Pick any traditionally published book off the shelf and I can find an error inside it, too. I’ve seen commas used where periods should have been, the wrong their/there/they’re (those are pretty common), and lots of missing quotations. I’m pretty forgiving for typos in self-published books. I am less lenient about bigger blunders like using the wrong name or plot inaccuracies, holes, and knots.
Dawn West – 9 May 2017
How did you get started?
I actually moonlight as an author and when I started that adventure, I realized how important reviews are to an indie writer’s success. I was already an avid reader so I decided to put my thoughts to my books read and began reviewing. I needed somewhere to post my reviews and so Up ‘Til Dawn Book Blog was born.
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 don’t tend to make notes unless they’re errors found (I offer a complimentary Error Report to authors who request reviews from me). I will sometimes highlight quotes that catch my eye for use in the review later on, but I prefer to read the book in its entirety and then write my review immediately after. I’m a big-picture sort of gal and would rather finish the book before forming an opinion.
What are you looking for?
That depends on the genre. If it’s romance, I am looking for well-developed characters and chemistry between the couple. If the book is fantasy or paranormal, I want good world-building to draw me into the story. And no matter what genre it is, I am always on the lookout for some humor and a steadily progressing plot.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
I can easily overlook a moderate number of typos. In fact, I expect to see them. Pick any traditionally published book off the shelf and I can find an error inside it, too. I’ve seen commas used where periods should have been, the wrong their/there/they’re (those are pretty common), and lots of missing quotations. I’m pretty forgiving for typos in self-published books. I am less lenient about bigger blunders like using the wrong name or plot inaccuracies, holes, and knots. If a character is blonde in one chapter and brunette in the other, I tend to notice. Though it may not always affect my rating, I will usually point this out in my reviews. Authors want honest and constructive feedback so it’s important to let them know if another proofreading pass is necessary. Other reviewers may not be as gentle as I usually try to be.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
I am a speed-reader and I can easily read a book in a day. I’ve read two books in one day on several occasions; it depends on my work and family schedule at the time. I do like to listen to my eBooks with text-to-speech on my Kindle while I’m working. I listen to them in the car while driving on road-trips, too. As of April 26th, I’ve already read 96 books. Needless to say, I don’t get a whole lot of sleep at night. Hence the name of my blog. *wink*
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
I use a sun scale for my rating system. 5 suns = I absolutely loved it, 4 suns = Really liked it, 3 suns = A good read, 2 suns = It fell short for me, 1 sun = Not my cup of tea. If I DNF a book, I will still usually review but I won’t give it a sun rating. I do use half-suns, as well. I’m pretty good at choosing books to review, so luckily, I haven’t had to dish out many lower sun ratings.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Work on that cover! I am a cover lover and I do judge books by their cover, unapologetically. Some people, like myself, are visual people. If a cover pulls me in, I’m more likely to read that book blurb and give a book a shot. I also recommend that authors really research who they send their books to. Don’t just look at a review policy page. Scroll through their book shelf, see if your book fits their preferences before submitting. And be honest in your requests. It’s all about expectations. You’re setting yourself up for a bad review if you try to sell your book as something it isn’t. Oh, and please don’t ever call a reviewer by the wrong name. I’m Dawn. I’m not Donna, people. Come on!
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
I do, actually. Though, I mostly receive comments on my reviews rather than emails. I do, however, often receive emails from authors thanking me for my review. I’m happy to say that authors contact me more often after I post a critical review of their book rather than a positive one. I’ve found that most authors, like myself, value constructive 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?
It depends. If the criticism may be earned, then I have no problem with an author acknowledging the feedback as long as they are polite. If the review mentions something that has been misconstrued, I also have no problem with an author pointing out the confusion. But generally, I recommend authors ignore negative reviews. I’ve gotten them and they sure are a bummer. You’ll be a walking ogre for the rest of the day after reading one and that’s okay. If it makes you feel better, hop onto your favorite book’s page and take a look at the reviews. Even Harry Potter has bad reviews. Shakespeare, Mark Twain, etc., all get bad reviews. You’re not alone and there are always more where those come from. Just keep writing and developing your craft. There is always room for improvement and Rome wasn’t built with your first book. Or something like that…
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?
Reading is a dying pastime? Heck, no! I’m a millennial (and one of the few proud ones!) and lots of my friends read. Most of my family reads and my children are already fans of books. They provide so much inspiration for television and movies that it’s impossible to ignore the effect that books have in entertainment, alone. I do think that paperback/hardback books are slowly becoming the less popular format. That could be why people think books are “dying”, because they don’t actually see them in stores as much now. But the online book business is thriving. I love my Kindle so I understand. To me, reading is fun. It provides an escape and lets us live out adventures we’d only find inside those paper (and digital) pages.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
That’s an easy question to answer. The most common mistake an author makes is giving up. I can’t even count the number of book series I’ve started that end after the first book and never continue. I think we all have a fantasy about writing a book and becoming a bestselling author overnight. The reality is that you might write for your entire life and never see the bestselling list or anything close to it. The best advice I ever received is the same that I offer: just keep writing.
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 understand why agents think this way. They have to weed out the amateur authors and rough drafts and they only have enough time to give a manuscript a few pages before moving on to another. I know some reviewers have a certain page limit. If they don’t like the book after 50 pages (or so) they give up. I don’t have a page count and rarely run into a book that I’m not able to finish. Even if the book is a train-wreck, and I’ve read a few, I usually want to finish just because I need to know how it ends.
Is there anything you will not review?
I won’t review nonfiction, horror, mystery/thriller, or religious-themed books. I also won’t read sci-fi unless it has a significant romance plot. Even if it’s alien or robot love, I need it! I will read fantasy and paranormal but most books have to have some sort of romance element. If you can’t tell, I like my romance.
What do you think of the oft-quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
While I think it’s true, I also believe that reviews help to weed out the duds. There is a lot more variety now and I think the pros outweigh the cons several times over.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to indie or self-published titles?
I sure hope so! Some still snub their noses at self-published authors but I’ve seen a vast number of readers embrace them. Most of my favorite books over the past year have been by indie authors. I also think small press publishers are helping to bridge the gap between traditional publishing and self-publishing. They help give weight to new authors and boost consumer acceptance.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can ‘filter’ good from bad, aside from reviews?
I still think that reviews are the best way to filter out the books not fit for reading consumption. That’s not to say that bad reviews kill a title. Negative reviews can actually help sell books, making readers curious as to what all the fuss is about. But reviews help authors learn and adapt in their craft. They can always edit and republish a book later. That’s the great thing about this new market. It gives both authors and readers more freedom and selection.
End of Interview:
Read Dawn’s reviews at the Up ‘Til Dawn Book Blog.