That’s why I think independent reviews sites have become more and more popular over recent years. It would also explain the success of social network sites focusing on books, like GoodReads for example …
Mark – 21 February 2017
How did you get started?
I guess as with most things in life, I sort of fell into it. It was never something I actively planned to do. I was on GoodReads and was asked by a friend to join the blog, which at that time was still growing. At the beginning I had never heard of blogging, but always keen to learn more I soon became actively involved and now our blog and reviewing is almost a way of life.
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 the whole book from beginning to end, for me personally making notes while I’m reading just breaks the flow. After I have finished the book, I reflect for a while and then start on my review in draft form first by just jotting down all my immediate impressions. Then I go back to ratify it, adding the meat to the bones so to speak, using my initial reactions as a skeleton on which I can expand.
What are you looking for?
I don’t really start a book with any expectations of actively looking for something. However, if a book makes me feel something, whether it be anger, disgust, love, hate, makes me cry like a baby or pushes my horizons then I guess that is what I’m looking for. Any book that can awaken an emotion in me is a winner.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
Hhhmm, now that is one of the most difficult questions to answer. As an English teacher by trade then I tend to be extremely critical of grammar and syntax. Therefore, it really depends on the severity of the error and how often it occurs in the book for me personally. I can ignore fleeting errors but if mistakes start to become repetitive and annoying then it could lead me to not finishing it.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
That really depends on the amount of time I have to read – lol! To be honest I would say an eighty thousand-word book would take me somewhere around 5-6 hours to read, but that could take me two days or a whole week depending on what is happening in my life at the time. It’s something to be honest I have never timed or measured, so it’s quite variable.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
To be honest most of us on the blog would like to scrap rating systems altogether – oops, did I just say that? – lol! Why? Well, we feel they are not always very helpful and not always entirely objective. Some people are more generous than others are when awarding stars even though their reviews may be very similar.
But ratings are important for authors, especially on platforms such as Amazon, so we award stars which is the most common but also half stars, therefore effectively we have a rating of ten, e.g. 3, 3.5, 4 or 4.5 stars, etc. On our blog our policy is to publish reviews only when a book has reached 2.5 stars (50%) this is due to the fact that we feel a negative rating or review helps no one, least of all the author. Just because I haven’t personally liked the book doesn’t mean to say that another reader will feel the same. We then usually write to the author, letting them down gently why we couldn’t connect with his / her book in order for us to put a review out.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Approach blogs / review sites and request a review, especially those review sites that read and review the type or category of book for which the author writes. It’s not easy. We are inundated on a daily basis with review requests and can’t possibly read and review all books as we are only a small team who do this as a hobby. So my message to authors would be to try, try and try again, don’t give up, be patient and someone will pick up your book to read and review eventually. That’s why The Indie View can be a very helpful resource to authors looking for reviews.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
Not emailing us directly, no. But very often readers will leave comments on our review posts saying how good they found the review or whether the review has made them buy the book, etc. What we have noticed is that even reviewers build up a fan base so to speak, especially when they feel the reviewer has similar views and tastes in books as they do. I know I have a couple of ardent readers who feel that if I have awarded a book a high rating then they know they’ll like it too – lol! Sounds conceited maybe, but it’s not, it’s just these readers connect with my reviews so obviously our tastes are very similar.
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?
Oh, I agree with that 100%. I stay well away from some of the mud-slinging that can come of this. Authors need to take the rough with the smooth, if they put their books out there for the general consumer. They need to remain sovereign and realize that their book is not going to be for everyone. It’s that reviewer’s review and how they regard his / her book, it’s not about the author’s view on their book. On the other hand, reviewers have a responsibility to remain diplomatic and constructive in their criticism and not to be negative, scathing or personally insulting in their reviews. I have observed from afar some very nasty exchanges between authors and reviewers behaving badly. At the end of the day it’s all about respect on both sides.
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?
Yes and no. I believe the media for reading has changed; there are so many other media sources available today. As for why people read, there the reasons are as varied as grains of sand on a beach. Reading a newspaper article online, either on a PC, tablet or phone is still reading in my view. People will always read in whichever form it takes in the future, either to inform, to reflect, to enjoy or relax.
I can’t really comment on the statistics you have stated here about people reading less. However, I feel if that was the case then Amazon wouldn’t be opening up physical bookstores and every time I go to the bookstore where I live they are always full. So I definitely don’t get that impression personally.
There are also statistics that say women read a great deal more than men, the statistics on our blog can bear testimony to that. But coming back to the type of media. I read on a Kindle Paperwhite and it has changed my world. I’m an English native speaker in Germany and when I first arrived in 1989 trying to get novels in English was extremely difficult. I had to go to a German bookshop, order it and wait three weeks before it arrived. Today my next book is just one-click away J
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
I only really have one answer to this question and that is not getting their books properly edited and beta-read for grammar, syntax and plot holes. Even indie authors should take care to find someone that is capable of editing their books carefully before publishing.
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! Definitely not. I give the book at least five chapters. I go by the synopsis, that’s the key thing for me. Five pages is far too short to make any form of a judgement on how that story will develop. It may be enough to get a feel for the author’s writing style but it’s not enough to say whether the book is any good or not. I guess they do it because the average reader who just picks up a book on the best seller shelf at an airport to pass the time on his flight won’t have the time to read any further before deciding whether to buy that book or not. I think it’s more a sales pitch argument and also possibly the publishers themselves don’t have the time to read anymore before deciding if they’ll pick up the book for publishing or not. Some of the best books I have read have been slow starters at the beginning.
Is there anything you will not review?
Not really. I read mostly everything but our blog deals mainly with Gay Fiction so I write reviews for this genre and that keeps me busy enough.
What do you think of the oft-quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
I believe this is a rather snobby attitude pushed by the big publishing houses as they see their profits diminishing with the possibilities of self-publishing now easier than ever. Naturally, there is a lot of sorting and sifting to do, that’s always been the case whether online or off. I feel independent review sites have become more popular too in past years. When readers find a review site in their genre of interest they like, they can depend on their chosen review site to sort the slush-pile for them. That is what we do in a way on our review site.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to indie or self-published titles?
Certainly, there is many a rough diamond or jewel to be found among the indie scene and maybe the traditional publishing houses feel a little threatened due to this. I have read a number of books from self-published, indie authors whose books can outshine some of the so-called best sellers on the shelves in stores any day. The books are well edited, well written, riveting and very often I keep thinking to myself, why isn’t this book a best seller? Why hasn’t this author been discovered yet? This is what more and more people are discovering which is leading to a change in attitude at least from the readers’ point of view.
That’s another reason I do this, if I can help this author get some recognition for his / her book then I feel I have done a job worth doing. For the author the financial advantages of self-publishing are obvious but then indie authors also have to realize their books won’t sell without doing some active marketing themselves. I believe there is room for both traditionally published and self-published on the market and at the end of the day the reader will make their own choice one way or the other. Nothing makes me happier than picking up that debut book from a new author, maybe from one of the smaller publishing houses or self-published and thinking the whole world needs to know about this author and his / her book.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can ‘filter’ good from bad, aside from reviews?
To be honest, no. That’s why I think independent reviews sites have become more and more popular over recent years. It would also explain the success of social network sites focusing on books, like GoodReads for example, which started as a small private venture and grew to such an extent that in the end Amazon felt threatened enough to buy it for themselves. I believe independent review sites are possibly the best filters that anyone can currently expect.
End of Interview:
Your can read Mark’s review along with review from the rest of the team at Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews.