As visitors to the blog know, I am a big believer in the power of a review to help your book sales. More important, I believe it is through the work of reviewers that Indie books will shrug off the stigma that has long accompanied them. I have the pleasure today to introduce you to Lynn O’Dell, author and publisher of Red Adept Reviews. Lynn has graciously accepted my invitation to give us an insight into how she started, how she reviews, and her thoughts on publishing.
Lynn, firstly, as an Indie author, I want to say thanks for all the great work you do on promoting quality Indie books. Can you tell us how did you get started? Did you just wake up one morning and decide I’ll start a review blog?
I chuckled at the last question, which I have to answer “no.”
It all started on the Amazon Kindle Forums. I was an active member over there and read a post about a bunch of $.99 books. Being a very prolific reader, that sounded like a bargain to me, so I bought several of them. I had no idea what an “Indie” author was at that time. When I tried to read the first one, I was sorely disappointed. There were so many grammatical, spelling and formatting errors that it was quite impossible to read. I was angry; even if I had only spent a dollar, it was my money. So, I posted a short review, then posted about it on the forum asking why a publisher would put such ‘garbage’ up for sale. Forum members then instructed me on the business of “Independent Publishing.”
I read more of those $.99 books and found some decent ones; then, I found a very good one by Konrath. I was so impressed that I posted about it on the forum after I wrote a review. Several people posted that they agreed it was good or that they were going to go out and buy it.
After a few months, whenever I created a thread to tell about a “gem” I had found among the Indies, people would pop on and say things like, “Well, if Red says it’s good, I’m going to go buy it.” Then, I found an excellent book, “Crack Up,” by Eric Christopherson. I wrote a 5 Star review and raved about it on the Amazon forum, and, if I remember correctly, on Kindleboards, too. The book shot to #1 on the Amazon Movers and Shakers List overnight! I was stunned!
After that, Bufo Calvin, who would later publish the very popular “I Love My Kindle” blog, posted that I should start a book review blog. So, I did. All of those wonderful readers on the Amazon Forum supported my blog from the very beginning. The terrific authors I have met on Kindleboards and elsewhere have made certain that I never run out of reading material.
How do you review a book? Is it a read first and then make notes or do you make notes as you go along? What are you looking for? If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
It varies, depending on the book. Sometimes, if I am worried about forgetting a specific point, I might make a note or, more likely, highlight a passage, as a reminder. As a general rule, I try to write a review immediately after finishing a book so that everything is fresh in my memory.
What am I looking for? Entertainment. Escape. Pretty much what everyone who reads fiction is looking for. When I am reading a book, I actually try to forget that I will be writing a review afterward. It would spoil the reading experience if I were to try to nitpick a book while reading it.
As far as parts of a book being good, but having less than perfect grammar, my rating system assists in giving the book a fair rating.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
That varies considerably. I just finished reading the latest Stephen King book. I flew through that one. I couldn’t put it down. I can’t calculate the hours simply because I did have to put it down now and then to tend to real life stuff. I will say that I read it within a 24 hour period.
However, the book I am reading now, which shall remain nameless, is far shorter, yet is taking me longer. It has so many problems with different aspects that it is tiring to read for long periods of time. But, I’m sticking with it in hopes that it gets better.
Your reviews are influential in moving the needle on a book, how did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system? What would you think of other reviewers adopting your rating system?
My rating system was invented accidentally. An author on a forum questioned my review of their book. The author compared the review on their book to my review of another book. Book A received 4 Stars with the comment that it was well edited, while Book B received 4 Stars but with a comment that it had a few editing errors. Well, at the same time, another author was basically “stalking” me on the forums because of his 1 Star review.
So, to explain, I decided to break down the reviews into categories to show the authors exactly how the stars were divined. I came up with the categories, then thought about how each book would have scored in each category. At that time, I was thinking that if the ratings came out differently I would change them. I did want to be fair.
The overall ratings came out exactly the same, though. Book A had less points on plot and character development. While Book B scored higher there, but lower on editing. Book C was simply bad in every category.
When I posted that information on the forum, several readers chimed in and said they liked it. So, I started using it in all of my reviews.
I give a score for the Plot/Storyline. Now many will say it’s the same thing. They are intertwined, but I consider the “plot” as the general idea and actual events; I consider the “storyline” to be how the plot unfolds, the “flow,” if you will. I give a score to Character Development which shows how well the characters fit into the story and if their personalities were believable in the context. I give a score to Writing Style which grades everything from sentence structure to dialogue to descriptions.
Last, I sometimes give a score for Editing. I only use this section if there were editing issues, grammatical, spelling, etc. (not content). I don’t want to add an extra 5 star grade to a well-edited book simply because, as consumers, we should all expect a book to be well edited. I’m certainly not going to applaud Stephen King for having his book edited, so why would I do so for an Indie?
I don’t mind when other reviewers “copy” my system. I think it’s a good thing. My system helps authors to understand why they received the rating they did. It helps readers to choose books based on what they think is important for their own entertainment needs. If all reviewers used a similar system, authors wouldn’t be on forums saying, “Gee, they wrote some nice things, so why’d they give my book 2 stars?” As a reader, I would be able to skim reviews to see exactly why someone did or did not like a book. Reviewing isn’t about competition. It’s about informing readers and authors of your opinions.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Read. So many authors expect a reviewer to put in their time reading their book, yet they refuse to read the instructions the reviewer gives them for submitting the book.
Read. Read the reviewer’s other reviews. Is that reviewer reading your genre? Does your book seem like a good fit?
Be professional. Pretend you are submitting a resume or application for a job. I can’t count the number of times I have received a query (which I have told authors not to send) that has misspelled words. More than once, an author has actually misspelled the name of their own book. Yet, I bet they would be pretty irritated if I misspelled their book’s title on my blog.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
The mistake I see most often are viewpoint problems. This is one of my biggest pet peeves.
The second most common mistake is the incorrect usage of homophones. Spell checkers will not catch “your” instead of “you’re.” Don’t rely on them.
We’re told that the first page, paragraph, chapter, is absolutely key in making or breaking a book. Agents typically request only the first five pages of a novel, what do you think about that; if a book hasn’t grabbed you by the first five pages, do you put it down?
I actually try to give a book two chapters to capture me. That’s minimum; usually, it’s more like 20% of the book.
However, I do realize that not everyone has the same tastes. So, if a book appears to be well written and well edited, but just does not grab me personally, it can appear on one of my “Honorable Mentions” posts.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the Page 99 concept, what are your thoughts on that idea?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t care for it. Tell me what a book is about. Period. I don’t even download samples or read excerpts. For me, it’s all about the description.
However, if a description has even one misspelled word in it, I will not buy the book. I figure if an author cannot write a short paragraph or two and care enough to make it perfect grammatically, then how could they possibly have a well written, well edited book?
Is there anything you will not review?
Yes. I will not review pure romance, erotica or young children’s books. I also do not review non-fiction, unless it is in a “story” format, i.e. I can pretend it’s fiction.
What do you think of the oft quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
Well, that’s quite possibly true. Yes, I give out some one and two star reviews, but the reviews you never see are the ones I don’t write because the book was so bad that I couldn’t read to the halfway point, which is my minimum for writing a review.
I will say that I think I see less of the “slush pile” than many reviewers simply because I am known for being a “critical reviewer.” I think some authors think twice before sending their book to me.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to Indie or self-published titles?
Yes, I do. I think Indies are getting more respect. Many are seeing publishing contracts and screenplay contracts resulting from their efforts.
I hope that I am helping to remove the stigma of “Indies” by giving honest reviews where I treat all books, Indie and Commercial, equally.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can “filter” good from bad, aside from reviews?
Aside from editing, “good” and “bad” are too subjective. There are people out there who would disagree completely with both my 5 and 1 star reviews.
Also, do we really want it “filtered”? I certainly wouldn’t want to have the final say on what books get published. I also wouldn’t want anyone else to have that final say, including the Big 5 Publishers. Why do they get to be the ones to choose what I read?
They don’t, anymore. Now, we have Indies running amok! This is a terrific and terrible thing. It’s terrific because I have found some wonderful books. It’s terrible because any person with a fifth grade reading level can publish a “book.”
However, we still don’t need anyone telling us what to read or “filtering.” Read reviews. Take them with a grain of salt. They are almost always one person’s opinion. If you find a reviewer who shares your taste, then follow them. In the end, though, make up your own mind. Your opinion is more important than anyone’s when it comes to knowing what you like.
End of Interview