I can’t say why others love reading. I love reading because it expands my sphere of understanding, both intellectually and emotionally. I only assume that readers in general share some version of that sense.
Victor A. Davis – 8 September 2015
How did you get started?
By reading a book! In this case, it was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. He talks a lot about reciprocity and the Golden Rule. So, as cheesy as it sounds, this inspired me to take my blog in a new direction. If I wanted to succeed as a contemporary indie author, then I’d better shape up and start doing things to help other contemporary indie authors succeed. Already, I’ve found it far more fruitful to engage with reading groups, reviewers, and fellow writers than to pay for advertising.
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. I use my Kindle’s notes & highlights feature. For the technically savvy, there is a way to download these to my computer so I can copy/paste quotes, notes, and reference page numbers.
What are you looking for?
The good and the bad. If there is a passage that is particularly poignant, I want to highlight it for later. If there is wording that is unclear, structurally bad, or (god forbid) ungrammatical or (inexcusably) misspelled, I want to bring that to the author’s attention.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
I’ll put it down and stop reading it. A few grammatical and spelling mistakes, while inexcusable in a final draft, show our fallibility as humans. If I find them, I’ll bring them to the author’s attention. If it looks as if the book has not been edited at all, or self-edited by a supposed “writer” with little grasp on his/her language, I will not tolerate that. I think it’s a contradictory premise, that a “good book” can be “poorly written.” Writing is not merely a love affair with your imagination, it is also a love affair with your language.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
Two, maybe three weeks. I read about an hour or two per day, and I’m a slow reader. I definitely prefer short books over long books.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
I use the standard five star system.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Put yourself out there as a reviewer. DO NOT OFFER PAID OR RECIPROCAL REVIEWS. If you review indie books yourself, then those you solicit reviews from will see that you are genuine about being a part of the community. Pay it forward. For every one that reviews your work, review three other works by somebody else.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
When the review was personally requested and my feedback is positive, yes. I’ve never had an author track me down and thank me for an unsolicited review though.
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. Some people will like your work, some won’t. Don’t let that dishearten you. Focus on those who believe.
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?
I can’t say why others love reading. I love reading because it expands my sphere of understanding, both intellectually and emotionally. I only assume that readers in general share some version of that sense. I do think books are being supplanted by other forms of entertainment, yes. A hundred years ago, there were no movies, television shows, or video games. Even radio was in its infancy. Reading, so far as it’s used to acquire knowledge and to entertain, is being diluted by other media, some good, others not so good. As long as there exists a desire to acquire knowledge, and to be entertained, storytelling itself will never disappear, and reading will always be a slice of that pie.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Sloppy editing, passive voice, inconsistent pacing, underdevelopment, and an over-reliance on spell check. Barring that, there is in this and other industries the “waiting for my big break” mentality which is very dangerous. It deludes authors into thinking that luck is the biggest element of success. Hard work is the biggest element, both in improving your writing (like style guides, creative writing classes, and the biggest, READING), and in becoming known (marketing, pounding the pavement, learning the tech landscape). It also deludes them into thinking that if they are not successful, then their writing isn’t worth anything, but that they’ll be vindicated “one of these days” by being “big.” Stop thinking that! Your writing has value to you and to anyone who reads it and likes it, no matter how small that pool is (as low as one). To quote a great line from a movie: “Make a list of everything you want now, and spend the next twenty-five years of your life getting it, slowly, piece by piece.” Do not rely on external forces beyond your control to bless you with a “big break.” According to Jeff Foxworthy: “You might be a redneck if your retirement plan is winning the lottery.” It’s a great analogy. Treat fame-building like wealth-building. You may not become a millionaire, but the slow, steady route will get you there faster than the “get rich quick” schemes. All the tools you need to reach your potential are within you, and you are morally responsible for finding them and developing them. That’s right: You are morally responsible for fulfilling your own potential, whatever you decide that to be.
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?
Nothing could be truer. I hear that all the time. “Well, you didn’t give it a fair chance.” Or, “You have to at least read the first two books in the series to really get into it.” Or, “The ending is the best part!” Every page should be good. Not just good, but damn good. As a general rule, I give every book 50-100 pages. I think that’s fair. If it hasn’t grabbed me, then you haven’t just made one mistake, you’ve made 50-100 mistakes, and even if the remainder of the book is Pulitzer-worthy, that’s too many. If there is a single bad sentence in the book, then you had the chance to cut it and didn’t. Words don’t bleed. Value brevity, respect people’s finite time on this earth, and redraft, rewrite, re-work, and re-factor until it’s perfect. Don’t slack. Your books could very well be your only legacy after you’re gone.
Is there anything you will not review?
I am loathe to discount a work because of its genre. The genres people say they won’t read are generally the ones inundated with poor quality: Westerns, Young Adult Fantasy, Erotica, Romance, etc. I refuse to believe there aren’t good books in those pools, but I heave a heavy sigh when faced with the prospect of actually finding them. So, like so many others, I simply don’t look.
What do you think of the oft-quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
It has. But that’s a good thing. The problem isn’t that there are too many bad books out there. The problem is, we have yet to find an ideal way of working through that slush-pile and elevating books based on quality. Goodreads is the closest I’ve seen, but even it operates more like a social networking site, and less like a credible, third-party reviewer. What we need is a Rotten Tomatoes for books, a standardized system of credibly rating books that can’t be gamed. Once we master that, then the indie model will be complete. Right now it’s very abstract and theoretical: “Never published before? Publish here and if it’s good, it’ll automatically rise in the ranks by virtue of its quality alone.” We’re getting closer to that ideal, but it’s still just an ideal.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to indie or self-published titles?
Oh, absolutely. I don’t even have to qualify this. The evidence is already there. A-list authors are going this route, unknowns are becoming knowns via this route, and more sales are coming out of the electronic pool than the physical pool. It’s definitely happening, it just hasn’t matured yet.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can ‘filter’ good from bad, aside from reviews?
Reviews are not good enough. It is too easy to game the review system. We have to blend “professional” with “amateur” reviews, get serious about cracking down on spam and fake reviews, and develop rigorous reviewer “reputation” systems. We also need to have a better taxonomy system, besides just “genre.” We can take a page from the Music Genome Project and try classifying and sub-classifying work based on content, not author metadata. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel we are working in the right direction, and the ideal of “quality work floating to the top by virtue of quality alone” is technically feasible.
End of Interview:
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