I would say that reading lengthy works as a pastime is certainly diminishing, but I don’t think it will be ever be dead. Bookworms will always exist—and beget little bookworms of their own.
Anne Chacona 31 July 2012
How did you get started?
I did a few reviews for my college newspaper many years ago, but did not start reviewing in earnest until I started participating in book blog tours in early 2012. Through my association with many indie authors, I became aware of one common complaint they had—the lack of reliable, thorough reviewers for self-published and small-press published books. I sought to fill that void with my review blog, Indie Author Book Reviews. I am also a blog tour host and book reviewer for Novel Publicity.
How do you review a book? Is it a read first, and then make notes, or do you make notes as you go along?
I read first, and then do a “brain dump” first draft of a review about a day after I’m done. I like to give my impression of the book time to settle down before I start writing the review. I do make some notations of any particularly outstanding (for both good and bad reasons) features of the story but, for the most part, I like to rely on my memory. I find that when I rely on my memory, I tend to hit all the most salient points, whereas if I make detailed notes, I may focus on things so small that they border on the irrelevant.
What are you looking for?
A lot of different things: the ease with which the plot drives the story forward, as well as the general plot craftsmanship displayed by the author; spelling, punctuation, grammar, formatting, and editing; how the author’s writing style contributed to the overall story (both plot and characters), as well as the way in which it affected my reading experience; how easy or interesting the book was to read. I try to keep as holistic a view as possible, so as to give those reading the reviews an accurate description of what the reading experience with a particular work will be. The 10-point system I use to rate books on IABR is based off the qualities I listed.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
I won’t lie—I’m a stickler for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I don’t gripe or get stuck on them if the issues in these departments are few and far between—even the most professional of books will fall prey to errors of this sort. However, if a book is consistently deficient in these areas, it affects my reading experience considerably. Since one my of my rating criteria is readability (i.e., my overall enjoyment of the book), and another deals directly with writing quality and clarity, issues in spelling, grammar, and punctuation will reduce my rating, and I will mention it in the review. However, if that’s the only issue, I will also make sure to mention the otherwise great characters and plot.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
3-4 days, depending on what else I have going on at the moment.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
I thought about what is most important to me in a book, and then what I considered essential in all books. I came up with five overall categories (Plot, Character Development, Writing Quality and Clarity, Writing Style, and Readability), and then asked myself questions in each that I would answer once I was done with a book and was ready to rank a work. I give books a rating from 0-2 in each of these categories (0 = inferior, 1 = standard, 2 = exceptional, with the possibility of half-point increments), and then add the points up to a total out of 10. You can see more about my rating system here: http://indieauthorbookreviews.wordpress.com/iabrs-10-point-rating-scale/
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed? B
e nice. Be respectful. Read the reviewing policies (here are mine: http://indieauthorbookreviews.wordpress.com/reviewing-policies/). And remember that there’s a real person on the other side of the review request—and that you’re asking this person to do you a favor. The relationship between a reviewer and an author can be incredibly beneficial, but only if it is imbued with mutual respect.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
I do, on occasion, and it’s the best part of my job as a reviewer. I enjoy knowing that my reviews—even those which are not “OMG THIS BOOK IS AWESOME”—are still appreciated by authors.
My advice to authors on getting a “bad” review (hasten to add that might mean a perfectly honest, well written, fair review – just bad from the author’s point of view) is to take what you can from it and move on. Under no circumstances to “argue” with the reviewer – would you agree with that?
I would. At the end of the day, a reviewer is expressing their opinion—and you’re not going to get anyone to change their opinion by arguing with them. Asking for a reviewer to “reconsider” what they’ve said is also, in my estimation, the same as arguing with the reviewer—and therefore a no-no. An argument with a reviewer can quickly escalate and end up with bad blood and word of mouth that is much worse than their review could ever have been. Again I say: Remember that there’s a person on the other side of the review.
We talk a lot about writing here on the blog, and possibly not enough about reading, which is after all why we’re all here. Why do you think people love reading. We’re seeing lots of statistics that say reading as a past-time is dying – do you think that’s the case?
I think people love reading because it allows a brief escape from what can be daily doldrums. Personally, I read because I enjoy encountering authors whose skill with words make me happy. I love a well-crafted story, regardless of genre, and I love masterful usage of vocabulary. I think reading as a pastime isn’t dying, but I do think it’s changing in scope and breadth. I would say that reading lengthy works as a pastime is certainly diminishing, but I don’t think it will be ever be dead. Bookworms will always exist—and beget little bookworms of their own.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
(1) Changing narrative perspective in the middle of a chapter. Nothing turns me off faster than having to stop and figure out who’s doing the narrating—it always means that I have to trace back my steps to where I think the focus shifted.
(2) Not getting a professional edit of their book. A professional editor—well, a good professional editor—will not only catch typos and issues in grammar and punctuation, but will also catch plot holes, discuss the linearity of your work, and give you pointers on readability.
(3) Not spending the time (or money, as they case may be) to create a truly eye-catching cover. A cover can make or break a book—don’t discount it. It’s the first thing people see; it’s your book’s first impression. Make it a good one.
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?
No, I do not. I typically try my best to make it through at least the first half of a book—there have been times when I had to drearily slog through the first half of a book only to find that once everything had been set up the plot fell into place wonderfully and then sped through to the end. However, I also think that I’m in the minority in that regard. You absolutely need to grab your reader in the first chapter; it’s what most readers will check out to make a purchasing decision.
There has been a lot of talk recently about Agency pricing and Apple and the Big 6, what are your thoughts on that?
I think there’s still a lot that needs to shake out when it comes to that, and I definitely don’t think we’ve heard the last of it despite the settlements. However, my thoughts on e-book pricing is this: Authors (particularly self-pubbed ones) should be free to determine what the price of their book is. No one should dictate it for them. Readers shouldn’t be forced to pay more for a book based simply on popularity (that smacks of price gouging based on sensibilities—definitely not the kind of popularity contest I’d want to be competing in). E-books should never be as expensive (or more expensive) than paperbacks or hardcovers. If Amazon has an apparent monopoly on e-books and their pricing, it’s because, on many levels, they provide authors with autonomy and the ability to call the shots. If an e-book selling at $9.99 is selling below cost, traditional publishers need to reconsider the cost at which books are produced.
Is there anything you will not review?
Yes: Erotica, gore, and poetry. Even in the genres I do review, I will not always accept every book.
What do you think of the oft quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
I think that not-so-great books have existed since humans decided that putting pen to paper was a good idea. I’ve read plenty of awful books that bore the imprint of a big New York publisher—there are some slush-pile members that have a way of worming their way out into the world one way or another. Sure, now that e-publishing and self-publishing has taken off, a lot more of the bad stuff makes its way online—but a lot of the good stuff that big publishers would turn their nose at also has a chance to see the light of day. This is why I think reviewers are important—we wade through the slush and find the hidden gems.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to Indie or self-published titles?
I think they’re changing slowly. There’s still a “oh, it’s just a self-published book” stigma out there, but with more and more indies and self-pubbed authors making their way up the New York Times bestseller list, that perception is eroding away. It’s the job of all indie and self-published authors however, to continue helping that erosion, and we do it by making sure our works are of equal or superior quality than traditionally-published books: Professional edits, tight plotlines, catchy covers. If we choose to not even attempt the traditional route, then we need to be our own gatekeepers and up the ante with exceptional stories produced exceptionally.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can “filter” good from bad, asides from reviews?
Nope. Reviews—thorough, thoughtful reviews—are what separate the wheat from the chaff. More than ever, relying on the opinions and perceptions of others can be an exceptionally useful tool. Granted, previews and first chapters also help, but reviews of entire works are still our most reliable source for sifting through the world’s library.