If a writer wants to keep me interested, increase the excitement and events every few chapters. Write like the novel is a roller-coaster, creating an up-down structure to the novel.
Sharlene Almond – 17 September 2013
How did you get started?
I decided to start reviewing because I wanted to get traffic to my website where I sell my novels. I had been contacting quite a few reviewers to review my novels, and of course each time I had to go onto their site to see their guidelines. I thought this would be a perfect way to encourage people to check out my blog and novels.
I’ve also always enjoyed reading, and reviewing had given me the opportunity to do the hobby that I enjoy, while enabling me to bring traffic to my website. It’s also a great way to build a good repertoire among other authors, and can swap novels to review each other’s work.
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 make notes as I go along. That enables me to write a more detailed review. Otherwise bits and pieces can be forgotten once the novel is finished
What are you looking for?
I enjoy a novel that is fast paced, something that keeps me reading until the end. Not wanting to put the book down. I prefer novels that have shorter chapters, that way it feels that the novel is moving faster. Descriptions are good, but getting too much into the mundane life of the characters can drag, tempting me to want to skip past those bits. If a writer wants to keep me interested, increase the excitement and events every few chapters. Write like the novel is a roller-coaster, creating an up-down structure to the novel.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
Grammar can be worked on, a great plot and characters can not. If a person has perfect grammar but the plot is weak, and I cannot connect with the characters, then I will struggle to finish it. Although too many grammar mistakes would cause me to wonder if a little more time on the editing would have been beneficial. Did they spend enough time on the novel? Or just rush through it?
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
To be perfectly honest, it depends on how good the book is. If I really enjoy the book, I’m not going to want to put it down; in that case maybe about a week, give or take. If I struggle to connect with what is happening, it will take longer.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
I didn’t want the rating system to be too complicated. A basic rating system that the author and reader can quickly see what I thought of it.
1- Poor plot, and lack of realistic characters.
2- Grammar could do with some work, average plot, slightly weak characters.
3- Overall it was quite good, sometimes slow at times, could be improved by having a faster pace in places. Characters are shown their strengths and weaknesses. The reader can connect quite well with the characters, but the connection could be improved on.
4- Strong and detailed plot. Obvious research has been done to make the novel as realistic as possible. The reader can emphasize with the characters. Feel the pain etc that is portrayed. The reader feels as if they are right there. Imagery clearly set out.
5- Cannot put it down. Once you start reading, you don’t want to stop. You can’t wait to see what happens. A page-turner. Excitement builds the more you get into the story. The ending completely unexpected, even having to re-read parts so you don’t miss anything.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Contact, contact, contact. You don’t know when someone is going to say yes. But I prefer I good query letter that includes a brief synopsis. The more I have to go looking for information for a book, the less likely I want to read it.
I will definitely say yes to an author that is willing to review mine.
And don’t take things too personally.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
Most authors tend to be quite grateful to get feedback on their work, especially if it is positive feedback.
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. In the end the author asked you to review their work, so they have to accept whatever is said. Keeping in mind that not everyone is going to like their book. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it is awful, just that everyone has their own opinion.
Many well-known books, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey; have had such a mixed bag. Many say the writing is awful. But it’s so popular, and now being turned into a movie.
Personally, feedback is beneficial. As an author may be able to use that review to improve their other works.
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?
A lot of people certainly enjoy watching television, or playing video games, but I don’t think reading is dying out. I think the traditional form of reading may be (paperback). E-books seem to be quite popular.
I think for those that work in an industry that have to stare at writing all day may find it difficult, but it can be relaxing. And novels are always more detailed than the movies brought out that are supposed to replicate them.
Some readers could also know their preference better, and not just read anything. There are so many choices out there.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Going into too much detail. Yes, detail is important, but too often the case that there is far too much detail, making the plot drag out, and taking too long to getting to what the novel is about. It is good to learn about the characters, but if the story is largely based on building on their life, excitement needs to build with it. Otherwise it is difficult to read.
Create a picture, but create like you are quickly looking out a window, and you have to quickly describe what you see; instead of looking out a window for five minutes and describing every minute detail.
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 will always give a book a chance. Some books I’ve read have taken awhile to pick up pace, creating a back-story, but end up being quite good. While others have started off good, and that’s the most exciting part of the novel, the rest just tethers out. So I will never pass judgment until I’ve read the entire book.
Is there anything you will not review?
I do not like to review books with too much profanity, detailed torture scenes, detailed rape scenes, or scenes involving violence toward children or animals. Those things stay in my mind too long. If I get a book that contains those, I will not review or read it.
What do you think of the oft quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
If that means, that there are so many authors and books online, then yes I would agree. With all those e-books out there, there is an innumerable amount, that can be overwhelming, especially for unknown authors. How do they get their name out there with so many others out there?
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to Indie or self-published titles?
I think there is still judgment. Most people assume that if you are self-published then obviously your book isn’t very good. Obviously this is not the case, as there are books out there that have been published by traditional means, and I personally don’t find them very good.
Self-published authors have just taken another route. Instead of just wanting and hoping a publisher will want to publish their work, they are ready to invest in themselves, be proactive. That should actually be considered strength. A self-published author has to do all the hard yards, and have faith in themselves.
They have to put the money in, do marketing, editing etc. Sometimes a person has to self-publish because their work is different, making it doubtful to publishers that it might sell. However, that is not necessarily the case. It is just a risk, and in many cases a risk that publishers are not willing to take, they want to stay with the tried and true.
But never underestimate self-published work.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can “filter” good from bad, aside from reviews?
With so many books out there, I think it is doubtful anyone can filter. After all, everyone is different. So what one may consider to be a good book, another may not. So who decides whose opinion is right?
Unfortunately it’s all about trying a book out, and keeping fingers crossed that the reader likes the book.
End of Interview:
You can read Sharlene’s reviews at her website.