The reader is the target audience – if there’s something they don’t get, then the author has failed to get the message across to them. They are the author’s words, the author’s writing. Take the feedback, if it’s well intended, and do so graciously. – Paul Montgomery 27 Oct 2012
How did you get started?
When I finished my own first book I started looking online at how best to proceed. I found quite quickly that reviews are key, and started trying to ask others to review my work. And realized quickly that there are far more writers needing a review than there are reviewers. Whilst I was disappointed, I realized that I was looking for something from others which I could be doing myself to help the writing community. I’d never written a review before, despite being an avid reader. So I decided to start reviewing to help out.
How do you review a book? Is it a read first, and then make notes, or do you make notes as you go along?
A little of both. I tend to make notes as I go for things which I may later forget. In all honesty, sometimes a book is a real struggle to go through, so I need something to remind me. Afterwards, I try to do the review as quickly as possible, whilst the book is fresh in my mind.
What are you looking for?
In terms of writing the review, I try to pick out good and bad in the book so that the reader of the review has a good idea of what there is. If it was all good, it’s not necessarily wholly believable – too good to be true. All bad, and it’s an attack.
Personally, what I most look for in a book is to be immersed in it. If I can lose myself in a book, it’ll always win me over.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
It depends on how less than perfect it is. Anything like this, I would always drop a courtesy e-mail to the author beforehand, mentioning my concerns and offering to provide a more detailed explanation if requested. Regardless, it will be mentioned in the review with the positive (plot, characters) having the stronger emphasis over the negative (grammar).
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
Depends on the quality of the writing. And the subject, for that matter. I recently read a relatively short piece – beautifully but densely written that was a slog to get through. Another piece was very brief, but so painfully written I found myself reaching for any kind of distraction. And yet another was much longer, but so well written that I flew through it. Not much of an answer, I’m afraid.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
I don’t really use my own rating system on my blog. I tend to just give an overall opinion. However, I do use the star ratings on Amazon, etc. Most will score between 2 and 4 stars. 5 would have to be absolutely perfect, and 1 would have to be irredeemable.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Be polite. Be patient. Be understanding.
Not everyone is going to like your book. Not everyone is going to read it. Accept that there may be some things you can improve on, and accept constructive criticism as a good thing. There’s too many authors having spectacular meltdowns online. Please don’t add to their number.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
A couple have, even when there’s been negative things in the review.
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?
Absolutely. If you went into a restaurant, ordered a meal and it came out overcooked, burnt and inedible, is that the fault of the diner or the kitchen?
The reader is the target audience – if there’s something they don’t get, then the author has failed to get the message across to them. They are the author’s words, the author’s writing. Take the feedback, if it’s well intended, and do so graciously.
If the “review” is an unwarranted attack, the reviewer isn’t worth your time.
There’s a number of examples of authors having meltdowns online, and not a single one of them ends positively. It’s understanding how attached an author is to their work, having spent their time and effort in crafting their little masterpiece, but really an argument won’t help.
I had an example of a fairly scathing comment I made about something an author had included in their book. The author took the time to (very graciously) write, explain, and accept full responsibility for what was there and change it. It gained him a very good reputation for how he dealt with it.
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?
Yes and no. Reading is one of the key medium of storytelling. As new ways of telling stories evolve (computer games, graphic novels, interactive animations, etc), the older media may find themselves pushed to one side a bit and having to share the market, but not wholly ignored. And all media have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Books can tell you what a character is thinking. It allows you to define what the characters look like. It is not limited by special effects budgets. I have lost myself in books time and again, immersed myself in new worlds. I have read the same books time and again, enjoying them with every read. I have reveled in finding a new book, a new series to devour.
As a reviewer, I have found some absolute diamonds in the self-published field.
This is why I love reading.
If reading is slipping, then our generation is failing the next. Children need to enjoy the value of a book, and they take this from their influences.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
At the moment, my biggest issues are spelling errors of the “their/there” variety (spellcheck is no substitute for a good proofreader); characters which lack credibility; telling more than showing; huge information dumps; and clichés, clichés, clichés.
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. Some books are slow burners. Some stories (in any form) require investment and time to get to grips with the characters. And besides, how can I give a full review if I haven’t read the book in its entirety?
There has been a lot of talk recently about Agency pricing and Apple and the Big 6, what are your thoughts on that?
The market is a new one, the field is constantly changing. I expect a lot of turmoil for the moment, before things settle. At the moment, wait and see.
Is there anything you will not review?
I like to read, and different genres have grabbed me in different ways. That said, if I have the choice to review something in horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action-adventure, I’m going to choose that over Fifty Shades of Grey.
What do you think of the oft quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
The good thing about e-publishing is that anyone can self-publish. The bad thing about e-publishing is that anyone can self-publish. There’s a lot of work out there which is, brutally, not very good. However, there’s a lot of traditionally published books that are not very good. There’s a lot of films, games, TV shows, theatre shows, comics, etc that are not very good.
Online is just the latest way to publish. It’s the newest, therefore it has the most attention, and it has a high volume. Nothing has a 100% success rate.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to Indie or self-published titles?
Since the opportunity came to e-publish? Sure. At first, it was a novelty. Then the market got flooded. Quality control is out of the window. There’s backlash after backlash. Authors, readers, traditional publishers, reviewers, etc, all have their own opinions.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can “filter” good from bad, asides from reviews?
Ultimately, there’s only two ways to determine the worth of an item. Really. You go from the reviews, or you try it yourself. That’s all it boils down to.
If you can find a reviewer who likes what you like, thinks like you think, then their recommendations should stand you in good stead.
“Good” is a subjective term. Something may not be perfectly written, but still charming. Something may be perfectly written, but sterile and detached. I may enjoy it, you may not. Look at JK Rowling – repeatedly turned down by publishers, and the success she had. There’s no infallible method of filtering good from bad.
End of Interview
Paul’s reviews can be found at True JDK writes.