a total re-write. Think ‘The cat sat on the mat’ in terms of literary style the whole way through. And plot as transparent as cling film.

The good thing about reading a very badly-written book, from my point of view, is that it provides a useful comparator for other books. So, because this was free, and I am a really nice person, I will probably send an email. This person does not read my blog, I add quickly, and my email will not reflect the above.

Seriously, do any authors out there really want a review like the example I have posted? I think not. But if you do, I’m sure I can manage one for you.

I will try and find good things to say about any book. However, when the negative outweighs the positive, or the lack of proofing/editing makes reading a chore, then I don’t post a review. And when I use a poor book as an example on here, I won’t name and shame. There’s no need.

So should punctuation/spelling/inconsistencies/factual errors affect a review?

After all, those little errors aren’t part of the plot and the style, and don’t affect the story. Sorry authors. If you were submitting such poorly finished work in school, well in my school at least, you would get 0/10, 2 or 3/10 if you were very lucky. And if you churned out such inadequately checked crap on a newspaper you would get the sack.

Like it or not, your manuscript full of errors is half-finished, half-baked, however you wish to describe it. When you get to The End, it is not The End by any stretch of the imagination. And if you think it is, you may end up with no reviews, poor reviews that mention errors, and few, if any sales.

I want lots of good reviews!

Why? Do you really think people plough through 361 five star reviews all saying the same thing before they decide to buy your book? Or is it because you want to get listed on BookBub?

A load of five star reviews just makes me think you have one very large family.

Or that you, your editor, and your publisher have a lot of mates.

One author recently complained that despite a load of great reviews, sales were poor. See, good reviews don’t always mean sales, sadly.

It’s a tough world. There is more to being an author than writing. That’s just the start. And probably the easiest part.

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91 comments on “I’m reviewing…

  1. While I am not much a writer of reviews I am very much a reader of them. Here are three examples:
    1–I rarely buy a book until I have read several reviews (there are exceptions; if I find myself standing transfixed in the aisle reading excerpts for a half-hour there’ll be no need for a review). Whenever i do I make a point of filtering for those who gave the book two stars as I find that’s where I often glean the most information. Generally two stars means that the reviewer has some respect for either the subject matter or the author (else there’s just be a dismissive one-star; generally not helpful at all) and, so tries to present both good and bad items. That’s what i want; I can weigh the information from several reviews and filter out most of the reviewers bias, regardless of how low they rated it. The gushing 5 star ratings and the dismissive one-stars are generally indicative of a reviewer who lacks the ability to be critical and not indicative of either good or bad work on the author’s behalf.
    2–I never purchase a software application unless I see reviews. Once again, I look at the two-star ratings but for a slightly different reason. The online software rating system is mostly useless as shady vendors pay third-world employees to write piles of good ones. You can generally spot them as they use generic, boilerplate style statements. They skew the overall ratings though to the point that the aggregates are no use. Once again two-stars MIGHT offer up a few clues.
    2–likewise for any equipment/appliance purchases.
    How’s the ankle? Can you bear weight now?

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    • Hi Maurice
      In reverse order, yes, but still crap. Getting flexibility is a nightmare. Everyone wants me to run before I can even limp well, let alone walk.

      I think two and three stars are good balanced indicators. Gushing is a great word for some of the five ones, and I think five stars are vastly overused. While I gave Rowling one star I did explain why when I reviewed her half blood prince on here. I think she seriously plagiarised Tolkien, had a convoluted plot and some frankly boring unnecessary passages in there. To say the least. Fantasy isn’t my favourite, but I do like good fantasy. And JK is not good IMO. I think with books, we also have to allow for a reader’s personal preference. Mine is mystery/thriller/espionage/crime. But I will read a great book in any genre and say it is fantastic.

      I actually used to buy hardbacks when first published based on newspaper reviews. Back then, you could get a feel for whether you would like a book or not. Reviews on Amazon, for example, are not the same. I did find a good site, must look it up again, that provides very thoughtful in-depth reviews.

      I try and avoid buying software. Don’t want to upset my precious Hal family.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As an author I know my work won’t please everyone,. I expect some bad reviews based on a person’s genuine opinion. I have to live with them. The only time I’ve reacted to a review is when I found it offensive and insulting. I live by the maxim if you can’t say something nice, say nothing.
    It was a mistake to react in anger and answer the troll which trap I won’t fall into ever again.
    If you find my work childish, say it’s suitable for a much younger audience. Play nice or don’t play but there’s no need for nastiness.
    Hope the leg is well on the mend and you’re getting out and about.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pretty obvious you can’t suit everyone and if you publish you have to accept that and develop thick skin. Another reason why I admire authors, especially self-publishers. I like young books, of any age. I could happily read Swallows and Amazons all over again.

      I think you are right about not answering in anger. Applies in so many situations. I am surprisingly good at walking away a lot of the time. Just remember, does it merit your time and attention to reply? Is it worth it? To what effect? Highly unlikely there’s a yes to any if those.

      It’s not and I’m not but thanks :)

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  3. Nice to see Hendrix made an appearance. :)

    If one were to consider sales volumes as a measure of a book’s worth then JK sits alongside the bible and Dickens.

    From my perspective, this is clearly no indicator of greatness as I think two out three of the above are …. ‘fookin’ shite’ as they say around Liverpool.

    Technical faults you have listed should be pointed out though I have never seen this done in a commercial review, only complaints about the story itself, and in this regard, one man’s meat is another man’s pois(s)on.

    In fact, until I started writing the technical aspects re: proofing etc was never anything I took notice of as a reader, to be honest. This either demonstrates how much of a Neanderthal I am or that the books I read were, as a rule, spot on – *shrugs*.

    And I have never bought a book because of a written review, either, other than from reading the blurb on the cover in a library or bookstore.

    Most literature I have read has been referred by others ( good old Word of Mouth) or forced upon me during school and if I enjoyed the book from there I have sought out others by the same author.
    Custler ( ironically, as you feature one of his) Donaldson, Sharpe,Brian Aldiss and most notably, Terry Pratchett.

    But that’s me, and from the comments (so far), other people consider a review a litmus test of sorts.

    We are all different…..thank the gods.

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    • Hendrix appeared because he is handsome. Unlike you. He also appeared because I went for a totally random selection of books I’d featured.

      Sadly, I would agree with you, although as a fantasy novel, the bible is rather more creative than many. If you read my review of JK back whenever, one commenter said she knew a good publicist. Or words to that effect.

      Hmm, technical faults should be pointed out? Se faz favour, is it up to me to point out every error in someones’s book who has either had their partner read it, their best friend read it, got a cheap editor without any exp or quals behind them, or just pressed ping! And published. Because basically I would have to develop a literalometer to score each book by. (Literal = literal errors). And most would not be doing very well. Some aren’t bad. Two or three and I’d give nine. Perfect would get ten. There would be a lot of five and unders.

      Reviews should always be based on personal opinion, and not criticising the author, or composer, or whoever, rather the work or the performance. I’ve bought books based on reviews ie I’ve looked for them in the bookstore because they piqued my interest. I do think books were better proofed before indie/internet days, but the odd error still slipped through. Always glared out to me, but maybe that’s how I’m tuned.

      Cussler is ok for a chill out, but he’s a bit implausible. I tend to prefer Brit authors as I think they have a tighter style of writing and cracking wit. Understatement is all. I’d love to recommend a book I’ve just read. I’d give it a full four stars, but it is chockfull of errors, some of which I have pointed out by email.

      I like reading reviews, but as I avoid buying books because I have no more space viz the bookshelf photo and times that by four or five or six, so reviews don’t influence me either. Apart from to get something from the library.

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  4. People tend to be Austen or Bronte lovers, rarely both. I can remember Jane Eyre standing on a chair being humiliated, but did not like the book.

    Why bother with a review, when you can get the first few pages as a free sample?

    I perhaps should try for proof-reading work, as I tend to spot the eorrrs. They mattter. Indeed they knock me out of my mood, from going along with the book, to considering the error.

    On gushing, the problem is one cannot gush enough. What praise is missed? What minor criticism is there? Or, what is actually said- the author is the greatest writer ever, but what does s/he actually do?

    You will have me using the same phrase in consecutive paragraphs, to see if I can do so and improve the text.

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    • I didn’t like it either. Very nasty gloomy start. And a general frightening sense of doom all over it. Talk about Victorian melodrama and tragedy. But I liked the passion in Tenant and Heights.

      First few pages don’t always do it. I’ve used samples, and, well, nothing. But I enjoy a good review in its own right, plus they introduce me to different authors.

      Quite. They distract me from a book too. I’ve been asked a number of times when reading something if I was a lawyer (I did consider it very strongly) because I always read something very carefully. Or will sometimes use a pen/pencil to go along the words to make sure I miss nothing. Lawyers aren’t the only ones who read carefully. Proofing per se doesn’t pay well as an employee. Nor as self-emp unless you have a big client base.

      I don’t have a problem with gushing. I am incapable, so that’s easy.

      It can be done, but it needs much work – and before you try, a short blog post isn’t the same. I’ve done it in blog posts for emphasis, but a novel is different.

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  5. Glad I’m a Bronte and not an Austen lover! :D It’s amazing that we are pretty much on par with our literature likes and dislikes. I completely agree with you about reviews, what authors want and why it’s not good to have all five star reviews. I’m proud of my four star reviews, honestly I am. I love my five star reviews because they have been awarded for different reasons. I’m happy that I can say, not all my reviews are the same… that would be boring, even for me as author. :) Thanks for the pingback… now to send you my book covers… you can always edit the post to include it… better late than never! :D

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    • Except for Listen with Mother :D I’m sure we can find something to disagree about :) Max Beerbohm? Hardy? Eliot? Chaucer? Steinbeck? Sterne? Miller? O’Neill? Shakespeare? I’ve left my views out not to confuse the issue :)

      I’m surprised you don’t worship Austen given your years and education in USA. I’ve never met an American (online) who doesn’t worship her. They seem to think she epitomises Englishness, surely that falls to darling Heathcliff?

      I think three, four and five are all good. Of course it’s the odd number syndrome again… But what is important is what is written rather than stars.

      I’ll have a go;)

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      • All classics. All good.
        Why would I worship Austen… I’m not American, remember… I’m a Yorkshireman. I’ll be as Onery about Austen as I like, thank you very much… now say nothing more about it! How dare you compare me to American born over there… I was an EnglishMan abroad! Living in a strange land with no family or relatives. Estranged from everyone here! :D

        I like the odd number syndrome! 1 3 5 7 :D

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        • Just thought you might have been slightly influenced that’s all. I mean, who admits to going to gas up and talks about movies not films :)?

          I don’t like Miller. I could never finish Grapes of Wrath but loved East of Eden. Didn’t like Mill on the Floss, did like Middlemarch. Struggled with Tristram Shandy. Adored O’Neill.

          Odd number syndrome? Not for polls …

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          • Now you’re just being clever… non of that has anything to do with literature… however, I adore American Lit… Stalinger, Steinbeck and Harper Lee. My all time favourites by far. Catcher… Of Mice… and …Mockingbird. And then there’s Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. :) Say what you like, I don’t care. :D

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          • Me? Clever? I wish.

            I didn’t like Catcher or Mock, maybe because they were school books. Should probably re-read with my extremely objective hat on. Gates by wasn’t my fave, there was another one. But Gatsby was good. And, Wood and Redford sort of captured it, but it wasn’t how I envisioned it. And then there is Burroughs. Who is that whacky bastard who wrote Naked Lunch I asked A who has gone to bed. William Burroughs he rattled off before I’d even finished the question! And Kerouac. There are some great American authors, but for example, Dan Brown isn’t one.

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  6. Excellent.
    (and now I have to find Hendrix and read that)
    A reviewer must be honest – but brutal, no. As you say – you can always contact the author and politely suggest many another would be better. Besides one must maintain cred. I do like where you try to find something positive – there usually is something.
    Punctuation and editing should be done before going public – even the “C’ or average student can put a period at the end of sentences and a use capital letters as appropriate. A writer should be doubly concerned that all mechanics are well done and checked – writers usually don’t want anything to distract from their story and characters….(except maybe the young ones who never had schools that said there was a correct way to write things…or they, the writers are such geniuses that rules don’t apply….so many of these now which makes me wonder why things are in such a mess if so bright….)
    Bad reviews can be done, but you have to be very specific about why you are saying what is said….And the point is to review not enlarge your own ego by cutting someone else’s work to shreds (many times by those who are incapable of writing themselves)
    Reviews now? Don’t seriously look at many..too many just promoting books for some reward, too many not skilled in reviewing, too many just out to be mean.
    I’m impressed by those that manage the reviewer’s tightrope balancing act

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    • Thank you. Meanwhile I am behind in the hedgerow :( Sorry.
      Almost dead is worth a read. I reviewed it a while back and it merits the accolade of four stars from me.
      It is interesting to find the positive, when you can’t, then it is not a good book. Simple as that.
      You can only break the rules when you know what they are. When you do, then you can start. But sloppy writing isn’t the same.
      All reviews need to be objective, bad ones particularly, which is why they are more of a challenge.
      Yup, you need to read between the lines with reviews. Mine are pretty straight with the concession that I am sympathetic to indies etc but I do try and give enough idea of who it might appeal to. I’ve read another good one recently but can not recommend it in its current state. Sad. And it has been edited!
      Reviewing is more than a synopsis. It isn’t just the summary, or the good plot, bad plot commentary. It needs something extra.
      I do enjoy writing them from time to time. But I think book review blogs per se are pretty dull. I like to read a short pithy review. Not easily written or easily found.
      Hyper day here. Podenco playtime. Wake up Molly.

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      • Analysis is definitely difficult – especially when a light touch is called for – Short and pithy is so cherished,
        I don’t try to do reviews – too sympathetic towards authors…and hard for me to not be cruel/brutal when well deserved…too much being told “If you can’t say something nice….” Now children’s books and early readers – love to do those (who wouldn’t)
        I do know when an author sat down with me and talked about their book – themselves, it made it so much easier to sell that item to libraries…but I was picky what I would take to librarians and recommend…tried to know as many books as possible, but so many! It was a great time
        Molly wishing to adopt the puppy around the corner…she adored the little thing…moping around going “Whhhyyyyyy? There are so many little ones that need homes…and I proooooomise to take care of it.” If we had a big yard, all the puppies could come over and stay. We’ll have to settle for visits..she is moping and trying to make us feel guilty she is an only child…..

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        • I would rather write a few succinct reviews than one boring one. That’s why they often get included as part of a blog post on something else. Not everyone wants to read book reviews, and you have to make them interesting not rewrite the flipping story. I like putting a few together by theme, or to contrast them. Or to add some other background so it becomes more than a review, eg writing about Bond/Fleming I contrasted films and books, for Bhutto’s auto bio, I read around what had happened since she’d written her first book etc.

          I’m not really a big fan of ‘if you can’t say something nice’ smacks too much of you can’t criticise anything. Click on the link either via comments or the review of Almost Dead to get to Ark’s site. A few posts back he has a super kiddy story about a frog. It’s great.

          Who doesn’t want more ground to home more sweethearts. Little one stil hyper but will soon be crash out time. Snoozes now to Molly.

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  7. You will be relieved to learn that a particularly long comment from me has simply vanished when I tried to post it. I will confine myself to repeating that I think this is an excellent coverage of such a wide topic. Other aspects I added are of lesser importance, although I would have liked your feedback.

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    • Only relieved inasmuch as it means a shorter reply from me. I wd have like to have read the rest though. Thank you, I think it is a difficult topic, as there are so many differing views and aspects. Reviews of established authors, new ones, self-published ones, and, sadly very badly written books. How to balance it all?

      If you get round to it, and I appreciate it’s not a good time for you right now, I’d be happy to comment on the lesser aspects. I lost a post today and thought, stuff it, it wasn’t important. I try and write longer replies on the blog rather than the orange notification thingy, or sometimes take it off line when I know it will be more than a par or two. Hope things are however as bearable as they can be at your end Col.

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  8. I’ve reviewed a couple on Amazon…..books by people I know through blogging, but books which were well written and which I genuinely enjoyed. None had glaring errors to catch the eye, all kept me reading until the end, which given my propensity for slinging a book aside says a fair bit.

    Your post is topical for me…I’m trying to find a new range of stuff to read and hitting a dead end when I read reviews, whether in Goodreads, Amazon, or in the newspapers. Very few reviewers tell me the essence of a book – indeed there seems to be s trend in the online newspaper reviews for the reviewer to tell you more about themselves than the blasted book! Very frustrating.

    On another tack, I gather from your replies that you are not as mobile as you would like and not enjoying the experience…..I’m sorry that things are taking their time.

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    • I haven’t yet worked out how to review a book on Amazon that I haven’t bought. Must pursue that. Some day.

      What do you want to read? Happy to suggest ones that I thought were surprisingly good. You obviously don’t like slop. Given your last post, Deighton’s Goodbye Mickey Mouse is good about WW2. Get past the title which is terrible and the book is worth a read.
      The slavery one on the gallery above was fantastic, if extremely sobering. Cold Mountain was good too, in a different way.

      Sadly I’m not sure writing about a broken ankle works for a book review.

      I always knew it would take time. Mierda pasa sometimes.

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      • I had bought the books..I think Amazon checks!

        What do I want to read….I’m looking for something light for evening reading to lighten my general non fiction diet….police, subversive crime,…why the blazes can no one write like Wodehouse any more….!

        On the non fiction front i’m currently re reading Marianne in Chains by Robert Gildea which gives a clear background to the immediate French post war settlement…

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        • Yes, that’s why I can’t write the reviews…

          I like policey ones too. Will have a look through what I’ve read. See what I can come up with.

          On non-fiction, Bhutto’s autobiography was good. I’m sure it was biased as a politician, but still a great although also depressing read.

          Trying to remember a decent policey thing I stumbled across recently. I take it Americana doesn’t make the cut? I confess to choosing Brit authors where available. It’s the style. Not Wodehouse but still…

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  9. I love being asked to read something by an agent/publisher- I shudder when asked by an author. Also, as I usually try to explain, my opinion is hardly relevant to sales/popularity as I’m not the ‘general public’. Sometimes Mike and I spend a week arguing over the meaning of a word in a particular text… like adelphopoiesis :D In this house the giant black multiple volume Oxford dictionary is a weapon.

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    • I think it is sad there are no great writers any more. Or only a handful. I do like Rushdie, and Garcia Marquez, but he’s dead :( I appreciate people trying to write books, but I am not prepared to say they are brilliant in return for a free book to give them publicity, and especially not when they are full of errors. IF you want to write, then get your book edited. There is enough illiteracy in the world as it is without producing more.

      I have two dictionaries permanently within arm’s reach, one English, one Spanish. And then there is the grammatical guide, and the journalism style guides…

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  10. Reviewing aside do you persevere with a book you don’t like or are you prepared to give up part way through? Kim will often say ‘this book is rubbish’ but carry on to the end anyway. I don’t have the patience and can give up quite quickly.

    On the subject of reviews I have been offered a free city tour to Madrid or Barcelona in return for a positive review. I haven’t accepted yet because I don’t like the ‘write a good review’ condition. What would you do?

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  11. I think, from reading your previous posts, that our taste in books differs widely. It might be a fantastic book of its genre but I could still be totally disinterested. I review on Goodreads but rarely go into great detail. I don’t have the time or the inclination but I agree with your points regarding grammar, etc. :)

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    • I read widely. What I like and what I read (because I have to) aren’t the same. But, having said that, I like to find good books that I wouldn’t normally choose. Broadens my mind and I enjoy something different. So what do you enjoy?

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      • I have the memory of a gnat so would always struggle to name books for you. I recently discovered Chris Cleave and liked him a lot,and I found ‘Paris’ by Edward Rutherfurd an impressive piece of work.
        It won’t surprise you to know that I like a foreign background, as in another country, in my reading but I also like to come upon something different that captures my imagination.

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  12. Very interesting post and comments, and topical for me too, as I’ve just read and reviewed 2 book club books, Frog Music and The Luminaries, chosen for popular appeal [not by me] which I didn’t read the Goodreads reviews for first, but many concurred with my own underwhelmed reviews. I couldn’t get past page 129 of the second, long, novel and it decided me that I will never again persevere with reading a book that makes me dread picking it up, and yes, one of the things that will do that is poor editing – I would say to all authors invest in an editor, and even Microsoft Word spell & grammar checker would have picked up some editing horrors I’ve encountered from Indie published books.
    I tend to review only book club books (which I borrow from the library if possible) on Goodreads, Indie authors I’ve found via blogging mainly e-books I’ve purchased from Amazon, but I’m a succinct reviewer and never go into the premise of the novel, just how I feel about it… not being a professional reviewer that’s the basis I feel I can best comment on and leave the other to professionals, like yourself, who unlike what I appreciate from your reviews, in the case of the aforementioned books I do wish wouldn’t feel like they could only review positively.

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    • I do persevere. I know it’s a time waste, but I do.

      I don’t think indie authors realise they are shooting themselves in the foot by not getting an editor, or paying a mate or someone who says they are an editor and isn’t. And it doesn’t help other indie authors either by lowering the standard. I wasn’t joking about my school comment, some of the dross I read would have been blasted from here to high heaven at my school. And these ‘authors’ want people to pay for it?

      I think how you feel about a book is the best way to go about it. That’s what I do too. A lengthy synopsis is unnecessary, a par maybe, to explain thoughts about why the book is good or bad.

      I do struggle with naming and criticising indies, but established authors are fair game. Mostly I try and give a fair review. Not OTT, but not picking holes in everything. My problem comes when the book has not been edited, or has been inadequately edited. However good the writing or the style or the plot, I can’t recommend it.

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      • That’s why I recommend authors send me theirs when I do an interview. I also like to turn their main cover into a link directly to their sales point for them. (not a reflection on what you did with mine, I’ll really happy with it.) That way when people click on it they have access to intro, price and reviews.

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          • It’s easy. When you upload the pic, click on it, go to the link symbol, click on it. delete the pic ref and replace with address link. Don’t forget to select open in new tab. :)

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          • Ok, I’ll try. I can manage open in new tab at the very least. I get most stampy footy when things do not open in new tab. Ta :)

            But if you replace with address, how come pic stays up? Where is the link to pic?

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          • Pic is loaded into wordpress’ library… so it stays, but you when you click on it, instead of enlarging… which is all the pic link does… goes to default size, it take you to the link you’ve chosen instead. (It’s the same method spammers use with their links and why people end up somewhere they don’t want to be) so now you’ve learned something new. :)

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          • Yes, thank you. Whether or not I will be able to do it is another matter. Usually easier to provide a textual link. Not everyone clicks on pix, and I don’t want to be thought of as a spammer :)

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  13. I am an honest person, and I’m going to tell you the truth. I have had dozens of reviews: only a couple were less than than positive, and amongst those was one stating that the reviewer hadn’t finished the book *yet*. But the problem is that there are so many books out there that not even excellent five star reviews will guarantee sales. Visibility is one issue. Millions of books are on the market, and self-published is — well, self-published. As you said, everyone’s an author. The market is swamped by books of potentially dubious quality. Will the better ones rise to the top? Who knows?

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    • As I say, I try and write a good review, or at least, find the good when reviewing self pub/indie/new authors. I don’t see added value in writing a bad review, but neither am I going to say a readable book is brilliant.

      You’ve hit on the two key problems. Market saturation, and the poorer quality books, whether that is in terms of writing, editing, proofing, layout/format, and even graphic design for the cover.

      The real danger is that people hit on some indie books, have a rush of bad ones and are put off reading more :( Maybe it will level itself out?

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  14. What an interesting post. I’ve been on both sides of the coin here. I’m an author and I’ve also been blogging about books for over 5 years. More recently I became a tour coordinator, so I will answer your question about book tours.

    Why do authors pay for them? Because they are time consuming to organize and require excellent organizational and communication skills as well as lots of patience. Oh, and did I mention lots of patience?

    A good tour coordinator will customize a book tour for an author depending on the genre of his book. It takes two months to fully coordinate a book tour from beginning to end. Pitching the book bloggers correctly and following up on the tour stops takes not only time (hundreds of emails later…. and that’s just for one book tour) but also patience. Right, I said that already.

    Book bloggers are inundated with pitches from authors, publicists, tour companies and publishers to the point that they have gotten quite picky about what they will accept to review. As a book blogger I get about 50+ requests a week, less now that I specified in my review policy that I no longer accept review requests (but who’s listening?) except from publishers I’ve already worked with. As a tour coordinator I have a list of tour hosts who have willingly (that’s the key word) signed up to get review pitches on behalf of my authors.

    So why do authors pay for book tours? So someone who knows the ins and out of book bloggers can do the hard work of getting them a tour that will build a buzz about their book. Tour companies don’t promise book sales or good reviews (at least my tour company doesn’t) but an author can expect their book to get lots of good media attention. And that’s the start to getting their books noticed. :-))

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    • Thanks for that Laura. It’s interesting to get your perspective from the inside. I guess it’s similar to me explaining how much work does – or should – go into a decent editing job. It’s not just a quick read to correct spelling and punctuation. And it also involves emails. Lots of. And that’s just to one author.

      I have to say, I find book blogs with nothing but reviews and author interviews a bit of a switch off. Which is why I don’t have one :D and why I keep any reviews on here fairly short, but it depends what I am looking at. I think people can be interested in a post about famous authors whether dead or alive. So when I wrote about Tolkien, Pullman and Rowling on the same past – because they are all fantasy – I was surprised to realise most people shared my opinion, ie the first two good, the second one poor. But I suppose we attract, to some extent, blog followers in our own image.

      On the other hand, if I read a good new book, I’m happy to publicise that author. So although I’ve read and reviewed both Almost Dead in Suburbia and Miedo, I thought it would be interesting to link to different positive reviews. (Would have been better in terms of SEO to have linked back to mine but that wasn’t my intent).

      And regarding book tours, I think as an editor, it’s important to a) give something back to authors and b) it’s also important for me to keep up to speed, and participating in a book tour programme is just one aspect of that. As you know, I chose iReads because I basically preferred it to any other I looked at — I’m not signing up for every tour under the sun. It’s a waste of my time and the organisers’.

      I’m doing writing/book posts like this one from time to time and one of the aspects I will be covering is PR and marketing, (I used to work in PR) could I reprint your comment here on a post, or maybe you’d like to add something different? It doesn’t need to be long.

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      • I love blogs like yours that deals with different aspects of books, authors and their world. I enjoyed reading this post because it was obvious your history in book publishing is long.and you have strong viewpoints that you’re not afraid to explore with your readers. My schedule is so tight as to not allow me the pleasure to read more blogs like yours, but when I do, I always come away with something new.

        Yes, you may reprint anything from my comment here, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or topics you want to further explore with my feedback. :-)

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        • Mine is a personal blog, so because my career has been in journalism, PR, editing, publishing etc, I write about it from time to time, and some of my readers are authors and editors. Or have related interests. But equally I write about the frontier queue in Gibraltar, the economic situation in Spain, or my rescue dog’s first year. The good news is I don’t blog daily.

          My writing style on this blog is to enjoy discussion without writing some asinine question at the bottom of my post. Hopefully my post will inspire something to write without me saying at the bottom:

          Do you read books?

          Do you review them?

          Can you manage to write a comment without a prompt?

          I have some seriously great commenters, yes they change over the years, but some of my first ones from seven years ago are still with me, I treasure them, just as I do my newer commenters.

          I’m a journalist first and foremost. It’s not a thin-skinned trade. (Trade in the UK, profession in North America — when I trained)

          Thank you for that, I’ll draft a PR marketing one at some point. I’ll get in touch then, it would be great to get your input.

          And I can always drop you a mail when I do a publishing related post. I do some rather more sarcastic posts about crap writing on one of my other blogs, but I suspect this is more your métier.

          Now, I have a draft post to finalise…

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    • LOL! Yes, I don’t think it’s an easy road to go down. While the internet has made it easier for writers to get their work published, the marketplace is swamped. And some of it is not good work, to say the least. Which doesn’t help the good ones… Maybe the days of sending a manuscript to a publisher weren’t so bad after all?

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        • Absolutely. Everyone and their dog has a photoblog too. That’s why I have a not a photo blog. I like photography, but as my 30 year career has been in writing, editing, graphical design, layout, publishing, I’m not going to pretend I’m a brill photographer. I stick to what I know I can do, the odd good photo is a bonus.

          And if someone chooses to steal one from my blog, hey, an added bonus. Although not for them when I got it taken down :D Don’t know if you saw that post!

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  15. Great post, and great points. I wish authors would be a bit thicker-skinned when it came to reviews.

    I’ve had some authors scream blue murder at me (usually on Linkedin, to be fair, which can be as humourless as an accountant’s concert) because I’ve spoken out against 5-star reviews. They don’t seem to realise that 5-star reviews are likely to put people like me off buying their books altogether, because I just can’t believe that their book is better than, say, that 1 book I read last year which blew all the others out of the water.

    I like 4-star reviews because they usually make sense to me. Glowing, gushing reviews do nothing for me at all. I’ve actually bought some books on the basis of low-starred or negative reviews I didn’t feel I would agree with if I read the book. It’s all subjective, but some reviews, like your post, are more reasoned and well-explained than others, and they are what sells a book to me.

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    • Thank you Tara :)

      It’s not so much the thick-skin, as the absence of reality. I just don’t get why authors can not accept that their book is not the greatest one ever and that four stars is a good review. Even three stars is decent FFS.

      If people, ie reviewers endlessly dish out five stars, love every book they read, what does that say about their capacity for discernment? I’ve said I do try and support indie/new/self-pub authors. But not to the extent of five stars and ‘wonderful read, darling, fantastic book’ for some mediocre tripe.

      I’ve got to be honest with my reviews. But at least if people know that, they can consider reading a book based on what I write. I make no secret of the fact that I enjoyed twilight books one to three. I thought book four was terrible. I’d started an absolute blasting of a review on Breaking Dawn, and was gutted I lost it. Nor do I base my reviews on popularity or fashion, and no I haven’t read fifty shades although I would out of interest. The excerpts I’ve read aren’t promising.

      I suppose I must revamp my book pages and add links to reviews… For later :D

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      • I think a lot of it stems from authors who are relatively new to social media and the concept of online reviews in general. Having not been regular users of social media, some then think that any person who doesn’t gush is being mean to them. Particularly if they have in fact been victims of trolling in the past – defensiveness reaches epic proportions and they end up being upset all the time, rather than just ignoring that sort of tripe.

        A lot of the authors who took offense with me, struck me as having never bought a book on Amazon before they decided to publish their own, let alone used Twitter or online forums. I wish people would wait, watch, and consider their options before storming online and expecting the world.

        I’m completely with you on the Twilight saga, by the way, although I am less open about it :) You’ve sold me on your reviews, though. Do post those links if you can.

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        • What happened to work?

          I ‘did’ forums years ago, still visit a few but very occasionally. Twitter and I never really got together. The dog tweeted/barked more than I did. I’m all for brevity but 140 characters or whatever it is? It’s just a relentless publicity feed or I’m going to Starbucks announcement rather like FB.

          While I admire authors who take the reins, they should check their bit, harness, girth etc before they set off. And if they get an uncomfortable ride, because they didn’t, that may be why they fell off. Terribly clicheéd metaphor there :D

          I see nothing wrong with saying I found Twilight a decent read – and importantly, for what it is – Meyer took a long time to say not much, as does Henry James, Joseph Conrad (sometimes), and loads of others. But doing it in an easily readable way doesn’t make it a bad book. A terrible, totally incredible, and 100% flawed finale like Breaking Dawn is not clever. When you think of the word risible that is not a good book.

          I’ll let you know if, when I do. Otherwise, search for book reviews on my blog. At least try the Ellen Schreiber, Pullman, Lawton post. And check the first set of comments too. Link is above in Schreiber’s name. Not sure where my Rowling review is. Key in Rowling?

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          • No link there? But I will look it up. (And no worries on the cliched metaphor. It’s the mixed metaphors that’ll put you in the mouth of the lion’s den ;))

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          • Aha. Thanks. I like your reviewing style. And I like the fact that you score on readability, even if the story is unoriginal or implausible. If I find I disappear into the world of a book, that’s about enough for me.

            I did love all the Potters though. I think Rowling had a very hard job pleasing die-hard followers who waited for new instalments and would have hated re-hashed back story, as well as those who came to it in the middle after they became so hyped. I was one of the former, so I can’t really imagine being one of the latter.

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          • I walked into the middle of The Lord of The Rings. I walked into the middle of Potter. World of difference. But as you say, we all read and review differently. Rowling left me cold. Tolkien, transported me. That is the difference for me, but I accept Rowling works for others. Just not me, Meyer did more for me. But, isn’t that the interest about books? We like the same, we like different.

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          • So, let’s agree to read some good books? :)

            Or even some poor ones. Tell me your favourite genre, and I’ll tell you some goodies. Hopefully it’s not contemporary romance or I went to college in America… I could write a whole boring post about that

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          • I’ll read anything decent. The majority of it is probably classified as literary fiction even though as a genre it means nothing. I’ll also read historical fiction, crime and romance. I’ll usually read a lot of the top bestsellers too because I just love a good story. At the moment I have a major stack (on my shelf of shame) and there’s another 10 queued on my Kindle but I’m always on the lookout!

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          • Edit duly made ;)

            I’ve overdosed on American college romances, trying to avoid those for a while. I read decent and crap. The advantage about crap is that it gives you a benchmark, crap, mediocre, and decent. Sometimes, good comes along. Since people started giving us books I’ve shed a lot of prejudice, otherwise I would never have read Meyer, or SAS novels. I like to take time though (not sure when) to read what I really enjoy. Tends to be older authors usually. It’s great to find an undiscovered gem though :)

            Liked by 1 person

  16. Your post “I’m reviewing” provided considerable insight into what a reviewer encounters and I think writers would be wise to take heed. I’m especially sympathetic to any reviewer who finds him/herself reading work with spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies in character description, faulty facts, etc. Then if the plot is a bore – well …
    Some mistakes are inevitable – after all new writers have a lot to learn. But to not even take the time to self-edit and polish a piece of work as best as one can before asking for a review is foolhardy to say the least. That indicates to me that the writer’s chances of becoming successful at this craft are very slim indeed!

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    • Sharon, thank you so much for your visit, read and comment. I review wearing a lot of hats, a fairly generous one to indies, a critical one to established authors, a fair one to everyone. Professionally, I have to look at style too.

      I think it’s a shame that a lot of authors aren’t willing to learn there is more to publishing than writing.

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  17. Just one more thing – I found this excellent post of yours from Susan Toy’s blog. She has been wonderful at passing along worthwhile information from other writers, reviewers and editors. Every little bit of valuable advice that a writer can make note of is extremely helpful in honing one’s craft. Thanks for this post.

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    • I figured you’d come from Susan’s. She is a generous blogger in terms of sharing and passing on info, plus a nice person as well! Susan is a great example of making the professional personal and vice versa in a skilled way.

      Thanks again Sharon.

      Like

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