I will review what I want to review. While I read ebooks, I do prefer printed
books. I read both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, I read most genres with the
exception of romance novels. If I read a book, I am blunt in my review as to
how that book resonates with me. If it is good I will say so, and if it is crap I will
say that, and it doesn’t matter how famous an author may be.
Don Grant, April 8, 2014
How did you get started?
Having been an avid reader all my life, it wasn’t until Amazon came along that I decided to review books. Seeing reviews of my favorite authors’ books encouraged me to throw in my two cents.
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 usually read a book then think about how it resonated with me. The reason my blog is titled Gut Reaction reviews is because the focus is my gut, overall reaction to the story, whether or not I liked it, and why. I’m pretty good at recalling specifics so I don’t need to take notes.
What are you looking for?
Always a good story. Did the author tell the story well and in a way that is unique? Did it surprise me? Did it grip me and keep me enthused until the end.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
Bad grammar can disrupt a reader from enjoying any book. Sadly, there are many authors who haven’t learned the art of writing or haven’t made it a priority to get good editorial input and proofreading. I think there’s sometimes a blurring of the lines for the types of editorial input – editing for story structure and characterization, editing for grammar, and proofreading are three different stages of editorial input that a book needs.
It is said that one needs to write 1,000,000 words to be a good writer. Of course, that isn’t a random production of words, but learning craft, getting feedback and all of those good things. An example of poor writing would be Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps one of the most badly written books I’ve read, yet it was very successful. For me bad writing and bad grammar will guarantee no more than a three star review, if the story holds up.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
I am a fast reader and can usually finish a novel in a day if it holds my interest, if not I slog through in about three days.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
My system is a simple one to five star (wanted to use cigars but realize some people would take offense). One star being my time has been wasted, and five meaning you knocked my socks off. Obviously, a five star review is a rare occurrence.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Take the time to find a reviewer that likes or will accept the genre your book is in. My review policy says I do not review romance novels, yet I get requests to do so. That tells me the author is just using scattershot.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
Yes, I have and it is a nice gesture on their part.
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?
Yes I would. An appropriate response would be like the one I got from John Maxim when I gave his book, The Aisha Prophecy, a one star review. He commented, “Sorry you didn’t get more out of it”. That was a class response to a very negative 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 pastime is dying – do you think that’s the case?
My love for reading started when I was in grade school living in North Africa where we did not have television. I have been an avid reader ever since. Like most readers I read to escape, to learn, and to expose myself to new ideas. The fun part is getting inside a character’s head and reading about what makes them tick.
Reading and readers will never die out. The medium by which we read may change but the need for stimulating one’s imagination will never go away. As long as there are introverts there will be readers.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Overwriting. A writer should be able to describe an event, person, or action with just enough words to create a picture in the reader’s mind. Writer’s need to trust the reader’s imagination and trust the reader’s ability to follow the story without being beat over the head with information. Here is an example of overwriting, “the mid-day stubble had barely formed on his clean-shaven face.” If his face was clean shaven there would not be any stubble.
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?
This advice has been around forever, yet the idea of “grabbing” really only applies to certain genres. A good mystery should grab the reader early, but a literary book may not. It is interesting that most classics do not “hook” the reader right away but take time to build the story. I think this is a product of our current society that has a shorter attention span, rather than a determination of good writing. I do think there needs to be something to draw the reader in, whether it’s a question raised or a compelling voice. I do think this is usually evident in the first few pages. If writing is clunky, repetitive, tedious – it’s also clear in the first few pages.
Is there anything you will not review?
As I have said, romance, just not my cup of tea.
What do you think of the oft-quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
That comment means that readers have to sort through a lot of bad writing and poorly constructed fiction to find the gems. I think it’s partially true, but when an agent or publisher addresses the slush pile, they have less to go on. Readers can also make choices based on covers and a visual overview of what a writer has published. They also have the opinions of other readers, and even “bad” reviews can help readers choose. For example, a reviewer says they hated an ending that left unanswered questions – another reader might enjoy that type of story and be drawn to the book that others didn’t like.
There have always been good and bad books, and a book “traditionally” published did not mean it was good (and it still doesn’t). Are there more authors putting out books? Sure. The internet has allowed a plethora of books to be available that may not have ever seen the light of day before. But a good book will always find its way to the top of the heap.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to indie or self-published titles?
Hopefully, one day we will refer to books as books, not self-published or traditionally published. However, just as in the movie industry, for many readers, indie has become a word synonymous with new, different, creative. This is changing attitudes.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can ‘filter’ good from bad, aside from reviews?
Readers are the real factor in filtering good from bad. Reviews can act as a guide but a bad review can be just as good of a reason to read a book as a good one. The reader who spends or chooses not to spend money on a book will be the ultimate filter. Authors who are not getting readership will fade away. Anyone can be an author of a book, but only the good ones will become writers.
End of Interview:
Check out Don’s reviews at Gut Reaction Reviews.